Apr 29, 2012

Jon Cotner

"In many ways writing is like a city; there is structure and there are rules, but often beauty comes from improvisation within this framework."
Jon Cotner

"Knows his way, stops seeing." 
Korean proverb
"Wake up as much as possible."
Antonio Machado

"Even an ant crawling by makes its mark"
Korean proverb


Recreation is a new interactive walk designed by Jon Cotner. 
To celebrate National Landscape Architecture Month as well as the legacy of Frederick Law Olmstead.

For me, a quintessential Sunday afternoon in the Big Apple, usually means a walk.  This Sunday was a "ramble" with Jon Cotner.  We met at the Southeast corner of the Sheep Meadow, introduced ourselves and briefly stretched before beginning our impending adventure.  Jon gave us a brief intro to Olmstead's intentions in creating the park.  Was the park still an escape from the urbanity and work related "ennui?"

In a clear unpretentious way, Jon elaborated on the meaning of ramble:  amble, perambulate, meander, wander, stroll, saunter, promenade and walk. 

"What I have observed in the Sheep Meadow:  kissing, tumbling, sleeping, sitting, biking, eating, talking, hugging, petting, reading, kite flying, sunbathing, talking, yelling, mediating, etc.etc, etc."

We rambled through the Sheep Meadow for 15 minutes observing the expected and unexpected and 
regrouped at the Northwest corner of the Park.  Jon asked what we had observed? 
Claudia "Two girls were pushing each other and I thought perhaps that one was going to hurt the other, but then one of the girls said, "the tree is the jail." 

We picked up the pace and sauntered over to the rollerskating dancers.  Hugh(one of the participants) had taken off his shoes during the walk in the Sheep Meadow and continued to walk barefoot on stone, brick, cobblestone, dirt, asphalt, etc. I thought that it was incredible gutsy and trusting.  His walk became a sensory experience for his feet.  At the end of our journey "I have felt the different temperatures of the all the materials we have walked over".

As a visual person,  I try to be  mindful when I walk or visit any place.  Strolling around Central Park with Jon, listening to his riff, was a little bit like being with Thoreau or Socrates or one of those guys that philosophize about the MEANING of seeing.  Jon's banter was a little more bookish than twitter.  He is a poet.  Comparing the blowing of spring blossoms to a snow storm is definitely the verbiage of a literary mind. 

Our group parted at  Belvedere Castle, a popular look-out point in Central Park.  And as one of the walkers pointed out, when you hear "the weather in Central Park is..." that forecast is coming from Belvedere Castle. 

Over the course of a hour, Jon expanded on  Olmstead as an artist of views and how carefully Olmstead had created all  parts of Central Park with an eye to hiding the street, the buildings, the traffic.  The Park is all about creating a space away from urban life. 

That space is still there, still intact, still a refuge, still a destination on a Sunday afternoon.  It's the STILLness that's hard to find.  I believe that stillness must be found in one's mind.

Jon does not have a website.  How you find out what is doing I am not sure.  He did tell us he is doing a walk in Battery Park as part of the River to River Festival.  He will also be doing a walk during the summer at Fire Island from dawn to dusk.  Ten Walk/Two Talks is a book Jon wrote with his friend Andy Fitch.  Jon teaches at the Pratt Institute's Creative Writing Program.

Apr 28, 2012

Presidential Tree


I don't question much of what I read on Wikipedia.  Googling the tree Amelanchier, which we had just planted on Randall's Island yielded an interesting sentence.

"George Washington planted speciments of Amelanchier on the grounds of his estate."

That peaked my interested. A couple of clicks later:

"George Washington, who was fond of the serviceberry, planted it on the grounds of his Mount Vernon estate."  http://arboretum.washcoll.edu/_amelanchier_laevis.html

That short sentence provided a way in.  Mt. Vernon was my next click.
Next click on GARDENS

“$10,100 to eradicate exotic invasive plants from the forest edge. Just beyond the Bowling Green gate is a beautiful 12-acre lawn surrounded by forest. Numerous invasive vines have overtaken the natural tree line. The area is in need of substantial removal of vines and invasive exotics, as well as planting of new understory trees, including the flowering trees that Washington loved: dogwoods, redbuds, serviceberries, and sweet bay magnolias. Professional arboricultural support is required.”

Without going to that old-fashioned institution the library, I had to be satisfied with this brief explanation of Washington's affinity for Amelanchier.

For awhile, I was diverted from my initial inquiry, but after a small triumph, I went back to Amelanchier and its common names: Amelanchier or Serviceberry or Juneberry or Shadbush.

Servicebery:  early settlers used the early blooming flowers of Amelanchier for burial services, hence the name.

Shadbush:  Amelanchier comes into bloom at the same time as shad swim upstream to spawn.

Given the current  presidential chocies, I am happy to be in the company of George Washington.

Apr 22, 2012

Under The Tuscan Sun

in Context

1950's - Present

Bertha and Karl Leubsdorf Art Gallery
Hunter College
1-4 pm Tuesday - Saturday
Until April 28, 2012
When you have gone to as many galleries and museum shows as I have, you think you've seen it all.  Thank God it's not true.  There is always something else to be uncovered.

Fortunately,  there are curators, gallery owners, graduate students, whose mission it is to discover unknown artists. This is the case of the current show at the Hunter College Gallery.  Peripheral Visions brings together 21 Italian photographers, who have looked at the landscape of their own country in non-pastoral way.  It's not the Italy of vacation snaps.  It's the underbelly of Italian cities and the seedy side of the rural environment.

If you are in the neighborhood, wonder into the gallery.  I guarantee you will not be disappointed.  It's not ALL extraordinary, but it's ALL worth looking at.
Matthew Pillsbury
City Sages
Bonni Benrubi Gallery
41 East 57 St.
Through April 28, 2012

Continue down Lexington Ave, make a right and walk toward Madison.  41 East 57 st., The Fuller Building, an art deco gem that has just been restored. Take the elevator to the 13th. floor.

Matthew Pillsbury uses a large-format camera and long time exposures to create amazing photographs.  If the work at Hunter College is of a landscape unfamiliar to the Italian tourist, Pillsbury's subject matter is the familiar to anyone who lives in NYC:  Macy's Day Thanksgiving Day Parade, Brooklyn Bridge Park Carousel (pictured above), the NY Stock Exchange, Times Square on New Year's Eve, the High Line, etc.  The contrast between the parts of the photo that are in focus and the part that is out of focus challenge our perception of the place. 

Take a stroll to either of one these shows (or both)  and alter your vision of what you think you know.

Apr 19, 2012


Chair of the
National Trust

England, Wales and Northern Ireland

the English Country House
Royal Oak Foundation
April 18, 2012 - Gracie Mansion

My playhouse was built in the colonial style.  With pitched roof, mullioned windows and a brass knob. I spent many happy hours imitating the life I thought I would live. 

Simon Jenkins wants us to play house in the 330 structures the National Trust owns. We've all seen that sign "PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH."  If Jenkins has anything to say about it, that graphic will change to PLEASE ENTER!  We will be invited to sit, cook, lounge, dance and even play the piano.  A game of billards at Upton House is within your reach.
The dining room at Kingston Lacey

Is this the disneyfication of historic houses?  Jenkins argues that houses are expressions of family dreams, vulnerabilities, marriages, aspirations and careers.  It's the difference between being a participant or a spectator. "We are taking the past and reinterpreting it for the present.  In a recent survey, National Trust members were asked how many times they returned to a great house.  The answer:  seen it once, seen it all.  Jenkins wants people to come back and back again. 

How is he going to accomplish this?  By making these great houses "talk" to us.  Inviting visitors to experience the life owners and servants once lived:  sitting at the dining table, reading the diary of Lady X at her dressing table, playing croquet on the great lawn or hitting a tennis ball with a vintage wood racquet.
Hardwick Hall

This philosophy is controversial, especially in a venerable old institution like the National Trust.  Jenkins says "it's the stick-in-the-muds vs. the progressives."  His vision is a post-twitter prophecy. But I suggest using twitter to accomplish his mission.

Changing things up is my speciality.  I live for reinvention.  I will try to embrace Jenkins ideas.  I see myself at Knole, the inspiration for Virginia's Woolf's novel, Orlando, pruning lemon trees in the orangery.

Apr 14, 2012

Beautiful and Affordable

scanography by

Who can bring a roomful of gardeners to tears?


I was sobbing silently as Druse described, with irony and humor, the destruction of his garden created over 30 years.  Hurricane Irene, Lee and the freak snow storm in October washed it all away.

You can't help but admire someone who can segue from disaster to beauty in a few sentences.  Ken Druse was at MetroHort to talk about his new book, Natural Companions.  In an interview on the blog site Garden Rant, Ken said:

I also wanted to make a gardening book that was beautiful and affordable,
something people would want to pick up physically in an electronic age.

Druse on Natural Companions:  "it's a "recipe book" or "a book of swatches".  For me, it's kind of  high end pinterest.  The book is organized around Seasons, Families, Textures, Color, Places, Themes, etc.  I understand the appeal.  It's accessible.  It's a way into a challenging subject.  Every chapter has a "photo" by Ellen Hoverkamp.  And these photos have a key that tell you what the flowers or plants are in the photos.  The photos are consciously and meticulously composed.   Natural Companions is an aid to the untrained eye. If you follow the combination you like best, you can achieve a beautiful garden.

Some of prints from the book are available from Ellen Hoverkamp.

I  go to work in jeans and a t-shirt.  It's serviceable, predictable and timeless, but it wasn't always this way.  Figuring out what outfit to wear...skirt, pants, sweater and most especially the shoes used to occupy a lot of my time.  I am a little jealous of Ken Druse.  He has put together so many permutations of plants; all I want to do is tear out a page from this book and do it!  Druse has figured out a way to make something very complicated fairly simple.  If garden making was only this easy.

Apr 7, 2012

Go FIGuerie!

I think we are all a little impatient these days; at least I am.  Tired of listening to the political discourse of the day;  I wish to surround myself with the compatriots of Madame de Sevigne just for a day or two.

"The craze for peas continues; the impatience waiting to eat them, to have eaten them, and the pleasure of eating them are the three subjects our princes have been discussing for the past four days now." 
 Madame de Sevigne

Jean de la Quintinie, head gardener to Louis XIV was
"so convinced of the innocent pleasure given by the sight of a handsome potager that in all large gardens I recommend building a pavilion, not merely to provide shelter in storms..but also for the pleasure derived from admiring in comfort land that is well used."
Jennifer Bartley has written another book, The Kitchen Gardener's Handbook.  Handbook is correct word.  The Chicago Tribune says, "It's a book you can't help but tuck with scraps of paper and turned down page corners as you harvest a bumper crop of fine ideas." Vegetable gardening is a craze.  It's de rigueur for city, suburban or rural dwellers to grow their own.  

We (and I include myself) are beginning to understand; what the french have long been proponents of:  a vegetable garden as an aesthetic endeavor.  When you investigate the origins of the potager; it is the monks of the Middle Ages that show us the way.  Providing nourishment for the inhabitants of the abbey and flowers for their altars were part of their daily routine.  It is the combination of ornamental and edibles that inspire people like Jennifer Bartley.   Her books and website (http://www.americanpotager.com)  are primers in what we have forgotten.  A vegetable garden is a GARDEN.
It was Jean de la Quintinie who created a figuerie for Louis XIV, which produced figs even in Winter.  He created his own microclimate by hollowing out a garden protected from the chilling winds. 

Sitting on an uncomfortable chaise lounge, decked out in pointy shoes, I contemplate a design for my vegetable garden...parterre, labyrinth or serpentine and wish that the only care in the world I had was  the latest infatuation with peas.