Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ken Smith Lecture at HSNY

 It was a brief yet memorable talk at the Horticultural Society of New York ( December 4th. 
And so accordingly, this posting will likewise be brief (and dare I hope, memorable J)

The landscape architecture featured lecture was conducted by no less than the always-edgy and provocative, Ken Smith
Archinect news refers to Ken as the “Elvis Costello of landscape architecture.”  How apropos!

Such a landscape luminary attracted an SRO audience.  On a Friday evening. In December.  In New York City!  That’s star power…

The night of the lecture I was lucky on two counts – make that three.  Because my husband and I were invited to my girlfriend Corinne’s holiday party for her successful company, City Frame,  

By the way, Corinne and her partner, Elena, are amazing – so talented and generous.  Their City Frame work was featured in a recent edition of Vogue, “Holiday Gifts under $500” for the framing work of Hugo Guinness’ limited edition prints they frame.  The silhouette-styled prints are available through the Conde Nast online store.  Check it out and order up some for-real garden glamour:

Back to the lecture.  Since I was staying in town Friday night as opposed to taking the earlier ferry back to the Garden State – and just like that – I was able to scoot uptown and take advantage of the schedule to attend the Hort Society lecture. 
And I got the chance to meet up with EunYoung Sebazco – the super talented horticultural professional I’ve had the privilege work with for the last six+ years.  EunYoung, aka Silver Flower which is what her name means in Korean --  (How utterly charming is that?)

She is a leader as part of the Duchess Designs, LLC Fine Gardening team -- getting the other talented hort professionals to participate on the team -- we all rely on her measured and vast knowledge of plants.  And the clients love her - almost as much as I do :)

Silver Flower designs gardens, containers, restaurant displays; she is an outstanding garden photographer, produces her own line of garden calendars, and recently she and her father introduced a fun and educational Rubik’sâ cube-like Puzzle. Erno Rubik was a Hungarian sculptor and professor of architecture -- and EunYoung is a landscape architect (and graduated tops in her class from The New York Botanical Garden’s School of Professional Horticulture) and her father is an acclaimed architect in Korea.  I wish them as much success with their invention as the 1974 Rubik invention!

OK; now back to the lecture…
Ken was promoting his new book, “Ken Smith, Landscape Architect” from Monacello Press, with an introduction by John Beardsley.
Available from Amazon. 
That evening, one could buy the book and get it signed by Ken.  Always better to attend the event!

About the book from Amazon Reviews:
"An essential for anyone interested in the cutting edge of landscape and garden design . . . Smith’s own introductions to the projects are concise, unpretentious and mercifully jargon-free, while John Beardsley’s measured introduction puts the work in its context without resort to flattery or hype."
—The Daily Telegraph

"If there's one thing for certain about the gardens designed by landscape architect Ken Smith, it's that you'll never forget the ones you've experienced, whether in person or on the printed page."

Product Description
Both a landscape designer and a public artist, Ken Smith produces designs that range in scale from small public installations to vast parks. He is known for inventive and imaginative gardens and landscapes, some of which use little or no natural plant material. His projects include public, commercial, and private work: urban parks, streetscapes, plazas, gardens, public art commissions, memorials, museums and institutions, urban development and multiuse projects, restoration of modern-era landscapes, waterfront planning and design, and residential projects.

Among Smith’s best-known projects are the MoMA Roof Garden, consisting of white gravel, recycled black rubber, crushed glass, sculptural stones, and artificial boxwood plants in a camouflage pattern; the Elevated Acre, a one-acre urban plaza with a sloping topography of planted dunes and an elevated view of New York Harbor; and Orange County Great Park, California, a redevelopment of a Marine Corps air station to include a 2.5-mile canyon, 20-acre lake, cultural terrace, botanical gardens, great lawn, performing arts venue, veterans memorial, aircraft museum, sports park, nature preserve, and wildlife corridor.

Following an introduction by George Pisegna,

Ken’s talk shimmied through the broad-brush strokes of his work in the urban environment.  And Ken’s unique sense of humor sparkled like the tree in Rockefeller Center -- and his bon mots peppered the talk to make for a fun and informative evening. 

