Category Archives: books

reprising a 2010 visit to the Ruth Bancroft Garden

(Ms. Bancroft is celebrating her 108th birthday this month — yes, that’s not a typo — and we’re all awaiting the upcoming launch later this fall of the book chronicling the making of her garden The Bold Dry Garden.)

If you have an Internet connection and a love of plants, you probably also have many unmet friends with those same two attributes.
Finally meeting up with them is thrilling. When they arrange to take you to marvelous gardens you’ve never visited before, life doesn’t get any better.

Just such a friend arranged for a group of gardeners to visit the Ruth Bancroft Garden, located in Walnut Creek, California, one I’ve long wanted to explore. The garden didn’t disappoint.

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I’m guessing Agave lophantha.

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This guy in the center looks a lot like my Mr. Ripple, which is an A. salmiana hybrid.

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Thrilling enough, no? But what I didn’t expect to find was garden scenes like this.

Our visit luckily coincided with the RBG’s 16th annual Sculpture in the Garden fundraiser. Nothing loosens up a group of gardeners more than provocative garden sculpture.

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You should have seen the caboose on this lizard lady. I don’t know how she kept her balance in those heels.

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But it would take a lot more than a lizard in heels to upstage plants like the spiral aloe, Aloe polyphylla.

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There were swathes of succulents of every stripe, spike, and rosette, including this Aloe distans.

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And the occasional bull-human ceramic hybrid.

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These sauteed gentlemen utterly charmed me.

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We were wondering if this regal fellow is the Sharkskin Agave, aka the Ruth Bancroft Agave. Can you tell we toured without a docent?
I doubt a docent could have corralled us. We peeled off in twelve different directions, crossing paths periodically to compare notes and point out possible missed gems.

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Barrel cactus and a gorgeous, diaphanous, broom-like shrub but apparently not a cytisus. No one knew its name.

When curiosity grew to unmanageable proportions, we flagged down docents to fire questions at them. (What a nice bunch docents are.)

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This plant seemed to attract the most attention.
The flowers were similar in shape to our native calochortus and also to an Australian shrub that’s grown in So. Calif. that we call the “Blue Hibiscus,’ Alyogyne huegelii.
The Blue Hibiscus has sandpapery-textured, maple-shaped leaves, and this shrub’s leaves were threadlike.
Input from a couple docents pieced together an ID. Alyogyne hakaeifolia.

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More garden denizens.

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These ceramic sculptures were built in components and slipped over pvc pipe. The combinations arising from this simple technique are seemingly endless.

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Meeting a group of gardeners, of course, never disappoints. Their erudition in matters horticultural and otherwise can be astounding.

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And whether fluent in botanical Latin or not, we all speak the same language and come from the same tribe.

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The sculpture exhibit and sale runs through July 18, 2010.

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planting details at the Reid garden

I went through my Reid garden photos again, looking for clear examples of the subtly layered plant communities that rose up around my feet as I followed the paths, scanning the garden like a hungry predator, looking down then quickly back up to trace the changing treeline, the alternating pools of light then shade, the understory of shrubs surrounded by blankets of ground-hugging sedums, bergenias, hardy begonias, grasses. Immersed in the garden, it feels as though the enfolding landscape continually builds up then releases great dramatic tension, holding charged breaths filled to bursting, then exhaling in a pool of sunlight, or a vista over fields and distant stands of trees. Heady stuff.

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Filling over two acres, plants are allowed to contribute the full breadth of their character and are seen in all their dimensions.

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The Lion’s Tail, Leonotis leonurus, was a dazzlingly exotic beast to American Conifer Society members on the tour.
I heard languages from all over the world amongst our group excitedly conferring over the Lion’s Tail.

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Remember, this is a California garden in September, in a mediterranean climate (theoretically winter wet/summer dry) under water restrictions due to our cursed, ongoing drought.

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On the path alongside the serpentine wall.

