Dec 28, 2012

Going, Going, Gone...

It's been snowing for 24 hours in Vermont and that's a good thing.  Two years is a long time to wait for a blanket of white, when you live in the northern regions.

I watch the storm and gaze out my window.  The snow builds a seedhead on top of Sedum 'Bertram Anderson', trys to knock Miscanthus sinensis 'Morning Light' to the ground and practically buries Hakonechloa macra.

My eyes come back inside and scan the gardening books on my shelf.  I can identify the first gardening books I acquired by the color of their covers.  I wonder if I will every open most of these books again.
It's the time of year, when a NPR features the best of ... Radio on,  iPad in hand, I make lists of possible reads.  In between programs, I dream of a home renovation requiring the elimination of the bookshelves holding my garden volumes.  My reverie is interrupted by the radio.  Richard Howorth, owner of Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi reads a passage by Wendell Berry from My Bookstore:  Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Place to Browse, Read and Shop. 
 "A book is not text.  It is a material artifact, a thing made not only to be seen, but also to be held and smelled, containing language that can be touched, and underlined with an actual pencil, with margins that can be actually written on.  And so a book, a real book, language incarnate, becomes part of one's bodily life."

My iPad crashed to floor at the security check-in at Heathrow Airport in September.  It's been replaced by the ever newer, better and lighter iPad.  The smaller, more compact size of the iPad has made it easier to tote around. It feels closer to booksize.  

Berry has caused me reconsider my impulsive decision.  For the time being, I've put aside all thoughts of jettisoning my garden books.  I am looking for a bookstore that has what Berry identifies:  as the economic as well as the social contract.  A place to exchange ideas, be introduced to new books and make friends.  

Dec 12, 2012

A Star on the Wane

Barbara Paul Robinson
A Book Talk
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
New York Horticultural Society
Rosemary Verey

Barbara Paul Robinson spent one month interning with Rosemary Verey at Barnsley House in 1991.  For the next 20 years, she called Verey every Sunday.  That's what I call staying in touch.  I wondered how many gardeners are still "in touch" with Verey's style.

Robinson began her talk by quoting Verey, "It's a sin to be dull" and Robinson held out the hope that she like Verey would not be.  Robinson was as charming as her mentor.  But no amount of wit and humor, could convince me that Verey's legacy is one we can learn from.
Three years ago, I spent three months in the UK on my own kind of apprenticeship at two famous gardens.  I made a list of must see gardens to visit, before I left.  Barnsley House, Verey's garden, was not on my list.  As it turned out, Barnsley House was on the road to another more important garden, so I made a turn off the main road and pulled into the car park at Verey's house.
Sitting on the terrace, in the now high-end hotel that Barnsley House has become, on a sunny day,  with a cup of excellent tea in my hand,  I looked around at Verey's garden.  I had a feeling that the plantings were only a shadow of the garden that Verey had created and become famous for.  Robinson confirmed this. Showing slides of Verey's garden in its heyday, Robinson expounded on its features and the distinctly human scale of the garden.  This was not a palace or a castle. It was a garden of tasteful perennials,  formal walks, architectural features and its world-famous potager.
Verey's star started to wane in the nineties.  However, she remained famous in America until the end of her life. Robinson explained this phenomenon with a quote from Dan Hinkley,  "Rosemary Verey fortified our self-esteem."  Two days before I came back to the states from my UK garden adventure, I swore I would never deadhead another plant as long as I lived.  I have embraced the American love for watching the demise of all things horticultural.

Dec 9, 2012

Free of Gravity

the event of a thread
The Park Avenue Armory
December 8, 2012 - January 6, 2013

Until yesterday, the last time I was on a swing, my mother was dying.  She wanted to take my nephew to a playground in a local park near our home.  She watched; we swung.

Ann Hamilton's public art piece, the event of a thread,  in the Wade Thompson Drill Hall at the Park Avenue Armory consumes all 55,000 square feet of the hall.  Divided in two parts by a white silk curtain, whose movement is determined by a series of rope-and-pulleys attached to the 42 swings suspended by chains from the ceiling; everyone who enters has a chance to swing.
Before entering the space, I went to a talk given by Ann Hamilton and Kristy Edmunds, Armory Artistic Director.  Ann began by talking about her earliest memories of being read to.  The intimacy of the reader's voice, the rhythm of the voice, the faraway world of the story and tenderness of being tucked into her grandmother's body.  Hamilton called this memory a sequence of recognitions. 