Of course every lecture of Ken's features exciting, multi-media visuals! 

the MoMA work is truly inspired:

a little difficult to see here - (get the book!) but Ken showcased his garden inspiration using dumpsters ^:^

Ken showed how he visits the nursery to select the plants first-hand - here he is reviewing the trees - he was looking for ones that would retain the leaves in winter:

Here is a whimsical garden note  -- he retained the utility poles and crowned them with candy-colored birdhouses! So cute and pollinator-friendly.  Bird watching has never been this much fun in an urban setting...

Following the talk, Ken autographed books for the attendees:

And here I am with Ken, the Landscape Architect super star.  (or is it really, Elvis Costello?!)

Thank you, Ken. And the Horticultural Society. 
Be sure to check out their exciting line up for 2010 – a whole new decade of Green….

From here, it was on to the party for me. The first of the 2009 Holiday season!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Beatrix Farrand Debut at The Horticultural Society of New York

The invitation arrived in my Inbox from the Horticultural Society of New York.  Would I like to be a guest at their upcoming illustrated lecture and book signing featuring landscape historian and author Judith B.Tankard for her book, “Beatrix Farrand Private Gardens, Public Landscapes,” just released by The Monacelli Press?
How enchanting!  Immediately, images of New York Society, debutantes, Edith Wharton, Henry James, and “Age of Innocence” came to mind, not to mention Newport Rhode Island (where my husband and I honeymooned), Bar Harbor, and the Long Island estates of the Gold Coast.  I reluctantly concluded my reverie to respond that I most assuredly would love to attend the lecture – Beatrix Farrand is one of the most admired landscape gardeners – as Beatrix referred to the art of landscape designers – and thanked the NY Horticultural Society profusely.   (Kathryn Powis, the librarian at the Horticultural Society, is a peach!)

It might seem curious to think I have anything at all in common with Beatrix Farrand, but in fact, I do J   I am landscape designer, for one and I am a working woman, for another.

OK, I recognize that second one is stretching the point...  And today, it’s hardly a big deal to be a woman garden designer. 
But not so in Mrs. Farrand’s day.
The book notes “Farrand did not share the contemporary misconception of landscape gardening as a ‘congenial, soothing, out-of-doors pursuit to which a woman of taste, who loves flowers, cannot do better than turn her hand.”
Farrand was a charter member of the American Society of Landscape Architects. 
(   Tankard writes of a Martha Brookes Hutcheson (1871-1959) who was inspired by Farrand, and despite entreaties from her family not to study landscape design – she did.  At MIT and at Arnold Arboretum no less. Tankard quotes Martha:  “I was fired with desire, in spite of the fact that it was considered almost social suicide and distinctly matrimonial suicide for a woman to enter any profession.”
How can you not love that passion?   Did you need more proof gardens are sexy?!

Further, Tankard relates Farrand’s reflection: “In later years, looking back on her career, she candidly observed that no woman should attempt the profession who was not in robust health, above average in physical strength, and willing to endure long hours of drafting, fieldwork, and travel.”   (so true…and yet another point of shared attributes…) 

She seems to have a gift for branding, too.  (I have enjoyed a wonderfully successful brand marketing & communications career.)  Tankard reports, “In a letter regarding her work at Yale University in 1922, she made it quite clear that her name should be listed on the rolls as ‘Beatrix Farrand without any qualifying Mr. or Mrs. or Miss, as I regard Beatrix Farrand as a sort of trade name.’”  Take that Madonna! (

And finally, my other link to Beatrix is that she and I are neighbors of sorts.  I often point out Beatrix’s 11th Street townhouse, marked by a bronze plaque, that is located right next to (or is it behind?) our New York City Fifth Avenue residence. 

Upon discovering the plaque, I felt it was no mere coincidence that we moved to the building we did, as she and I share an affinity for gardens and plants, painting and travel.   J It was fate…
Therefore, imagine my delight to read in Chapter 2’s “From Society Girl to Career Woman” where Tankard wrote, “In early 1896…Beatrix Farrand’s next step was to set up a studio on the top floor of her mother’s house at 21 East Eleventh Street.“   Beatrix was married here too.  Her Mother, Mary Cadwalader Jones “presided over her famous literary salon at 21 East Eleventh Street, just off Fifth Avenue an Washington Square.  Henry James, Henry Adams, F. Marion Crawford, John La Farge, Theodore Roosevelt, and other friends gathered there for Sunday dinners in the early 1900s.” according to Tankard.   
I love that the plaque is displayed on the townhouse to pay homage to one of this country’s most accomplished landscape design heroes.  And mine…  Beatrix said, “I made up my mind to go in regularly for landscape gardening.”  Me too.  Soul mates…

