Category Archives: artists

checking out Dustin’s pottery

As soon as work let up a bit, for a treat I’d been promising myself a trip to Dustin’s to check out his new concrete pottery.
I don’t know how it happened that Dustin’s concrete work became an exact match for the containers I crave.
It’s a mysterious case of convergent design evolution. He makes them and I want them. I want them all.
As always, I arrive with plant questions I’ve saved up for him that usually get knocked out of my brain the minute I step into his restlessly creative, ever-changing garden.
I forget everything else and commence pelting him with new questions rapid-fire as I tour the garden. He takes this annoying habit of mine with incredible good nature.
For example, this visit there was the headless stump of a ‘Hercules’ aloe/aloidendron plunged into the front garden, reaching about chest-high, mixed in among the “totems.”
I did find the head of ‘Hercules’ in the back garden. Some mishap had befallen the tree aloe at a client’s garden, so Dustin brought the wounded ‘Hercules’ home for surgery.
Two of them, in fact. He assured me rooting the massive things again wouldn’t be a problem.
He truly is the Willy Wonka of the plant world. Nothing fazes him, anything is possible, and pure imagination always triumphs.
Despite such absorbing distractions as headless aloes, I did manage to remember to ask about a dark brown Sticks on Fire I had heard about recently.
Had he ever heard of such a plant? Of course, he had.


Dustin: Yeah, it’s right over here. You want a piece?

 photo P1011456.jpg

Chocolate Sticks on Fire in Dustin’s vase.

After exhausting him with questions, I moved on to checking out the pottery and selected several pieces to bring home.
Marty feels this one holds a remarkable resemblance to One World Trade Center. I’m not sure if that was intentional.

 photo P1011503.jpg

For the moment, some of the pieces have been strewn on the ground.
The two pyramidal shapes are hollow and can be hung and used as vases or planters.

 photo P1011505.jpg

For now they’re a helpful physical reminder for wandering corgi paws to navigate around Leucospermum ‘High Gold’ brought home from Seaside Gardens last weekend.
For inquiries on his work or custom orders, Dustin can be reached at: dustingimbel@mac.com.


I think I can grow these

 photo plant-1.jpg

 photo plant-7.jpg

 photo plant-6.jpg

 photo plant-2.jpg

 photo gallery_plant_134.jpg

 photo gallery_plant_174.jpg

 photo gallery_plant_444.jpg

 photo gallery_plant_177.jpg

 photo gallery_plant_157.jpg

 photo realization_241.jpg

 photo realization_244.jpg

Not sure what goes with your new AstroTurf lawn?
Since 2004 Czech artist Veronika Richterova’s has cultivated a playful love affair with repurposing polyethylene teraphthalate (PET)


Since 2004 she has devoted herself systematically to serious artistic work with PET bottles. The easily malleable PET has surprisingly proved to be an excellent material for fulfilling her artistic intentions. For this offshoot of her artistic aspirations she has chosen the designation PET-ART…[Her] aim is to capture the fundamental principle of the human desire for creative recycling. And it is not in the least important whether the work in question is purely functional, or is simply a decorative object… .”

Claire Basler’s flowers

 photo 2_recadre2blogo-cb-copie.jpg

In an office yesterday was a Japanese four-panel painting on wood of chrysanthemums, goldenrod and wisps of flowering miscanthus.
The stark white of the mums popped against the tawny background, but the panels’ overall effect was of a soothing, subtle glow with quiet movement etched onto its surface.
Any business to be conducted in that office would not be disrupted by this lovely but soft-spoken art.
Which got me thinking about the current state of flowers pictorially.

 photo peintures-910.jpg

Are artists still interested in glorious, full-throated renderings of flowers?
Or have we been done in by the sentimental, genteel approach, like chintz wallpaper, or overly stylized graphic design musings?

 photo Screen shot 2011-04-24 at 8.53.01 PM.png

By providing those twin stark contrasts, you can tell I’m not really au courant with the subject.
But I do know when I first came across French artist Claire Basler’s large scale flower paintings they held that proverbial shock of the new for me.
See for yourself.

