Mar 26, 2012

Transforming Yourself

at MoMA
I can be intractable when I think I know something.  I wasn't going to get off the escalator at MoMA to see the Cindy Sherman Retrospective.  My friend urged me to take a look.

"Suddenly the reflection I'm looking at is not at all me. Suddenly it's like a phantom that's just popped out of the mirror, and that's when I know the character is right on.  There have been moments where I remember this thing suddenly appearing and I can't believe that's me!"
Cindy Sherman

This is a case where seeing a body of work created over thirty years, can change your mind about the artist and the work itself.  It's hard to imagine using your face and body as the subject of your work.  Cindy Sherman has used her persona over and over again; transforming it over and over again.  I can go to this show over and over again.

Mar 24, 2012

Building The Narrative

Annual Burn at the Meadow - Seven Ponds Farm. Photo Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects.

Restoration Ecology
Private Estate Gardens

Wave Hill Horticulture Lectures
March 21, 2012

THOMAS WOLTZ is one of the good guys and it doesn't hurt that he is good looking and has the manners of a Southern gentleman.  Woltz's first point was that the firm's projects are collaborative:  the result of everyone in the firm, plus the craftsmen, horticultrists, botanists, historians, scientists, and ecologists they work with.  It is a "rich web of partnerships". 

Cedars, Long Island, Photo Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects.

How about this for an opening, "Landscape can do jobs... A garden can have meaning and perform ecological services."  Woltzs' ideas are powerful, but even more powerful is his rhetoric.  With modesty, charm and knowledge, Woltz built his own narrative around respect for the land.

Providence Road Garden. Photo Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects.

It's hard to be sincere these days.  Especially difficult to talk about "listening to the land"  without being didactic or preachy. Woltz was neither.  Each project had a big IDEA.  In a small backyard in Manhattan, Woltz created a story for elements in the space around the idea of NEST.  From the furniture to the fountain to the living wall, the concept of nest was expressed as a place for familial gatherings and horticultural devices.

Selling an idea to a client is always crucial.  Woltz's storyline creates a script the client can embrace.  Perhaps, for the millionaires that own these estates, sustainability is a vision they want to own, both metaphorically and physically.

Words matter.  Woltz is absolute proof.  For a large estate in Long Island, Woltz created 3 bands.  The North American Band/Body (native plants), The Western European Band/Mind (formality and geometry) and the Asian Band/Spirit (wooded portion of the site)

Double Dune Garden, Long Island. Photo Nelson Bryd Woltz Landscape Architects.
In a winery in California, which is organic and biodynamic:  "We wanted the garden to reflect the values of the owners".  The wine tasting table which holds bottles of wine set in ice for tasting; Woltz freely admits is a rip off of the Villa Lante stone dining table.  Given the opportunity to riff on Cardinal Gambara, wouldn't you?
Photo of the Villa Lante table by Phyllis Odessey
Vegetable garden at the winery.  Photo Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects.

"We need to forge a personal convenant
with the land we're responsible for."

I realize that this lecture was so packed with ideas, that trying to cover it would make this the longest blog in the world.  The take away:  the ability to tell a good story is essential.

"It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story."  Native American saying

Mar 17, 2012

Zone Denial

Thomas Christopher
The Backyard
March 15, 2012
"What will convince gardeners that things have to change?"  
Thomas Christopher

For hard-core horticulturists... NOTHING.

For those of us who are not in denial, it doesn't take much: a few 60 degree days in February.
For myself, I  like being revolutionary.

WHATEVER it takes, Tom Christopher made a powerful case for gardening sustainably.  With not much foreplay, Christopher got right to it.  "We are the Saudi Arabia of fresh water."  The audience was filled with gardeners sitting in the auditorium of an institution that is known for its collections and traditional gardens.  Was this heresy?

In 1911, Bison grazed on grass outside the Smithsonian Institution before there was a Smithsonian National Zoo. 

Christopher spent most of time talking about grass and alternatives to it.  "What is a lawn, but a display of wealth and power? We all love Downton Abbey, but let's not get carried away by TV". 

Consider the amount of chemicals it takes to keep a lawn green and weed free.  Consider the amount of labor it takes to keep a lawn mowed.  Consider the alternatives?

A mowed labyrinth on Vashon Island
This isn't new stuff.  In a funny, conversational style, Christopher presented a number of alternatives, like the mowing a labyrinth into your lawn  my personal favorite).  Christopher advocated for giving up the lawn or at the very least reducing its size.  If you can't stand not having a green expanse,  plant one of the new eco-grasses that  grow 6 inches a season.  

Can we do it?  The Winter Lecture Series at NYBG (Larry Weaner, Doug Tallamy, Thomas Christopher) was packed with gardeners/horticulturists. They were unhappy.  Not adhering to English gardening tradition and the planting palette related to it, is just too TMC (too much change) for some people.  Looking for opportunities instead of seeing disaster is what Christopher advocated.

When I got home Fine Gardening was on my stoop.
The cover copy:
Spring Containers:  Fresh looks to start the season
Pruning Mysteries Solved
Peonies:  Pick the best one for your garden

Is it seductive?  Hell yes!   Snow Lotus, Canary Brillant or Julia Rose?  I closed the magazine. I am making a list of what will be coming out of my garden.  2012 is going to be different for me.

Mar 14, 2012

Don't BOX Me In


Metro Hort
March 13, 2012

Andrea Fillippone is obsessed with a plant, I don't care for.  She is an expert on all things boxwood.  Andrea propagates it, goes on plant expeditions searching for it, and uses it in all its forms and cultivars in her own garden and others she designs.

I understand obsession.  I sympathize with anyone who has a plant compulsion, infatuation or mania.  Fixating on 'Glencoe', 'Green Beauty', 'Green Mound', 'Green Velvet', or 'Wintergreen'; I can relate.  When I worked as a graphic designer, I often challenged myself to use one typeface and only one typeface on a job.  When a typeface is well designed, it has myriad possibilities, even though it's ONE typeface.  I suppose the same can be said of one genus, which has 70 species. 
Andrea Fillippone lives on a large estate in New Jersey.  Her gardens are traditional.  She uses boxwood as designers have for hundreds of years, to define areas, create edges and add winter color.  She also uses 'Dee Runk', 'Green Pillow', 'Morris Dwarf', Morris Midget', 'Jensen' and her favorite, 'Justin Brouwers' in unusual ways.  She is not a big shearer.  She groups cultivars -  very dwarf, upright and medium together. She enjoys the variety of leaf, density and color(yes, boxwoods have different shades of green). And perhaps, most importantly she treats all her gardens organically.
Andrea's  passion for boxwood could be infectious, but I have a strong immune system.  In my mind, even unclipped; it's still a plant wrapped in formality, with a history it can't escape.  In the hands of a more unconventional designer, boxwood might be used in a way that makes me stand up and take notice.

After the Metrohort meeting, I walked up Fifth Avenue to get my bus crosstown.  Almost every single "garden" in front of the apartment houses on Fifth, contain 90% boxwood.  Some are sheared into rows, some are rounded, a few are fastigiata, but all maintain that look of neatness and uniformity demanded by the street.  Craving order, but living in chaos, I can't wrap my head around Buxus.

Mar 11, 2012

This Could Be Something...

How do I love thee?
Let me count the ways.

I can't.  There are too many.
Unless you have been hiding on Pakistan/Afghanistan border, you know that the Whitney Biennial has been lauded over by every critic on the planet.

What do I have to say about it?
I love it too.
Sign in Dawn Kasper's Studio at the Whitney Biennial
I love thee
to the level of every day's

Most quiet need...

every day's...
Tom Thayer
Elaine Reichek
We Construct A Narrative

In a way, the title sums up the entire Whitney Biennial.  Everyone in the show is constructing a narrative.  Sometimes, I could understand the narrative and sometimes not.  It didn't really matter.  It was compelling, nevertheless. 

DAWN KASPAR (in cap) is the epicenter of the exhibition.  She is on site, living in her studio for the entire length of the show.  She is an artist, and a great performer.  Dawn talks to anyway who wishes to engage with her.  She is one of the those people whose face exudes openness and generosity.  Dawn seems to genuinely want to talk to you about ANYTHING.  The everyday is the heart of her gig.  The sign on the wall of her studio (see above) captures the paradigm of the show .
JOHN KELSEY:  What could be more "everyday" than this work by John Kelsey.  Here is part of the description of his piece:

"John Kelsey is an art critic,  gallery director, and member of the artists' collective Bernadette Corporation;...

All the text here has been culled from spam emails received by the artist.  The lists of names indicate the emails' senders, the titles are drawn from the subject lines..."
 NICOLE EISENMAN is one of the few painters in the Biennial.  Her style (figurative) are about our obsessions.  Her work made me laugh.
Sick Sic Six Sic ((Not) Moving:  Seagullssssssssssssssssss
From the text on the wall about this piece
"...Cameron Crawford's response to the deaths of six people he knew.  His ability to fully understand their significancde to him is reflected in his use of homophones (word that are pronounced alike but which differ in meaning) that skirt the edge of comprehension, as well as in the near -immateriality of this "invisible curtain, made of invisible blocks,"...

So what was interesting besides...
This Life is Nothing More Than Waiting for the Sky To Open
Fluid Employment
Break UP
There is No Need
There is No Place Like Home

At the Biennial traditional paintings or sculptures are in small supply.   Made objects, made with very low tech materials are de rigeur.  Between the turntables, cardboard, duck tape, string, photographs of discarded letters, it seems that art has come back to the making of objects.  And this is one of the reasons I loved the Biennial.  It uses the everyday to make the extraordinary.

Mar 6, 2012

Dig It!

Island of Aloha
March 4-11, 2012
This year I decided to take a different tack.  I followed my nose instead of my eyes.  I walked right past the Orchidaceae, including Dendrobium, Pleurothallis and Bulbophyllum.  There is one thing you can say about a plot of Hyacinth, the smell is overwhelming.  Next door to the harbinger of Spring was a large crowd. I walked over to see what the fuss was about.

We are beginning to start cleaning up our Urban Farm on Randall's Island from yearly Winter debris.  Our numbers are not as large as City Harvest, but they speak to how far a few good plants can go.

Mar 4, 2012

He's no WALLflower!

New York Botanical Garden
Patrick Blanc's 
Vertical Walls 
Through April 12

You can blame it on Patrick Blanc.  He is the guy that took vertical walls from being  rare to ubiquitous.  The current orchid show at the NYBG is fabulous, for once.  I go to the show every year and come away feeling the beauty of the plants, but not being inspired by the design.  This year is different.

NYBG hired Blanc to design vertical walls of orchids for the show.  Blanc is a plant geek.  Just look at the map of the one of his plantings.  There over 250 species.

 He is also a botanist, whose specialty is tropical plants.  After scouring most of the tropical places on the globe; Blanc studied how plants grow in their natural eco-systems .... vertically, on walls, on limestone, in cracks, in understory situations with humidity. 
But there is more than just vertical magic.  His walls are about the texture, structure and architecture of leaves. Although the show at NYBG is in the conversatory and  limited in scale and design (to orchids), you can still see of the genuis of Blanc. It's worth $20.

At a lecture for members, Blanc walked on stage with streaks of green in his hair and screaming abstract design of leaves on his shirt and spoke for an hour and fifteen minutes without taking a breath (at least it seemed so).  I was exhausted and pumped by the end.  The perfect way to enter the show.

Begonia blancii 
(sect. Diplolinium, Begoniaceae)
a new species endemic to the 
Phillippine island of Palawain.

Mar 2, 2012

Get Down On Your
Hands and Knees

Elizabeth Barlow Rogers
Horticultural Society of New York
Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Is this the description of a patient on a psychiatrist's couch or the psychological profile of a garden writer?
As Elizabeth Barlow Rogers read excerpts from her book, I compiled a list of mental disorders.

HOARDING of plants, 
GUILTY over extreme shopping 
HYSTERICAL about predators in the garden
Risk syndromes: 
Over-use of the internet
Obessive reading of nursery catalogs
Persistent fear of choosing the wrong species
Resentment of native plants
Paralysis and inertia over making a mistake
Early warning signs:
Anxiety (not being able to read all the gardening books on your shelf)
Low Self-Esteem (combined with garden envy)
Jealousy (I want what they have)
Panic over lack of temperature control (early frost, drought, high heat)
Fear of marauders (voles, deer, squirrels, slugs)

Stress over fungus, virus and other diseases
Obsessive compulsive disorder
Phobias traced to a specific triggering event, often in childhood

Cure All:
Instead of reading excerpts from garden writers, find a used bookstore (not an easy task), walk to the back(that is where you will find the garden books), dust off the bindings(most of these tomes have been on the shelf for years), sit on the floor, find a volume that appeals to you,  pay a small sum and place the book next to your bed and see if you care to open it.  If you are in need of something humorous to cheer you up,  try Reginald Farrer's, A Rage for Rock Gardening.

No matter what book you choose, I can guarantee one thing.  Books of garden writing are an antidote for insomnia.