Tag Archives: Richard Turner

Friday clippings 8/22/14


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At first sight I became enthralled by artist James Griffith’s exquisite, painterly ripostes to the “drill, baby, drill” set — my words, not his. James is much more polite.
By way of a secret alchemy, he utilizes that precious resource from our local La Brea Tar Pits in a uniquely subversive fashion, to cover canvases with delicate, etching-like portraits of species that don’t get a say in our energy politics, such as the humble and familiar crow, bat, mouse, and deer. His work reminds that all species are stuck in this moment together. I love my little tar bat that was last year’s Christmas present.

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James has a new show beginning September 6, 2014, at the Craig Krull Gallery at Bergamot Station, where you can see the latest members of his tar pit menagerie.

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James is also co-creator with garden designer Sue Dadd of the Folly Bowl, their own personal outdoor amphitheater in which they host a summer-long series of concerts. This coming Saturday’s concert, August 23rd, is described on their Facebook page for The Folly Bowl. If you go, keep an eye out for one of the biggest Agave franzosinii south of the Ruth Bancroft Garden.

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Drawing from the Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Plants at Harvard. Collection manager Jenny Brown and glass artist Christian Thornton will be two of the lecturers at Natural Discourse this October 18, 2014.

Another date to save: On October 18, 2014, impresario, artist, and garden designer Shirley Watts, is bringing Natural Discourse: Light & Image to the Los Angeles County Arboretum, which promises to be another amazing day of riveting lectures, this time here in our very own backyard. Shirley assembles together for one day the equivalent of a botanical salon filled with some of the most interesting speakers I’ve been privileged to hear. I wrote about them here and here and here — you can do a blog search for other posts too. Richard Turner, former editor of Pacific Horticulture, had this to say of earlier iterations of Natural Discourse:

The first symposia, held at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, were among the very best days I’ve ever spent sitting and listening to others speak.

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The Ruth Bancroft Garden by Marion Brenner, who will be one of the lecturers at Natural Discourse October 18th, 2014, at Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden.

Garden bloggers in particular won’t want to miss a single pearl of wisdom that falls from legendary landscape photographer Marion Brenner’s lips at this upcoming Natural Discourse: Light & Image.

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Sansevieria ‘Black Gold’ at California Greenhouses

If anyone is tempted to visit the Orange County nurseries I mentioned here, I hope I caught you before you made the trip. You must add to your itinerary California Greenhouses.
Annette Gutierrez, co-owner of Potted, recommended this one to me, and I checked it out earlier this week. It is worth the trip alone.

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Some nurseries, like sports teams, have a “deep bench,” and California Nurseries has one of the deepest around.
Succulents in all sizes, from enormous dragon trees, tree aloes, and Yucca rostrata, to table after table of all the wee ones we love to stuff in pots, and at nearly wholesale prices.
Fantastic section of houseplants too.

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California Greenhouses currently has a couple enormous Aloe capitata var. quartzicola for sale, at least 3-gallon size if not 5.
More than double the size of this Aloe capitata var. quartzicola, photo taken in my garden this June.

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Department of Corrections: This is one of the so-called shrub begonias ‘Paul Hernandez,’ and it’s managed to thrive despite my having the blackest thumb a begonia enthusiast can have. I wish Freud had wondered instead what a begonia wants, because I sure as heck don’t know. I’ve made some comments that reference this gunnera-sized begonia as ‘Gene Daniels,’ so I need to correct that. I don’t think I’ve ever grown ‘Gene Daniels,’ but two begonias named after guys — you can see how I made the mistake. Checking the blog, I see that ‘Paul Hernandez’ dates back to 2011 in my garden, the only begonia I’ve grown with that kind of longevity, so we need to keep his identity straight. Good plants need to be rewarded; the next big pot I buy is going to be for Paul. Judging by the mottled color, I think Paul looks a little hungry. Maybe some fish emulsion?

I’ll close with my favorite quote of the week: “‘At the end of the day,’ Dr. Richard wrote in his diary this summer, ‘the plants are still in need of a drink, and so are we.’”

At least I have that in common with the energetic couple restoring a 250-year-old house in southwest France. There were a couple more epigrammatic, Wilde-worthy quotes in The New York Times article and luscious slideshow, “A Blank Slate With Fig Trees,” including success with houseguests requires “to never see them over breakfast.”

Happy weekend!


Natural Discourse: Culture & Cultivation 10/10/13

What to make of this impulse to create gardens? Most of my ruminations are done leaning on a shovel, or moving a pot inches to the left and wondering why in the world it matters. One of the few constants throughout my life has been making gardens with the single-mindedness of the bowerbird making his bower. Confronted by the idiosyncratic, highly personalized creations of the bowerbird, evolutionary biologists tell us that the bowerbird is, despite all extraordinary outward appearances, simply attracting a mate. So why do I do it, make gardens? Is it all just useless beauty? I fitfully pick up, examine, then put these questions back on an increasingly dusty mental shelf, which is why it’s been so exciting to have Natural Discourse’s co-curator, artist and garden designer Shirley Watts, continue to gather together artists and scientists whose life work is their ceaseless examination of these questions. Natural Discourse provides the unique, multidisciplinary platform for them to tell an eager audience what they’ve discovered — a sold-out audience filled with familiar names such as Saxon Holt, Marion Brenner, Cevan Forristt, Flora Grubb, and Richard Turner.


