Archive for September, 2010

More Moss, Please

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

The Japanese have been true connoisseurs of moss for centuries. But in a recent conversation a fellow plant lover informed me that moss was her number one. I mean of ALL the plants, moss ruled her world. And that got me to thinking about moss… After all why would something so small be so high on the list of so many? There are hundreds of kinds of moss, of course, all with very different textures and hues, all verrrry velvety, and yet also sooo difficult to identify from one another. I remember, as little kids, my brother and I were always seeking out the mossy groves for building club houses. There is something quite refined about a plant that softens the seat so nicely… Thanks be, ’cause the sheer number of hues of green could make one dizzy! You might even call the color experience mesmerizing.  But peel the color away and it’s still completely appealing.

When you look closely at moss, it’s almost a miniature version of the trees that it finds refuge under. On so many levels it’s the perfect essence of a forest. No wonder it’s also the favorite medium for building a terrarium. Urban dwellers are looking for that experience of a deep vibrant green, and moss is the source. It was also one of the first terrestrial plants; important in breaking down stone and turning sand into soil with it’s compost. So whether moss is in an ancient forest, a highly manicured garden, a terrarium, or on a wall as graffiti — it seems to impart a strong presence to the place it inhabits.

For a while now I’ve been planting moss in my garden designs to create a carpet affect and have also dabbled with mixing moss with yogurt (in a blender) and painting the mixture on rocks to fast forward the look of an aged rock. What’s the saying? “A rolling stone gathers no moss?” This would be like the stone goes into deep meditation and wakes up with dark green furry moss everywhere! It’s brilliant.

A while back, a close friend talked with me about designing a hanging moss wall. This is someone who doesn’t know much about plants but has a natural curiosity for trying new things and a real sense of design. And although we haven’t hit on quite the right medium for a hanging moss habitat, I still think about how incredibly vibrant something that soft and alive would be covering a wall in a living room. Waaaay better than just another shag rug… The real thing!

Architecture and the foreign heart

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

I traveled to Spain a few years ago and besides knowing that I would start near Granada (to be near the Alhambra) and wanted to end up at the Island of Majorca by a certain date to visit friends and gardens there, I had very little itinerary in between. I let my own senses guide me through the countryside. In hand I had a rough map, but my eyes were on the horizon most of the time, reading the landscape. I was looking for promising features that might lead to beautiful places, and the people that enjoyed them. I skirted along the edge of the Mediterranean like this, and was not disappointed by the process, which revealed limestone caves large enough for chamber music and ballet, ancient (Troglodyte) hillside dwellings nestled inside national wildlife preserves, and a continuous carpet of local flora that revealed the origins of many common plants that I had grown fond of back home.

I actually chose Spain initially because I wanted to pack light and stay warm even though it would be fall in Europe. I was interested in the Alhambra and some of the Moorish gardens of North Africa that found their way, like me, to Granada, and then up the coast to Majorca. A number of artists I admired had also spent time in these areas, painting the landscapes and being influenced by the architecture. I think Escher’s understanding of tessellations may have had roots in his appreciation of Spain and it’s Moorish history. Klee revered the geometry inside the heart of the place and painted the sun bleached landscapes in water color. And then out of the blue I would also sometimes feel something of Picasso in the mood of an old man leading a horse and a young boy holding its tail, walking up a long seaside hill in a nearly empty street.

The people were always in the cafes, talking to each other, eating “Hamon” on toast for breakfast with a cup of coffee. I have a cafe I like to go back to in my mind. I would go back to Spain in a heart beat, really…

I still sometimes regret not staying to work for a woman, a British expat, who owned and ran an artisan tile store, and who’s son had just gone off to art school. I visited with him and his girlfriend on my way back through Granada instead. I remember a few things here and there about him now… an interest in metal smithing and fabricating replicas of flowers to be worn as earrings… He was enjoying his freedom, rave gear, and hair in tight platinum curls shaved close to his head, but skin the color of coffee with cream, the same color as the hills really.

I think about why his mother hadn’t returned to England, a new life started with her new born in Spain rooted her to the place. Yet my old life kept tugging at me somehow, even though the only way I could leave Spain was to tell myself I would come back after visiting Edinbough. This seems like the kind of trick you learn to play on yourself from the early years with your mother saying you can always come back counting on your forgetting the feeling you had once you leave. This becomes the trick then that you play on yourself as you grow into an adult and have ambitions. Having regrets is a part of the complicated architecture of the heart, a muscle that requires longing as much as it requires energy to keep beating.

Mood Boards

Monday, September 27th, 2010

We draw inspiration from many different places when designing. Making a habit of having a cork board by my desk means I can tack all the images that are  important at the moment.

This past year I had all of these beauties that I was aliening my designs with… The photos are from magazines, books, trips I’ve taken to gardens, or a moment a friend captured and shared.

