Dec 29, 2009

My Life As A Business Card

Single digit temperatures, led to boredom with being inside, which led to light-headedness, which  caused me to take out a deck of cards.

I started designing my own business cards many years ago, many professions ago, but not many places ago.  My homes have always been New York and Vermont.  That old cliche that says "as much as things change, they stay the same" is somehow eerily true looking at the aesthetic informing these cards.

The very first card was typeset; I remember my surprise when I picked it up at a local Vermont printer. It actually looked the way I imagined.

The next card was brought on by a fit of laughter walking down a street in New York and seeing this painted mural, especially after being rejected for a grant that would have legitimatized my title of artist.

I needed a pair of silver pumps for a party, not a new business card. However, this high-end Italian shoemaker, offered customers a little tiny "calling card." Of course, it took months to get the card, printed in Italy or so they said.  This card was a losable card, it didn't fit in a rolodex, easily fell to the floor and no one could ever remember what they did with it.

Once you enter the world as a person with a website, you need a card that "matches" your website.  Subsequently, the latest, if not the greatest was born.

Sitting on the sofa, on a cold winter day, I am thinking not of sugarplums, but of the next design.

Dec 27, 2009

3 Handerchiefs

In the process of cleaning things out, I've been reflecting on the nature of objects and their meaning.

In my relentless quest to purge and organize, I found three keepsakes, I saved from the life of my husband's great aunt, who lived until she was ninety-eight and three- quarters.  In the 1940's, she owned a lingerie shop.  Family lore said it was a "fine" lingerie shop.  Shortly, after owning the shop, she moved to a one-room walk-up in Greenwich Village, where she lived for 50 years.

One room to store 50 years of belongings is a small amount of space.  And so it seemed that clearing out this very tiny apartment would take no time at all.  This was a room filled with tools and equipment both useful and out of date.  This gteat aunt had gone blind during the time she lived in the apartment and it was organized so that things made sense spatially.

I took three pieces of cloth from this home of 50 years.  Today, I found them.  Folded four times, these three items were squares we call handkerchiefs.  All were expertly embroidered by someone decades earlier.  I think its fair to say that that someone was not Chinese.  They may have sat in a shop in France or New York City, doing handwork and were not particularly well paid for their efforts.

I ran my hand over the three letters that appeared on each piece of cotton.  An "A" "M"and the name "Mabel" spelled out.  As much as I love the digital world, its way of connecting us to everyone on earth, its ease, its depth:  I also love touching a real piece of history.

The Digital Divide

Yesterday, I wrote about going paperless.  Today, I've backpedaled.  The act of keeping or not keeping, storing or not storing, archiving or not archiving is a weighty matter.

The beginning of my digital journey consisted of ridding myself of notebooks filled with articles, announcements and invitations.  Christmas Eve, the last notebook on the shelf called to me.  One more to go.  Filled with odds and ends from my parents house.  Here was stationery from my father's business, birthday cards from my grandparents, invoices for an oriental carpet in the living room of my childhood home, lists of presents for friends and relatives to be purchased on a European trip in my mother's hand, fabric samples from when my parents redecorated the dining room with drawings of the chairs by my father (see photo), business letters my father had composed and report cards from my elementary school.  Maybe this was my Christnas stocking.

I really wanted to clear the decks.  But I couldnt throw this stuff out.  I thought about scanning all these mementos.  It would be so much more accessible to have them available digitally. I resisted. I knew it wouldnt be satisfying. I liked the "objects". I enjoyed taking them out of their sleeves and touching the frail paper and looking at the handwritten entries in a savings book.  A record of love and future hopes.

Had old age set in?  Was sentimentality talking hold?  Did I need therapy to deal with an attachment disorder?

I would like to be more Zen and focus more on the heart then the hand, but I still feel the tug of human records made on paper.

Dec 24, 2009

Digital Training Wheels

It started yesterday.  I rid myself of all my CD's and college-age stereo system.  I replaced this antiquated poundage with the siimple and powerful itouch and docking system.  I knew I was on to something.

