Feb 26, 2011

The Polar Bears
Are Guarding Our Seeds

The Noah's Ark of Seeds
The Doomsday Vault
Svalbard Global Seed Repository

February 26, 2011
is the four year anniversary of the vault.
There are currently 500,000 seeds in the vault.

What I found remarkable about the vault:  it could have been just a structure built to withstand a nuclear attack, but it's more than that.  The Norwegian government demands that all government-funded construction projects over a certain amount are required to include some kind of art work.  The Norwegian artist, Dyveke Sanne was commissioned to create a lighting installation for the site.

DYVEKE SANNE ON THE ART PROJECT:  Perpetual Repercussion
"The depths of the seed vault are out of sight.  Yet, its contents reflect a meaning and a complexity that affects us.  From the moment we become aware of its existence, we are reminded of our own position in a global perspective and the condition of our planet."

An Interview with Dyveke Sanne  by Miranda F. Mellis
"Mirrors often act as portals in fairy tales and myths.  
The other side of the Seed Vault's refracting looking glass contains the makings of a planetary garden,
and the dream of a postapocalyptic agricultural renaissance in the form of seeds hailing from more than one hundred countries and encased in thousands of four-ply vacuum-packed aluminum-foil packets stacked in plastic boxes, shelved in three vaults, surrounded by permafrost, refrigerated with one low-voltage coal-powered compressor, located behind four doors with four different locks under under twenty-four hour guard." Miranda F. Mellis 
"The thought or idea of the installation is precisely to insist on reflection, that who you will meet in the mirror is yourself, and that whatever needs doing is up to you. Everything you do, you get it right back.  We have to  look, and then to look again.  The mirrors on the piece show you yourself:  what are you going to do?  This is happening.  Dig into it.   When I myself began to do research for the installation, I was amazed when I realized how little I knew about how global agriculture actually works and who has the power there." Dyveke Sanne
Miranda Mellis mentions the idea of planetary garden.  According NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, some gas giants may sprout in less than one million years, more like planetary wildflowers than trees.

 Whether its a planetary garden or planetary wildflowers, it's still a kind of garden.

Feb 21, 2011

A thousand peaks
without leaving
this small window

The Emperor's Private Paradise

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
February 1- May 1 2011

Jennifer Steinkamp Video Installation
Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, California
February 12 - March 12, 2011

When seemingly diverse events come together and form a connection in my mind, it's time to write a blog.  The current show:  The Emperor's Private Paradise at the Met and Jennifer Steinkamp's video installation, Madame Curie have something in common, but we will get to that  later.
When your contemporaries are Louis XV, Frederick the Great, George III, George Washington and Catherine the Great, you've got some competition. The Qianlong Emperor (1711-1799) wasn't much bothered by this fact.  Not concerned with keeping up with the Jones', he created his own Chinese version of Versailles, a complex of buildings and gardens, which rely on illusion as much as any other technique.

Qianlong Garden - The arificial stream references 4th century tradition of
cups of wine floating down the river as poems were written.
 "In one sense, this interest in illusions matched the whole conceit of the garden, which - as a sanctuary from political intrigue situated right in the heart of the palace, a mountain gateway in the center of the capital city - was nothing if not illusory." 
Sebastian Smee, The Boston Globe
 One of the pathways within the Qianlong Garden,
a circular path deviates from the usual Chinese convention of straight pathways.
The Emperor was interested in manipulating art.  He kept a Jesuit missionary, Giuseppe Castiglione as his sidekick and adviser on what was happening in the arts on the other side of the globe.  The extensive use of trompe l'oeil painting is only one indication of the Emperor utilizing art to create image and persona. 

Walking through the rockeries,
a series of caves, sitting areas  and grottos created by the Qianlong Emperor.
On Sunday, Nancy Berliner, organizer of the show at the Met, gave us a virtual tour of the garden.  Among the 27 buildings in the garden, a pavilion created to honor an ancient Catalpa tree. Another viewing pavilion, contains a mural of perpetual Spring, just in case Mother Nature displeased the Emperor.  He didn't need a weatherman to tell him which way the wind was blowing; he created his own reality. 

