Apr 27, 2013

The "IN" Crowd

Sandor Katz
Author of The Art of Fermentation
Dan Felder
Head of Research and Development
at Momofuku's Culinary Lab
Eleanor Sterling
co-curator of Our Global Kitchen
Museum of Natural History
Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Art of
Dan Felder, Eleanor Sterling, Sandor Katz
Everyone has scars from high school.  I was never part of the “in" crowd.  I was known as an outsider, someone who did not participate in organized activities.  I could be counted on for a sarcastic remark on most occasions.
We given snacks throughout the evening:  sourdough bread, stout, Beet Kvass, Lettuce Kvass,
kimchi, aged cheddar from Vermont
My involvement with the  Urban Farm on Randall’s Island has jettisoned me into the world of alternative food issues. Factors surrounding food security, food deserts, integrated medicine, GMO’S, sustainable farming are now all part of my lexicon. It's hard to keep up.  I wondered if becoming an iconic figure in the underground food movement came as a surprise to Sandor Katz.  He is the foremost authority on fermentation, but Katz is also one of the darlings of the just food movement. 

Katz contracted AIDS in 1991, moved to a commune in Tennessee and started experimenting with fermentation.  He has published two books on fermentation and is a celebrity on the alternative food trail.  I know why.  He is engaging, clear and unpretentious.  Although he can rattle off the names of specific bacteria and molds, he prefers to make his point by talking about fermentation like he is having a personal conversation with you.  Katz to make people less afraid of fermenting foods.  He wants people to engage with the world of food and to understand that bacteria and fungi are part of our bodies.  Sandor makes a convincing pitch that the process of fermentation changes with its community, meaning the community of your refrigerator and your location.

When Ktaz was asked by Sterling, “What is your favorite food”?  The answer came without hesitation:  “Sauerkraut.  I practically eat it every day”.  I own The Art of Fermentation.  I bookmarked sauerkraut.  I intend to give it a go next month.  Result to follow.  I doubt sauerkraut can become my favorite food, but it might make it to my list of top 100.  

Apr 25, 2013

Hidden Gems

Pamela Smith 
National Trust Consultant to Wales and the Midlands
The Glory of Welsh Gardens 
Royal Oak Foundation
April 23, 2013   /    The Colony Club
Hidden Gems
Any garden billed as a hidden gem gets my attention, especially ones whose names I cannot pronounce:  Dyffryn, Erdigg, Plast Newydd, and Llanerchaeron.  There are well-known Welsh gardens:  Powis Castle (which we all know from the plant named after the castle) and Bodnant.
Pamela Smith did her best to open our minds to gardens that go as far back as the 14th century. 

"Wales is slightly damp.  You don't get good gardens without the rain."  Pamela Smith
Peppered with the history of each house, the peculiarities of its owners and the evolution of its gardens, Pamela Smith gave a workman-like presentation. For example, Penrhyn Castle, 600 ft. long, contains  a one-ton bed made of slate built for a visit by Queen Victoria, as well as a garden full of fuchsias;  Erddig Hall, owned by the same family for generations, composed poems about all their servants;  Llanerchaeron (pictured above) where the Head Gardener, a "tidy person" has trouble balancing the self-seeding meadow that surrounds the house with the English tendency to create order. 

I want to go to Wales, but not for the gardens.  It's the unspoiled landscape: the hidden lanes, the remnants of the Celts/Vikings and the challenge of pronouncing Welsh names.
Bryn Cader Faner

Pamela Smith
Pamela Smith is the National Trust's Garden and Parks Consultant to Wales and the Midlands. She works with gardens across Wales, including the gardens at Powis Castle, Erddig and Bodnant, and those in the Midlands region.

Smith advises on restoration, new acquisitions, and design and innovation within the historic landscapes. She is particularly interested in the historic significance of the plant collections within National Trust Gardens

Ms. Smith trained in horticulture in York and before joining the NT worked in public parks, historic landscapes and botanic gardens. For eight years she was the Director of the University of Birmingham Botanic Garden. She is Vice Chair of PlantNetwork, the national network promoting botanical collections in Britain and Ireland as a national resource for research, conservation and education.

In 2009, Ms. Smith was awarded a CABE Space scholarship and visited the United States and Canada to research community gardens.        

Apr 21, 2013

ALONE in the
company of TREES

April 17, 2013
The Horticultural Society of New York and
The Garden Conservancy

The Olive Route

Who doesn't love an olive tree?  Living in the Northeast, I can't grow one, but I want one.  Mick Jaeger was correct when he penned, "you can't always get what you want..."  Carol Drinkwater has managed to get what she wants.