Encouraged, I went up to the study and looked at an entire bookshelf of notebooks.  Notebooks filled over 15 years.  Notebooks containing school records, articles from magazines and newspapers, announcements of lectures and courses, and published work.  All protected for the ages in plastic sleeves. Before acting, I sat there for a maybe a minute and remembered how lovingly I had cut each article, organized each book:  creating a mini-library of places to go and things to do.

A minute isn't a very long time and in no time I took the plunge.  I opened the first notebook and removed each article from its sleeve.  Ann Ravers entire canon from the nineties came spilling out.  I wasn't sorry to be getting rid of it, but I was sorry to realize that the  Thursday section of The New York Times hardly ever contained an article about gardening and certainly not of the caliber of Ann Raver's prose.  Next, I went onto the announcements of lectures, workshops and classes.  There was so much going on, it took an entire notebook to catalog it.

After this came the articles from Gourmet
My wish list of places to travel: the Trentino-Alto Adige region of Italy.
Restuarant after restaurant, meals I imagined eating:  Le 404 for North African food in Paris. 
Hotels to be remembered:  Chateau de Fere in Champagne Country. 
Further education needed: Anna Tasca Lanza's cooking school, ninety minutes outside Palmero.  
Artisanal food: The best buffalo-milk mozzarella in Italy:  Azienda Agrituristica Seliano. 

Business cards and museum brochures saved, records of classses taken and fees paid, fancy menus, hand-drawn maps, even a tidbit from The New York Times about Rumpelmayer's, a now defunct palatial ice-cream parlor on Central Park South.

The floor was covered with paper, some yellowed with age, some glossy and a few of exceptional heavy stock.  All this paper was a reference, a guide, a hope chest of ideas and intentions.

I threw all this unwanted "debris" into several paper bags with nostalgia, but not longing and added it to the brush fire pile.  Went back into the house, turned on the ipod and began my paperless journey.  I reached for a pencil to write something down and quickly realized that my digital training wheels were still a little wobbly.

Dec 13, 2009

How The Leopard Got Its Spots

Lever House, the modernist icon on Park Avenue is Gordon Bunstaft's masterpiece and the precursor to all those anonymous, mediocre, buildings that people our cities.

Who would dare take this striped down, office building and decorate its surface?

Richard Woods, in his new piece, called Port Sunlight patterns forty columns, eight Noguchi marble benches, exterior and interior planters and sections of the floor inside Lever House:  the result, a present to all city walkers, who stroll down Park Avenue at the corner of 53 street.

 Richard Woods on the Lever House installation
"The installation for the Lever House uses a multitude of commonplace, 19th century patterns, including William Morris inspired graphic depictions of nature and mock Tudor architectural surfacing so common durig the early 20th century.  the patterns are woodblock printed onto wood fiberboard or alumnum sheets.  The effect is to impose high Victorian decoration onto the elegant minimal language of the modernist building."

I think I will spend part of my Christmas vacation thinking about how all of this can relate to garden design.  How one can take a very paired down, seemingly simple structure and create an ornate pattern around it.  Woods's installation is a wink and nod and sometimes we need a little humor in the garden and in our lives.

Dec 4, 2009

But I am NOT done with apple picking

For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired

Of the great harvest I myself desired.

There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,

Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.

Excerpt from Apple Picking by Robert Frost.

Some stuff does stick in your brain.

The red balls (aka apples) in the orchard on my road reminded me of the Robert Frost poem, After Picking Apples.

This poem, like all good poems, is a metaphor for something else entirely. And something else forced me to concentrate on what those strawberry-colored bombs signified in my landscape of bronze, gray and amethyst.

After cutting back and raking the garden, I began my list of what I needed to move, to buy, to remove and to coddle. Most importantly, I paused and thought about what I want my garden to be. Part of that wanting is an ideal that can never be realized.