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Their terraced landscape covers two and a half of the 140 rolling acres they bought outside Occidental in 1989.
A few miles east of the Pacific Ocean and south of the Russian River, the garden overlooks farm fields, apple orchards, and fir forests
.” — (“A Passionate Pursuit”)

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Now on the semi-parched lawn atop the wall.

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Leucadendron, Rosa mutabilis, and Salvia involucrata.

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Cussonia paniculata on the left, in the distance behind the veil of Stipa gigantea, white oleander on the right.

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Up against the house, tibouchina and abutilon.

There is a new book out, that I haven’t read yet, entitled “Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes,” by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West, that describes this kind of “ecological landscape design.” If you have a nearby garden to study that follows these principles, consider yourself fortunate, because brilliant examples like the Reid garden in Northern California are not often seen. Gardens attached to nurseries, like nearby Western Hills in Occidental, are often good places to study this kind of planting, because detailed plant knowledge is the key.

visiting Ms. Fish’s garden


In 1993, when my boys were 5 and 10, we took our first vacation without them. It was a big emotional deal for all of us to be apart some 10 days, but I needed to see if there really existed such gardens as those I knew of only through books. Gardens where plants were king. They certainly didn’t exist in my part of the U.S. (Back then I had very little understanding of climactic influence on garden style.) But how did one find such places pre-Internet? By running one’s finger down the indices of garden books and making copious lists cross-referenced against maps, of course. This is how our itinerary was born. The majority of destinations were in England, with a few outliers such as Powis Castle in Wales and Logan Botanic Garden in Scotland. We all know the names. Kew Gardens, Sissinghurst, Great Dixter, Barrington Court, Hidcote, Hestercombe, Mottisfont, Barnsley House, Tintinhull, Packwood House, Wakehurst Place, East Lambrook Manor and many more. We chose September because it was cheaper than spring or summer, joined the National Trust, which is an incredible deal when visiting lots of gardens, and rented a car. England is such a small country that 3 or 4 gardens can be seen in a day, and having gone vacationless for so long, both Marty and I had quite the pent-up need for an adventurous road trip. (Or as adventurous as a road trip can be in England.) The miles of immaculate hedges, Lutyens’ stonework at Great Dixter and Hestercombe, deer in the early morning Italianate mist at Powis Castle, it was all incredibly rich, in multiple senses of that word, but what mainly resonated with me was the fierce love of plants everywhere in evidence. And at East Lambrook Manor at least was a smallish garden, not too grand, with a little attached plant nursery. I’m sure I carried a few of that nursery’s plants back home in my suitcase, maybe even Astrantia ‘Margery Fish,’ when I was still trialing such SoCal-averse plants in my garden. But I took no photos so have nothing to post, and I can’t seem to locate the journal I kept of our travels, though the letters I wrote to the boys are around here somewhere. I’ve never been one to desire an “English” garden or even a “cottage garden,” but I can still point to that trip for abetting a tendency to crowd far too many plants in one garden.

What reminded me of this trip today, apart from the holiday, is a piece on Margery Fish in Slate entitled “A Gardener’s Revenge,’ by Rachel Cooke, extracted from her book “Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties.” I had no idea that Ms. Fish’s garden at East Lambrook started out as a conjugal battle of wills:

The ideological battle must commence. In the red (and yellow and orange) corner is Walter, with his Tudorbethan ideas about tidiness and color. In the green corner is Margery, all sculptural seed pods and luxuriant foliage. Walter is alarmed. He hadn’t taken his wife for a modernist. So he goes on the attack, arguing for, and winning, his much-desired lawn, a province with which he is soon quite obsessed. ‘Walter would no more have left his grass uncut or the edges untrimmed than he would have neglected to shave,’ writes Margery, who at this stage in the book is still doing her best impression of a loyal wife.”

Sounds like a great read, doesn’t it? Walter would be appalled at the annihilation of lawns currently taking place in California. Margery, on the other hand, I’m sure would be cheering us on.

