Dec 31, 2010

To Everyone
A Good Year

The snow is snowing and the wind is blowing
But I can weather the storm!
What do I care how much it may storm?
For I've got my BOOK to keep me warm.

In 2010 I packed boxes and boxes of books... of all kinds...
novels, cookbooks, art books, gardening books
and took them to second bookstore for some deniro
The shelves are still full, but not overflowing. 
What is there... is what I need and no more.

This holiday season, I was determined more than ever not to buy a single book.  Inspite of myself, I caved. Those 10 best lists got to me.  Dominque Browning's list pierced my heart, it was too much.  

Here's what is going to keep me warm over Christmas and New Years and longer.

Instead of smoking a joint:
In the past year, I doubt I have opened a single cookbook.  I googled recipes.  Still, I bought David Tanis new book, Heart of the Artichoke for no good reason, except Tanis has stories to tell.
Ann Raver's  article in The New York Times, Reining In a Runaway Yard chronicles the changes Page Dickey (70) and her husband, Bosco Schell (76) have made to their extensive garden. The article was an eye-opener, especially now that I see a new wrinkle everyday. 

When I mentioned the Ann Raver article to Sean, a member of my hort crew, who is a knowledgeable plantsman and avid gardener himself; he told me when he bought his house, he inherited an "old people's garden".  Where there had once been perennials, ground cover now grew.  In the first years that he owned the place, he pulled out tons of  ivy to make way for perennials, annuals, grasses, rare South African plants, bulbs, and flowering shrubs.

The aesthetics of old people vs. young peoples gardens is one to consider.  Sydney Eddison apparently has given it a great deal of thought.

She knows about gardening and has written a book for those of us with a pain or two.   Gardening for a Lifetime:  How to Garden Wiser as You Grow Older seemed like a must-have.

The book lineup was increasing, but luckily I did not have to scratch
Apollo's Angels off the list.  I was given it.

For years, I took ballet lessons from a Russian emigre, who was stuck in Queens teaching children ballet, instead of performing on the stage.  She had a thick accent and was never in the mood for nonsense.  She wanted us to become real ballerinas, although I am sure in her heart, she knew there wasn't collectively enough talent at the bar to make one ballerina. 

Phyllis as Flower -  Ballet Recital
All of this book buying had synchronicity to it.  Morning Edition (NPR) was airing a series on reading and books.  We all know about the demise of chain stores, declining revenues for publishers, shrinking readership and the ubiquitous use of e-readers.  Nothing new here.

NPR identified two new trends, both entrepreneurial in nature.  In the world of kids books:  transmedia has taken shape.  This is the linkage between book and website.  The key to the popularity of these websites was summed up in the comments of its users: "while you are waiting for the next book, you can talk to the characters." 

I've heard of artisanal bread, artisanal cheese, but i didn't know that the old-fashioned dying neighborhood bookstore has now been replaced by the artisanal bookstore. 

There may be fewer book buyers in the world, but there are definitely a lot more writers.  

2010 has been a year of finding out that friends,
and friends of friends,
and friends of friends of friends
are really good writers. 

I thank everyone who has read this blog
I thank every one of you writers for
the pleasure of reading what you have to say.

Dec 28, 2010

Let it Blow,
Let it Blow

Langudeoc = mistral
Occitan = mistrau
Catalon = mestral
Italian = maestrale
Traditional Christmas crib in France often includes a figure of a shepherd holding his hat,
with his cloak blowing in the mistral.
- the full wiki

Mt. Boron, Nice, 400,000 B.C.  
The inhabitants built low walls of rocks and beach stones to the northwest of their fireplace to protect their fire from the power of the Mistral.
Stone Wall by Dan Snow

Some people call the Mistral the Wind of Wrath.  Peter Mayle described the mistral "as a brutal, exhausting wind that can blow the ears off a donkey." In the last two days, I have experienced something close to the mistral.  The wind has been blowing continuously.  
It is often said that it was the mistral that caused Van Gogh to cut off his ear.

My sister, who lives in the south of France, consulted a local "healer" in her village to chase away the mistral headaches.

At my house, the walking stick is up to its knees in a snow drift.

The result of the wind at my house is a landscape like the desert sands in Lawrence of Arabia. And plants that really stand up to even a "mistral."

Chasmanthium latifolium
According to The Royal Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Perennials, "attractive in drifts" - especially in the snow.
Hakonechloa macra
Rick Darke, "it is luxuriant even in nearly full sun."  I find it more than luxuriant in blowing snow.
Picea abies 'Repens Gold'
Richard L. Bitner, in Conifers for the Garden, "slow-growing, flat-topped, center builds up in time."  I don't know of any plant,which will be as bright as a Christmas light all winter long. 