"the event of a thread is made of many crossings of the near at hand and the far away: it is a body crossing space, is a writer’s hand crossing a sheet of paper, is a voice crossing a room in a paper bag, is a reader crossing with a page and with another reader, is listening crossing with speaking, is an inscription crossing a transmission, is a stylus crossing a groove, is a song crossing species, is the weightlessness of suspension crossing the calling of bell or bellows, is touch being touched in return. It is a flock of birds and a field of swings in motion. It is a particular point in space at an instant of time. Ann Hamilton

Hamilton explores the question:  What are the experiences that allow us to pay attention?  This is a question that plagues me and which I continually struggle to answer in my own work.

 "If on a swing, we are alone, we are together in a field.  This condition of the social is the event of a thread.  Our crossing with its motions, sounds, and textures is its weaving; is a social act." Hamilton

the event of a thread* is a gift to the people of New York.  On Saturday, everyone from babies in front packs to those being helped onto the swings with their canes had a smile on their face.  Some people went high, some barely let their feet off the ground, some gravitated to the impromptu row of bodies under the cloth, some walked to the writers or readers that are part of the piece, others just stared at the pigeons in their cages.  In her review of Hamilton's piece in The New York Times, Roberta Smith said she didn't know whether this was ART.  It really doesn't matter.  It's an expression of pure happiness. As Hamilton said "it might be close to "Heaven."

*Anni Albers, in writing for Encylcopedia Brittanica, wrote that all weaving traces back to "the event of a thread."

Whenever I think of swinging, I am always reminded of the Robert Frost poem, Birches.

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows—
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father's trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.


Nov 29, 2012

Digging Deeper:
Thomas Rainer
on Nostalgia

"For me, garden design isn't just about plants,
it is about emotion, atmosphere, a sense of contemplation"
Piet Oudolf

I do my best to shy away from all forms of nostalgia.  The very word makes me cringe.
Thomas Rainer in his blog, grounded design (, redefines nostalgia.

NOSTALGIA - The idea that a plant or group of plants can evoke certain emotions based upon an evolved memory of the landscape they are associated.

He continues... "Ive been thinking a lot lately about our emotional experience of landscapes."  So have I.

Rainer: "For me, understanding our emotional connection to plants and landscapes holds tremendous potential for those who design or garden.  First, it pushes landscape design past the endless (and tiresome) pendulum swing of geometric vs. naturalistic (or formal vs. informal) design.  This fundamentally formalistic concern has distracted us from exploring the full potential of landscape as a dynamic art form.  Second, it offers designers a framework for understanding how to create emotional experiences within gardens and landscapes."

Rainer theorizes that all landscapes have vestiges of memory and emotion.  On some level,  our emotional response to landscape evolves from a collective unconscious memory. 

He says "Nostalgia is my attempt to describe a design strategy that uses plant combinations to evoke larger landscapes.  By nostalgia, I do not mean that gardens should be backwards-looking."

This idea of a "design strategy" to enhance the landscape experience on a emotional level for the visitor is something I have been playing around with, since I returned from the University of Sheffield in September.  There are a group of graduate students in the landscape department, who call themselves environmental psychologists creating metrics that hope to test the emotional responses of people to created landscapes. 

Over Thanksgiving weekend, I was listening to Moth Radio, specifically a story by Laura Albert, author of Sarah.  In describing her reason for writing, Laura asked the question, "how do you get people to see what they never saw before?" 

This is the question I have been struggling with and has become the focus of my current work.

Nov 18, 2012

The Elephant
in the room

Tatzu Nishi

What to do on your birthday?  
Walk down to Columbus Circle, stand in line, climb 6 flights of stairs, enter Tatzu Nishi's installation.  

That is exactly what I did on November 17th.
I have walked by the statue of Christopher Columbus at 59 St. maybe 5,000 times.  The statue is located at the crossroads of Broadway, Central Park South, 7th Avenue and Central Park West.  It  rises 75 atop a granite column and was designed by Italian sculptor Gaetano Russo.  Unveiled in 1892, it commemorates the 400th anniversary of Columbus's first voyage to the Americas.