Disappointment is often what I feel at the end of the year. Next comes ambition and desire. I garden, to garden another day. There is always another cultivar, perhaps an entirely different plant, certainly better compost or more of it and definitely new ideas. Seeing is integral to gardening and the orchard on my road invites me to look again and imagine a more perfect garden, perhaps in 2010 or 2011.

Nov 21, 2009

Lost In Paris

Lost in Paris, is a 130 sq. m building in the South of Paris, which contains a living wall of over 1200 Dryopteris filix-mas (ferns).

The glass blown beakers, featured in these photographs, feed the ferns throughout the year. The house remains green throughout the year, with ferns changing colors according to the seasons.

Most interesting to me about the entire project is the following quote from Francois Roche the architect for the project:

"Do we want nature to be domesticated and purely sympathetic and predictable or do we want nature which brings some aspect of fear or danger or psycho-repulsion?"

Most gardeners, including me, think of nature as both friend and foe. How often do we think of nature as menacing or malignant? Perhaps a tornando, but not a garden. Gardens inspire, awe, and sometimes challenge our notions of beauty, but they are rarely perceived as threatening.

The concept of creating a garden that is "dangerous" or "repulsive" is definitely a new idea.

If you know of a garden that is ominous, sinister or forbidding, please post a comment. I anxiously await all responses. And if anyone knows the address of The Lost In Paris house, please also post.

Nov 13, 2009

Where Gardeners Fear To Tread

Pathways, both metaphorically and literally, have been on my mind this year. Economic conditions have forced many friends to begin to new journeys. Finding an entry point for a new career, lead me to think about the ways we enter a garden.

One of the best entryways, I know of, is at a friend’s house in southern Vermont. Ron and Jaci live in an 18th century farmhouse close to a busy road in Windham County, Vermont. A few years ago, Jaci decided to remake the entry to their house.

Jaci is the kind of gardener I want to be. She is fearless. Most gardeners are so invested in what they create; it’s hard to make changes. Jaci planted a long English–style perennial border and years later moved every single plant in the border. I asked her why? She replied

“I just wanted to know I could do it and then I wanted to move on!”

I am timid by nature, but Jaci is a risk taker. The new entryway to her house is a mixture of conifers, heathers

and accent plants. This is a small garden with a big WOW factor. It looks good in all four seasons. The garden relies on texture and foliage and changes in size, but its very subtle. On first glance, you think, “It’s so simple. There isn’t much going on.” You need to take another look and another and another, to get it. It’s far from simple. Dwarf conifers, heathers and grasses together are something we have seen before. The complexity is in the thought process. The garden is a study in how the skilled gardener/artist can put together a powerful combination of plants with a limited palette.

The garden’s centerpiece is one of the most magnificent Fagus sylvatica 'Purple Fountain' you will ever see. I’ve often thought that this beech acts as its own traffic light for the road. It’s a showstopper and you can’t help but slow down as you pass it. It’s a ballet dancer in the landscape. It flutters in the slightest breeze, whereas the wrought iron tree near the door is as still as concrete. This "other" tree stands like a sentry in the entryway, guiding you to the door. (see photo at top of page). This contrast is repeated in the choice of plants (see plant list below)...not only do you have a variety of conifers, but the use of calluna vulgaris is especially interesting. Jaci just wrote to me "Fall heather and russian cypress colors are starting to show. I love the heathers that turn bright red and yellow in winter!"

Jacis garden is a pathway into interesting gardening.