When she bought her house in southern France, Carol did not know that the olive tree would become her obsession and her muse.  I went to hear what Carol had to say for one reason and one reason only.    "Carol will talk about her solo seventeen-month Mediterranean sojourn in search of the mythical secrets of the olive tree." description on the Hort website.

I've said before that no one can talk about plants, like an English person.  But maybe no one can talk like an English person can. It takes talent to make a fairly banal story into a tale that Tolstoy might have told.  Carol Drinkwater is an artful raconteur.

Abandoned after 10 years of marriage, Carol was adrift. She thought about leaving France.  Instead she sought friendship and solace from her neighbors.  An old farmer told Carol about the agricultural disaster of 1956.  The temperature dropped to -9 celsius and the trunks of the olive trees exploited.  The farmers thought it was all over.  Many gave up and decided to grow sunflowers and wine.   Some farmers cut the trunks of the olive trees to the ground and waited.  The trees reshooted and pretty soon the olive trees came back to life.  Drinkwater, "an olive tree always finds a way to come back and that was my way forward."

This anecdote is one many in Carol's multiplying books on the olive tree.  Once she made the decision to continue on her own; she began to ask herself a series of questions  Who was the first person who thought to take the fruit from the olive  tree?  Where was the oldest olive tree?

We know one questions leads to another.  It's what keeps me writing this blog.

Apr 19, 2013

Head in the Clouds:
Cloudy TEA

It was my day off.  I was up at 7 AM.  My usual rising time for work is 5 AM.  I was in pj's, cup of "joe" in hand, checking my emails. Emergency email from Eunyoung.  "It's 80 degrees outside.  The cherry blossoms are going to open wide.  Must make tea today."  It was my first  cherry blossom alert.

We do strange and wonderful things on Randall's Island.  It's part of the charm of my job.  On April 20th, we are holding our first Cherry Blossom Festival at  Randall's Island Urban Farm.  Shino Tanaka, will demonstrate how to make cherry blossom salt and tea.  Cherry Blossom Tea is a fermentation process.  The cherry blossoms are mixed with salt and plum vinegar and over the course of a week, ferment and become drinkable as a tea or decoration.

Using green tea,  float one cherry blossom in your cup.  The flower opens.  Inpatient, I tried it right away.  I did not taste anything, except the flavor of tea.  5 minutes later another sip.  Salty, very salty.  5 minutes later, the taste of the cherry blossom.  

evening temple bell
stopped in the sky
by the cherry blossom


Double Cherry Blossoms (Kwanzan Cherry Blossoms), coarse salt and plum or white wine vinegar.

1. Gather cherry blossoms when the flowers are 70-80% open.

2.  Rinse blossoms with water very lightly and drain blossoms in a flat basket.

3.  Drain the excess water from the blossoms and mix until the salt has been evenly distributed.

4.  Transfer the blossoms to a bowl.

5. Sprinkle coarse salt over the blossoms and mix until the salt has been evenly distributed.

6.  Take a clean plastic container, line the container with plastic wrap.

7.  Transfer the salted blossoms to the container.

8.  Seal the container tightly with an air-tight lid.

9.  Place a heavy object on the top of the lid.  This will help with the fermentation process.

10.  Leave the blossoms with the weight in the container for 24 hours.

11.  The following day, remove the blossoms from the container.

12.  Put the blossoms on paper towel and gently tap the excess water from the blossoms.

13.  After removing the excess water, place the blossoms back in the same container with lid.

14.  Pour white vinegar or plum vinegar over the blossoms from the container.

15.  Seal the container with plastic wrap before you put the lid back on.  No weighted object is necessary for the lid.

16.  After one week, remove the blossoms from the container.

17.  Line the flat basket with paper towels and place the blossoms in the flat basket.

18.  Dry the blossoms in a dark area for 2-3 days.

19.  If the paper towel is wet, change the wet towel to a new one and put the blossoms back in a dark area.

20.  Lightly mix the pickled blossoms in a bowl with coarse salt.

21.  Keep in the closed glass jar until you want to use the salt.*

*Blossoms can be stored up to one year.

*The blossoms can be used to decorate rice cakes and cookies, as well as black or green tea.

Apr 17, 2013

A Joyful Search


Jardin de la Connaissance
Garden installation for an international garden festival
Jardins de Metis (Quebec, CA)
with Rodney LaTourelle

Photos: (1)Rodney LaTourelle (2)Thilo Folkerts
(4)Anne-Renee Mongeon

of the interview with

 Why did you decide to participate in the Festival International de Jardins de Métis?
Is it an opportunity to explore ideas, that a project for a regular client would not give you the freedom to do?