Wednesday clippings 4/15/15 (water on the brain)

Finally, a chance to spend some time with the blog again. There’s been lots of reading to catch up on, after the guv dropped that bombshell. (Pass the almonds.*)

One of the best sources of information I’ve found was right there on my blogroll, journalist Emily Green’s Chance of Rain.
In concert with KCET, Emily is writing an amazingly detailed series bristling with helpful links and step-by-step instructions for those wondering what to do with their lawns.
Definitely read Emily’s After the Lawn series before making a call to any lawn removal company that’s eager to snap up your rebate dollars in exchange for wall-to-wall gravel.

Amidst all the finger pointing and accusations, at least we’re beginning to talk about our water situation.
Ironically, after decades of denial, we just can’t seem to shut up about it now.

This entry under the Dot Earth blog at The New York Times rounds up dozens of articles for background reading.

And here’s a great interactive map on water use across the state, city by city, courtesy of The New York Times (“How Water Cuts Could Affect Every Community in California“)

And who knew that a century-old, squatter’s rights mentality governs ground water for agricultural use? Emily Green deciphers the state’s arcane water rights here: (Whose Water Is It Anyway?)

So, yes, I’ve been reading up on the politics of the recent water restrictions. Because it’s not like we need more information on how to design dry gardens.
Reaching into my bookshelf, I can pull out Beth Chatto‘s The Dry Garden, a chronicle of the 30-year-old garden she’s made in East Anglia, England, supported on rainfall alone.
(Which if I remember correctly is, at 30 inches, at least double our 15-inch average pre-drought.)

Then there’s Bob Perry’s landmark resource Landscape Plants for California Gardens.

More recently, there’s the great California resource Reimagining the California Lawn: Water-conserving Plants, Practices, and Designs

Lambley Nursery in Australia is also planting display gardens sustained on mostly rainwater.

At home I’ve been tweaking the garden the past few years to accommodate drier conditions anyway, and our water bill is consistently below average.
Granted, smaller properties like ours will have an easier time adjusting to restrictions.
What lawn we inherited when buying the house was removed over 20 years ago. I’ve never been emotionally attached to closely cropped, bright green turf.
But both neighbors to the east, who cherish their front lawns, have been quietly irrigating them with grey water for years.

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Berkheya purpurea, brought home from Cistus last summer, is a riveting, prickly daisy out of South Africa.
One of countless examples, native and exotic, of gorgeous plants blithely indifferent to dry conditions.
The literature cites berkheya’s habitat as stream banks, so we’ll see how tough it really is.
Once established, anything tap-rooted has a big advantage.

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Hymenolepis parviflora, a dry-tolerant shrub with chartreuse umbels. Nature is a genius.
In the past few years a lot of perennial/biennial/annual umbels have passed through the garden, the toughest probably being cenolophium, melanoselinum, yet even they needed pampering.
This one, however, is the real deal. Hymenolepis is a short-lived shrub from So. Africa that will probably need to be renewed from cuttings in a few years. I’m cool with that.

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Lily ‘Black Charm.’ Fortunately lilies love container life. I find it makes better water sense to grow them in pots to provide the even moisture they crave than in the ground.
The bucket collecting water from the shower is a steady source for container plants now.

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Seeing the Desert Bird of Paradise in rampant bloom wedged into the heat-reflected, bone-dry parkways along Long Beach City College set off a county-wide search for a source.

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The City College’s Hort. Department sold all their stock at their recent plant sale, but one local nursery had a couple plants.
I replaced Salvia ‘Amistad’ with Caesalpinia gilliesii. I know Sunset is marketing this salvia as waterwise, but I’d planted mine far from the hose bib, and it was showing some stress.

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Verbascum in Dustin Gimbel‘s garden, seed collected on his recent trip to Italy. He gave me two of these wavy-leaved mulleins, possibly V. undulatum.
Verbascums are classic perennials for dry gardens.