Fagus sylvatica "Purple Fountain"
Tsuga canadenses Sargentii (across path from beech)
Thuga occidentalis "Degroot Spire" (in front of blue heron sculpture)
Juniperus communis Gold Cone
Yucca filamentosa 'Color Guard'
Cotinus coggygria var. purpurea
Hydrangea paniculata 'PeeWee'
Juniperus scopulorum Witchita Blue
Juniperus squamata "Blue Star"
Microbiota decussate
Thuga occidentalis Woodwardii
Juniperus chinensis Robusta Green
Chamaecyparis obtusa "Crippsii"
Berberis "Helmond Pillar"
Picea glauca "Rainbows End"
Physocarpus opulifolius "Dart's Gold"
Miscanthus sinensis "Morning Light"
Panicum Red Switch Grass
Calluna vulgaris 'Wickwar Flame'
Calluna vulgaris 'Robert Chapman'
Calluna vulgaris ' Pats Gold'
Calluna vulgaris ' Firefly'
Calluna vulgaris 'Sister Anne'
Calluna vulgaris 'Velvet Fascination'


“Other people talk about risk taking. I mean, I don’t see it as much of an issue, honestly, because this is what I want to do. In order to see something that you haven’t seen, which probably will never happen, but you’re looking all the time, and you are looking for things – in order to find something that holds your attention and you can work with and everything – what can the risk be? That it fails? And, I mean, failure is relative. And I don’t worry about taking risk. If something is not beautiful, then I’m unhappy with it, and there are some things that are certainly not so beautiful, but they get by. But you’re still striving for the ones that really feel beautiful in the end. And so that’s what’s it’s about.
Frank Stella

“She was not afraid of mice-
She loved winter, snow and ice.
To the tiger in the zoo,
Madeline just said Pooh-pooh,”
by Ludwig Bemelmans

Oct 28, 2009

Does Height Matter?

Maybe, it does.

I was asked to remove 400 juniperus conferta 'blue pacific' planted at ground level, from a 50 ft. diameter circle, increase the height of the mound to two and half feet and put back the 500 junipers.

My initial reaction: one of the more boring pedestrian tasks.

And it was. The actual doing of the project was uninspired drudgery.

Surprisingly, the result was not.

I have held tight to the position that landscape architects and garden designers, who change existing topography do so, because they were self-indulgent narcissists: bending nature to their will.

Changing the topography of this mediocre planting did make a difference,
a significant difference.

This was the situation:
  • gas station plants
  • traffic circle in front of a prefab building
  • existing soil more rock than earth.
A little bit of grade turned a inferior design into something slightly better.

And slightly better turned my mind to those famous practitioners, who exploited sloped topography: the Italians of the 16th century, especially Vignola at Villa Lante. This guy knew the secret of using what you have to create scale, perspective and symbolism.

When I thought about the Villa Lante and all those gardens throughout Italy that are built on hillsides, I knew that the innocuous traffic circle owed a debt to something much greater. Elizabeth Barlow Rogers in her essay about "Garden as Theater," says... the topography throughout much of Italy is hilly, thereby promoting greater opportunity visually for spatial enclosure than for spatial extension."

I am not certain that the designer of this prosaic, second-rate planting ever considered the importance of topographical features in the landscape: the fact is I learned an important lesson.

No matter its origins, in this little circle height does matter.

Sep 22, 2009

Dead Stuff Catches On

September 20 /10 am /Lurie Garden/ Chicago

Walking around The Lurie Garden, with a bunch of landscape architects, in town for the ASLA (American Society of Landscape Architects) Conference, was what you would expect, when garden gurus get together.

We look at landscapes and gardens differently. The conversation ranges from soil composition to questions about specific cultivars to design of hardscape and to the inevitable discussion of maintenance issues.

Some of us love the counterpoint between Piet Oudolf’s free flowing planting style and Kathryn Gustafson’s hardscape. Here is a garden evocative of the prairie and landscape design that encloses it with 14 ft. armature (see photo). To me the two ideas are at odds. Gustafson creates a garden room, harking back to traditional English gardens of all sizes and at the same time plays off the architecture of Frank Gehry and Renzo Piano. Piet embraces the contemporary, but in a different way. He designs a garden based on an American Midwestern idiom. He seeks to remind of us our roots, but at the same time creates a new kind of planting style...a style that suits our desire for sustainability and modernity.

At this time of year, The Lurie Garden is mostly a garden of seedheads.