In 2009 I had been invited to make a contribution to the International Garden Festival at the Jardins de Metis on the Gaspésie Peninsula in the Canadian Province of Quebec. Since 2000 the director of the festival, Alexander Reford, has successfully developed a venue of radically expanding the borders of what garden could be and mean today. Being able to realize an experimental garden project within such a challenging and supportive frame was an opportunity not to be missed.

Together with the Berlin-based Canadian artist Rodney LaTourelle we conceived and built
a garden project called Jardin de la Connaissance—Garden of Cognition in June 2010. The project involves about 40.000 books (equivalent to about 40 tons) that we arranged and left in the forest. The ‘Garden of Cognition’ does not illustrate a ‘return to nature’, but its intention is to provide an opportunity to experience the forest site in a unique and compelling way.

The garden engages the almost mythical relation between knowledge, culture, and nature. By using books as material in the construction of the garden, we confront these instruments of knowledge with the question of temporality. In exposing the fragile and supposedly timeless materials to transformation and disintegration, we aimed at inviting an emotional involvement of the visitor. The Jardin de la Connaissance is a sensual reading room and a laboratory for the aesthetics of the garden.

The short life-time of a temporary garden gives an additionally wide scope of freedom and possibilities. At the same time, the Jardin de la Connaissance has proven sturdy beyond its original temporality: this coming summer, the garden will see its fourth season at the Festival de Jardins. (www.refordgardens.com)

Do you want to talk about any other ideas you have about gardens?

The garden that is part of the work-title of my work is open. This garden is not bound by walls. In 1994 the American landscape architect Peter Walker gave out what for me has been kind of a brief for my work: ”Jackson Pollock, for example, tried to make space that was non-pictorial, actually within the painting. It was not a picture of something else but rather a spatial image in itself. ... If one could find those things in garden art with the internal power of these paintings, you could reduce the need for walls in much the same way that these artists have eliminated the need for a frame or a window to look through.” (Gardens without Walls, 1994)

In this way, the garden is neither restricted to specific form. Even though we may and should struggle over and over to define the garden’s form and our efforts in giving it shape: There is no general form that makes a garden a garden. The attempt to define and delimit the garden even today along the etymologic root of enclosure or fence (paradeisos, grad, etc.) renders it dead: the medieval hortus conclusus is closed off to the world. It is concluded, solved, benignly encased. In the best of all cases this enclosure is the proverbial golden cage.

I believe the garden may better be kept outside of confines. For me the garden is a joyful search; far from being concluded.

The most important thing, however, is that the garden is about making. As the land-artist Robert Smithson put it (in my reading with a hopeful outlook): “Too much thinking about gardens leads to perplexity and agitation. (…) The certainty of the absolute garden will never be regained.”

The landscape architect Thilo Folkerts was born in Neuenhaus, Germany in 1967. He studied at Berlin Technical University, taught as an assistant professor at the Chair of Landscape Architecture at the ETH in Zurich, Switzerland from 1999 to 2002, and as invited professor at the School of Landscape Architecture at the Université de Montréal, Canada in 2006. Since 2011 he has been lecturing at the Stuttgart Academy of the Arts. Based in Berlin, Thilo Folkerts has since 1997 realized temporary works as experimental setups on the concept of the garden. Temporary projects were installed in Le Havre, Lausanne, Basel, Zurich, Brussels, Berlin and Quebec—among other places. In 2007 Thilo Folkerts founded the office 100Landschaftsarchitektur in Berlin. In addition to working as a landscape architect who designs, experiments and constructs, he pursues his interest in the unique language of gardens as author, editor and translator.

Apr 5, 2013


Flying Zebras
temporary installation
with Marc Pouzol

Photos: Thilo Folkerts (3)/ Burkhard Paetow (1, 2 4)


Lately, I have been asking myself a lot of questions:  what I do and why I do it.  I came across Thilo Folkert's work, which explores some of the same subjects, I have been fixated on.  Thilo was kind enough to write a thoughtful response to my inquiry.   I am going to break the interview into two separate posts in order to share the Thilo's complete responses..  
Stay tuned for Part 2.