 photo peintures-991.jpg

 photo peintures-810.jpg

 photo om-pom-claire-basler-new-12.jpg

 photo Claire_Basler_245.jpg

 photo tumblr_n4jevlBmOs1r5dkjoo1_1280.jpg

 photo tumblr_n4jevlBmOs1r5dkjoo2_1280.jpg

Claire Basler


postscript to Natural Discourse; Flora & Fauna

It’s been such a pleasure to see what shape and expression each successive Natural Discourse has taken. Developed by Shirley Watts and Mary Anne Friel for the Berkeley Botanic Garden, a group of artists were invited to make site-specific work for the garden and then give talks about that work. (‘Natural Discourse: Artists, Architects, Scientists & Poets in the Garden.’) Shirley Watts has continued this series of talks and brought it to other venues and arboreta. I’ve loved them all.

Shirley’s household as a child blended both art and science, with parents working in music and medicine.
As a result, she effortlessly moves between the two worlds and finds the intricate linkages between both, the overlap where science and art inform and enrich each other.
Working in gardens, we know how much science is involved in making that perfect moment on a warm June day.
Boundless romantic longing moderated by keen observation are what makes our gardens cause visitors to shrug, “Oh, you can grow anything. You have such a green thumb.”
Artists and scientists are both filled with longing for their subjects, and both rely on thumbs and brains in their work.
Shirley doesn’t feel the need to segregate them into separate symposia, recognizing the contributions each make to the other.

The physical collections of herbaria and natural history museums were a theme of this year’s Natural Discourse.
To talk about these collections, you need to bring in explorers, adventurers, disaster, hubris, lack of funding, lost collections, redemption. All the really juicy stuff.
And the specimen of Liatris punctata collected by Custer two years before Little Big Horn with his handwritten tag that was nearly thrown in the trash.
As always, it was a great time.


 photo i-WZj9HW2-XL.jpg

Shirley Watts on opening night at the La Brea Tar Pits

Continue reading postscript to Natural Discourse; Flora & Fauna

Natural Discourse: Flora & Fauna; A Day at the Natural History Museum 10/17/15

From the Natural Discourse event registration page:

Natural Discourse has been invited to explore the Natural History Museum! The Museum opens its doors for a day-long conversation about gardens, art, science, and collections.

Natural Discourse is an ongoing series of symposia, publications, and site-specific art installations that explores the connections between art, architecture, and science within the framework of botanical gardens and natural history museums.”

 photo unnamed 3.jpg

Image above from Emily Dickinson’s Herbarium at Houghton Library at Harvard University
Maura C. Flannery, Professor of Biology at St John’s University, will reveal the secret lives of herbarium specimens

Living (and suffering) as we do in a mostly plant-blind world, there are precious few opportunities to further our appreciation of plants as the real engine that drives our world. The Natural Discourse series of lectures has evolved into an invigorating and must-see event for plant lovers since its inception in 2012. Whether the theme is Form & Function, Culture & Cultivation, Light & Image, or 2015’s Flora & Fauna, garden designer and symposium curator Shirley Watts unfailingly assembles a deep bench of artists, designers, writers, and scientists whose work, in surprising and brilliantly idiosyncratic ways, celebrates the primacy of plants. My geek love for plants not only finds a natural echo but is amplified and expanded in undreamt of ways. As well as being located in Southern California again, I appreciate the timing in the month of October as a kind of requiem to Los Angeles’ long summer.

If you haven’t attended a Natural Discourse before, there’s so many reasons to make the event this year your first.
The setting in Exposition Park means not only are there a number of other museums to visit and gardens to explore, but the strategic Metro stop at Exposition Park means you can leave the car home.
In Los Angeles, that counts as an arms-raised-in-a-V triumph.
The vast complex of museums means if a pal would rather ogle dinosaur bones or visit the California Science Center to view the majestic space shuttle Endeavour, you can easily part ways and reunite off and on throughout the day.

 photo unnamed 5.jpg

James Griffith, From the Infinite to the Particular 4, tar on panel
Image courtesy of Craig Krull Gallery

Personally, I’m wildly excited to hear the official “tar story.” I’ve blogged several times on James Griffith’s use of local tar as a medium for his current work.
Due to Shirley’s formidable persuasive powers, now we can all hear his remarkable account in person.
(James’ tar painting theme dovetails nicely with the Keynote Lecture given by Rosamond Purcell at La Brea Tar Pits and Museum on Friday, October 16, at 6:30 p.m.)

Long-standing champion of restoration of the cement-bottomed Los Angeles River, landscape architect Mia Lehrer is another speaker I won’t want to miss.
Ms. Lehrer recently converted a four-acre parking lot at Exposition Park into garden:

We created a four-acre garden on what was once the parking lot for both staff and visitors on the side of the museum that faces Exposition Boulevard. There was an ambition to open up the museum to the community, and to the Metro that traverses Exposition Boulevard to become not just a museum of natural history but also become more relevant through its exploration into urban ecology by creating gardens that allow a better way to live in the city.” – L.A. Designer: Mia Lehrer, Shaping The City Through Public Space

Jim Folsom, Director of the Huntington Botanical Gardens, will speak on plant exploration and collections. Another example of Shirley’s curatorial genius, photographer Rosamond Purcell’s resume includes work with comedian/magician/actor Ricky Jay as well as naturalist Stephen Jay Gould. These are not solemn, fidget-in-your-seat lectures but bracing, wide-ranging, wholly engrossing explorations of culture intersecting with plants from myriad vantage points. I promise you, for the price of a dinner for two, your plant-loving soul will be fed and nurtured enough to see you through winter and into spring. I’m going to try to remember to wear a name tag, so please grab my elbow and say hello.


The complete list of speakers:

JoAnne Northrup, Director of Contemporary Art Initiatives at the Nevada Museum of Art, on taxidermy, contemporary art, and 19th century wildlife painting
Maura C. Flannery, Professor of Biology at St John’s University, on the secret lives of herbarium specimens
Jim Folsom, Director of the Huntington Botanical Gardens, on plant exploration and collections
James Griffith, Painter, on using tar from the LaBrea Tar Pits as an artistic medium
Mia Lehrer, Landscape Architect, on the creation of the Nature Gardens at the Natural History Museum
Rosamond Purcell, Photographer, on her images of Natural History collections around the world
Natania Meeker & Antonia Szabari, Associate Professors of French, Italian and Comparative Literature at USC, on animated plants and vegetal cinema


 photo NaturalDiscourse_image.jpg


.

friday clippings 6/5/15

Late spring conversation at our house sums up living in a “mixed” household (gardeners/nongardeners):

Duncan, from the back porch: Whatcha doin’ out there?
Me, from deep in the garden: Sitting in a field of poppies.
Duncan (scanning for alleged field of poppies): Okay.

 photo 1-P1016886.jpg

Disembodied voice from deep in garden continues: It’s just one plant really, but I’m pretending.
And it’s not a poppy exactly, but in the poppy family.
Glaucium grandiflorum from Iran, a country we don’t get much good news about, and yet there grows this poppy that is so…so…

Duncan: Pretty?

Voice from deep in garden: Yes! So very pretty.

Duncan: Okaaay.

 photo 1-P1016890.jpg

Voice from deep in garden continues talking to now-empty back porch:

Botanists should be the ones in charge of things, politics, treaties, border disputes…What’s good for the plant world will necessarily be good for everything else…

 photo 1-P1016894.jpg

(plant-drunk words and theorizing continute to drift over poppies)

In other news…

 photo 1-P1016852.jpg

Cyrtanthus elatus x montanus is in bloom, a hybrid of a South African bulb.
I haven’t noticed any real dormancy requirements with this one, where watering needs to be withheld to let it rest. Makes it easy.

 photo 1-P1016895.jpg

And in still other news (real news), if you’re not on Facebook, you may have missed the announcement that Sunset is moving its offices to Oakland.
Its test gardens and kitchen will be moved to Cornerstone, Sonoma, Calif. (read here).
Cornerstone is a collection of outdoor gardens, shops and restaurants inspired by the International Garden Festival at Chaumont-sur-Loire, curated by owner Teresa Raffo.
It was the site of possibly my favorite garden show ever, “The Late Show,” in 2009.
Sunset at Cornerstone makes perfect sense.

 photo P1018657.jpg

There are permanent installations by artists, designers, and landscape architects to visit year-round, like the “Garden of Contrast” by James Van Sweden and Sheila Brady

 photo P1018603.jpg

“White Cloud” by Andy Cao and Xavier Perrot

And yet another change for a major garden publication, Better Homes and Gardens announced recently that Stephen Orr will be the new Editor-in-Chief.
I loved Orr’s book Tomorrow’s Garden, fresh and forward-looking, all which bodes well for BHG.

And this weekend Toronto hosts the Garden Bloggers Fling, so there should be lots of good reading from attendees in the weeks ahead.

The first week of June, and it’s still mild and overcast (glorious!) here in Los Angeles. Enjoy your weekend!

a Shirley Watts’ garden

Monday features two long-time friends (and family) of AGO. Oldest son Mitch took these photos of a Shirley Watts-designed garden a few years back and kindly agreed to let me share them here.

The garden had a lot of formal, established features and furniture to incorporate into the new design, but nonetheless, to those who know her work, Watt’s artistic eye and hand can easily be seen throughout. Like all Watts’ gardens I’ve seen, there’s a uniquely timeless, modern/classical fusion that always lends an air of tranquility and simplicity — but with plenty of startling details, beautifully sensual plants, and bravura flourishes to discover.

 photo C26T9328-1.jpg

 photo C26T9345-1.jpg

 photo C26T9329-1.jpg

 photo C26T9213-1.jpg

Continue reading a Shirley Watts’ garden

“The Artful Garden” featuring Shirley Watts, Portland, Oregon 2/15/15


 photo P1012815.jpg

Detail of mural in the new reception hall at Rancho Los Alamitos.


I don’t suppose there’s the smallest chance we’ll ever see a “bullet train” built that runs to Portland, Oregon, since the voter-approved Los Angeles-to-San Francisco high-speed train has been delayed two years and still faces an uphill political battle. Whether by train or plane, a girl can dream of buying a ticket for next weekend to hear Bay Area artist and garden designer Shirley Watts give a talk sponsored by the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon entitled “The Artful Garden” at Portland State University’s Hoffman Hall, 1 p.m., Sunday, February 15, 2015. Coincidentally, Shirley was in Los Angeles briefly last week, and we met up at Rancho Los Alamitos, where I had the benefit of her discerning perspective as we strolled the grounds. Typical for me, I see plants, plants, agaves, plants, more plants, where Shirley will remark, What an odd figure-eight amoeba shape they put the lawn into here! Must be California modernism seeping into the early rancho style. The low adobe walls, the original cement pottery, the placement of a bench, none of it escaped her quick eye, and my visit was that much richer for her comments and musings. With her deep knowledge of plants and antennae exquisitely tuned to the romance and atmosphere of a place, I couldn’t have enjoyed the visit more if it had been led by one of the Rancho’s docents.

That Saturday I arrived an hour early to wander the gardens, so I’ll leave you with my photos of plants and more plants, and the occasional horse (Preston, the two-year-old Shire).
For the full-bodied pleasure of viewing gardens through Shirley’s eyes, you’ll have to hear her speak this Sunday.

 photo P1013463.jpg

 photo P1013477.jpg

 photo P1013570.jpg

 photo P1013573.jpg

 photo P1013576.jpg

 photo P1013551.jpg

 photo P1013528.jpg

 photo P1013521.jpg

 photo P1013446.jpg

floral fireworks

 photo sarah-illenberger-flowerwork-09.jpg

Oooh…it looks just like…Calluna vulgaris !

At fireworks shows, I’m the one that keeps up a running commentary of free associations, so this “Flowerwork” by artist Sarah Illenberger for The Plant journal was an instant hit with me.

 photo sarah-illenberger-flowerwork-01.jpg

From her website: “Sarah is renowned for creating vivid, witty images that open up new perspectives on seemingly familiar subjects.”


thanks to Jessica at Thread & Bones. Via Miss Moss

Natural Discourse: Light & Image 2014, an epilogue

Ever wonder when our buildings are going to have the photosensitivity and photoreactivity of plants? Dale Clifford, with his focus on biomimetics applied to architecture, is on the case, investigating the possibility of designing a photoreactive brick inspired by the quadrangular, shade-modulating shape of a cactus. Looking for a tidy description of life on earth? Plant biologist Roger Hangarter has one for you: excited electrons powered by the sun. I’m totally borrowing that, Roger.


 photo _MG_3442.jpg

Christian Thornton, Xaquixe Glass Innovation Studio

Questions, questions. Can modern glass kilns reduce their energy footprint?
Certainly, by as much as 30 percent, if recycled glass is used and the kilns are run on vegetable oil discarded by local Oaxacan restaurants.

 photo glassflowers.jpg

Cobaea scandens in the Ware Collection of Glass Plants

And what did 19th century university botany departments do when dried specimens were insufficiently detailed for the rigorous study of plant architecture? Find the finest glass artists in the world, of course, German glass blowers Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, to create glass models with precise, scientific accuracy. Harvard’s Ware Collection of Glass Plants transcends its scientific origins and is now regarded as a prized art collection visited by millions every year.

 photo _MG_3304.jpg

Shirley Watts readies the book table sponsored by Mrs. Dalloway’s bookstore.
Clarissa Dalloway may have bought the flowers for her party herself, but the large vase on the book table was, I think, provided by Silverlake Farms.

All these questions and more could only have been answered by another installment of Natural Discourse, the peripatetic series of lectures curated by artist and garden designer Shirley Watts that allows artists and scientists to share their unique perspectives and fields of inquiry into our beloved plant world, which was held Saturday, October 18, 2014, at the LA County Arboretum.

 photo _MG_3307.jpg

The auditorium at the LA County Arboretum was the biggest space yet of the three iterations of Natural Discourse, and for that reason I thought it perhaps the most challenging venue thus far.

 photo _MG_3407.jpg

But wherever Natural Discourse is located, whether perched in a conservatory-like glass hall atop the UC Berkeley Botanic Garden, or in a historic landmark hotel designed by Julia Morgan, or at your local arboretum, the effect is consistently hypnotic. The lights go down, the chattering eventually subsides, and Marion Brenner begins to articulate her relationship to light and its role in obtaining her exquisitely timeless landscape photographs seen on the projection screen. And then you begin to scribble furiously as she explains how she now shoots wirelessly to an iPad to live-proof her work.

 photo R0021072web.jpg

Photo found here

Possibly only at Natural Discourse will you meet an artist concerned with how long it will take an agave bloom to grow and thereby destroy the glass necklace he’s designed and placed on its flowering shoot.
(Christian Thornton of Xaquixe Glass Innovation Studio has recorded 8 inches of growth a day.)

 photo _MG_3327.jpg

The welcome being given by Richard Schulhof, Director of the LA Arboretum.

 photo _MG_3472.jpg

Jenny Brown, Collection Manager of the Ware Collection of Glass Plants, playfully engages with the interactive programming wizardry of John Carpenter.

 photo _MG_3462.jpg

Mr. Carpenter’s work asks questions like: Why can’t the fleeting thrill of blowing on a dandelion be prolonged?
(You can view the results of his dandelion inquiry at the link.)
Carpenter’s work may bring to mind the digitally interactive sequences in the movie Minority Report, which he designed.

 photo P1011581.jpg

I want to personally thank Sue Dadd and James Griffith for providing both food and lodging Friday night.
And thanks also to their charming cat Kabuki, who slept at my feet all night.

 photo P1011622.jpg

Very early Saturday morning I crept out in jammies and socks to have a private natural discourse with their stunning garden, this time a ravine adjacent to the Folly Bowl.
Talk about excited electrons!

 photo P1011614.jpg

 photo P1011631.jpg

 photo P1011623.jpg

 photo P1011589.jpg

 photo P1011649.jpg

 photo P1011648.jpg

 photo P1011641.jpg

 photo P1011593.jpg



Photos of Natural Discourse at the LA County Arboretum by MB Maher.