The Three Friends:  Bamboo, Plum Blossom and Pine
Jennifer Steinkamp is an Artist, not an Emperor, but she has an empire: the world of videography.  Her piece, Madame Curie was inspired by reading a biography of Madame Curie written by her daughter.  In the book, Eve Curie names 40 plants Madame Curie was fond of.  Apparently she was an avid gardener.  This was the jumping off point for Steinkamp's video.

The video, a field of moving flowers and trees puts the viewer in a timeless space. 

"As powerful phenomenological environments, Steinkamp's installations ask for a novel reading of the role played by architecture and takes viewers beyond the physical boundaries of a built interior to contemplate their surroundings as more than a matter of space, but also as a factor of time, desire and memory." from the Museum of Contemporary Art announcment, San Diego, Ca.

The Qianlong Emperor used every means possible to compose a world for contemplation. Steinkamp uses a 21st century art form to create another kind of retreat.  Both have achieved an "abundance of things" within four walls.

With a gentle breeze that is blowing freely.
When looking up, one can see the vastness of the heavens,
And when looking down, one can observe the abundance of things.
The contentment of allowing one's eyes to wander.
Excerpt from Poem Composed at the Orchid Pavilion by Wang Xizhi

Madame Curie

P.S.  It's weird.  The day-long Qianlong lectures at the Met were introduced by the Director of the Museum, Thomas Campbell. He has  launched a new series called Connections.  Curators pick a topic, like Motherhood, choose  pictures or sculptures in the museum that have to do with that theme and talk about it (on screen) in a very personal way.  It's not art history speak, it's more like facebook chatter.  This venerable institution, like the rest of us, seems desperate to make CONNECTIONS.


Feb 17, 2011

"I call myself a
chlorophyll whore"
C.Colston Burrell

C.Colston Burrell
NATIVE plants

11th Annual Winter Lecture Series
New York Botanical Garden
February 17, 2011
C. Colston Burrell is a garden designer, award-winning author,
naturalist, and teacher.
Is it possible to do all that, know all that...I went to find out.

And it is possible to be particularly engaging and modest at the same time.

Burrell is a Southerner and it shows.  His manner mixes old-fashioned charm with 21st. century knowledge.  He began with "I want to share with you a lifetime of discovery."  When someone wants to SHARE with me, I am immediately positively disposed towards them. 

Burrell set the parameters for the discussion.  He is not purist or heretic, somewhere near the purist, but with a mixture of realism.  
He invoked the mantra of the sustainable sites movement:  DO NO HARM.  And then he asked the question what is native plant?
1.  a plant with medicinal value
2.  a plant that provides food
3.  a plant that adorns the landscape
4.  a plant that can be used as a tool for restortion
5.  a plant that is an object of desire
6.  a plant that is part of food web
7.  a plant to is a structural component in a plant community

The native wildflower meadow at Randall's Island facing the Harlem River

Burrell traced the evolution of native plant movement/revival.
The call to arms:  think globally, act locally. 
The bumper sticker on his car:  DARWIN LOVES YOU.
Without recounting the entire lecture, as they say you can buy the book or books, Burrell ended the lecture by going locally...talking about his own garden.  A combination of garden and woodland. 
"I am a lazy gardener.   Native plants are a great way to sit outside, watch the butterflies, dragon flies, hummingbirds and have a glass of wine."  Burrell has a deer fence, which made him extremely happy, until the voles, moles, rabbits, skunks, and woodchucks invaded.  "Now, I 'm happy if it just lives, self-sows and makes a colony."

So am I.

C.Colston Burrell is a garden designer, award-winning author, photographer, naturalist, and teacher.  He is a lecturer in the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at the University of Virginia and principal of Native Landscape Design and Restoration.  He is the author of many gardening books adn has twice won the American Horticulture Society book award (in 2007 for Hellebores: A Comprehensive Guide and in 1998 for A Gardener's Encyclopedia of Wildflowers).  He is contributing editor for Horticulture and frequently write for Landscape Architecture and American Gardener.