Agastache rupestris,

Aster ‘October Skies,'

Helenium ‘Rubinzwerg’

and grasses like Eragrostis spectabilis and Chastmanthium latifolum still bloom.

But mostly the garden is a mixture of seedheads. Some stems are still erect, others lean over each other and onto pathways.

I was interested if anyone besides gardeners would see the exquisiteness of this autumnal scene. Walking around the garden on several occasions, I noticed people of all ages engaged in what they were seeing, noticing how plants “age” and understanding the natural progression of a garden.

Unexpectedly you find that beauty takes hold of people in unexpected ways and reminding us that everything is "a work in progress."

Jul 21, 2009

Sedum's Tears

Some people suck the air out of a room. A few people breathe oxygen into a room. Paula Panich, the well-known garden writer and friend, is one of those people who enliven the space she inhabits.

Paula recently visited my garden. This was cause for a little anxiety. Being a person, who is usually dissatisfied, I worried the garden would be a let down. My garden is just a little bit of heaven to me and only me.

I’ve studied the rules for garden making. I’ve read countless books and articles by designers and landscapes architects. I’ve thought about what a garden can be and what my garden might be. Created over many years without a plan, the one constant has been my never-ending ability to change my mind and rip out what I don’t like. For an anarchist at heart, plans are difficult to adhere to. In my garden, I decided not to pay attention to any gardening conventions.

Paula knows this about me. She is able to perceive intention and ideas over skill and horticultural mastery. As Diane Keaton says to Jack Nicholson in Something’s Got A Give, “Either you hate me or you are the only person that ever really got me.” Paula is one of the few people, who has come to the garden and understood what I am trying to do, successfully or unsuccessfully.

Early evening, Paula leaves to return home. It rained that night. The next morning, I took my usual stroll around the garden. I planted some Sedum Prairie Fire right before Paula arrived. Being a sedum novice, I noticed something I hadn’t really thought about before. Sedum leaves catch water (see photo above). To me, these little droplets of rain mimicked my mood, I was missing Paula. Understanding another person is rare and it’s even rarer to find someone who gets it!

Jun 25, 2009

The Walmart of Gardens

If you want to test your limitations, head up to the heather garden at Fort Tryon Park.

Designed by the Olmsted Brothers in 1935, you can still perceive the bones of a great public park. Sitting at an elevation of 150 feet above Broadway, the heather garden bears little resemblance to its original design. 19th century photos, show the garden entirely made up great mounds of heaths and heathers. It looks like a modernist masterpiece. Uncomplicated in concept, clean lines, a study in texture, unified by its simplicity.

Time has not been kind to this garden. The heaths and heathers have mostly died, a few remain to remind us of what was once there. Neglect and restoration are in evidence. Gardeners with every imaginable taste, limited resources and access to every variety of perennial on the market have gardened here. The result is a plant flea market.

I guessed at the kind of gardener who planted sedums and roses,
the gardener who adored, the heuchera and ornamental grasses,
the gardener who couldnt resist the foxgloves and poppies,
the gardener who had to have anemones and eryngium,
the gardener who preferred the geraniums and the helenium.
I sympathized with all of them.

It's a huge space. Plenty of room. But is there?

And that's what started me thinking. A large space is far more challenging then that small intimate garden room - where throwing everything you like into it, makes it charming. The same cannot be said for a large garden where its all a jumble. It's a good garden for a plant id class. It's not a pleasing aesthetic experience.

Just for comparison wander over the three gardens inside the Cloisters. Small, intimate, restful, idealized spaces from another time. See the power of a square garden contained within walls.

Then head back to the heather garden and challenge yourself to redesign it. What would you save and what would go to the tag sale?

Jun 18, 2009

Purple Sidewalks

The Garden Museum in Lambeth is full of surprises.

