Jan 30, 2011

Across The Street

Copyright Phyllis Odessey.  No usage without permission.
Copyright Peter Mauss.  No usage without permission.

For over 1000 years people in the East have been meditating, just not across the street from me. 

When a scientific institution, like The Museum of Natural History, thinks it worth developing an "exhibition" around meditation, I get my butt out of bed; grab my mat and see what's happening.
 Copyright Peter Mauss.  No usage without permission.

Before I sit in full lotus position,  I want to be convinced that meditation can change the way I deal.     Turns out the proof is in the brain.
Sand and tools to make the mandala.  Copyright Peter Mauss.  No usage without permission.
Khen Rinpoche Geshe Kachen Lobzang Tsetan conducting a meditation session at the Museum.
Copyright Peter Mauss.  No usage without permission.
Living in America: 
Brain and the Tibetan Creative Mind

Meditation of Neuroscience
"Meditation produces changes in brain function that promote well-being, foster positive affect and virtuous dispositions and impact physical health and illness.

Copyright Jeff Miller/University of Wisconsin.  Richard J. Davidson with monk.

...Researchers have also found that some of the Tibetan meditation practices alter peripheral biological responses in ways that may be beneficial to physical health.  Collectively this new body of research suggests that the brain can be changed through transformation of the mind."
from the brochure accompanying  Living In America:  Brain and The Tibetan Creative Mind.

Richard J. Davidson gave the only lecture at the Museum as part of the Brain and Creative Mind exhibition.  Davidson, a Harvard-educated scientist recounted his meeting with the Dali Lama in 1992: "You study depression, anxiety, and stress, why not compassion?
For the past 15 years, Davidson has worked with long-time practitioners (those with at least 10,000 hours of formal practice) to examine changes in brain function when meditating.

Davidson talked about a study he conducted over the internet with those who practice only 30 minutes a day in a totally secular way:
  1.   Focus on SELF: visual a time in your life when you were suffering. Cultivate a wish to be free from that suffering.
  2.   Focus on a STRANGER (perhaps a bus driver, doorman, etc.) imagine a time when they suffered and cultivate a wish that they be free of suffering.
  3.   Focus on on ALL BEINGS and wish that they be free from suffering
CONCLUSION:  After two weeks, people behaved more altruistically and scientists could detect brain changes. 
Part of the exhibition:  64 Tibetan medical paintings. 
These are hand-painted reproductions of traditional scroll paintings,

which provide a history of early medical knowledge and procedures in Tibet. 
They are believed to be among only a handful of such sets in existence. 
They were created in the late 1990's by Romio Shrestha, a Nepalee artist and his students.
Medicinal Plants
Snow Leopard part of the Cham Performance
performed by the monks from the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Tibet.

Copyright Peter Mauss.  No usage without permission.

THE CLOSING CEREMONY A week of events, centered around meditation and the making of a medicine mandala ended on Sunday.  It was time for the mandala's next incarnation. Spending 8 hours a day, 7 days creating a meticulously crafted art form and in a matter of minutes,  sweeping up millions of grains of sand takes some doing.
The penguins looked on 
 Copyright Peter Mauss.  No usage without permission.
The Director of the program was busy tapping on her iphone.
(There must be an iphone app = icompassion).

 Copyright Peter Mauss.  No usage without permission.
Sweeping the sands
Copyright Peter Mauss.  NO usage without permission.
Distributing the grains of sand to all who watched. 
According to the monks the sand contains medicinal healing properties.  As New Yorkers, we all pushed our way to get a little plastic bag.  The monks knew more than we did.  There was plenty for all.*

The grains of sand at my altar!

As a gardener, impermanence is something I am very  familiar with.  Nature is my teacher.  I experience "death"  in the garden,  through disease, extreme, unexpected weather, but rarely by my own hand.  I have been known to occasionally rip a plant out of the ground.  Usually I try to pawn it off on friend or foe. 

To  watch the willful destruction of the mandala took fortitude.  The monks were smiling, I was horrified...still very much of a Western mind.

Khen Rinpoche thanked everyone for coming and said, "Enjoy Your Life." 

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Davidson's Work:

"A human being is part of a whole, 
called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space.  He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.  This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us.  Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."
Albert Einstein
 *In a previous blog "Wallflower" I discussed how everywhere I go, the rose seems to play a part in the scene.  Today, was no different.  A rose was put in the middle of the mandala, before the sands were swept.

Jan 27, 2011


I don't know what's going on.

Will Ryman's site-specific sculpture, "Roses"  graces 10 blocks on the Park Avenue mall.

Downtown at the New Museum, "Hell, Yes" the iconic sculpture by Ugo Roninone

Photo by Peter Mauss. Copyright 2011 Peter Mauss.
No usage without permssion.

gives way to Isa Genzken's "Rose II," a twenty-eight foot tall sculpture on the outside of the museum building.