Right now I have something else up next to my desk, but maybe I’ll scan it some day and contemplate the differences between this last year and what comes next.


Friday, September 24th, 2010

Not quite ready to say goodbye to summer? You’re in luck! Because of our unusual weather this season, flowers that might otherwise be fading this time of year are just coming into their own. Catch a bit of riotous color down at the Volunteer Park Dahlia Garden. The beds are maintained by the Puget Sound Dahlia Association, and represent a collection of staggering variety. Situated near the conservatory, the outdoor display is a welcome reminder of South America and the vibrant hues of more tropical climates.

seattle trading post

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

I’ve discovered this little place called the Seattle Trading Post, after a tip from a friend. On this first trip I found an old globe with ocean currents, raised mountain ranges, and countries with international boundaries from the seventies. A real kick! I love it. (Thanks for the tip off Christy!) So of course I’ve started visualizing some of the places I wanna go. I’ve been thinking about a visit to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Peradeniya in Sri Lanka for a few years now, and am hoping to secure an internship there this winter. The director at Kew Royal Botanic Gardens in London told me a while back that it was the best botanical garden in the world, outside of Kew, of course… I didn’t say anything at the time, since I had just met the man, but I did in fact know the place… I had in fact been there as a little girl but had never known it was such a treasure trove of botanical life. So now that I feel like I’m tracking my interest in plants back to the beginning it seems natural to plan a return trip.

This whole idea feels really inspired by a number of books I’ve read. The Explorers Garden by Dan Hinkley, People, Plants, and Culture co-authored by Balick and Cox, as well as many others. There is a long and venerable history of explorers inspired by their interest in the natural world and the plants they collected. Charles Darwin on the Beagle of course springs to mind when I think of English contributions to science… But here I am, lil’ old me, I want in on some of the fun too! So I’m in the gathering phase right now. Researching tickets, saving money, talking to people, and finding connections. It’s been over twenty five years since I’ve been back. A lot has changed, I look at current photos on line of where I spent much time as a child, and really feel awestruck by the changes.

I look at some of these books and I think of when and where I got them. A lot of them were gifts from friends or family. I hope this adventure turns out to be that sort of gift giving; where trading knowledge out of a common love for nature’s secrets and a good story to tell later keep us all posting!

Some flowers and tea

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

Recently an old friend wrote that right now, this season, is her favorite. That is until the next one comes along, and then that one is her real favorite! I always feel the same way… the change of seasons is such an enlivening experience.

Yet Fall could really go down as the best if only because it always feels like the beginning of the year. Not the school year…! But the process of rest and reflection that will lead to another year of growth. Of course not everyone sees it this way. I think most cultures start the year around January (except in Judaism with an early agrarian calendar focused around the growing seasons). Whatever you want to call this time, it does feel like you’re reaping the golden rewards of a few seasons and reflecting on beginning the cycle again.

I’ve been thinking about flower arranging since my last entry when I decided to open up my old Chabana book on that subject. Chabana is a style of flower arrangement that accompany’s Chado (the art of tea) and focuses on paying attention to the feeling of the season with the flowers at hand. So it should have been no surprise to me that my book was organized by the Months but my memory was refreshed, and excited, because the book does such a beautiful job capturing the feeling of each change in season. For instance in the book they describe how the “drizzling rain of June that lasts so long finally clears up in July, and the hot season of summer comes”. To me that sounds so much like a description of Seattle (where we joke that the rain never clears until after the picnics on the 4th!). Of course we do share the same ocean and latitude as much of Japan and thus much of the same feeling to our landscapes and weather. “By September, the remaining heat of summer has finally subsided and cool, refreshing days begin”. The descriptions in the book are exquisite, and if you like all the weather that goes with sensing the seasons of gardening this book may be for you too.

I’ve had the luck to dabble in the art of tea (Urusenke school) and received this book from one of my teachers. Because it puts my mind in such a great place for the design work I do and it is hard to find a good review of the book I think I’ll post the first page of every month as the season’s progress this year! So if you can’t find a copy you want on line there will be little tastes of it here…

New Arrangement

Monday, September 20th, 2010

If you like flower arranging or are inspired by new art forms I’ve heard the Volunteer Park Conservatory will be hosting a show of Ikebana art the first weekend of October.

Much of my own designs in the garden have been inspired by Sofu Teshigahara the founder of the Sogetsu school of Ikebana. I’ve always connected with the idea that “Plants are beautiful as they are.” and that we only need to arrange things in a way that helps us to appreciate that beauty. The Sogetus School suggests that Ikebana can be practiced anywhere with almost any materials. Sofu Teshigahara often used raw objects and artifacts from industry to make his compositions. Often rather absurd his pieces always help me see flowers as though for the first time. A perfect theme for the Conservatory and all its exotic plants. I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of surprises are arranged and waiting!