Feb 14, 2011

Aesthetic Moment

Photograph by Eunyoung Sebazco
I went for the ideas more than the food or flowers, although little snacks do increase my ability to digest new ideas.  Bloom Japan at Japan Society was a show geared toward floral designers.  The mission to promote the use of Japanese flowers in the US. 
Photograph by Eunyoung Sebazco
Above two photographs by Eunyoung Sebazco.
The room was filled with Camellia japonica from Akebono to Tatkantubaki, Cymbidium  as delicate Marie Laurencin and as bold as Smirnoff, Lathyrus odoratus Royal Blue (dyed Royal Blue) and Mid Night (naturally the color of night) but for me it was Senecio rowleyanus Green Necklace, Spiraea cantoniensis Kodemari, and Asplenium Crispy Wave that were the real stars.  As we all know the Japanese use conifers, and in fact, green plants in arrangements that are close to magic. 
Photograph by Eunyoung Sebazco

Perhaps, because I was walking around the room with a dazed expression, a microphone was stuck in my face.  A Japanese TV crew asked me to do an interview.  I don't like to be a shill, but it was quickly apparent what was expected.  I wanted to give them what they needed.  In fact, I wanted my 15 seconds of fame to be like the origins of Ikebana:  the offering of flowers on the altar in honor of Buddha.
 Photograph by Eunyoung Sebazco

Feb 11, 2011

You say you want

Well, you know
We all want to change the world
                             but the Egyptians actually changed their world today.

       How can we as gardeners celebrate this moment? 
Today, I wrote a grant proposal for the planting of bulbs.  When I arrived home and heard the news, I decided to change my bulb proposal. I am going to plant Narcissus(an ancient Egyptian bulb) in honor of the Egyptians, who held fast and won their freedom.
I don't have a right environment, but if I did I might want to grow:
      Well, you know
         We might all want to honor this moment.

BARKing up the right tree:
Vincent Simeone

Vincent A. Simeone
The Horticultural Society of New York
February 10

Winter interest in the garden has become a cliche subject matter.  But there were some people, who were on to it before it became fashionable. Vincent Simeone was one of those people.  He knows the role of texture and form in the winter scene.
White on White by Malevich
To me the winter landscape of 2010-11 has seemed more white on white, than anything else; I've gone over to BARK-side.  These are my picks:
ACER GRISEUM 'Cinnamon Flakes'
native to China
BARK exfoliating to cinnamon-color
flakes in smaller strips than its cousins.
native to China
 white flowers in clusters of seven, 
which smell kind of like jasmine
 BARK tan that exfoliates to brown inner bark

native to Iran
 BARK peeling to reveal gray, green, white, brown
and surprisingly it belongs to the Hamamelidaceae family

native to Japan
has white camellia-like flowers
BARK has incredible camouflage pattern
of orange, green, grey

The best thing to do when there is this much white stuff around...
love it!
For a really good read...
redefining the meaning of Winter in the garden
New York Times Home and Garden section
Thursday, February 10, 2011
Interview with Piet Outdolf

Feb 3, 2011

Stories To Tell

Starting a vegetable garden requires some heavy lifting, not only physically, but intellectually.  Choosing which variety to plant was only half the story.
Calabrese VS.  Romanesco BROCCOLI
Scarlet Nantes vs. St. Valery CARROTS
Boothby's  Blonde vs. Crystal Apple CUCUMBERS
Goyo Kumba vs. Listada de Gandia EGGPLANTS
Broadleaf Czech vs. Chesnok Red GARLIC
Bleu de Solaise vs. Giant Musselburgh LEEKS
Bunte Forellenschluss
Lolla Rossa
Merveille de Quatre Saisons
Reine des Glaces
Rossa di Trento


  A vegetable garden to feed my face and... a vegetable garden with stories to tell. I want it ALL.
Memorializes the forced relocation of the Cherokee Indians in the mid-nineteenth century.  The Cherokees carried this bean over the Trail of Tears, the infamous winter death march from the Smoky Mountains to Oklahoma (1838-1839) leaving a trail of 4,000 graves.
origin of the story:  www.slowfood.org
The bean was introduced by the Pennsylvania Dutch and was well known in early 1800's in Bucks County, PA.  The Lazy Housewife is one of the oldest documented beans and so named because it was the first snap bean that did not need to have the string removed.  In 1907, the Lazy Housewife was the third most popular bean in the US.
origin of the story:  www.seedsavers.org


