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  It's been replaced by the ever newer, better and lighter iPad.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.