Marigold and Mint

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

My heart and mind are all a buzz with color after a resent trip to the Marigold and Mint flower shop, inhabiting a small space inside the new Melrose Market on Capital Hill. Fall is usually a time to start wrapping myself in sweaters and moving myself indoors after a summer in the field. But finding Marigold and Mint’s beautifully curated space of fresh locally grown flowers and veggies, handicrafts, jewelry, vases and pottery puts me in the mood for extending the season of bounty that is summer. This beautifully curated space full of treasures is a welcome addition to the seasonal habits of an urban dweller.

On a recent sunny Saturday my honey and I wandered out onto Capital Hill to lunch at our favorite Creperie and then see what we would see. We had been meaning to investigate the new Melrose Market with its wine bar, butcher, restaurant, and flower shop, all sharing one quaint, newly renovated, high vaulted and light filled space. Marigold and Mint was there waiting for us in its own small corner of the market ready to fill our noses with scents from the field, our eyes with the oranges and yellows of sunflowers and marigolds, and our hands with the many little objects that decorate the store, suggesting themselves as perfect gifts… But you may find that on exiting you’ve bought the gift for yourself!

So much at this little shop spoke to my own asthetic… A collection of Jaques Wirtz books, Japanese pruning scissors, antique french ceramics as well as newer pieces by companies like Perch.  Lavender and Lilac have been the color to catch my interest of late, and of course there was a little shelf devoted to vases in those hues. I chose for myself a small vase for a bouquet the size of a nose gay… Not that there weren’t larger purchases to contemplate. I just usually like to explore all the possible ways I might be able to use the items I’ve seen and fallen for once I return home.

So I’ve been looking forward to my next walk over to Marigold and Mint to say the least.

When I’m not out shopping though I think Katherine Anderson’s (the owner) blog will help me reflect on the seasons, with the flowers that she grows and delivers into our hands, via short internet notes coupled with photos. As a fellow landscape designer her blog is a virtual treasure that I think will help all those that love plants get stoked for the season at hand. Dig in and enjoy all this new store has to offer.

Looks that Work

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

I’ve been thinking about what I wear to work the past few years…  But more recently Garance Dore’s piece about a florist’s personal style in New York and several of Scott Schuman’s “street photo’s” of people looking sharp on the job in Florence have gotten me to want to write a quick post about it.

Where to start? How about the bottom? Starting out at the bottom in an industry like landscaping is hardly glamorous work. Despite a valuable degree from Mount Holyoke bargain shopping was a must when I got out of college. But I found that my penchant for self expression ebbed as the grittiness of the work ground into me. Only until I started my own business did I begin enjoying dressing for the day again. I think back to the times when I would wear my work clothes on the weekends and now smile to think that I own and wear more than one pair of shoes! My sense of luxury is really a sense of context and comparison now. It feels like a luxury to get to choose what I wear as much as it is a luxury to get to choose my words carefully…

I’ve always appreciated things that were well made, and shopped at gentle-men’s consignment stores since high school. At a very early age I had to buy my own clothes on a small allowance and from my own earnings. The lesson that I’ve taken with me into life is that the best accessories are often bargains, yet finding something that fits your proportions usually costs more (whether to have sizes to choose from or pay for a tailor). These learning experiences have defined me quite a bit. It’s taken the persuasion of my boyfriend to get me into more feminine clothing and to suggest that I try a pair of designer jeans on, something I always wanted to do deep down but couldn’t give myself at first out of a sense of guilt. Trying on little changes like these don’t feel so small though once I’ve seen how they change my experience of the world.

I’ve taken to spending real time on the details. Like last night I spent a part of the evening repairing a necklace I’m sentimental about, but in the process added a few new beads to it for length and depth. Not too different from how my style has evolved! So what do I wear while digging in the dirt now?  Top ten items…

Gray tank top

A blue collared men’s dress shirt.

A pair of black Carhart pants rolled (and a matching Carhart vest when its chilly)

An adjustable apron that cinches around the shoulders and waist

Black clogs, work boots, or tennies (depending on the terrain and tools I’m working with), dark wool socks

Felco’s (Swiss hand pruners made for women)

Hori hori (Japanese digging and cutting spade)

Lipstick or eyeshadow

A necklace or bracelet

Hair piled up like Katherine Hepburn

So simple, hard to believe it’s ten years in the making! Do you have a look that works for you too? Hope you share it here, Cheers!

Being there together

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

My sweetheart and I recently made the trip out to Bloedel Reserve. We hopped aboard the ferry from Seattle with our bikes and rode to the garden together. My first visit with friends a few years ago had left quite an impression, but didn’t prepare me for how it would be to have him by my side. Hearing his thoughts as we walked and seeing his reactions added a whole new focus to the garden… I felt acutely that we were following in the footsteps of Prentice and Viginia Blodel — and I learned through Seth’s reflections how the garden is in many ways a meditation on togetherness. I hope you enjoy reading his blog as much as I did.