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Water garden out, agave in. Formerly a small water garden, now a cache pot for Agave franzosinii.
Surrounded by the unstoppable globe mallow Sphaeralcea ‘Newleaze Coral,’ a hybrid developed at Hopley’s in the UK.
Planted last fall, I’ve cut back and thinned the globe mallow three times since mid winter.
It’s never stopped blooming and, because of its vigor, I purposely avoid adding water.

One last point, an important one to keep in mind.
It’s no big surprise that trees are a constituency without much representation at the water restriction negotiations table.
I vigorously applaud Emily Green’s emphasis on prioritizing irrigation for our trees.

Landscape reform is sweeping California more as an emergency response to drought and less as a considered piece of town planning. Representatives from three of the region’s largest water providers, a City of Los Angeles arborist, and a Los Angeles County botanist interviewed for this article all seemed surprised when asked if they had consulted one another about the impact on the region’s urban canopy before moving to dry out the lawns in which most of the trees are planted.” After the Lawn Part I

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*”[A]ccording to estimates by the Public Policy Institute of California, more water was used to grow almonds in 2013 than was used by all homes and businesses in San Francisco and Los Angeles put together. Even worse, most of those almonds are then exported — which means, effectively, that we are exporting water. Unless you’re the person or company making money off this deal, that’s just nuts.” – “Making Sense of Water

weeds find a way



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This charming children’s book I was sent to review months ago has reacquainted me with the transformative power of weeds.

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This is a wonderful subject for a children’s book. Weeds are often a child’s first gateway to the natural world. I know they were mine.

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In thinking about the symbiotic magic between kids and weeds, I think I’ve finally pinpointed the source of inspiration that led to a life absorbed in plants. There were no garden heroes, at least in human form. It was the empty field at the end of our street. (It’s now gone condo.) Every spring the winter rains transformed this stubbly pasture into the junglelands where we built forts and labyrinths, captured flags, sorted out the moral dilemmas that kids grapple with, maybe occasionally veering a little too close to Lord of the Flies adventures. My two brothers emerged as the natural leaders of this merry band of meadow gypsies, equitably settling disputes, protecting the weak, stifling the bullies, and I naturally worshipped them for it. The transformative power of that field irresistibly beckoned to us, as we burst out the front doors of a monoculture of depressingly similar, grid-precise tract homes.

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Every spring our kingdom was created anew, emerging in a matter of weeks from barren ground that surged into a wonderland of chest-high weeds and grasses that we heroically beat back and conquered with paths and mazes, enveloped on all sides by the heady creation stirring in that field and in our moral universe. And that’s how weeds shaped and transformed the springs of my childhood and even now the gardens of adulthood. I’m not happy with my garden unless I leave a little room for a surge of transformative growth in spring from opportunistic, weedy plants. Poppies currently fill this role.

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Of course, as adults, as garden makers, like everything else, the subject of weeds becomes much more complicated. Weeds are foreign, exotic pests squeezing out disappearing native plants. Childhood is more complicated too. My boys’ childhoods were very different from mine, with little unsupervised time. The winter rains of my childhood are receding into a mythical past too. But there will always be weeds, just as there will always be the freedom to be found in books. One of the things I miss most about living with small children is finding books for them. (Before you know it, they’re 13 and reading Noam Chomsky.) I’m quite certain that Weeds Find A Way would’ve have had a place on our bookshelves. And as with the best children’s books, they are springboards for embroidering tales from your own childhood, of lush fields where the most extraordinary adventures were had.