Housed in St. Mary-at-Lambeth Church, the museum preserves the interior of the original with the addition of an architectural "insert" designed in 2007, which provides the structure for the museum. In order to enter the museum, you walk through "The Wild Garden" created in 2007. This garden was originally the graveyard associated with the Church. Unlike everything we love about English gardens, this garden is really wild and tries to promote the new natural style or no style. The garden is a combination of perennials, grasses and bulbs surrounded by the odd burial vault. It presents itself as unkempt and unfettered.

The Knot Garden is entered by walking through the museum, by the potting shed and past the theatrical tableau (see photo above) of small primroses. 17th century or knot, the garden is wonderful. Coincidentally the tomb of John Tradescants, one of the early British plant hunters, was rediscovered when the church became a museum. I believe John T. would be proud - the garden is a plant hunters paradise. Its full of old style plants and peonies you don't see much anymore. It's a good reminder that the new hybrids are great - disease resistant, bigger, flasher, but perhaps not better. The 17th century style tulips, including 'Val Tol' were just over; Rosa x alba 'Maxima' was blooming by columns Myrtus communis; big balloons of Rosmarinus officinalis decorated the borders; a good cup of tea is available in the little cafe. Who wanted to leave?

Worth a detour ------ walking to the museum you pass the purple sidewalks of Lambeth.

Jun 1, 2009

How Do The English Do It

unexpected trip to london.
rented great flat
secured ticket to chelsea flower show online
watched bbc hour long Chelsea segment every night on tv
anxiety rising
how to see everything
not taking advice of salesman in the V&A
arrive half early for show
buy program
confused about where to go and what to do first
elbow my way to front of a garden - any garden
try to take in what's going on IN the garden, not around me
press forward
do people think i am the ugly american
heard on tv, designer saying the "earth moved under his feet" upon seeing "x" garden by "x"
the earth definitely did not moved under my feet
it was all too perfect
everything blooming on cue
saw one of the designers with a watering can
a bit of reality
loved one garden by japanese designer
the modern rock garden.
very simple
good play on traditional rock garden (see photo above of squares of sedum)

am not in love

head to the tent
delphiniums reaching for the sky
displays of carrots looking arranged like monarda
olive trees grown in England
a tasting menu of tulips
on verge of breakdown

what to do
go directly to the champagne bar
two overpriced glasses of bubbly later
feeling relaxed.
it's over.

the little street gardens,
container plantings,
wild garden in front of museum of garden history
window boxes around the city.
maybe not earth shattering, but definitely real.

Apr 15, 2009

Tushy of The Daffodils

Daffs are one of those ubiquitous flowers that I used to detest. They are everywhere at this time of year. Poems about them haven't moved me. Sunday walking through Central Park, I discovered something about a daffodil I do like: their back side. Suddenly a flower I've known all my life, looked different, interesting...the connection of stem to petal turned this very ordinary bulb into a mysterious funnel.

I realized I had been rear-ended by a daffodil.

Apr 12, 2009

Being Jenny Holzer

Easter Sunday: The Guggenheim Museum: The Third Mind:
American Artists Contemplate Asia, 1860-1989

The museum commissioned Ann Hamilton to create a site specific installation in the museum rotunda. Her work, human carriage (2009), "is a mechanism composed of two elements: book weights made from thousands of cut-up books that ascend and descend the rotunda via a pulley system, and a pair of Tibetan cymbals encased in a white silk bell carriage, which cascades down the balustrade along the rotunda spiral."

"Human carriage is a metaphor for the power of the transmission of ideas through books, which, in the artist's words, "leaves no material trace but which might forever change you."

Like most shows at the Guggenheim , it makes the most sense to start at the top and walk down the ramp. The human carriage descends from the top of the museum. One person from the museum actually ties the books onto the pulley and starts the carriage moving. As a result of loading the books onto the pulley, some little bits from the books fall to floor. If you are like me, you immediately pick them up. And try to make sense of these random thoughts, which someone in the universe once put together in a coherent fashion.

Apr 4, 2009

We're all makers...

"We're all makers, we're all artists,
we're all hackers, we're all in this together."
- Mr. Jalopy

Apr 1, 2009

First Drops of Paint On The Canvas

The First Day of April
at the
Water's Edge Garden on Randall's Island.

The first drops of paint
on the garden canvas.

Mar 29, 2009

It’s A Bit Sketchy

Two artists,
two great shows,
in one gray day,
at the end of March.

The experience of viewing a Bonnard painting is related to way I view a garden.

On the first walk around the current show at the Metropolitan Museum, I identify the “objects” in the paintings – a vase, a bowl of fruit, a chair. On the second walk around, the objects disappear and all I see are colors and textures. Wallpaper is pattern, flowers are colors, and figures are shapes. On the last walk around, my brain goes back to the narrative and the structure.

In a garden, I immediately identify the plants. On the second pass, I am consumed by texture and color and light. The garden is like a Bonnard interior. The structure fades away and sensual pleasure takes over.

Perhaps, the most interesting part of the Met exhibition is a little room off the main gallery, filled with small calendars (3x6) Bonnard kept. These datebooks are covered with scribbles…ideas for paintings or just ideas.

Another artist, far from Southern France and the art world, also drew only the everyday objects and scenes in his native Idaho. James Castle, an artist born (1899-1977) deaf, who didn’t read or write, currently has two shows in New York. Without a big review in The New York Times, I would never have paid attention to his work. He used found paper, soot from a wood burning stove and spit to make small drawings of his everyday surroundings that are sublime.

Bonnard never painted directly from “life,” he used the drawings he made as reference points to create his paintings. Castles’ work is his drawings, watercolors and constructions.

With everything I love about the Blackberry, Iphone, and Ipod, these scribbles and drawings remind me how much is conveyed by the hand of an artist.

Can anything digital replace it?

Pierre Bonnard
The Late Interiors
January 27, 2009–April 19, 2009
Metropolitan Museum of Art

James Castle Drawings: Vision and Touch
Knoedler & Company
19 East 70 Street
Until April 25

James Castle
Ameringer Yohe Fine Art
20 West 57 Street

Mar 21, 2009

Virtual Flowers

I have never played a video game. This weekend, Kurt Anderson of 360 interviewed Jenova Chan, a videogame designer from China. He has a new game called “Flower.”

“In Flower, the surrounding environment, most often pushed to the background in games, is pulled to the forefront and becomes the primary "character." The player will journey through a beautifully vivid and changing landscape in this fresh and genuine game only on PS3.

The game exploits the tension between urban bustle and natural serenity. Players accumulate flower petals as the onscreen world swings between the pastoral and the chaotic. Like in the real world, everything you pick up causes the environment to change. And hopefully by the end of the journey, you change a little as well.”

Here are the descriptions of some of the screen shots from the game:

“Flower” begins with a potted flower sitting in a grey, urban apartment. The screen fades into its dreams ...

The player acts as the wind, picking up a petal, and taking it around a lush environment. You can cause the wind turbines to spin. And with each delicate touch of a wind-carried petal, other flowers bloom.

To progress in the game, players must explore the environment, touching flowers as they go and encouraging them to bloom. Together, they create a more colorful, bright environment on-screen. In this shot, color is spreading across a field of grass.

If you get tried of weeding or composting, try playing Flower. See how the virtual world compares with the “real” world of gardening.

A drooping head…

Call it what you will, recession or depression, these days it’s hard not to walk around with a drooping head.

Cleaning up in the garden this week, I was reminded that a drooping head can mean something else. The hellebores were nestled among crunchy fall leaves. Once cleared away, I received the appropriate clichéd jolt: spring is on the way.

Some people can go to a room full of 16 th century paintings and spin a great yarn, because they can read the religious iconography. I like the tales that plants tell when you look into the origin of their names. Hellebores are stubborn members of the Ranunculaceae family. Their history is in dispute. Some historians believe Alexander the Great overdosed by eating hellebores. Others believe a Greek general used the flower as an early example of biochemical warfare. John Keats used hellebores as a metaphor to describe “each ample curl” on a certain woman’s head.

I only know one thing for sure about hellebores. It’s hard to keep a drooping head after you’ve passed by a hellebore.

To be interested in the changing seasons
is a happier state of mind
than to be hopelessly in love with spring.

George Santayana

Mar 10, 2009

Proposal for a Sprinkler Garden


This was a proposal I wrote for a garden show a few years ago. I was unable to produce the design, because it proved too expensive. Ironically, these days garden shows are being cancelled, for fear of poor attendence.

Like the jingle of coins in the toll basket, the sprinkler is a device disappearing from the American landscape. These aquatic devices remind us of our childhoods and this garden intends to provide an opportunity to experience them again and remember all that we have forgotten... the pure hypnotic delight of watching water rising and falling onto a lawn...the sound of water falling on leaves...the patterns water makes in the air. This garden pays homage to the sprinkler, a device that came of age in the suburbs, but owes its lineage to Pliny, who in his own garden had a curved marble bench from which ‘water gushed out from under the seat as if pressed out by the weight of people sitting on it.’

Upon entering the garden, visitors will be given bright yellow slickers and rubber boots. Their journey begins at Marie Antoinette featuring the fan sprinkler. Next the visitor follows an old-fashioned tractor sprinkler Walk the Line. Around the corner is “Suburbia” a simple patio dotted with chairs beckoning the participant to get their toes wet. As well as experiencing 12 water follies, each section will feature plants appropriate to the theme of the section. As the visitor exits the garden, the words of poet, Howard Nemerov will be engraved in a the bottom of a pool of water:

Take the Beautiful Lawn Sprinkler
What gives it power makes it change its mind
At each extreme, and lean its rising rain
Down low, first one and then the other way;
In which exchange humility and pride
Reverse, forgive, arise and die again,
Wherefore it holds at both ends of the day
The rainbow in its scattering grains of spray.

Mar 9, 2009

Bella Italia: The Philadelphia Flower Show

After two years of disappointments, I dragged myself to the Philadelphia Flower Show with trepidation. This year’s theme, Bella Italia promised “everything wonderful about Italy - gardens, culinary arts, entertainment and shopping.” Who could ask for more?

Fake columns, bad sculpture and terra cotta colored paint don’t make for Bella Italia. The show was larger then ever, filled with extravagant exhibitions. But it missed the mark. Italians love the shabby, the worn: patina is revered. Americans crave a sense of perfection. The exhibitions failed on the Italian theme, but pleased on another.

I marveled at how the exhibitors coaxed, and cajoled, spring-bloomers, summer-pleasers and fall’s last stand to bloom in March. The show gardens were closer to a display of tarts and gateau in a fancy patisserie, then gardens from which we can learn something. To me it was a Rocco nightmare of texture and fragrance.

Sometimes when I am stuck inside these convention centers, I feel the need to throw cold water on my face and do a reality check. Luckily, there were some interesting trends rooted in the earth. Green roofs, vertical walls, native plants and lots of vegetables. The vegetables were mixed among perennials and bulbs. It reminded me that vegetables are interesting ornamental plants: lettuces bumped up against sedums, rainbow chards sprang up among heucheras, herbs were hidden among ferns and spinach was treated like a ground cover for rhodies.

At booths with stuff for sale, the seed counters were overwhelmed with customers. The price of a bunch of roses had been reduced, but organic and heirloom seeds were flying off the shelves. The floral displays drew oo's and ah's, but the real impact lay elsewhere. I was jostled and pushed and I still came away optimistic. Americans have finally gotten the message: It’s not only cheaper to grow your own food, it’s just plain fun. Mothers consulted small children on what brand of tomatoes to grow this year. Practiced gardeners investigated new varieties and sought out heirlooms never before seen. I went for the chocolate colored peppers and Thai basil.

WC Fields epitaph was "I'd rather be here, then in Philadelphia." On this day in March, good food and taste are returning to Philadelphia.

Buon appetito!

All photos by Eunyoung Sebazco