In 2006, a pedestrian pathway, fountains and seating area were added to the base of the statue.  Now, you can hang out in the center, but Columbus still only gets a nod.  Tatzu Nishi changed all that.
For the first time and probably the only time, you can sit in a furnished living room with all the comforts of home:  sofas, lamps, carpets, pictures, a working TV, custom wallpaper and get intimately acquainted with Columbus.  

Six flights up in this constructed living room, you view Columbus in an alien context.  It's comfortable and strange, all at the same time.  New Yorkers are not easily wowed.  It's not cool.  After the misery and hardship of Sandy, this room, 6 flights up remained in tact. To me, the installation felt celebratory. 
Mickey Mouse
Michael Jackson
Marilyn Monroe
and the iconic NY Hot Dog were all there.

NYC is preparing for a new voyage...trying to figure out how survive the effects of climate change, living in this city surrounded by rising water.  As it turns out, Nishi gave the city a gift of stability and humor in hard times.

Nov 15, 2012

Great Starting Points

BERNARD TSCHUMI  is one of the most famous architects, you've never heard of.  He was 39 years old before he built anything.  On Thursday, he told us why.
Until he received his first commission, the Parc de la Villette in Paris, Tschumi was a "paper architect."  Experience has taught him that a site is not like a white sheet of paper.  Every site has constraints, rules, regulations, topologic challenges. The key he said "was to take advantage of them.  It's a puzzle to resolve, just like playing chess."

The Alesia Museum and Archaeological Park in Alesia, France was the site of the Battle of Alesia in 52BC.  It was fought by Julius Caesar and his army against the Gallic tribes.  The Siege of Alesia was considered one of Caesar's greatest victories.  Tschumi described how he strategically approached the site.  His round building gives the visitor a 360-degree panorama view of the battle.  The same view Julius Caesar had.  

Tschumi has been teaching for many years.  Asked what he gets out of it?  He answered without hesitation.  "I teach to learn about myself.  It's opportunity to develop ideas with students.  It forces you to articulate a way of seeing."
The gardens, I have designed, are sites with every imaginable problem.  Last night, Tschumi's compared the difficulties of a building site to a founding principle of martial arts "use the strength of your opponent to defeat him."  The next time, I am stymied, I will think about that adage and perhaps, gain a little solace.

Art de Vivre
Creative Leaders
Bernard Tschumi
 interviewed by Michael Boodro
Wednesday, November 14

all images courtesy of Bernard Tschumi

Nov 9, 2012

Reporting from
The Front Lines

Beginning the clean-up on Randall's Island

When you garden on an island, you become attuned to the changes in the water that surrounds you.  I did not go to work for two days during Hurricane Sandy.  I heard the wind and saw the rain from my apartment in Manhattan.  I imagined what was happening on Randall's Island.  Crossing the Triborough Bridge on Wednesday, I could feel my jaw tightened as my car descended the off ramp to the island.  Eunyoung Sebazco and I had our coffee and took a ride around the island.  

The gardens on Randalls are spread out over 480 acres, but all are pretty close to the water.  It was as if someone had drawn a line in the gardens.  That line was where the water came up, dumped debris and receded.  For a gardener, the question is how long did the salt water remain on the plants.  Since no one was  walking around the island in the storm, it is impossible to know how much damage the saltwater did to our plants.

Our fellow gardeners at Battery Park and The High Line are flushing out their gardens with their irrigation systems.  We have no irrigation in any of our gardens.  What to do?  Everything looks good now, but that doesn't mean anything.  It's a wait and see game.  We are taking our lists of plants for each garden and are in the process of finding a way social media can help us.  Almost every large garden, divides their plants in the Spring and almost every garden has some extra.  Modeled on seed exchanges; we are building a network, so we can have a much needed plant exchange in the Spring. There just might be a silver lining to this horticultural disaster: a real cross-pollution of plants and friendships.

I found this little article from the University of Connecticut, Department of Plant Science helpful.