Patrick Blanc in “Contemporary Designers’ Own Gardens”

I’ve been scanning this book by Barbara Baker since December and haven’t come near to finishing it. There are two reasons to stop reading a book; either because you find it uninteresting or because you find it too interesting. Too stimulating. Special in the sense that it must be saved up for just the right moment to absorb in unmolested and concentrated appreciation. Since those are rare moments, it’s no surprise that I’m surrounded by piles of half-read books saved up as a future treat, like this one. Ms. Baker’s book opens with a portrait of Patrick Blanc, who I knew next to nothing about other than he is French, has green hair, and pretty much pioneered vertical gardens, those soil-less, engineering marvels that conceal their artificial, life-sustaining infrastructure behind a seductive tapestry of plants. With my laissez-faire approach to gardens, it’s not something I’ve been tempted to try at home, and if it wasn’t for Ms. Baker’s excellent book I would have missed out on knowing more about this botanist provacateur’s goal to take plants out of the “garden” proper and grow them where we really live, work, and play. This quote from his partner Pascal goes a long way toward filling in a portrait of this enigmatic artist:

Yet Patrick likes jungles and cities, but not gardens! His argument is this: ‘If you live in a city, you have to decide to take time, or lose time, in order to go into a garden. When you have a vertical garden, you make no decision; it is on your way, on the pavement or by the subway. It is more similar to walking in mountains or jungle and being presented with plants clinging to a cliff by a waterfall, and it is spectacular. In a horizontal garden, the guy who makes it decides where you go. He decides the paths, and where you have to sit. A vertical garden is more like a picture where it is your own eye which decides whether you are more interested in a triangular leaf or a frond.”


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Blanc’s three abiding passions have been water, fish, and plants. For a man who clearly tolerates as little separation as possible from the natural world, an aquarium must be the “floor” to his office. Photo found here.

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Work by Blanc for friends in Paris.
The 20-by-23-foot interior wall is a canvas of the living with some 150 tropical, low-light species assembled in harmony. It begins as a field of texture 
near the ground, then runs through violet and amber arcs of flowers and other ruddy blooms, broadening out near the ceiling into trees that overhang the room like a sheltering forest.” – from Dwell

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I’d never thought of vertical gardens before as an impulse to deconstruct gardens as separate and discrete places we visit, enter, leave behind, then long to enter again. That’s so 20th century. Blanc craves an immediate, immersive experience beyond such spacial constraints and temporal boundaries. More than the vertical gardens themselves, which are tricky to build and maintain, it is Blanc’s insistence that plants become integrated into the dailiness of our lives that I find so inspiring. In such ecologically challenging times, why not deploy them everywhere we can, even on buildings and walls, like urgent messages in foliar graffiti? Why not aid and abet their escape from gardens and let them loose to curtain the streets and alleys of our cities, where they’re needed most?

Other artists profiled in the book include familiar names like Fernando Caruncho, Isabelle Greene, Dan Pearson, Tom Stuart-Smith, but it’s also been a source of introduction to many previously unknown to me. And for a garden book, it has a refreshing reliance on in-depth interviews and text as well as excellent photos.

“Gardens: An Essay” by Robert Pogue Harrison (reposted from 10/7/11)

I’m more than a little overexcited at the prospect of hearing Professor Harrison speak at the latest iteration of Natural Discourse entitled “Culture & Cultivation,” to be held October 10, 2013, in Berkeley, California. The previous Natural Discourse programs were held at the nearby University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley, which is a stunning setting but limited seating capacity. Co-Curator Shirley Watts found a gem of a new venue, a historic hotel designed by Julia Morgan, The Berkeley City Club. In one stroke, Shirley nailed two of my obsessions: visiting old hotels and listening to clever people discuss why we make gardens. Shirley explained her process for the selection of speakers as simply a matter of “Who do I want to hear“? And having attended the previous ND seminars, I can vouch for her amazing instincts in assembling a riveting series of talks. Never underestimate this woman. This time she’s done it again, including persuading Robert Pogue Harrison to contribute, someone I’ve been following through his pieces for The New York Review of Books and author of:


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Oh, and just a tip when ordering tickets: There is a new, very reduced rate for students and “starving artists,” less than half of a general admission ticket. Starving artists, you know who you are.

Spread this link on Facebook, on your blogs, because I’m selfishly hoping for Natural Discourse IV, V, VI…etc. As far as I know, there’s no other programming like this out there. And with each successful Natural Discourse, there’s a greater chance this program will eventually reach your community.

In honor of the occasion, I’m reviving a two-year-old post that includes a link where you can listen to the mellifluous voice of Professor Harrison.


* * *

Strange how, even in the most unlikely places, thoughts can still turn to gardens. Jury duty last week had me confined for a good part of Friday in a large, drab room full of strangers, all of us potential jurors awaiting selection for a trial. 8:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., lunch break until 1:00 p.m., finally excused at 2:30 p.m., my juror services ultimately never required. I had expected to be there until 5:00 p.m., so when early dismissal was announced I practically skipped down the courthouse hall. Expecting a long, chair-ridden, time sinkhole of a day, I had grabbed a huge amount to read, including The New York Review of Books of October 13, 2011. (Seems I rarely read entire books anymore, just reviews.) Sometime mid-morning, deep in a review of the Shakespeare scholar Harold Bloom’s latest book, “The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life,” the writer of the review was so impressive and his bio in the NYRB so brief that I had to google him on the courthouse’s computers. (Thoughtfully, the courthouse had provided five computers for potential jurors to share.) Among many scholarly works, Robert Pogue Harrison, Professor of Italian Literature at Stanford, published a book in 2008 with the intriguing title “Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition,” and an excerpt from this essay subtitled “The Vocation of Care,” could be brought up on the courthouse computer (found here). The long day was now whizzing by in a gluttony of reading, the likes of which I hadn’t experienced since my last plane or train journey. In this essay Prof. Harrison explores the myths of Eden and how they drive our age and history. He feels that faced with the prospect of living forever in paradise, as Odysseus was on the island of Kalypso, humans would wish desperately to return to their homes and care-ridden lives, “For unlike earthly paradises, human-made gardens that are brought into and maintained in being by cultivation retain a signature of the human agency to which they owe their existence. Call it the mark of Cura.”

Prof. Harrison recounts the parable of Cura, or Care:

“Once when Care was crossing a river, she saw some clay; she thoughtfully took up a piece and began to shape it. While she was meditating on what she had made, Jupiter came by. Care asked him to give it spirit, and this he gladly granted. But when she wanted her name to be bestowed upon it, he forbade this, and demanded that it be given his name instead. While Care and Jupiter were disputing, Earth arose and desired that her own name be conferred on the creature, since she had furnished it with part of her body. They asked Saturn to be their arbiter, and he made the following decision, which seemed a just one: ‘Since you, Jupiter, have given its spirit, you shall receive that spirit at its death; and since you, Earth, have given its body, you shall receive its body. But since Care first shaped this creature, she shall possess it as long as it lives. And because there is now a dispute among you as to its name, let it be called homo, for it is made out of humus (earth).'”


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While care is a constant, interminable condition for human beings, specific human cares represent dilemmas or intrigues that are resolved in due time, the way the plots of stories are resolved in due time…in general human beings experience time as the working out of one care after another.

“Here too we find a correlation between care and gardens. A humanly created garden comes into being in and through time. It is planned by the gardener in advance, then it is seeded or cultivated accordingly, and in due time it yields its fruits or intended gratifications. Meanwhile the gardener is beset by new cares day in and day out. For like a story, a garden has its own developing plot, as it were, whose intrigues keep the caretaker under more or less constant pressure. The true gardener is always ‘the constant gardener.'”

Yesterday I found this audio clip of Prof. Harrison ruminating on the jacaranda tree in the quadrangle outside his window at Stanford, and how “cultivation” is an apt word for expressing the kind and depth of attention required to sustain a garden, an education, a democracy. So far, I’ve only listened to this part 1 of 4 and will catch the rest this weekend.





gardenbrain

I will be forever indebted to *Eric Liu and Nick Hannauer for coining the word “Gardenbrain” in their op-ed in the 7/10/12 edition of The New York TimesThe Machine and the Garden.” I’ve always had one. Turns out our economy needs one too. One of the best reads I’ve had in weeks. Rather than recirculating the same cliched buzz words for our economic woes, the writers show how “We are prisoners of the metaphors we use.”


