Sunday, October 24, 2010

NYBG Kicks Off 2010 Landscape Design Portfolio Lecture Series

New York Botanical Garden Landscape Design Portfolios 2010

For the first time, the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) located its popular Landscape Design lecture series at the “newly renovated space in a historic landmark building” in the Midtown Education Center in New York City.

I like the locale ever so much better.

Previously, they were held in the Urban Center that was a martini away, across the courtyard, from Le Cirque restaurant in the Palace Hotel.
While I adored the swanky location and the twinkling lights in the romantic cafĂ©/courtyard there, the lecture facility was less than ideal.  Too crowded, too hot …

I attended a talk at the Midtown Education Center in the late spring (see previous blog post about xxx and Lyndon Miller and urban gardens.) Very informative and inspirational talk, by the way.  Xxx has subsequently led the city’s urban garden community to retain its gardens.) That talk took place in a school-like classroom upstairs.  Very nice.  But not nearly as nice as the expansive, library like setting for the Landscape Design Portfolio lectures.

Snuggled between wise and approving bookshelves, below balconies stocked with more books who seemed to be watchful, monitoring this new audience, and under what seemed to be a Beaux Arts skylight (it was dark, as this is October in the Northeast).
It was all so roomy and chairs were beckoned seating – without the airlines’ saddle-style of scrunching in.

To me, the annual autumn lecture series is also the official kick-off for the horticultural world’s "social" calendar.
All growing season, us gardeners and garden designers are scurrying from nursery to gardens in order to design, plant, nurture, and maintain within our all-to-narrow window of opportunity.  We pretty much do that all year round, given seasonal container gardening, but that’s another story.
The Talks and Lectures from NYBG, MetroHort, Wave Hill et al, also provide a sort of mini reunion for those of us in the gardening community who are too busy to see each other during the go-go season.

I signal hello to Susan Cohen as I enter. Susan is the Coordinator of the Landscape Design Program series.  Later, as part of her introduction, Jeff Downing, Vice President for Education, noted Susan had been recently recognized and has been named to the Council of Fellows of the American Landscape Design Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) for her work in producing the Design Portfolio Series - now in it's Lucky 13th year.
Applause, Applause.
I first met Susan when I worked at NYBG.  Susan is an amazing, award-winning residential garden designer and the Coordinator for the Garden's Landscape Design certificate program.

I got my seat after registering – thank goodness NYBG sent that day-off reminder email! I was delighted when I looked up to see Lynn Torgerson.  See earlier blog post about her amazing garden design at the Gramercy Hotel  
She is pixie-ish adorable and funky as always.  Intelligent beyond all get out. She is teaching for NYBG too at the Midtown Center. Be sure to check out the catalog for her not to be missed classes.
“Can I sit here?” she asks amusingly, pointing to the chair next to me.  (See how great it is to foster camaraderie just by having ample room?!)
Mais, bien sure. Of course!
We are on our way to catching up since our last sojourn at the Standard Hotel overtop the High Line garden park back in July (I must write about this. Promise.  We drank Lavender martinis!!)

When Phyllis Odessey comes up.

Phyllis is the horticulture manager at Randall’s Island, a 450-acre island park in the East River of New York.  This summer, Phyllis took a sabbatical of sorts to study with two gardening workshop in-garden classes in England. She was able to secure a Royal Oak Foundation Fellowship in Sustainable Gardening.

(That left the horticulture work in the very capable hand of Eun Young Sebaszco, who I’ve had the honor of working with over the years as part of my Duchess Designs’ Fine Gardening and garden design team.
Eun Young is an amazing talent! (as is her artist husband Tom)

I had so many questions for Phyllis as she started to tell us about her English garden experience this summer.
But too soon the lights were indicating the lecture was to begin.  We all agree to meet soon - at the Standard Hotel!

The featured speaker was Bridget Baines, principle from Gross Max.

Baines’ Scottish accent is both charming and challenging...

Her company’s eclectic and contemporary landscape design portfolio was visually stimulating.  Some of the images prompted me to whisper to Lynn that it reminded me of Avatar:  rich, Caribbean hues and phantasmagorical dioramas or scrims of landscape design.

I liked that Ms. Baines showed not only the contracts or commissions they were awarded but also those they submitted that didn’t get the nod. There is much to learn from the designs despite the political or financial contretemps that seal any deal.
Thank you, Bridget.  (At this point, I’m trying not to think of Renee Zellwinger in the movie “Bridget Jones,” but it’s hard not too with the accent and all…)

NYBG touted Bridget and her firm for their work on two parks at Potsdamer Platz in Berlin.  (I worked for Sony and had been to Berlin not long after we opened our facility there).
I love this image of the Sony head in the garden. (was it that I identified it with my time there where too many of the executives had half their head in the ground?! ha)

Bridget’s Gross Max also produced a civic garden in Rottenrow Hospital in Glasgow.

And work with the acclaimed architect Zahid Hadid with her design for the BMW factory in Germany.

Bridget shared a lot of images and design work – pushing the envelope on time.  A few times she noted, “this will be the last one; ok?” only to be answered by an audience who verbally responded for her to continue.
When it was really time to stop, anyone with questions were advised to come up after the talk had concluded. I did, as did a few others.

Next lecture is Monday, October 25.