The book is indeed a wonderful read and belongs on your bookshelf – not only for garden enthusiasts but everyone.  Tankard’s book is titled “Private Gardens, Public Landscapes” and I think that the “private” also describes part of the book’s appeal as the author’s diligent research and intriguing writing delivers insight into Beatrix the person.  There are the woman’s society connections, travels, history, marriage and the marriages and dynasties of the era that bolster the adage that the rich get richer and/or it’s who you know.  Try this doozy the author supplies when describing why Beatrix Farrand was the obvious choice to do the landscape design for the career diplomat Robert Woods Bliss and his wife Mildred Barnes Bliss at what would become Farrand’s masterpiece, Dumbarton Oaks:  “Edith Wharton (Beatrix’s aunt) was one of Mildred Bliss’s closest friends in France, and Mildred’s mother, Ana Dorinda Blaksley Bliss, had given Farrand one of her first jobs in Maine in 1896.  After the death of Mildred Bliss’s father, Demas Barnes, her mother married William Henry Bliss, and it was through their marriage that Mildred had met her own husband; Robert Woods Bliss was her stepfather’s son from a previous marriage.)  Whew!  Threading the politics, Wall Street fortunes, country home designs and liaisons, however, is the book’s main story line: the landscape design challenges -- and those glorious triumphs. 

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The lecture at the NY Horticultural Society took place in its wonderful library -- a public resource that can be used by anyone: but why not become a member?  For not much more than drinks and appetizers in most New York City restaurants, you get an ongoing, enduring connection to the natural world.  

After checking in, I met George Pisegna, Director of Horticulture in person (previously we had just emailed) and we chatted. 

                                          George at Left

The Hort Society provided wine, cheese, and crackers and early guests were talking and catching up. 

A bonus for Farrand lecture attendees was that we got to view the incredible botanical art adorning the library walls.

The 12th Annual International Juried Botanical Art Exhibition was spectacular.  But Hurry!  The artwork is on display just until November 24th.  Recently, the American Society of Botanical Artists (ASBA) jurors including Francesca Anderson offered a walkthrough of the exhibit.  Sorry I missed that (was in the Garden State writing…) as I admire Francesca and her art so much.  Not surprisingly, many of the artists participating in the Exhibit are also part of Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Florilegium Society, headed up by BBG’s incredible Pat Jonas, curator of BBG’s Florilegium Collection.  You can email Pat at  

Then my guest arrived: Helen Conover, Special Needs Educator & Coordinator of High School Special Science Enrichment at the 92nd Street Y.
I am so lucky she is my friend now.  In fact, it is my dear Aunt Margaret who is Helen’s high school friend. She introduced me to Helen  -- a fascinating and amazing woman who has traveled the world for archeological digs from Egypt to Arizona; and visited Russia and Vietnam long before it was easy.  In the early days she did so as a passenger on merchant ships, as did my godmother, Aunt Alice.  Now, I have the good fortune of Helen’s friendship and we have much in common with our love of art and science!

Soon the lecture began with Katherine Powis introducing Judith, who has written six books by the way, on historical gardens and garden design.  In an appropriate nod to our host and the venue, Judith pointed out Beatrix’s practice and intellectual approach to design was fueled by her library of garden books.  Here is an image from the book showing the garden landscaper in her library:

Judith pointed out early career influences that include her aunt Edith Wharton and Gertrude Jekyll’s exuberant perennial borders, in particular. 

and contemporaries such as Ellen Biddle Shipman and, of course, her studies at the Arnold Arboretum under the tutelage of Charles Sprague Sargent. 

Tankard went on to highlight Farrand’s patrician connections and her work for clients such as JP Morgan, Dorothy Payne Whitney and the Rockefellers   Farrand designed gardens in the aristocratic areas of Long Island, the Berkshires, Pennsylvania, Maine, and Tuxedo Park.  The train station and entrance gate at Tuxedo Park are elegant and charming.  I’ve been there.  Tankard noted Farrand most likely provided this work gratis as she and her mother had friends who lived in Tuxedo Park.  Farrand’s most famous designs include the Rose Garden at the New York Botanical Garden, the East Garden at the White House – now known as the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, and of course, Dumbarton Oaks, probably the only extant garden of Farrand’s. 