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Photo: Bower of satin bower bird. David Rothenberg from his book ‘Survival of the Beautiful’


Last Thursday at the Berkeley City Club was a full day of talks by a remarkably diverse group of speakers, each in their own way interested in the “cultivation of appearances,” the “aesthetic imperative,” in Robert Pogue Harrison’s words.

Plant biologist/evangelist and Emmy-award winner Roger Hangarter started off the day placing plants squarely at the fountainhead of all life, and not the inert, sedentary green wallpaper that many see, but surprisingly full of movement and communicative ability via, for example, chemicals. (Some of his heart-stopping time-lapse work can be seen here.)

Margaret Morton, in her photographic studies of the impromptu gardens of New York’s homeless, spoke to the enduring human impulse to make gardens even when basic survival is hardly assured.

Artist Mary Jo McConnell described how she “found a group of artists that live and work in the cloud forests of New Guinea — these artists are birds. The creature that has become McConnell’s obsession, luring her back around the globe, year after year, is known as the Vogelkop Bowerbird.” (Frontline.)

Alice Miceli‘s Chernobyl Project attempts to depict what can’t be seen, the radiation that poisons the abandoned landscape that humans fled after the meltdown of the infamous reactor No. 4. Her astonishingly brave objective is to “create a radiographic series of images of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone depicting the most affected regions…These stunning images are imprinted by the invisible radiation that has contaminated the area since the disaster on 26 April 1986.” Gardens won’t be planted again within a 30-kilometer radius of reactor No. 4 for at least 800 years.

The least image-intensive talk was Prof. Harrison’s, which makes references easier taken out of Thursday’s context. Addressing the inherently bleak, pessimism-inducing view of plants and animals by evolutionary biologists as “survival machines” that “appear in order to survive,” Prof. Harrison calls on witnesses like zoologist Adolf Portmann, in his work “Animal Forms and Patterns: A Study of the Appearance of Animals,” to counter that, conversely, perhaps we “survive in order to appear.”

Without denying the role of function, Prof. Harrision finds that Portman’s work points to the “astonishing richness, variety, and sheer superfluity of the forms of animal and plant life on earth, [and] he suggests..that the external appearance of species is not there to promote life processes but, on the contrary, life processes exist in order to enable appearances; that living things do not appear in order to survive but survive in order to appear.”

And, Prof. Harrison continues, if we “do not appear in order to survive, but survive in order to appear, then the first point I’d like to make is that gardening is a human activity that conspires with the inner urge of living genes to appear. Why? Because by working the soil in which plant life takes root, gardening cultivates appearances.” Gardens provide “a special stage that puts into relief the self-display of living things, including ourselves, human beings.”

Prof. Harrison suggested that there must be two truths, or a duplex veritas, to account for both the functionalistic view that evolutionary biology holds regarding the multiplicity of forms and color that surround us, and a mysterious “aesthetic imperative” that colors the tips of hummingbird wings with a gratuitous subtlety and nuance. This is the “sheer abundance of spectacle and appearance” that mesmerizes all who make gardens. “It is indeed as if everything that is alive has an urge to appear,” said Prof. Harrison, and he quoted philosopher Hannah Arendt:

Whatever can see wants to be seen, whatever can hear calls out to be heard, whatever can touch presents itself to be touched.”

Okay, maybe all the charm and wit gets scrubbed out when I tell it. You just had to be there. Hopefully, there will be more Natural Discourse events to come.


Hazel White: Aesthetics of Inundation

UC Berkeley Botanical Garden’s symposium “Natural Discourse” held February 10, 2012, has been constantly in my thoughts this past week, whether riding the train, driving freeways, staring at the garden. I’d never visited UCBG before and found the physical location enthralling. I’ve been starved for rain, and a small rainstorm obligingly followed me up the coast, from Los Angeles to San Francisco, and rained off and on most of the weekend. For me, mist and rain always increases a place’s allure, and that day the canyon with its meandering creek and trails was magical.

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Associate Director of Collections and Horticulture Chris Carmichael described this contemplated collaboration with artists as a new direction for this predominantly teaching-based botanical garden in an effort to broaden its appeal as part of an ongoing struggle to attract and connect with new visitors. This is an entirely new direction for UCBG, which dates its inception as a teaching adjunct to the university back to 1890. This “living museum” is a member of the Berkeley Natural History Museums Consortium and has only been open to the public since the 1960s. Bringing artists into this hallowed botanical garden to render site-specific works has not been accomplished without some gnashing of teeth by all involved, but like all of us, new survival strategies must be pursued in these tumultuous times, and botanical gardens are no exception. Despite the joking and joshing, deep affection and respect was readily apparent among all involved. A brief interlude to present Richard Turner with a Monkey Puzzle Tree, Auricaria araucana, in honor of his retirement from Pacific Horticulture, was a wickedly funny touch.

Continue reading Hazel White: Aesthetics of Inundation