Friday, January 30, 2009

Lotusland: CA Gem

Make a point of visiting Lotusland in Montecito. A unique garden which is, as they say: Absolutely Fabulous!

Creative, loving, out-of-the-box, but also classic. See the "blue on blue" below.
You may notice the zonal difference from Chicago...couldn't grow these plants here in shade nor overwinter the succulents outdoors.

CA Continued: Getty Villa

Above is a view of one of the more classical courtyards and below some more modern garden elements (look closely at the cool ramp facade). Ironically, nice humanly-proportioned at the Getty Villa in Malibu November 2008.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Last in a Huntington Series: My Favorite Plants

Staghorn Fern in little out-building covered by Wisteria.

Mammillaria (pincushion) & Echinocactus (barrel) cactus.

I still don't understand whether I should be using the singular or plural here: Ann? Linda? Where are my grammar queens?

More Huntington...Japanese Garden


Bamboo Forest

I know this top image is high-maintenance (not sustainable), but I love the aesthetics. Anyway, isn't care, meditation and distortion what Japanese gardens embody? Along with time passing.

And who can resist the sound & light conditions of massed bamboo, especially after Crouching Tigers etc.

Huntington Continued...Chinese Garden

Newly installed so they need time to settle in and acquire a patina. Meanwhile, look at the striking hardscape and culturally different rock formations. With my time restrictions, I couldn't delve into the symbolic meanings as much as I would have liked. The docent we ran into was not only helpful & educated about the garden, but very sophisticated.

California Dreamin': Huntington: Cactus


Just today I received a copy of an article I wrote for the newsletter, "Covering Ground," of a local professional organization LDA (Landscape Design Association). I highlighted some fab gardens I saw in LA area when I was out in Mailbu for the Earthways Annual Board Meeting. Oops! I realized I had not put up accompanied images here as I had promised. Since I have until end of January, here goes....staring with the very mature & marvelous cactus garden at the Huntington in San Marino, CA.

Lots of "I"s in this post, but really: the plants are the thing.

Colorized Form & Texture

Spurs to the Imagination

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Japanese Gardens & Synchronicity

Continuing on the theme of last post: Here is a photo of Mark and Linda of Madison (who writes the terrific blog "Each Little World" with photos by Mark) last spring up in Milwaukee. We met halfway at the Milwaukee art museum, with its fabulous new wing by Calatrava, [I have nothing good to say about the Dan Kiley garden though I love his earlier work in Columbus, Indiana] to see one of the best photography shows ever: foto: Modernity in Central Europe1918-1945. As a bonus, it included works by my dad's mentor: Moholy-Nagy. (Not being able to photograph the exhibit was a minus...) Another bonus is that one of the organizers is now the new curator of the photography department of the Art Institute of Chicago. A place I know well since being dragged there repeatedly as a child...I digress.

So the other day I wrote about Swedish fences for Mark. Then I read Philip Bewley's Garden Blog about Japanese gardens. Then I happened to read Linda's blog from January 21st "My garden odyssey: What's the Big Idea?" which mentions how Japanese gardens & culture affected their wonderful, wonderful garden...a Midwest Japanese garden that works masterfully! I don't have good images of Mark & Linda's garden, there are many on their website, but I do have a picture (below) of one of the pieces of art in their home. Maybe it will give you a clue about their sensibility. You can't go wrong following these people's blogs and their generous musings.

So today I indulged in an afternoon cup of tea and reflected on some of the Japanese influences on my life. In high school, it was lots of novels by Kawabata & Mishima and hot, crispy tempura consumed with my best friend when we played hooky. In college, I managed to substitute a year of Japanese Lit. in lieu of Western Civ. and loved the flickerings in the dark that were mesmerizing films by Kurosawa & Ozu at Doc films where I was lucky enough to learn at the knee (he's at least a foot taller than I) of the mighty film critic Dave Kehr. [Since I'm name dropping people I was proud to know at U of C, I'll mention another brilliant, original & principled fellow: David need to give a link for him. Maybe David will help balance Milton Friedman.] As a supposed adult, I have learned much about culture & seeing from my artist brother Adam's year in a half in Japan and from the Garden books & lectures of the superb landscape architect, Julie Moir Messervy.

Enough links for you? Enjoy.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Swedish Fence Construction: Dalarna

I promised our friend, Mark, in Madison, details on traditional Swedish fence construction in the Dalarna region. Mark's awesome gardening & sculpting talents always impress me. Last time I visited, he was in the process of building a Japanese tea house.

My household Swede keeps changing the facts around this fencing method so I will repeat what he last told me. It's made of local pine (looking to me to be Pinus sylvestris or Scots Pine) and interestingly, the oldest recorded Scots Pine (700 years old) seems to have been in Sweden. The larger section are lashed together by what Mats says is Juniper bark soaked to flexible so that it can be tied as illustrated.

This example is quite new, having been replaced a few years ago by local craftsmen. Not only does it use local material & labor, but the form is both functional and beautiful.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Coyote Waits

Well, the coyote didn't exactly wait, which is why he (or she) is so hard to see in this photo: to the left of the rocks near the vine-covered fence. We saw said coyote last week in the park down at the lake (Michigan) on a Sunday afternoon. This one-block-wide park is about a mile north of Chicago in Evanston, off busy Sheridan Road. We have fond feelings about the animal energy here since it is also where we found our beloved Mina (Norwich Terrier) when she was abandoned to her fate (us) about a year and a half ago.

Monday, January 19, 2009

King, Obama, Day of Service

On this amazing day, leading up to the extraordinary one tomorrow, I feel these images make sense. The one above shows the Continental Divide. I hope we will be seeing more coming together of diverse forces. The one below is Paolo Soleri's Bronze Windbell at the Missouri Botanic Garden in St. Louis. Bells can be so moving, figuratively or acoustically. Yesterday and today I kept hearing people speak (including hearing MLK's "I Have A Dream" speech) and being moved to tears. It's an incredible experience to have been in grammar school then and to be able to witness Obama's inauguration now.

What a great step that Community service, among other empathic values, will once again be encouraged on a national level.

I also look at that as a positive move for gardens...maybe more people will began to really think of their gardens as communities ("right plant, right place") and as places that belong to our larger community...local and global. Having a garden is a service in many ways. Now, if only I could spend more time in mine...but I like to imagine this blog might offer something of service once in a while. People don't comment much publicly, but some of you do write me privately on occasion, so I know there is a form of community. Thank you. And please comment more.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Bradford Pear, Natives, Emerald Ash Borer & Guatemala

More on the Bradford Pear: one of my friends & clients who is much more scientifically exacting than I and keeps me on my toes, reminded me that Michael Dirr's Hardy Trees & Shrubs cites the lack of a strong central leader as one of the contributing faults. Since our village did not have the budget to trim parkway trees for six years, I got to see first hand what happened when the branches were not thinned: not a pretty picture. Ironically, I was able to bond over this particular dislike of Bad Pear with our municipal arborist who turns out to be married to somebody in the office next to ours. In December, after we discussed the ridiculous number of leaves left on the tree, he told me that Evanston no longer plants them on parkways. Since 1999, due to Emerald Ash Borer (Morton Arboretum has a good fact sheet on the non-native pest), our village has not planted Ash trees.

I like to believe that I am not a purist about anything (hubby would disagree). In my landscape design/build practice, though I work for a sustainable larger picture, we do incorporate some non-native plants if they grow in a similar environment to the plant community and do not require babying. Since the mercury was at -17F this morning, I feel a warm image or two might boost the immune system. So here are two photos from one of my trips to the AFOPADI/Earthways reforesting/organic ag project in NW Guatemala. Above you can identify the bromeliads (epiphytes) and below you can see the dry barren soil to which the native trees must adapt. This was en route from the village of Papel (up around 10,000 ft). Most of the few remaining native trees there are oaks & pines. For replanting, we use a mixture of native and some non-native, fast-growing trees for erosion control.

I revel in the fact that we are having a real winter here again. Last winter was the first in years with substantial snow & cold temps in the Chicago-area. Despite this, I still defer to the real scientists who document global warming and see it more in the extremes of climate such as rain arriving less frequently but in large torrents. This cold is a gift in terms of a natural cycle that periodically cleanses certain insect populations.

And the part of me that loves winter co-exists with the part that looks forward with sheer delight to March when I return to Guatemala. Especially exciting is the fact that a gracious client donated a meaningful sum to the project and so I am excited to meet with the AFOPADI people and figure out some new applications. Add this to genrous refunding for the silo (food storage) arm of the project and I am in pig heaven. With the global economy, I don't need to reiterate how issues of food & reforesting are affected. The irony is that now the situation demands green solutions even moreso, but I see many dropping the ball. This is the time when it is most vital to continue our sustainable approaches & commitments. Thus, trying to practice what I preach, I will be giving two "green talks" soon in 2009. February 2nd at Wicker Park Garden Club and March 26th (a week after I return from Guatemala) at the Lurie Garden Millenium Park Lecture series at the Cultural Center (not yet updated on-line due to speakers like me changing dates...look for Spring Lecture Series under "Featured Events").

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Birch Bark

As you can see above, Sweden afforded endless opportunities for fixing fun light.

There's a wonderful article on bark ("The Heart of Barkness") by Jack MacRae (naturalist with the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County) in the Winter 2008 issue of Chicago Wilderness. In it, I learned that birch bark makes good firewood since it contains "highly flammable organic molecules, such as cresol, phenol, and xylenol, that make it ignite very easily." Birch was our Swedish staple for magicial fires.

In Sweden, I also learned that it is the only country with a growing forest.

A Tale of Two Trees

While I am big proponent of traveling enlarging one's perspective, the funny thing is that I find some things are more of the same when I return home. For instance: trees I love & those I badmouth. One tree I have never planted and encourage clients to remove from their properties, is Pyrus calleryana 'Bradford,' the much-maligned (for good reason) Bradford Pear. The main reason not to use it lies in its weak branch structure. The limbs are too close, often resulting in making the tree susceptible to wind & ice damage that splits off branches. Above you can see another problem: this photo was taken right after New Year's....many leaves still remain on the tree. This too can weight down the limbs and cause damage. Also, it is not a native plant and thus significantly reduces the number of insects feeding off it, thus diminishing a vital food source for birds. As part of my "Karmic Comeuppance," I get to watch this tree intimately on the village parkway out our front window. People like it for the flowers, but hey, in my quest to look beyond flowers, I can't see many good qualities besides that & fall color...also, our former dog ate tons of the fallen fruit which upset her digestive system.

As I've mentioned before, the back provides a more calming view. It's part shade and away from cars, so the backyard offers a different environment for trees. Here, you can see the native Ostrya virginiana (Hophornbeam) leafless and showing off its interesting branch structure. If you were to get close, you could also see its cool bark and whimsical catkins...its one sensitivity is to salt, but it can take very dry conditions & shade.
This is one of my favorites trees.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Geology in Guatemala

Followed up my previous musings on Swedish geology, by doing a little on-line research (do I miss those good ole student days in Regenstein Library?) on Guatemalan equivalent. Not meteors, but shifting plates and earthquakes. Hard for an amateur to translate comprehensively so read for yourself about the complicated geological specifics.
And how could I temporarily forget about the issues of mining in Guatemala? In the region where I work, near Huehuetenango, at the very least, there is mining for zinc & gold. Since land ownership is always a dangerous issue in Guatemala
, some indigenous mayors have been killed when they went up against corporations.

More Swedish Shore

Mats fixes noon outside Stockholm while Julie captures mid-afternoon sun at Lake Siljan near Mora. We had heard Viking mounds existed on a nearby point, but I did not know that this lake is "the largest known impact crater in Europe (excluding Russia.)" [Wikipedia.] So now I know one of the invisible connection between Chicago, Martha's Vineyard & Lake Siljan is fossils. And I wonder about the geology in the mountainous region where we help reforest in NW Guatemala...

Say that fast!

Sweden: Lake Siljan

Credit must go to Mats for these depictions of light, water & trees.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Phoenix Rising in 2009

Two friends have terrific blogs detailing the recent huge shifts in their lives.These are not just true examples of transforming doodoo into compost, but funny, self-aware reflections with meaning for the larger world.

A few of Connie Cunningham's geese waddle above at her farm in the foothills of the Ozarks...along Lewis & Clark's still-compelling trail. Since Connie was one of the two MELA founders, we got to know & appreciate each other while she was still a landscape designer in the Chicago area. Her mother's illness was the impetus for her move to rural Missouri where she now runs a farm like something out of a Gerald Durrell's My Family & Other Animals (one of my all-time favorite books). There's no substitute for telling the stories in her own fabulous voice, so check out Connie's new blog, complete with UTube footage of farm animals.

As a time-starved reader and gardener, I often live vicariously through Linda Brazill's website, written from one of our most livable cities: Madison, Wisconsin. You can read about & see Linda & her husband, Mark, in an earlier incarnation, on my website (LInda's new & correct email is: A features editor for decades at the now digitalized and downsized Capital Times, Linda is in the process of reshaping the applications of her endless talents (and Mark's superb photography) through her engrossing website.

Speaking of former jobs, I got so inspired by all the cooking in Sweden that, yesterday, I went to Rogers Park Fruit Market (a local grocery with a large selection for its Hispanic & Caribbean customers). Papaya compelled me, but I returned home with a cornucopia, including some type of mystery squash/pumpkin. Peeling it should have won these worn garden hands a medal
, but I actually managed to pull out an old recipe (Gourmet November 1989) for Pumpkin Flan. Unfortunately, I only recalled my culinary endeavor after my husband reminded me of something cooking in the kitchen...another burnt pan while I pounded away on these keys. So much for my return to the chef's hat. I guess I'll keep my day job.

Ringing in 2009 Stockholm Style

Dahlia light fixture & homemade sushi. Credit: Nicole & Niclas Olsdal, dear friends in Stockholm.

Swedish New Year

You need to use your imagination to picture downtown Stockholm (above) all lit up with fireworks. And not dinky fireworks, but the real kind: seductive and ephemeral.

We are usually asleep before midnight, but celebrated with dear friends in Stockholm the night before we flew home to the States. Imagine the coast below in the dark with fireworks embroidering the horizon. Peace the difference between awe & fear.