"Yes, I like to look up.
All my life.
I don't like to look down.
I look up to the sky."ISA GENZKEN
Photo by Peter Mauss. Copyright 2011 Peter Mauss.
No usage without permssion.
I love the New Museum building designed by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa.  The stacked white boxes take up space, on the Bowery, in the same way a cloud takes up space in the sky; it has great presence, but fits seamlessly into its environment.  It's only when you enter the building that you feel its volume. 
Photo by Peter Mauss. Copyright 2011 Peter Mauss.
No usage without permssion.
It's the exact opposite with Genzken's sculpture.  It's the fact that it is out of scale that makes it interesting, especially when covered with snow.  
In addition, Jennifer Potter's new book, The Rose, has just been published.  Potter gives us an explanation for the title of  Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. Riffing on Gertrude Stein's, "Rose is a rose is a rose,"  Eco's title references the rose as a symbol so rich in meaning that it now means everything and nothing. Jennifer Potter might disagree. In The Rose, she has found over 500 pages of meaning.
Photo by Peter Mauss. Copyright 2011 Peter Mauss.
No usage without permssion.
Openhouse Gallery on Mulberry Street, has created a commercial space called Park Here. It's a good walk by. If you like astro-turf, plasticine trees, facsimile picnic tables, fake rocks, you may enjoy getting in from the cold at the pop-up park.  I prefer being out in the snow.

Jan 26, 2011

"As many vowels
as a New York cab driver"

is how Tony Advent of Plants Delights Nursery
described Callirhoe involucrata v. tenuissima
and that was only the beginning.

Tony was the headliner at this year's Plant-O-Rama.  His opening remarks set the tone for the day:
"I consider every plant hardy,
until I kill it myself, at least three times."
(I am going for four times myself)

Owners of nurseries have a different way of talking about plants.  It's not just the new introductions, but the knowledge about a particular species gained through growing, tissue culture or grafting. Tony discussed the weaknesses of many Eichinaceas on the market and showed us some of the ones he likes:   Eichinacea 'Fatal Attraction,'  Eichinacea 'Hot Papaya' and Eichinacea 'Fragrant Angel,' the only Ecihinacea with a strong scent. 

Here are some selections from Plants Delights Nursery that interested me:
Phlox 'Minnie Pearl'
is mildew free.
Baptisia australis var. minor 
 only 1-2 ft. tall
Allium 'Millenium'
 doesnt self-seed.

And the list goes on and on.  After 108 slides and 108 new plants, I was ready for a break.  Tony Advent had done his job:  he was a plants person's delight.

Adam R. Wheeler was less entertainer, more plant fanatic.  He is the Plant Development Manager at Broken Arrow Nursery.  Concentrating on unusual trees and shrubs for the urban environment, Adam went through a host of new introductions (at least to me). 

Koelreuteria paniculata 'Coral Sun'
Small Tree with coral pink spring leaves.

Ginkgo biloba 'Markien'
  2-3 Ft. tall and still a Ginkgo


Rhus Coppalina 'Lanhams Purple'
Purple leaves in the Spring
turn brillant red in the Fall.

Bob Hyland of Loomis Creek Nursery delivered his swan song both to MetroHort and his nursery.  After 8 years in the business, he is moving to Portland, Oregon and selling his nursery.  His talk should have been called, "You Want To Buy A Nursery... Are You Crazy!"  Bob took us through all the steps, looking for a property, buying the property, making it into a nursery, experimenting with plant stock, changing the mix from mostly perennials to perennials, grasses, annuals, tropicals, and pottery. 
He asked the question:  Is there a shelf life for connoisseur nurseries? After naming several nurseries that have gone out of business, he started to identify the problems related to running a nursery (perhaps not the best way for a seller to go).  In the end, he gave us some advice, "keep your focus."  That's good counsel for all, especially for us plant lovers.

Jan 24, 2011

a rose,

Photo by Phyllis Odessey.  Copyright 2011 Phyllis Odessey
"We don't copy the objects we use, we try to transform them and we hope they go on transforming as you look at them.  The idea of endless public diaglogue...visual dialogue...is very important to us."  Claes Oldenburg

Park Ave  from 67 street to 57 Street, Will Ryman site-specific art installatoin.
Photo by Phyllis Odessey.  Copyright 2011 Phyllis Odessey

"If you look at the stems, they're sort of dancing."  Will Ryman

Walking down Park Avenue is never comfortable for me.  The avenue is staid and stately, and I am not.  For the next three months, I can let myself go and have some FUN on the avenue.  Will Ryman's "Roses" installation is about humor, color and celebration.

Photo by Phyllis Odessey. Copyright 2011 Phyllis Odessey
The longest stems are 25 feet above street level.  1-2 ft. beetles, bees, ladybugs and aphids crawl up the stems.

Photo by Phyllis Odessey. Copyright 2011 Phyllis Odessey 
Photo by Phyllis Odessey. Copyright 2011 Phyllis Odessey
The Roman Emperor Nero showered his guests with rose petals, in the same vein, Ryman has sprinkled his petals up Park Avenue.  I especially like this touch:  deconstructing his own sculpture.

The view up Park Avenue
Photo by Phyllis Odessey. Copyright 2011 Phyllis Odessey
Oldenburg said "My monuments are obstructions, but so is the Arc De Triomphe...traffic has to go around it."  Ryman's "Roses," are not barriers, but ornaments on the fingers of Park Avenue.

There is nothing more difficult for a truly creative painter than to paint a rose, because before he can do so he has first to forget all the roses that were ever painted."  Henri Matisse

A few fun facts about the rose:
1.  The Rose is the official flower of New York State.
2.  French explorer Samuel de Champlain brought the first cultivated rose to North America
3.  The oldest representation of the rose:  a fresco in Crete 1450 B.C.

4.  The first patent ever registered for a plant was a hydridized rose.

All photos in this blog by Phyllis Odessey.  Copyright 2011 Phyllis Odessey.

Jan 20, 2011

"The way I work
is the way I cook."
Michael Van Valkenburgh

Plant Collage a la Michael Van Valkenburgh by Phyllis Odessey

Michael Van Valkenburgh
New York Botanical Garden
Annual Winter Lecture Series
January 20, 2011

 "I am going to reveal the inner plant geek
that lives in and has been part of my life."
Michael Van Valkenburgh
I sat up and took notice.  Van Valkenburgh began by describing his childhood growing up on a diary farm in Upstate New York.  The importance of childhood memories no one can deny, but dividing the insiders from the outsiders was something new.  "What vibrates in my memory is the world outside." 
Van Valkenburgh started with Teardrop Park as a way of introducing his ideas about change and disturbance.  The client wanted to evoke the wild landscape of New York State within 2 acres of dark urban space.  The rock tunnel, a signature element in the park, was based on the arches designed by Olmsted in Central Park.  You actually have to go to Teardrop Park (if you can find it) to experience the different landscapes that are packed into this small space.
 "I once walked around Teardrop Park with my shrink,
he said the park looked exactly like the inside of my head." 

What I really enjoyed about Van Valenburgh's talk was his discussion of his working methods.  "The way I work is the way I cook.  A recipe is someone else's structure.   I put out a bunch of stuff, look at it and start combining ingredients based on what I feel works well together. "  

Bark Collage by Phyllis Odessey
The first photo in this blog, I created to give the reader an idea of kind of collages Van Valkenburgh showed us.  And it was through these collages that I gained an understanding of how the guy thinks.  In my own work, I often move plant images around on my computer to make combinations.   In a funny way, digitally we can mimic the changes of nature.

Putting together texture or growth patterns, creating a diagram of tree foliage by season, are a way of not sticking to the formula.  As Van Valkenburgh said they create a scaffolding for plant design.
"I love irregularity. 
I love a complicated landscape."

As an example, Van Valkenburgh, briefly mentioned The Highline, adored by all.  He remembered, what some of us can still recall, what the Highline was like before it was re-imagined.  The drain plugs brought birds; the birds dropped seeds;  native orchids and pitcher plants grew = an entire micro-ecology.  It was magic.  And magic is what Van Valkenburgh has.

Jan 15, 2011

11th Essential
12th Essential

Micro Spikes  - the best for winter hiking

#1 Map
#2 Compass
#3 Warm Clothing
#4 Extra Food and Water
#5 Head
Lamps or Flash Light
#6 Matches/ Fire Starter
#7 First Aid Kit
#8 Whistles
#9 Rain/Wind Jacket & Pants
#10 Pocket Knife
 11th Essential:  The Power Strip 
To most people, who know me, my commitment to go on a  snowshoeing trip in Mt. Whites came as a shock.  Cold is not my friend.  Endurance is not my strength.  Hiking etiquette might as well be written by Emily Post.  Creature comforts are more my style.  

But... I am not a wimp.  What bolstered my confidence was going with 3 other women.

As we settled into our room, choose our bunk beds, S pulled a power strip out of her backpack, "I thought we needed this for all our toys."  And we did.
The view from Elephant Head, looking toward Highland Lodge

We were lucky.  On our second day, a blizzard settled over the Presidential Range.  With visibility zero, the four of us put our heads together.  
Down the road, stands the Mt. Washington Hotel, a grand old lady built in 1902. Composed of 2,000 doors, 1200 windows, 200,000 square feet of wood flooring, 11 miles of plumbing pipe and 2,000,000 square feet of lumber and... a SPA. The answer came to us.

Mt. Washington Hotel: a view of a  portion  of the lobby then and now.

Grey nails, blue nails and a massage are good preparation for breaking trail in 3 ft. high snow. I believe, it increased our chances of getting to the top of Mt. Willard.

It took the better part of a day to do the round trip.  As S said, "The beauty rewards you." 
Would I do it again?  Only if I have the 12th Essential: 
3 fascinating, supportive, funny, tolerant, and compassionate women by my side.  

* The 10 Essentials are posted by the AMC (American Mountaineering Club ) in places like the back of bathroom doors, bulletin boards throughout the Lodge and on the dinner table.

Jan 10, 2011


"When you give something up,
that's when you start paying attention to it.
And it becomes your subject."
Adam Gopnik, interview on NPR, 12/26/2010
I am a prowler. My stealth attempts to sniff out treasures at flea markets went virtually unnoticed, by everyone, but me. Pretty soon it was clear, my attraction to the shape of things, especially in small objects led to a passion for flower pots.
Trips to Europe were sidelined by detours to antique stores and flea markets.
A Place To Take Root:  The History of Flower Pots and Garden Containers in America was a show in Bar Harbor, Maine in 2008.

"The story of the flower pot is that of the development of horticulture.  To grow an exotic like an orange tree in Britain, to sprout rare seeds and to root the stems of living plants to produce offspring identical to the parent, gardeners needed a way to control the tender new plant's immediate environment.

In the same way Linnaeus was organizing the plant kingdom to fit a scientific system, flowerpot forms were designed to "work" for horticulturists with ever greater efficiency.  Individualized terra cotta items such as seed pots and pots and saucers, orchid pans, multi-perforated pots and forcing pots were utilized by horticulturists to aid a plant's growth at each stage of development.  Pots were specifically designed to fit the plant's root system:  tall "long toms" were made for plants with long tap roots, while diminutive thimbles gave new seedlings their first individual homes." -Susan Tamulevich

These cheap miniature ceramic pots were purchased in a mile-long Taiwanese flea market, filled with pearls worthy of a  Maharahji, bonsai to cry over and cell phones the size of your pinky finger.

Anyone who has been to a French Chateau recognizes these petite versions of the urns that enliven the French garden.  It doesn't matter that the green glaze has all but rubbed off.  I love having a reminder of le jardin francais that fits on the end of a thimble.

When you are a veteran of flea markets you often come across goods that have never been used. They still have the original labels, boxes and sometimes, even the price tag.  That was the case with these flower pots from the 1930's.  I jumped at the chance to buy them.

This Japanese inspired "cache" pot was made by Malcolm Wright, a potter, living in Marlboro, Vermont.  I like to keep it empty.   The glaze is as alive as any plant.

Whether its furniture, porcelain or glassware, I have a passion for all things Scandinavian. The design is always paired down to its essence.  During trips to Nordic countries, I stop at garden centers or small florists shops looking for flower pots or containers.  I love these zinc pots for their shapes.  They make a happy family.

There was a period of time when concrete was made to look like wood.  It was a popular material for garden furniture and objects.  This is a contemporary example of that craze.
It turns out that concrete (opus caementicium) was reinvented by the Romans.  They found out that by mixing pozzola (volcanic ash) as a binding agent, the concrete formed made a stronger bond with the aggregates, which allowed pouring, instead of cutting.  This lead to the building of phenomenal spans:  arches, vaults and domes.
 An example of Eric Soderholtz pot -thedowneastdilettante.blogspot.com

Much later in America, Beatrix Farrand discovered that Swedish-born, Eric Soderholtz, an architectural photographer and draftsman had created a formula for pots made out of reinforced concrete that could withstand the severe Maine winters.  This tradition continues to day at Lunaform.
These pots are typical of containers from the South of France.  The color of the clay tells us so.  I was told they were melon pots.  This might be true or not.  One of the most important criteria for a good flea market salesman is the story they have to tell.

If you've tried your hand at throwing a pot or hand-building, you know how hard it is to make something small and delicate.  Over the course of a few years, I was able to find smaller and smaller versions of the ubiquitous terra-cotta pot.  I have no idea what they could have been used for, but they are marvelous examples of a lost art.

My dollhouse collection of pots sit in my potting shed/woodshed.  Every time I need a pair of pruners, twine or shears, I pass my lilliputian shelf.  If flower pots are a seedlings first home, then my collection has found its final resting place.
The ultimate garden shelf at the Garden History Museum in London.

All photos copyright Phyllis Odessey 2011, unless otherwise noted.