A Style of her Own:  Tankard showcased Farrand’s artistic prowess  -- the landscape gardener was also an accomplished singer, writer, and painter, and clotheshorse fashionista -- with images of the designer’s many renderings that are included in the book. (and more in common: I am a writer, painter and fashion lover too. Forget the singing, though..)
The black and white garden plans and the watercolor renderings are combined with the many photographs of the gardens Beatrix designed – as well as many photographs of Beatrix – as a child; so cute yet elegant posing in winter on a city street, she seems to be standing in a snow globe – unperturbed with what looks like snowflakes falling around her, she stands erect and wise in her coat adorned with fur and a charming hat cocked to one side for a definite fashion statement. And her debutante portrait in stunning white gown and a to die for pearl choker and feather fan (it can’t be a handbag, could it?) described in the book as “a gown of white silk, with chiffon of the same color. The bodice was cut décolletée and the skirt en traine. Pearl and diamond ornaments were worn, with white roses.”  Wow.  And you must check out Beatrix's furs and pearls photograph by Sarah Choate Sears on page 41!  Exquisite...
And there are also plenty of images showing Farrand working in her greenhouse and library.  

Another “Farrand fashion” reference I like:  “Beatrix Farrand was clearly a product of New York old-world society (one of the Four Hundred), from which she gained her discretion, regal disposition, and crisp politeness but also her compassion for those who were less fortunate”  (See, and some think of New Yorkers as hard-boiled)  “Her conservative manner of dress was consistent with her class; she favored elegant custom-made clothing and accessories, and as a confirmed Anglophile, sensible Scottish tweeds for work.”  Clearly, this is where the similarity between us ends!  

                                             Farrand Garden Art Rendering

Tuxedo Park garden design, demonstrating Farrand's keen ability to balance the formal and informal

The Garden as a Picture: "A garden, large or small, must be treated in the impressionist manner." 1907

Farrand combined her "love of picturesque beauty with the formal tradition of European gardens" in what would become her signature style, wrote Tankard.

Beatrix Farrand is also acknowledged for her incredible landscape design work for university campuses, including Yale and Princeton.  Judith showed one of Beatrix’s espalier-style tree plantings at Princeton where the designer showcased and promoted “vertical gardening.”

A brief Q&A followed the presentation.

Do you have any inquiries about Beatrix Farrand?

Author Judith B. Tankard (left) and me

 Author with lecture guests

You have to get the book or  and/or sign on for the Beatrix Farrand Society News (The 1943 image of Beatrix Farrand on the cover of the newsletter and in the book's first chapter in her Glendhills Studio bears more than a passing resemblance to Glenn Close!

Because Beatrix’s life and work is too interesting for this posting. 


"No life is well-rounded without the subtle inspiration of beauty." 1926 Beatrix Farrand

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Garden Glamour Premieres

Garden Glamour

To launch the Duchess Designs garden blog I, of course, had to name it. Always dodgy naming something, I think.  Monikers are potent.  Names can mislead.  Or the everyday use of a word may have stolen or hijacked the meaning from what was intended.  Or it can be pure destiny. 
Initially, I thought my blog about the possibilities of gardens and gardening should reference “Dreams” in the name.  But that seemed to suggest the idea that gardening was somehow a bit too out of reach or unlikely for any serious gardener, who of course wants to see results in their little plot of earth or containers.  Then glamour came to mind.  I do love glamour of course, and when I looked up the definition to a word I use with frequency ^:^  to confirm if it could work – and just like that -- stardust! 

According to Encarta, Glamour is an irresistible alluring quality that somebody or something possesses by virtue of seeming much more exciting, romantic, or fashionable than ordinary …  Check! That describes my gardens, garden aspirations and garden perspectives.  Striking physical good looks or sexual impact, especially when it is enhanced with highly fashionable “accessories”… Check!  And then this topper:  A magical spell or charm… Check! 

You see where I was going with this.  Alluring, exciting, romantic, sexy good looks and magical charms add up to my point of view about the enchanting world of gardens.

The Garden Glamour blog will offer garden stories about gardening’s best practices:  when to plant, put the garden to bed; garden tips; advice on what tools work best; garden design; opinions on garden trends; garden book reviews; garden lecture review snapshots; lots and lots of images, and funny anecdotes about the humbling, glorious and glamorous world of Gardens!