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The Machinebrain metaphor yields a picture of the world “where markets are perfectly efficient, humans perfectly rational, incentives perfectly clear and outcomes perfectly appropriate.” When we refer to economic “engines” and “fueling” the economy, that choice of metaphor impedes understanding because “economies, as social scientists now understand, aren’t simple, linear and predictable, but complex, nonlinear and ecosystemic. An economy isn’t a machine; it’s a garden. It can be fruitful if well tended, but will be overrun by noxious weeds if not.”

Government spending is not a single-step transaction that burns money as an engine burns fuel; it’s part of a continuous feedback loop that circulates money. Government no more spends our money than a garden spends water or a body spends blood. To spend tax dollars on education and health is to circulate nutrients through the garden.”

Wise regulation…is how human societies turn a useless jungle into a prosperous garden.”

Gardenbrain — what a fruitful metaphor. Nice potful of gears too…



*Authors of “The Gardens of Democracy: A New American Story of Citizenship, the Economy and the Role of Government.”

the spell of the present

Though we may occasionally argue about what a garden is, I think we can all agree that what a garden does is cast a “spell of the present.”

I loved this eminently quotable piece from Diane Ackerman a couple days ago in The New York Times entitled “Are We Living in Sensory Overload or Sensory Poverty?”


The further we distance ourselves from the spell of the present, explored by our senses, the harder it will be to understand and protect nature’s precarious balance, let alone the balance of our own human nature.”

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One solution is to spend a few minutes every day just paying close attention to some facet of nature….for whole moments one may see nothing but the flaky trunk of a paper-birch tree with its papyrus-like bark. Or, indoors, watch how a vase full of tulips, whose genes have traveled eons and silk roads, arch their spumoni-colored ruffles and nod gently by an open window.”

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And the killer opening to the last paragraph:

On the periodic table of the heart, somewhere between wonderon and unattainium, lies presence…”

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Ms. Ackerman’s book, “A Natural History of the Senses,” sounds like it’s right up my alley.

windows on the world

Thank you, Paris Review, for continuing Windows on the World, a wonderful “series on what writers from around the world see from their windows,” as drawn by Matteo Pericoli, first commissioned by The New York Times.

My introduction to this series was the entry by Mrs. Borges, Maria Kodama, first published in The New York Times on 1/2/11.

“A certain house in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Recoleta has a window that is doubly privileged. It overlooks a courtyard garden of the kind known here as a pulmón de manzana – literally, the lung of a block – which affords it a view of the sky and an expanse of plants, trees and vines that meander along the walls of neighboring houses, marking the passage of the seasons with their colors…” Mária Kodama

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But this isn’t a series about view envy. Not all the writers’ accounts of their views are as rhapsodic as Ms. Kodama’s. I love how Marina Endicott begins the description of her view:

By some spiral of fate and capitulation, instead of a street in the East Village or a shabby lane in London, I stare out at a suburban patio, a generous and quiet garden in Edmonton, Alberta.”

More recent windows:

John Jeremiah Sullivan, Wilmington, NC

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Emma Larkin, Bangkok

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Dennis Cooper, Paris

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Matteo Pericoli is a famous drawer of cities. He is known for his witty, loving, obsessively detailed renditions of the Manhattan coastline (Manhattan Unfurled), the perimeter of Central Park (Manhattan Within), and the banks of the River Thames (London Unfurled).

Several years ago, Matteo began to draw New York from a new vantage point—from its windows. He asked artists, writers, politicians, editors, and others involved with the cultural life of the city to let him draw whatever they saw when they looked outside. These were collected in the book The City Out My Window (and the view from 62 White Street appeared on the cover of The Paris Review).