As the wind swept around the landscape, it blew snow onto the porch.  This chair is my favorite spot for taking "a load off"   Today, the snow has taken my place.

Dog & Butterfly

I let the wind steal my power
Spin me 'round lose my course
Nights run by like hours
Well, it would show me the way
To the deepest mountains
Too high and beautiful to be
Mistral, mistral wind

All the hours on the watch
I wait for that breeze to move me
And blow me back to that place
Magic space all through me
And I sigh your name
Across the empty water
You made a crazy dreamer out of me
Mistral, mistral, mistral, mistral,
Mistral, mistral

Dec 23, 2010

Do you hear what I hear

John Gunderson with Jonathan planting a Jonathan Apple Tree on Randall's Island

Do you see...what I see
is my comfort zone, so when asked to put together a downloadable audio tour about the gardens on Randall's Island, I was

Most people can't stand to hear me sing. My eyes are better than my ears.  Writing the script for the audio tour, making a list of the participants and recording various speakers was relatively easy.  The difficulty arose in the editing process.

Writing and hearing are surprisingly antithetical.  I know all musicians are aware of pacing and rhythm and so are writers.  But the written word and the audio word require a different skill set.  A melodious sounding sentence may fall flat when spoken.  

I found that people, who are good speakers are those who are extroverted.  They are used to feeling like they are on "stage."  In fact, they are able to make a seamless transition from an internal monologue to an audio performance. For those of us with the shy gene, the best we can do is listen harder and do take after take until what is in our head is understood on an MP3 file.

I submit this audio clip (about the apple orchard on Randall's Island) for your listening pleasure.

The Newtown Pippin Apple

For more information about the Newtown Pipppin contact:

Dec 18, 2010

all the way

Susan Philipsz
In the18th century, Zen Master Hakuin asked the question: 
What is the sound of one hand? 
Yes, that is correct.  It is not a typo.  In the art world today, this question has particular resonance.

Susan Philipsz won the 2010 Turner Prize for "songs of lamentation and loss that haunt those within hearing of the sound sculptures centered on her voice."  Of FreePort (No. 003) "Susan Philipsz creates sound installations that explore ways in which the emotive and psychological properties of song alter a listener's perception of place and time." - Peabody Essex Museum website.

The Turner named after the great artist, J.M.W. Turner brings sound into realm of the art prize world.

Earlier in the year, Yoko Ono gave visitors a chance to participate in her piece:  From a Whisper to A Scream at MoMA.  A microphone and speakers were set up in the museum's atrium, visitors were invited to scream into the mic.  Some screamers felt like shareholders completing the work.  The sound was heard round the museum.  I couldn't get far enough a way;  even the fourth floor did not shield me from the "noise."

For a month visitors to MoMA could observe Marina Abramovic sitting in the atrium in total silence.  Those who had the patience, waited in line to sit across the table from her and stare.  This was truly the sounds of silence.

This holiday season, MoMA has commissioned another sound piece. Performance 9:  Allora and Calzadilla (December 8, 2010 - January 10, 2011).  I went on Sunday and listened to Mia Elezovic. 

Again in the atrium, the center of a grand piano has a hole cut out of it, a pianist wiggles through the hole; leaning over the keyboard upside down; the performer plays the Fourth Movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, "Ode to Joy."

The music is transformed.  The hole has caused two octaves to be removed from the piano.  The tune is still recognizable, even though it sounds different.
I don't remember ever being able to be so close to a pianist, except in someone's home, certainly not in a performance venue.
The closeness, you follow the piano around the room as the performer moves it where they want, gives the piece a different kind of presence.  You are really THERE.
The concentration of the face of performer is excruciating.  The audience is transfixed.  Everyone has a camera.  The music is superb.

This is a wonderful holiday gift from the museum to its visitors.

All of these sound performances raise the question:  Are the visual arts dead? Has the ipod heightened our sound awareness and the computer deadened our visual acuity?  Or is it simply that we crave interaction, because we live in the virtual world so much of the time?

As I have done for many years, when at MoMA, I head to Monet's Water Lillies.  To me this is truly the sound of joy.  As a teenager, I used to sit before this painting and lose myself.  I still do.