According to botanical historian, Andrew Dalby, a beet mentioned in a Greek document from 320 B.C was most likely the precursor of the 'Rouge Crapaudine' familiar to French gardeners since 1600.  "I love the Crapaudine, because not only does it taste light years better than other beet, but because it is the "Uhr-beet" the original, as close to the untamed wild beet as we can come."
origin of the story:  www.frenchgardening.com

This unique Japanese pumpkin was developed in the Bunka era of the Edo period (1848-1818).  The fruit is uniquely shaped, like a bottle gourd, ribbed and very warty.  It is dark green, turning to tan.  Traditionally believed to keep people from getting paralysis, if eaten in the hottest part of the summer.
origin of the story:  bakercreedheirloomseeds

digitalbotanicalgarden.blogspot /commons.wikimedia.org

According to digitalbotanical.blogspot, the main reason for growing the Queen Anne Melon, apart from its ornamental properties, is its incredibly intense melon fragrance.  One ripe fruit, which lasts for about ten days before it goes soft, will perfume a whole room.  Victorian ladies used to carry them around in their pockets, as a kind of portable pomander.
origin of the story:  digitalblogspot.com
Developed in 1867 by David Murray, gardener for the Marquis of Alisa at Culzean Castle in Maybole, South Ayrshire, Scotland.  Either the Marquis or his gardener named the onion after the island, which means "fairy rock."  Some sources say the name was chosen because the island looks like an onion.

The island is 3km in circumference and consists entirely of the volcanic plug of an extinct volcano that might have been active about 500 million years ago.  So how did the onion manage to grow?

From the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries, the island was quarried for its rare type of micro-granite with riebeckite (known as "Allsite") which is used to make curling stones.
origin of the story:  www.seedsavers.org

Developed by M.C. Byles in the 1930's, this tomato remains very much in demand in the Mid-Atlantic states.  Mr. Byles, affectionately known as "Radiator Charlie" earned his nickname from the radiator repair business he opened at the foot of a steep hill on which trucks would often overheat.  Radiator Charlie, who had no formal education or plant breeding experience, created his legendary tomato by cross-breeding four of the largest tomatoes he was able to find and developed a stable variety after six years of pollination and selection.  He then sold his tomato plants for one dollar each in the 1940's and paid off the six thousand dollar mortgage on his house in six years. 

Now, here is an idea for the 21st. century mortgage crisis.
origin of the story:  www.raindanceharvest.com


Julia Child is an open-pollinated heirloom tomato.  "It's not a simple, sugary sweet variety, but has a bold, straight-forward character in its taste, with more than enough acidity and earthy nuances to balance its sweet, fruity flavors."   Is this a description of a tomato or of Julia Child's voice?
origin of the story:  www.tomatofest.com


A mutation of the serrano pepper that first appeared around 1870, fish peppers start out white before turning orange, purple or red.  They were primarily grown by African American 'truck farmers" who supplied produce for seafood houses around the Chesapeake Bay, where young white peppers were favored because they could be blended invisibly into cream sauces. 
origin of the story:  www.whiskeyland.com and www.urbanitebaltimore.com
Almost five thousand years ago, carrots were first cultivated in the Iranian Plateau and then in the Persian Empire.  There is a specific place in present day Iran that is called the Carrot Field or Carrot Plain (pictured above).  The field is located northeast of Tehran, the capital of Iran. 
origin of the story: www.carrotmuseum.co.uk 

So far, these are my top ten.  I am still looking

On a related note:  My friend, Paula Panich is teaching a class through the Landscape Architecture Program at UCLA Extension called "Tell Me A Story"
Historic Preservation at the L.A. County Arboretum and Botanic Garden (ARCH X 495.95). 
The blog can be found at: