Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Old Growth vs. New

Even I (notoriously quoted as in "Think about the flowers last!") find it hard to resist the seduction of early spring flowers. Here, sandwiched between Passover & Easter, is an update of one of my Lenten Roses (not sure what cultivar of Helleborus hybridus). I like the contrast provided by last year's foliage. After all, brown and purple (or are we calling it magenta this week?) is one of the great color combos...even better if you throw in some chartreuse.

Morton Arboretum Takes Green Step

We just received the most recent copy of the Morton Arboretum's publication, SEASONS. How refreshing to find a publication that has been downsized: smaller size, non-glossy on paper containing recycled fiber and sponsor logos you can't confuse with images or text from the MA. Here's the best news: starting with their summer issue: you can get your copy on-line.They say they asked for members' feedback and listened: seems so. And it fits with their mission.

No current picture from MA. Instead an image of an emerging native plant: Virginia Bluebell. I love it best at this stage when it still retains a purple tinge and resembles sow's ears. Next it turns lush green and grows big & cabbagy Then, it dangles enticing blue blooms before going dormant with the summer heat.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

After Being Present in the Garden

iPhone quality will have to suffice...

We had a great time yesterday at this intimate class I led at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Given cultural realities, I was not surprised that the entire band consisted of women, although the funny, self-appraising letter I excerpted about process being eternal in the garden was written by a male client.

I made some new friends and surprised a long-term one who has not only known me forever, but is a far more accomplished gardener than most, certainly than I. Teaching is always helpful to me because it forces me to assess if I practice what I preach. And too, people come up with ideas I would have never contemplated. Finally, if all goes well, there is the satisfaction of communicating and sharing something that may be worthwhile for somebody else.

The sharp clear sky led to a memorable sunset just before our class began. I stumbled on this plant (didn't really focus on ID, but suspect it's a Magnolia) literally glowing with the last rays of the sun. You can't tell here how the light made these buds dance.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

More Relative Latitude: 3/18/09 (Guatemala)

After my dear friend, Deet in Guatemala, weighed in on last post, I checked on what I was doing a year ago. March 18th was the day I returned from my annual visit, as Earthways Project Director, to AFOPADI's Organic Agriculture and Reforesting Programs in several Mayan communities in the mountainous Northwest of Guatemala. They were about 2/3rds of the way through the dry season. The rains generally begin around May and having been there during the rainy season, I can appreciate why people are so concerned about the coming rains in Haiti.

These photos show a new community (at about 7,000') where the villagers have asked AFOPADI to work with them. The doctor has already begun a clinic and we were there to discuss their request for corn silos. The top picture gives you a sense of the erosion (clearly the most dangerous during the rains when whole villages tumble down mountainsides). The bottom one shows the quality of soil, or lack thereof.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Relative Latitude on 3/18/10

Evanston, Illinois

Dalarna, Sweden

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Snake Drawing

This image illustrates the previous post...now you can see where the snake fits in the garden. And where we will place the eyes. Shame on me for not mentioning their creator: Erin McNamara.
I also forgot to mention that we planted Solidago 'Fireworks' at the tip of the tail. So, in late summer, a bright yellow bloom of stature and architecture emphasizes that point. You can see it dead center of the bottom picture in previous post.

Being Present in Your Garden

This is the title of the class I am teaching next week (3/23) at the Chicago Botanic Garden. It focuses on process, over time, in the garden. We will be having fun and looking at some interesting projects.
One of the highlighted projects was designed after an Elm at least 6' in diameter was felled by Dutch Elm disease. The concept we finally pursued was that of a snake going after its tail, an image of infinity, in hommage to the lost tree. Image my surprise when, a year or so after the garden was installed, I met somebody who knew an artist who had made snake eyes. One thing led to another and our client just came into possession of said snake eyes...I show one here with her hands for scale. We will soon place them in the garden (below). I think I may have a shot of the design on file....look in later post.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Signs of Spring

Hellebores: orientalis above, niger below. A handsome workhorse in the garden, mostly for its foliage, but now its bloom seduces through decayed plant debris. The green march is on...

Blue Scilla next to Star of Bethlehem that I rip out every spring.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Goodbye Winter Interest!

So this past winter, in the hopes of fending off dogs in the garden, I put up a cheap fence and then tied tagging tape every foot or so. Aside from the practical implication, I hoped to add some movement & whimsy to the garden. I aspired to Christo, but the Junior High neighbor said it reminded him of TP. Oh well, maybe next year I'd do blue.

I did leave one tag to blow in the wind...

Monday, March 8, 2010

Snowmelt & Spring

Snowdrops in a favorite friend's & client's garden in the suburbs north of Chicago: the clumps actually stand out better in the snow.

Snowdrops in my neighbor's (Joann's) garden. She is no longer with us but, each spring, her bulbs continue to remind me of her and what she left us that endures.

Daffodils poking up in one of the most taxing corners of my garden. Brownie Heuchera was planted last fall and looks great...especially against "winter interest" (purple pot with rock).

Friday, March 5, 2010

Chicago Botanic Garden Classes

Prepare yourself for both my rant & rave...rave first.

I recently complained that Boston has better Hort. offerings. So today I am happy to point out two Adult Education classes at the CBG that are being taught by terrific instructors. On March 20, Ed Valauskas will present: "Battle of the Zoophytes: Medieval and Renaissance Science in the Lenhardt Library." Then on May 25, Kathy Judge, will lead a workshop in Beginning Bookbinding. While these two have radically different personalities, their commitment, joy, expertise and diverse senses of humor mean that their course offerings should be excellent. I got to know them both during the early years of my business, before the Internet was really a resource, when I used the CBG library frequently. They were always generous with their knowledge.

Now for the rant: these courses, along with the one I am teaching on March 23 ("Being Present In The Garden") can be found in the new CBG Member Magazine and Program Guide. Its glossy format is so slick and un-green that it makes me sad. I can barely tell the difference between the course offerings and the ads (one tag line for plastic surgery tries to entice us with "Bring Yourself Into Bloom!"). One landscape ad mentions perfection, so I will bet that people who might hire them will not be at my class which encourages us not to look at our gardens as products to be perfectly maintained (usually with lots of poisons), but rather to engage in the process of being present with our gardens and our selves over time.

These are cultural and race and class issues that are hardly ever addressed in my industry. I am of the belief that bringing things into the open through discussion is a positive thing. This is even more important when there are no easy answers or the answers keep shifting. But I am not typical either in education or practice. I take heart from some of the amazing people who have practiced in the landscape over time: Jens Jensen, Aldo Leopold, Alfred Caldwell, Beatrix Farrand, Ellen Biddle Shipman, Mien Ruys, Maya Lin, Roy Diblik, Piet Oudolf, Dan Pearson, Andy Goldsworthy, Polly Hill & Tim Boland to name just a few... along with countless unnamed arborists & horticulturists.

I took these photos at CBG a week and a half ago during a wet, late-season snow. The kale below reminds me of Venetians heading to a masked ball. And the proportions & perspective above bring to mind Mondrian's grey tree drawings, the type which eventually led to the minimal, geometric paintings most people know him for today.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Nature's Line

Working in my office, I reflect at how I am surrounded by man-made rectangles. As a remedy, I recall these lines I saw in a Nature Conservancy on Martha's Vineyard one fine Spring.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Beatrix Farrand Garden at the Oriental Institute

With some deadlines under my belt, I am hoping to catch up on some topics here. These images show a renovated garden at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute (of Indiana Jones fame). It's original designer was the great Beatrix Farrand (1866-1959), one of the first female landscape architects in the US. As Edith Wharton's niece, she had some large doors open to her, but she more than made-up for her connections with her talent. At 16, decades before I had any professional interest in landscape, my mother took me to Washington where we spent an extraordinarily memorable afternoon at BF's Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown. I still recall us speaking to a man in the garden sitting on a bench in an open lawn area at the base of a slope: the garden enchanted us for a lifetime. [My other memory of that trip was the Phillips Collection, both the modern collection and the building that houses the museum.]
Back to Farrand in Chicago. Apparently, this garden was reconstructed partially from aerial photos. The rate at which gardens disintegrate is remarkable! I believe Care of Trees (the arbor company that maintains the campus trees) has assisted well with these old crab apples.

And I love this detail of the brick edge that was just emerging from snow melt.

Unfortunately, due to its lack of measuring up to standards for accessibility, this garden is private. I hope the University will continue to maintain such a historical & cultural treasure.

I saw this garden due to the good graces of Penelope Rothfield, the same day I gave an informal talk to a bunch of undergraduates at the dorm where she and her husband are the resident masters. Having graduated from college there over three decades ago, it wasn't only the changes in the landscape that I noted. Well, I may not feel as dated as Indian Jones, but...