Salt Water Contamination of Soils by Hurricane Sandy
Many coastal Connecticut residents have contacted the University of Connecticut Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory because of their concerns of salt contamination from either flooding or storm surges. The amount of damage done to plants will depend on the salinity of the water, how long the plants were in contact with it, and also, to some extent on plant species. The best way to counteract the desiccation caused by salts is to leach them out with fresh water. With more rain in the forecast for later this week, the salt problem may be taken care of in sandy, well-drained soils. Greatest problems for plants are those situated in low lying, poorly drained or heavily flooded areas and even with more rain, there is no place for the salts to go. In all likelihood, plants in these areas will die, the salts will leach out eventually over the winter and the area would need to be replanted next spring. Gypsum is not especially effective except in limited circumstances. The lab does offer testing of soluble salt levels. For more information, call us at (860) 486-4274 or visit Another issue to consider besides salt, is the possibility for contamination from septic systems, water treatment plants, businesses, industry and waste sites. Testing for these types of materials is more difficult and costly.


Nov 4, 2012

The Wish for Sanctuary

Shao Yuan
Peking Unversity
Beijing, China
Lois Conner

Pavilions, Studios, Retreats

Metropolitan Museum of Art
August 18- January 6, 2013

Fragility is a word that does not apply to New Yorkers.  Robust, resilient, buoyant...these are the words that characterize the people, who live in this crazy city.

Hurricane Sandy was a test of our resolve.  I am lucky.  I have heat, water, electricity and a HOME.  Many do not.

Reaching out to friends and relatives, the first utterance, "Are you are OK?"

On Sunday, I was looking for a restorative experience.  For a lot of New Yorkers, this meant a working outlet and a warm cup of coffee.  I took a walk through Central Park and wandered into the Met.  The Museum was not as crowded as a "regular" Sunday, but it wasn't empty either.  The most distinguishing characteristic of the crowd was the footwear.  Over 50% of the visitors had on running shoes.  I guess they figured that walking 26 miles around the museum would have to substitute for running 26 miles around New York City.
Traveling through Snow-Covered Mountains
Yao Tanquing
ca. 1300-1360

 I found the comfort I was looking for at the museum and also one surprise.  Walking around the galleries, was an alternate universe.  Saturated by TV coverage of Hurricane Sandy, I longed for another reality.  I made what I thought was a wrong turn and was disoriented.  A walked straight into the room I never knew existed:  The George Nakashima Reading Room (Gallery 232), as much a refuge as any painting in the Met.  The  Japanese artists of 2600 years ago excelled at escape from the political turmoil of the day.  The imaginary havens they created are still capable refocusing my attention.

Nov 2, 2012

It's an instrument for a GREEN FUTURE


copyright Stephen Glassman 2010
I am not a lover of billboards.  In fact, the highways, I love to drive, are the highways that don't have billboards.  Stephen Glassman intends to change all that.  URBAN AIR is his invention. 
"Urban air transforms existing urban billboards to living, suspended bamboo gardens.  Embedded with intelligent technology, Urban Air becomes a global node - an open space in the urban skyline...
When you think like an entrepreneur, you do what Stephen Glassman did,  put your idea on KICKSTARTER.
195 backers
$7,684 pledged of $100,000 goal
39 days to go
Pledges of $10 or more "Your message on a virtual leaf! Like the web, a bamboo forest is one interconnected rhizome network. $10 buys you a leaf in our virtual UrbanAir bamboo forest on the web..."
etc., etc., etc.,

After Sandy, which some people still think has nothing to do with climate change, I am inclined to add my pledge to UrbanAir.

Oct 26, 2012

Another kind of OM

For those who have worked on The High Line,
is their mantra.

Lisa Switkin, Associate Partner and Managing Director of Field Operations, gave us her take on The High Line at New York Botanical Garden on Tuesday, October 23.

As I listened to Lisa,  I understood why Field Operations was chosen for the project.
"Our first concern was to find a way to keep the magic." 

Just walk along The High Line and its obvious that Field Operations carefully calculated the linear corridor of the space, the intimacy of the narrow width of the pathway, the history of the place as a freight line through the city, the secret garden quality of the space during the 1970's and 1980's and the necessity of keeping a balance between preservation and transformation.

What became the most iconic symbol of The High Line is the part of The High Line that does not exist anymore.  It is The High Line that Joel Sternfeld made famous in his photographs: wild meadow flowing through the backs of buildings in Chelsea.

"Everything on The High Line is opportunistic.  Given aspects of the rail line that could not be changed (height and direction), we used that to our advantage in the hardscape and planting areas.  "
Lisa Switkin

"Perhaps walking is best imagined as an 'indicator species,' to use an ecologist's term.  An indicator species signifies the health of an ecosystem, and its endangerment or diminishment can be an early warning sign of systemic trouble.  Walking is an indicator species for various kinds of freedom and pleasures:  free time, free and alluring space and unhindered bodies."  Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking.