Dec 13, 2010

Deck the Halls
with Bouquets

Gerben Mulder's show FLOWERS at Newman Popiashvili Gallery is the perfect antidote to a grey day in Manhattan.  You might think these paintings belong to the German Expressionist Movement.  But you would be wrong.  Mulder is Dutch, born in 1972; still a young man by some people's standards.
The Dutch have a tremendous tradition of still life painting.  They are a horticultural nation of flower growers, plant explorers and garden designers.  Anyone who has slogged their way through Anna Pavord's book about the tulip is all too aware of Dutch obsession with one flower.

I was recently asked whether or not there was an "American" style of gardening or if we were just borrowers.  I thought about it for about half a minute and decided that we just don't know how turn what we have into a style.  It's people like Piet Oudolf (another Dutchman), Dan Pearson and Ulf Nordfjell who looked at the American prairie and turned into an international style.
Mulder has his own style, even if it seems a bit retro.  Unlike a lot of what you see today, it's not conceptual.  It is what it is.  You don't have to think, just feel.  It was worth trekking to Chelsea for this bit of sunshine.

Dec 9, 2010

Save A Seed,
Save The World

ART by Lisa Perrin

I started to write a blog about the Hudson Valley Seed Library, specifically the art pack project which features seed packets designed by New York artists, in order to celebrate heirloom gardening.  On the surface, it seemed pretty straightforward.  A group of pretty pictures and some copy.

ART by Jenny Lee Fowler

 I usually like to do a little research, even for a blog that seems like fluff.  It turns out SEEDS are a political issue. 

"Traditional varieties of vegetables and grains are a vital heritage:  they could be the key to our food security in the future.  But, where hundreds of varieties of a crop were once grown, now there may be only two or three, or the crop itself may have been abandoned. "  Journey to Forever
ART by Barbara Bash
"One of the world's most pervasive threats to world food and livelihood security is the loss of biological diversity."  GRAIN

Kew's Millennium Seed Bank partnership is the largest ex situ plant conservation project in the world.  
"Our focus is on global plant life faced with the threat of extinction and plants of most use for the future. The seeds we save are conserved outside their native habitat.  Working with out network of partners across 50 countries, we have successfully banked 10% of the world's wild plant species. With your help, we are going to save 25% by 2020.  We target plants and regions most at risk from climate change and the ever-increasing impact of human activities."

You can visit Kew's Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst Place in Sussex and see the seed bank in action.  I did and it's worth the trip.

ART by Giselle Potter

On Thursday night The Horticultural Society of New York hosted a preview party of the original art from the Hudson Valley Seed Library 2011 Art Packs.  Besides food from Katchkie Farm and drinks from Hudson Real American Whiskeys,  Ken Greene, co-founder of Hudson Valley Seed Library led an informal guided tour of the artwork.  

Working in a library in upstate New York, Ken got the idea for the seed library.  As he said  "My addiction to ebay led me to start purchasing original seed packages and seed catalogs from New York State. "  Inspired by the artwork on these vintage seed packs, Ken decided to re-invent the seed package by hiring contemporary artists to create covers for the packets, putting their original spin on a tomato, cucumber or kale.  This year, Ken wrote copy for the interior of the packages.  "I realized that vintage seed catalogs were less interested in telling you what great tomatoes you could grow; instead the writing concentrated on the history of the variety or what would be enjoyable about growing this particular vegetable and that is what I tried to do."

An example of the copy inside PROVIDER GREEN BEAN:
"Although many garden varieties are humorously or hyperbolically named, this bean's moniker is apt and to the point.  Provider beans deliver early, steady, long-lasting yields of prolific and nutritious green beans.  The seeds will germinate in cool soils, and the plants stand strong through many common bean diseases.  Provider will produce a bounty:  eat them fresh, make dilly beans, freeze a bunch, and share your harvest with friends." 

This holiday season you can become a "seed guardian"  and supporter of the arts.   The egg may be nature's  perfect package, but it's hard to think of another packet  that bears "fruit" both inside and out.
Wildflower Seed Packs from Randall's Island.  
We harvest seed every year from our wildflower meadows 
and put together seed packs made from the ends of bamboo
to give to our volunteers as a thank you for working in the garden.

If you are in New York City, 
visit The Horticultural Society of New York on West 37 Street 
to see the original seed packs for 2011 on view until December 23.
You can also purchase original prints of the artwork from this years seed packs.

Dec 5, 2010

Participants and Caretakers

 Nocture of the Limax maximus
Paula Hayes

MoMA has always been a haven for me; sometimes it has been a kind of heaven.  In High School, we used to cut class, hop a train and roam around the galleries looking for the antidote to our prescribed lives.  Years later I followed  film-buff boyfriend to the basement auditorium of MoMA to watch vintage films.  When I worked around the corner from the museum, I often spent my lunch hour wandering the galleries  looking for inspiration.  MoMA has always been a second home.  

