Apr 28, 2011

An Anonymous Quality: Steinunn Thorarinsdottir

Steinunn Thorarinsdottir
on display at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza
New York City
March 24 - September 30, 2011

26 androgynous, life-size sculptures
13 aluminum, 13 cast iron

When I am trying to sort out a problem, I like to take a walk.  I hiked down to Dag Hammarskjold Plaza on East 47 Street to see Steinunn Thorarinsdottir's new environmental installation, "Borders."

Sitting among these undefined figures, I was able to let my mind wander until I felt comfortable among these remote figures.  They emote nothing.  I was particularly comforted by their lack of overtones.  It was exactly what I was looking for.  I was able to concentrate on my problem. 
"They invite the spectator to be part of an unspoken dialogue that makes us ask questions of ourselves and our place in the world, they are thoughtful, contemplative, introspective.  There is a tranquility, a non aggressive posture, the hands often turned outwards in a supplicant gesture. "
Peter Osborne, director of Osborne Samuel, London
If you find yourself in the neighborhood, I recommend taking a load off.  Try sitting among these figures.  AS a fall back, you can always go into Japan Society and see "Bye, Bye Kitty!!! Between Heaven and Hell in Contemporary Japanese Art," which seems like an amazing title considering the events of the past month in that island nation.

Apr 23, 2011

Bringing Together
People and Plants

a project of social exchange
and botanical desire
I am attracted to the offbeat, strange, wonderful and challenging.  When I "met" Heather Ring through her Algae Garden project for jardins de metis, I also became aware of waywardplants

What are waywardplants?
"Wayward Plants, commonly referred to as weeds, are plants growing where they are not wanted.  They may be non-native, unsightly, invasive, high-maintenance, surplus or withering, and so are uprooted and abandoned, pulled from the earth as urban castaways".
"Whether common weeds, domestic breeds or rare botanical specimens, waywardplants are truly in the eye of the beholder.  The Wayward Plant Registry sets up halfway homes, pop-up shops, adoption events and ever-evolving community gardens for these unwanted plants, bringing together people and plants through spaces and stories".
"The Wayward Land Trust develops imaginative responses for derelict sites, forgotten corners, vacant lots, orphaned lots, underutilized land and interim spaces. A platform for strategic co-designing with communities, the Wayward Land Trust creates structures for participation, through an open collective of landscape architects, architects, artists and guerilla gardeners".
"Carnation:  I'm so tired: three days ago I'd never left the farm,
let alone Colombia.  I missed Holland, asleep in the cold.
Then light at last, and petrol fumes.
A garage forecourt on Merton Road.
He seemed nice, the young man who picked us.
A bit rushed, but isn't everyone?
The old clipped us for the vase,
her voice pouring over us.
Then the click of cutlery on plates.
Then the front door.
And silence for a long time and then TV".

waywardplants is an open collective of landscape architects, architects, designers, artists and guerilla gardeners.  It's founder is Heather Ring.

We might have something like this in the US, but I am not aware of it.  If you know of a similar collaborative effort, I appreciate an email.

All photos courtesy of waywardplants.

Apr 16, 2011

Everyone wants
to be a farmer
except the farmer






"This is America, and it takes all kinds.  All over the country we have met enterprising, hopeful greehorns; descendents of family dairies, punky inner-city gardeners, homesteaders, radical Christians, anarcho-activists, ex-suburbanites, graduates with biological science degrees, ex-teachers, ex-poets, ex-cowboys..."
"The movement is real.  Its practitioners are skilled, savvy, ferocious.  They are assets to their community and guarantors of our future.  They are shovel-ready, shovel-sharpened.  Relishers of flavor, recipients of the generosity of photosynthesis.  Hell bent on recovering from the age of convenience.  They are young farmers with young muscles wisely applying their lives to the problems at hand. "
excerpt from the Directors statement: Severine von Tscharner Fleming (director, provisional producer, agarian)

This is only a tidbit of Severine's "manifesto."  She is as passionate in person as these words indicate.  At a recent conference on Urban Agriculture held at the Horticultural Society of New York, Severine was only one of the speakers, but the one who captured my heart. 

Those of us who considered ourselves hippies (and some still do) and lived through a period of idealism can relate to Severine.  We get it and we admire it.  She and her posse have a lot more tools in their toolbox, than those of us who went before.  They have a huge advantage:  the internet.  Their ability to connect with each other worldwide is impowering.
How we serve young farmers:
I urge everyone to go to their site and see the range of activities and initiatives going on round the country in urban agriculture.   Make sure to take a look at their great graphics. Find out what a "crop rave" is and how you can "geo-organize" yourself.  Oh Pioneers!  I might want to get out my tie-dyed skirt and throw a few seeds in the ground myself.

The Greenhorns is a grassroots non-profit organization made up of young farmers and many collaborators.  Our mission is to recruit, promote and support the new generation of young farmers in this ample
and able 21st century America.

Framing The Viewshed

Photo by Peter Aaron, ESTO

n.: the natural environment that is
visible from one or more viewing points.

Olana Symposium
Saturday, April 16, 2011

1-5 pm

I bumped into Robin Key at the Cultural Landscape James van Sweden event; over cocktails she handed me a brochure about Olana and thought it might be of interest.  And it is, especially the use of the word "viewshed."    I share it with you here.

"Viewsheds are an intrinsic part of every nationally significant region.  America's first art and conservation movement had deep roots in the Hudson Valley, and this symposium, hosted by The Olana Partnership, will offer a fresh look at iconic Hudson Valley scenes through the lens of art history, environmental conservation, and landscape architecture. "

The Four Hudsons of Wallace Bruce:  the Hudson of Beauty, the Hudson of History, the Hudson of Literature, and the Hudson of Commerce.

The Art of Protecting Scenic Views:  Nineteenth-century Artists and the Preservation of Modern-day Landscapes

Life Goes ON:  Contemporary Design in Historic Settings

Symposium takes place at Columbia-Greene Community College, Arts Center Theater, 4400 Rt. 23, Hudson, NY.

In addition:
Viewshed Benefit Party
Bell Tower Tour at Olana

To register :
518-828-1872 ext. 103
email:  rsvp@olana.org
visit:  www.olana.org

Proceeds will benefit the restoration of Crown Hill at Olana, a crucial component of Frederic Church's designed landscape. 

Apr 12, 2011

Clipping Your Toenails:

There was a time when we were blessed:  Anne Raver wrote a weekly gardening column for the New York Times.  She spoke Monday night at the NARGS (North American Rock Garden Society) meeting.  Her topic:  gardens that have remained in My Mind and Heart. Abbie Zabar introduced her friend, Anne Raver in this way, "If Anne wrote about clipping toenails, I would want to read it". 

Raver's  "travelogue" began with her family home in Maryland, where she now lives.  It was clear from the way Anne talked about her 6th generation family farm that this place had unconsciously formed her sense of place.  It's a farm with a view; an undesigned landscape of open sky and rolling hills. 

Bill Noble and Jim Tatum's garden in Norwich, Vermont is an old diary farm.  They started making a garden around the old foundation of one of the barns.  "The work of clearing out the detritus from the foundation, gave Bill time to get a feel for the land.  This garden is one of the places that speak to me.  It looks right."

What does Raver love about a garden?  the journey, the feeling of being lost. In describing Douglas and Julia Brine's garden in Pawling, New York, Raver most clearly defined the pleasure of walking around a garden.  She described it as "treasure island."  The dense plantings of shrubs and trees over 6 acres are interwoven to form a tunnel through which you weave your way, discovering paths and views a long the way.  "It has a come hither feeling.  You explore what's around every bend."

It was at this point that I discovered what I love about Anne Raver's writing.  Beside the fact that she is excellent wordsmith and storyteller, her writing has a "come hither feeling."  She works a story in the the same way you navigate through a good garden.


Hors d'oeuvres were served at the NARGS meeting.  A basket of seeds were passed around.  "Take as many as you want." said the President, Michael Riley.  I stuffed as many little packets as I could into my bag.  It was the perfect canape.

Apr 7, 2011

From Cheerio to Chiao!

The Flowering of Tuscany:
British Gardens in Italy
Bernard Berenson and Geoffrey Scott in the recently completed garden (1913)
Seed for Thought Lecture
Royal Oak Foundation
New York

ANNA PAVORD tells a good story.  You can see why she is in demand.   She delivers a riveting presentation punctuated by humor and knowledge.  She has done her research; found the interesting tidbit and overarching meaning of her subject.  Pavord began her lecture Tuesday night with this fact:
  At the beginning of the twentieth century,
one in six people living in Florence spoke English as their native tongue.

And then asked the question why?
1.  It was cheaper to live in a grand style
2.  Expats could reinvent themselves 
3.  Liaisons were tolerated, even indulged
4.  Sons could be sent to Italy,  if they proved unsatisfactory
5.  Industrialization had transformed the British countryside and some felt it was blighted
6.  The retreat to Florence represented a sense of "backwaterdom"
7.  Journals, diaries, sketches could be written
8.  Women found considerably more freedom in Florence than at home
The staircase at Villa le Balze
What exactly did the English bring to Italian gardens?  Pavord put it in the most lovely way, 
"... they laid on a muslin veil of flowers."

This story of the making of these gardens is greatly enhanced by the amount of hanky panky that went on between neighbors.  Homosexual, heterosexual, intramarital; it made no difference.  Sex was as much part of their lives as garden making. The actors:  Bernard Berenson, Lady Paget, Lady Sybil Cutting, Alice Keppel, Sir George Sitwell, Sir Arthur Acton,Vita Sackville-West, Charles Strong. 

But the guy who plays a pivotal role is the guy you haven't heard of:  Cecil Pinsent (1884-1963).  He arrived in Florence at age 24, joining his friend Geoffrey Scott on a study-tour of Tuscan architecture.  He designed 8 major gardens between 1921-1928.  Pinsent met the right people: each owned a large property and wanted a garden.  He understood the architecture of the Renaissance and the settecento.  This was his genius.  He made Italian gardens for British expats.  He used the Italian garden idioms and elements; creating designs more Italian than their ancestors'. 

Pavord took us through Pinsent's gardens, describing his landscapes, peppering her stories with the personal histories of the occupants of the houses and doing it all with a dose of British humor.
La Foce
Benedetta Origo
"...And then three years later, after my American great-grandmother had given my parents
enough money for a water pipe from a spirng six miles away,
he(Pinsent) was able to start this first little garden."

In passing, Pavord mentioned Torre di Bellosguardo.  Her husband had taken her there on holiday after a bout with cancer.  "Today, Torre di Bellosguardo is still surrounded by the silence of the garden and the hills, a haven of ancient and noble history that it shares with its guests everyday as a hotel of rare comfort and atmosphere".  She recommended a stay.  I googled it and decided this little piece of heaven would take a few more pennies in the piggy bank to become a reality.
Torre di Bellosguardo
Anna Pavord:  Author of nine books including:  The Tulip, Bulbs, The Naming of Names, The Curious GardenerShe contributes to a number of magazines and regularly fronts programs for BBC Radio.  In addition to her role on the Natinal Trust's Gardens Panel, she also sits on the Parks and Gardens Panel of English Heritage.

Apr 4, 2011

Do Not Sit Under
the cherry blossoms

I awoke this morning to a story on NPR:  the Governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara admonishing residents not to sit under the cherry trees.  It's Hanami (flower viewing) in Japan.  I thought it might have something to do the nuclear disaster.  Perhaps, it was some weird phenomenon where cherry trees pick up an unnatural amounts of radiation.  I was wrong.
The Governor thought that people should not be celebrating, considering the many catastrophes that have befallen the country.  Strolling and picnicking under the blossoms of cherry trees is a Japanese tradition.  "It is an expression of the aesthetic sensibility of the Japanese soul," said one passerby interviewed by NPR.

Come, see real
of this painful world.

After hearing this story on the radio, I drove to Randall's Island. From 7 am to 10 am, we unloaded 150 trees: Tilia Americana, Prunus yoshino, Crategeus viridis 'Winter King' Malus 'Profusion', Zelkovia serrata, Quercus bicolor and Cornus florida. The Prunus were full of buds.  I was looking forward to seeing them flower, looking up at these pink powder puffs and feeling their grace.
If you agree with the Governor and want a cherry blossom to sit IN FRONT OF, but not under, check out this cover for your ipad.

Apr 3, 2011

Annie Novak
had a farm
Ee i ee i oh!

And on that farm
she had some vegetables
Ee i ee i oh!
With a carrot here,
And a tomato there...

Raise the Roof:
Annie Novak

NYBG Winter Lecture Series
March  2011

Annie Novak gives off good vibes.  She is founder of Eagle Street Farm and Growing Chefs.  As of March 2011, she is the Assistant Manager of the Family Garden at the New York Botanical Garden and consultant to Lake Tanganyika Floating Health Clinic.

Eagle Street Farm facts:
6,000 sq. ft.
200,000 lbs. of soil
$10 sq. ft. to install
soil composition: 
60% organic material,
40% clay and shale
4-6 inch soil depth

We are used to people talking about transparency in relation to politics, but not in terms of farming.  Annie Novak practices transparency:  "Everything we do...  we talk about it... we blog about it."  Whether its using local human hair as a mulch or inter-cropping or making compost tea or using rabbit manure.  Failure or success, Annie puts it all out there.  Even her farmers market is bottoms up marketing.  Her vegetables are not packaged, she wants people to see the color of chard and radishes.   "What we sell is as close to being in a raw state as possible." 

Using what you have is something we all aspire to.  Novak shows us the way.  Her kale was attacked by aphids.  It could not be sold.  They washed it, roasted it, resulting in Kale Chips, packaged (the exception) in brown bags with the recipe on the package, so you can make too! 
all of the above photos courtesy of Annie Novak

In addition,  Annie Novak, runs a CSA with whole and half shares, an apprenticeship program, free classes at the farm, and in 2005 began Growing Chefs.  Her intention:  to make kids into ecological eaters. 

She recently returned from Lake Tanganyika looking into the possibility of partnering with The Floating Health Clinic, an organization bringing health to isolated communities on Lake Tanganyika.  Her idea: to add a vegetable garden of the roof of the barge.

Annie Novak read a passage from Wendell Berry:  The Pleasures of Eating
"The industrial eater is, in fact, one who does not know that eating is an agricultural act, who no longer knows or imagines the connections between eating and the land, and who is therefore necessarily passive and uncritical - in short, a victim.  When food, in the minds of eaters, is no longer associated with farming and with the land, then the eaters are suffering a kind of cultural amnesia that is misleading and dangerous..."



Apr 2, 2011

It's All Energy:
Robert Irwin

Parsons School of Design, April 1, 2011
"I was doing large abstract expressionist paintings a la James Brooks.  A fellow painter invited me over for dinner one night.  He collected rare Japanese bowls. If the karma was right, I might receive one of the tea bowls.  For dinner, we ate  Campbell's Pork and Beans out of a can.  The evening was going well.  After we finished eating, my companion put a small wood box on the table.  Japanese tea bowls are traditionally wrapped in hand-made wood boxes tied with ribbon.  I opened the box, inside was a pouch containing the bowl.  Tea bowls are small, you can wrap your hands around the circumference.  I went home with the bowl.  I realized that this diminutive bowl had power and energy.  I began to think about making small paintings."

This story illustrates the kind of "lecture," "talk," "conversation," Irwin is famous for.  Sometimes you follow it and sometimes you feel lost trying to make the connections that he does.  But most of all what Irwin does is ask questions.   "We make the world.  How and in what way is what I do."

Less is more.
-Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

Less is more when less is the sum total of more.
-Robert Irwin
Less is more only when you understand more or less.
-Phyllis Odessey