Speaker is Carol Franklin. She will talk about High Performance Landscapes: The Work of Andropogon (psst: Andropogon is her company I learned. It is noted for its work in sustainable design.)
To register: go to:

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Bees in the Morning and Fine Gardening and Vegetables

I am still waking up bees in the morning.

Here in the metropolitan Northeast, we’re enjoying a return to warmer weather after nearly two weeks of dreary, but much-needed rain.  I don’t think it’s Indian summer yet, but it feels a little bit like it.

The warm mornings find dozens of snoozing carpenter bees that’ve settled on the sedum and even the chaise lounge.  Given their unwieldy flying aerodynamics I hate to rustle them awake, thinking they need more power sleep.  But we all must get on with the day’s work.  I am gentle…

Yesterday we were able to do outdoor fine gardening, after a series of cancelled Monday’s, “called on account of rain.”  

I picked up Hal, the Edward Scissorhands student from the New York Botanical Garden’s School of Professional Horticulture who came to the Garden State by ferry.  We met Sarah, professional horticulturist and graduate from Ontario Canada school of horticulture. 

We had lots to do.  Remove “squatter” plants from the pool beds.  I refer to the plants who take up residence in beds and places they don’t belong as squatters. I don’t blame them though.  The designed beds are too seductive.  Whether they arrived on the wind or from what has been called the bird’s “poo factor” it was time to rid the beds of these unwelcome guests.
We also had to weed, trim, and prune.  Especially the espalier.  In addition, two of the lines had come undone a bit and the top line had to be established.  Hal worked all day snipping and cutting and tying.  We still have the last quadrant to get right, but the look is vastly improved and almost back to textbook perfect.

I don’t know why espalier isn’t employed more often, especially in urban and tight sub-suburban gardens.  In the European and Asian tradition, one learned how to grow fruit is small spaces.  Who needed a grove when you could put an apple tree on the side of the building? 
Perhaps few people practice espalier when they saw the elaborate, twisted espalier from the Japanese and French culture where they seemingly love to torture their plants into intense designs -- finding the whole affair too “fancy.” 
And espalier is a lot of work, even if the lines are rather straightforward. 
But it’s worth it.
This espalier I designed is pyracantha or firethorn, so it has four-season interest: spring with the bridal veil of white flowers, late summer and autumn with its pumpkin orange berries, (which contrasts so Mediterranean-like with the purple of the caryopteris and the blue lyme grass in front of that.).  Often later, there are reddish berries. And it’s evergreen.  This provides beauty and the ideal real estate for bird’s nests, it seems!  We love checking out who’s taken up residence every spring.

We also had a very special on-site insect visitor checking out Hal Scissorhands.  It is the curious, prehistoric-looking praying mantis!  Sarah tells me she sees him (or her) with some frequency. 

As he runs for his fancy digital camera, Hall tells me that praying mantis eat themselves!  

Why do they do that?  This provokes some spirited lunchtime conversation.  I’ve heard of the black widow spider that eats her partner after mating.  Hal says praying mantis will do that too.  (Talk about loving and leaving them!)  And he says they will also do that if they are hungry enough.   This seems too sad to me. That seems like powerful hunger that could readily be ameliorated with all the plenty found in a garden…
I tell them I remember my father admonishing us never to harm a praying mantis or a dogwood tree.  They were both protected and it was against the law in the Garden State to kill them.  I honestly don’t know if that was really true, but it worked for me.

I potted up the containers with seasonal mums – here it is orange and yellow, with matching colored pumpkins of contorted shapes, stripes, and bumps.  This color combination set off the orange and yellow lantana that thrive right up till frost in the front western-facing borders on either side of the entrance.
I left the ornamental wine-colored pepper plants and the chartreuse potato vines in the pots. 

We also planted white mums, Shasta daisies and white ornamental pepper plants in another garden.  As the ferns were still luxuriant in the urns, I just removed the limp-looking caladiums and inserted the pepper plants for height and color.  The white mums were dropped into the smallish box garden to the left of the entrance, making for a happy, eye-catching seasonal garden spot to enjoy coming and going.
I was also able to get those elegant looking silvery pumpkins that look for all the world to me like Cinderella’s carriage pumpkin!  I put these at the feet of the urns for a pretty entrance composition.

The whimsical “ghost pumpkins” are huddled at the feet of the cast iron containers, keeping watch for the topiaries there.  Who has the most curious shape I’m guessing they are giggling.
The great white pumpkin sites directly opposite the door in the liriope garden to be seen upon leaving the house or driving in from either side of the circular driveway. 
A few years ago, I did a series of white pumpkins, positioned at various heights in the liriope grass garden.  I punched out the holes a la Martha Stewart design.  They looked like white lace with the twinkling lights from inside peeping out at night.
Very glamorous.

And while it remains warm, and the season extended, we are necessarily looking back…
This year’s gardens in the northeast were marked by extreme, record-breaking heat and lack of rain.  Very stressful for the plants and gardeners.
Great for the vineyards of Long Island though.  When I visited for the photo shoot for my book, Long Island Homegrown, the growers there told me how great this year was.

Thanks to my husband’s diligent research and best-gardening practices, our home garden was a banner year for tomatoes, potatoes, and shisito peppers, and yellow cucumbers in particular.  

We enjoyed a variety of tomatoes; cherry and full size right up to beefsteak. I Love the shishito peppers in place of almonds with a martini at cocktail time.  Munching the peppers grilled or pan roasted with fresh sea salt is a true luxury.

And Hot Peppers!