Your work seems to go between "traditional" landscape architecture and more conceptual projects, can you describe your practice. How do you define urban nature?
Creating any garden and landscape architecture necessitates a continuously renewed search: What is the appropriate shaping of time and space for a site? And, obviously, the design of open space involves the age-old dialectic between nature and culture: How do we relate to nature, what role does nature play for a space? Technically, functionally, culturally, metaphorically? The work of 100Landschaftsarchitektur is concerned with creating garden and landscape architecture in mostly urban environments.

Accordingly, the question of what nature could be in and as part of the city is always present. Both do not exclude each other! The great divide between the city (as culture) and landscape (as nature) has long been diluted, bridged and obscured. While of course city and nature have always been intertwined, today we are becoming more and more aware and accepting of their fragmented, complex, and multi-leveled relationship.

Jardin Portuaire
Jardins Temporaires 2001
Quartier de l'Eure, Le Havre
Photos:  Thilo Folkerts

For me urban nature is not an object or spatial category (for example a flower pot on the window sill, a neighborhood park, or even the technicalities of micro-climate or water management). Designing with urban nature is about conceptualizing this complex presence. This means discovering and utilizing for our urban lives as much of the immediate nature as possible. The contemporary city is the acting ground of the gardener and the landscape architect.
VETEX Mint Gardens
secret gardens Kortrijk 2009
Kortrijk (B)
Photos Thilo Folkerts (1) Sabine Deknudt (2)

VETEX Mint Gardens:
The text on your website describes the installation as an "archaelogy of urban space".
What do you mean by that?
The design and making of urban space should activate the substance, history, and stories of sites. The project was on the site of the former VETEX textile dying factory, located in the middle of a residential block. The garden installation involved giving the public access to the site after about twenty-five years of on-site soil remediation. It had been quasi forbidden ground in people’s backyard. The opening of the wooden fences to the adjacent streets made it possible to freely visit this beautifully overgrown spot.

The installation was intervening minimally, yet adding a radiant narrative moment, in order to create curiosity for the rediscovery of the site. For one, the twenty-five mint varieties that were cultivated among the unkempt rural vegetation created a little hunter’s impulse to visit all the strange, exotically named varieties, such as chocolate mint, Bergamot mint, or ginger mint.

In the field scaffolding rods served as plant labels and mark the mint patches. Mint is a traditional, yet international plant, easily recognized for its characteristic smell. It is a charismatic plant that instantly enchants almost everyone. The mint thus fostered the personal uncovering of the site’s history. At the same time, the installation did aim to not be just retrospective. It was also a projection of the site’s potentials and possibilities; it was about unfolding the agency of beauty for the recognition of a brownfield as valid part of the urban tissue.

Can you talk about your use of unusual materials like scaffolding rods?
And the strips in the street in Flying Zebras?
The materiality of the projects, as much as the concepts, is developed from the specific places. For me (the concept of) garden is not essentially about form, even though it is in the garden that form can find its place. The garden is thus initially more about the approach and about the relationship between the gardener and nature. The garden always becomes and never is.

I believe that we are on a continuous search to discover beauty and cultivate sensibilities. This must have an effect for materiality: The garden entails the shaping of the raw material of place and nature. We should not limit our joy to the perfect beauty of a rose. Working in urban environments suggests the use of urban materials.

For me scaffolding rods or traffic marking are very close to central garden issues: They involve temporality, they signal and embody change. In the case of the VETEX mint garden, the scaffolding rods, fitted with the names of the mints are over-dimensional botanical markers as much as claim stakes, signaling immanent change. There’s a similar background to the materiality for accessing a vacant lot and interstitial spaces with the Garden Bridges project in Brussels last year. The Flying Zebras project (together with Marc Pouzol) was about validating traffic dynamic and pedestrian movement as a necessary and aesthetically rich part of urban liveliness.

PART II of the interview to follow in the next post.

 The landscape architect Thilo Folkerts was born in Neuenhaus, Germany in 1967. He studied at Berlin Technical University, taught as an assistant professor at the Chair of Landscape Architecture at the ETH in Zurich, Switzerland from 1999 to 2002, and as invited professor at the School of Landscape Architecture at the Université de Montréal, Canada in 2006. Since 2011 he has been lecturing at the Stuttgart Academy of the Arts. Based in Berlin, Thilo Folkerts has since 1997 realized temporary works as experimental setups on the concept of the garden. Temporary projects were installed in Le Havre, Lausanne, Basel, Zurich, Brussels, Berlin and Quebec—among other places. In 2007 Thilo Folkerts founded the office 100Landschaftsarchitektur in Berlin. In addition to working as a landscape architect who designs, experiments and constructs, he pursues his interest in the unique language of gardens as author, editor and translator.