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.