The new show Nocture of the Limax maximus by Paula Hayes is a mini-show and some may question what it is doing in the museum.  Paula Hayes makes terrariums, small and large, from blown glass in amoeba-like shapes.
Hayes tell us in her MoMA blog that "The Limax maximus - the Leopard slug referred to in the title of my commissioned installation on view in MoMA's lobby - is a "simultaneous hermaphrodite" that is not capable of self-fertilization."

"...The areas that fascinate me most are the comparisons of female roles in not only art as an object, but in the practice of art making itself.  

...Living art literally involves the attentive and continuous role of participants and caretakers in all aspects of the continuum of its manifestation and life; this reality is at its core - a core that is performed by humans along any point in the spectrum of gender."

Viewing the two installations in the lobby of MoMA, I have no idea what the connection is between these intellectual theories and the terrariums.
What I understand  is the immediate response one feels to this world of begonias,  ferns, and  tiny tropical plants. It's hard to walk past and not pay attention to this green world.  It's a special kind of garden.
Ann Temkin, chief curator of the museum's department of painting and sculpture,  says of Hayes' work " don't need a Ph.D. in art history to get."

 I agree you don't need a degree to enjoy the work, but I feel you do need a translator to understand what Hayes means when she says "It is the essential that there be an internal, collaborative maintenance of the life of the work so that it can exist as an artwork."

Nov 30, 2010

Making A List,
Checking It Twice...

i've checked out whose "naughty and nice".'s my must-have plant list for 2011.
1. Clematis x jouiniana 'Praecox'
BECAUSE as the BBC Plant Finder says
" it will happily scramble through borders...
and I need a ground cover that is unexpected and underused.
clematis x jouiniana 'Praecox'

2. Crocus sativus
BECAUSE saffron is the world's most expensive spice (by weight); you can grow it in the Northeast and its an autumn bloomer.  In the Spring, the plant sends up five to eleven narrow vertical green leaves; in autumn purple buds appear; in October its purple flowers develop.  A three-pronged style emerges from each flower, each prong terminates with a vivid crimson stigma = saffron.
crocus sativus
The saffron gatherer, reproduction of an ancient Theran wall painting (approx. 3600 years old) by Thomas Baker

BECAUSE the history of saffron reaches back more than 3,000 years.  C.sativus emerged late in Bronze Age Crete and you can still plant it in 2011.
geranium pretense 'Midnight Reiter'
3. Geranium maculatum 'Espresso'
Geranium pretense 'Midnight Reiter' 
BECAUSE I love dark purple foliage.  Fagus sylvatica 'Black Swan' does the trick when it comes to a tree, Physocarpus opulifolius 'Diablo' is a great shrub, and there are always the many heucheras from plum to dark burgundy that are workhorses in the garden.  But what if you want dark foliage in the sun, what then?  My answer:  Geranium maculatum 'Espresso' or Geranium pretense 'Midnight Reiter'.
4. Hakonechloa macra Nicolas
 Hakonechloa macra Nicolas
BECAUSE sometimes you want a waterfall and can't have one.  Hakonechloa is the plant that can cascade like nothing else and Nicolas can grow in the sun or so they say.  We shall see. 
 5. Scuttellaria incana
BECAUSE you don't see it very often; it blooms late in the season; the leaves turn purple in the fall; and nothing is more beautiful than its seed heads. 
 Scuttelaria incana

6. Echinacea tennesseensis 'Rocky Top'
 Echinacea tennesseensis 'Rocky Top'
BECAUSE even though there are many Echinaceas on the market and everyone is kind of sick of them, Echinacea tenesseenis is on the endangered species list.  The flowers always face EAST, not traveling with the sun like most Echinaceas.  In researching this little tidbit, I found out that this Echinacea can be traced back to the last Ice Age.
7. Phlomis tuberosa 'Amazone'
BECAUSE its easy to grow, has a beautiful structure, magnificent seed heads and it's a favorite of Beth Chatto.

  8. Amsonia hubrichtii 
BECAUSE although the willow-like foliage is great when contrasted with a heavier leaf, the real story is the golden bronze color Amsonia hubrichtii turns in the fall and I appreciate the fact that it is one of our native American plants.
My resolution for 2011:
I won't be crying or pouting, just digging in the soil.