The High Line is a kind of OM.

Oct 23, 2012

We All Have

The Memory of LAND
"When a landscape architect is entrusted with a piece of land, 
regardless of its size...his or her essential obligation is 
to recognize the site's ideal image by listening to its 'voice." 

New York Botanical Garden
Landscape Design Series

3 projects

Nagasaki Seaside Park
Shiba Satsuma Street

Nagaoka Peace Forest
Ryoko Uemyama's finished her lecture.  I left with friends. On the way out,  my friend, L said "Uemyama's talk is especially relevant to you ..."after all you work in a public park".
"Yes, but we have AMNESIA".

Amnesia could be the furthest thing from Uemyama's work.  For her the land is filled with layers that hold a thousand memories.  She uncovers these layers by researching the  history of the place and that becomes the starting point of  her landscape architecture.  For example in Siba Street, Uemyama researched 100 colors of gray used in the Edo Period and choose a few of these tones for the park.

"We know the way to the eternal world, when we use the memory" Uemyama

I couldn't get L's comment out of my head. What a difference the landscape of my park would have been, if someone had considered the history of the park and transformed that history to a landscape based on the memories of its former uses and peoples.  It is a park that was originally called Minnehanonck by the Indians and received its current name from its owner, Jonathan Randal after the American Revolutionary War.  The island was used for a potter's field, an almhouse, a reformatory and a hospital. If the layers of history of the island had been considered, I wonder what the current topology of the island would look like.   Uemyama showed us how memory can be a metaphor for design. 

"a garden is not more than 
the character of the gardener." 
Edo Period

Oct 22, 2012

Pure Immanence

"A life contains only virtuals.  
It is made up of virtu-alities, events, singularities.  
What we call virtual is not something that lacks reality, 
but something that enters into a process of actualization 
by following the plane that gives it its own reality."

Pure Immanence
Essays on A Life
Gilles Deleuze

Saturday, October 20, 2012
Marron Atrium, Second Floor

The Show Must Go On

I sit on the floor.
There are no chairs.
The performance is suppose to begin at 3pm
It's now 3:15 pm and nothing.
Members of the audience get up, walk to the front of the room,

line up and stare at the me.
The music starts.  It's the Beatles.
The "dancers" begin to move.

But are they dancers?
In some cases, it is easy to tell by their body type; 
in other cases I am not sure.  
Again stillness.  
The music begins again; 
This time Private Dancer sung by Tina Turner.  
The dancers begin to move to the music
Each doing their own thing.  
but aware of each other.  
Again silence.  
The DJ plays Ballerina Girl by Lionel Richie.  
The men step out and 
the women perform their individual idea of ballet steps.  
The performers leave.
The DJ steps into the performance space.
He dances.
He leaves.
Everyone comes back to the performance space.
The Macarena plays.

All performers dance to it.
The performers leave the space and come back.
Each person has an iPod and headphones.
Some performers occasionally sing part of the song they are listening to.
Some move to the music they are listening to on their iPod.

Laughter in the audience.
The performers leave.

This was the first week of a three-week program of dance performances by contemporary choreographers at MoMA.  Afterwards,  choreographers, Jerome Bel and Steve Paxton (performance took place on Wed), Sabine Breitwieser, Chief Curator, Dept. of Media and Performance Art and Ralph Lemon, guest curator and choreographer talked about the two dances.

Randomness, improvisation, humor, irony were all part of this performance.  

Jerome Bel "You work on a dance for maybe 5 or 6 years.  And when you perform it in a space like this, the audience can come and go, play with their iphones, tweat, whisper, rock their babies, watch from the sidelines and the floors above.  There are no expectations.  I don't know how to come to terms with that".

"He went on "Dance is activated by the performer.  Even though a dance like the Macarena is ready-made, each performer does it differently".  

It didn't matter.  But nobody left.  Whether it was the music that made it accessible or comfortable or the idea that you didn't know what would happen and you wanted to find out; the performance was transfixing.  There is something similar in the way meadows develop:  choreographed and yet unchoreographed.  They evolve depending on the conditions.  I only wish a meadow could be as engaging as this performance.