Aug 31, 2011

A Cosmic Mistake

I don't like making mistakes,
especially in the public realm. 
There is always plausible deniability,
but that never works for me. 

As Director of Horticulture for Randall's Island, 
I have been working with compacted urban environments for 5 years.
  In 2010 we created two Native Wildflower meadows on Randalls. 

I thought I knew what I was doing.  Everything bloomed and bloomed.  The cosmos sulphureus was so prolific, it took over in unexpected and surprising ways.

Yesterday we cut down all the cosmos sulphureus.  Yes, it's an annual and I know what that means:  it lives only one year, but not really.  Once it sets seed, you might as well consider it a perennial.  But that wasn't the problem. 

In designing the meadow, I considered bloom time and color, but I miscalculated the height issue.  Cosmos is taller, in fact it was the tallest flower in the meadow.  The meadow became a sea of saffron.  I hadn't seen that much orange since standing next to the Buddhist monks on the river boat in Bangkok.  A few hellenium and echinacea managed to give the cosmos a run for its money.  Still there was no way to compete with the strength of that princely colored plant. 

A big pick-up truck is a joy.  In a case like this, nothing is handier.

We piled the cosmos onto the back of truck.  We wanted to make sure we cut it down before it had a chance to set seed.  We thought about adding the cosmos to the  compost pile, but we were afraid:  the seeds might remain in the compost.  
It's hard to trash something so beautiful.  We harvested some of the seed for another garden.  I am currently looking for a home for this magnificent intruder.

*It is my desire to garden in the most sustainable way possible.

As recipent of the 2012 Chanticleer Scholarship in Professional Development, I will going back to the UK to study with Professor James Hitchmough.  My focus will be on creating plant communities in urban environments. 

Aug 19, 2011

Resetting Your EGO

 Starry Night

 a film by
Ian Cheney

Atelier Bow-Wow, Tokyo
"The BMW Guggenheim Lab is a mobile laboratory that will travel to nine major cities worldwide over six years...the BMW Guggenheim Lab will address issues of contemporary urban life through programs and public discourse.  Its goal is the exploration of new ideas, experimentation, and ultimately the creation of forward-thinking solutions for urban life."

Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Ian Cheney is the narrator of his film, The City Dark.
It asks a series of questions:
What do we lose,
when we lose the night??
It's a great question.
The film is a combination of video and animation. 
Psychologists, Astro-physicists, Astro-Photographers,
Professional Astronomers, Amateur Sky-Watchers
and Owners of light bulb stores are asked
why being able to see the sky is important to us.

Why do we feel the need
to dominate the night?

Today, we live under a dome of  light.  It's called light pollution.
Cheney rates different sites around the world from A-F
for the ability to see stars in the sky. 

2/3 of all human beings live under artificial light.

Hatching sea turtles in Florida depend on light of stars
to guide them to the water, but they can't find the ocean anymore,
because the light from buildings, street lights, etc. disorients them.

Stars serve as a map for birds as they migrate.
Fireflies are in decline due to changes in habitat.

It begins to get scary.
Scientists researching breast cancer
correlate women who do shift work with a high incidence of breast cancer. 

Le Corbusier said of Times Square
"It's the Milky Way brought down to Earth."

If we don't look at the night sky
how do we know
our place in the cosmos?

The night sky is a
I found watching the film a resetting of my knowledge.

Aug 14, 2011

What makes a
GREAT park?
Design it like
a piece of music

What makes a great park?

Brooklyn Bridge Park
A Tour with Matt Urbanski
of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates
and Metro Hort Members

Listening of Matt Urbanski of Van Valkenburgh Associates talk about Brooklyn Bridge Park puts one in a state of envy.  I know first-hand how many obstacles there are to imagination, creativity and daring in a public park.  Urbanski and Van Valenburgh are fearless. 

Brooklyn Bridge Park isn't finished.  There is a lot more to do:  still it will take your breath away.  You've got amazing views, the deafening noise of Brooklyn Queens Expressway and the diverse neighborhoods of Brooklyn to contend with.  What to do?

The view is overwhelming...all of lower Manhattan.    Urbanski talked about how they (Valkenburgh Associates) decided to deal with it.  "Control it"  "Parse it out"  "Make multiple spaces that unfold"  In a small garden, it's a standard idiom to create garden rooms.  This breaks up the space and establishes individual expanses.  Van Valkenburgh Associates have basically done the same thing in a public park.  You move from flat to hill to flat.  From shrubbery, to hedgerow with lawn to water garden to saltwater marsh to pier to path to playspace to waterfront.  
There are many different paths one can take.   Each one is different: some incredibly open and some enclosed.  It reminded me of the way a composer constructs a symphony.  Allegro, Adagio, Scherzo and Rondo are all components of the Brooklyn Bridge Park.  It is definitely variations on a theme.  The theme:  making a space that is sustainable, intentional, and deeply satisfying. 

Aug 8, 2011


"We live in a time in which introverts can regularly mask their introversion if they so desire."
Philip Bump, 4 Ways Technology Can Enable Your Inner Introvert from the Atlantic
Everything Philip Bump says in 4 Ways Technology Can Enable Your Inner Introvert is true. People who think of themselves as introverts are helped by technology: 
you can create the illusion of busyness on facebook, linkedin, etc.
you can choose to respond to email whenever, using the telephone is passe
communication is streamlined, texting, tweeting, etc.. 
You are saved, but in a different way.

All writers create characters, but the blog being such a personal form, creates personality.  That is where the line becomes blurred between introvert and extrovert.  I have encouraged many people to start a blog and I always get the same answer.  "I am a very private person".  They feel blogging is an invasion. 

I have found it to be exactly the opposite.  I consider my self an introvert, but blogging has changed all that.  Blogging is an extroverted activity.   I have found putting some thoughts together to be as soothing as going to a shrink.  You confront your demons in a different way. 

Aug 1, 2011

How Fleur de Sel
Was Born: Urbanbees

PO:  Who are Urbanbees?
FB:  We are Urbanbees: a collective with no specific geographic base, originally from Italy, Iran and Mexico, currently in Italy, Switzerland and Canada.  We met in 2007 while doing a Master of Urban Design at Domus Academy in Milan and taking advantage of our different backgrounds and cultures, we have worked together since we met.

We are interested in public space, urbanity, architecture and design process.  Working together for us is first of all a very pleasing excuse to keep the contact with each other and to continue the dialogue of our interests.

PO:  Why did you decide to participate in the Jardins de Metis competition? 
FB:  The decision to take part in the Jardins de Metis competition was very immediate over Matteo's proposal.  The theme of the 2011 edition, "Secret Garden" was intriguing and we've always been interested in the festival's approach to landscape design as a hybrid medium between installation art, architecture and landscape design.
We started exchanging ideas on "what is for us a secret garden".  It turned out to be such an interesting topic to elaborate on that we finally  came to a consensus that secret garden is merely in our imagination and it's a personal space.  We decided to leave it to the public to build their own secret garden.  As an image, we had a white paper where people would draw their secret places.

At the same time the white page reminded us of the winter landscape.  The image of the first snowfall that announces the onset of winter, the snow covers the ground and between the white quilt and the green bed, the tracks that are left (objects, footprints, fragrances and even sounds) are trapped and remain hidden for the entire winter until the snow melts. These temporary fossils, almost invisible to the eye, create a hidden garden.  It is up to us to image what is underneath.

PO:  Please describe the construction process.
FB:  To emulate that particular winter landscape with a natural material we chose salt, which is actually used in winter as well.  That's how fleur de sel was born.

The salt comes from a mine in Ontario and is totally natural (thanks to Windsor Company for their sponsorship).  The challenge then was to protect the soil from salt.  Layers of PVC and geotextile create an impermeable surface and guide the rain water with a 2% slope all over the site towards the center where there is a water container.  Water will be pumped out after each rain or whenever necessary.  There is also a layer of gravel underneath salt to facilitate the drainage.

The evolution  of the garden through the season is another aspect of it for us.  The idea is to recycle the salt at the end of the season for snow melting purposes.
Marco Asciutti
Farzaneh Bahrami
Enrique Enriquez
Matteo Muggianu

Walking, snowshoeing or skiing up my driveway during Winter for the past thirty years,  I have a deep appreciation of how snow changes ones perception of the land.  I have never thought of it as a "hidden garden."   Although I am unlikely to experience the Fleur de Sel garden,  I may feel very differently about the trek up my lane in 2012.