Saturday, October 3, 2015

One's Native Ground

"One's native ground is the place where, since before you had words for such knowledge, you have known the smells, the seasons, the birds and beasts, the human voices, the houses, the ways of working, the lay of the land, and the quality of the light.  It is the landscape you learn before you retreat inside the illusion of your skin.  You may love the place if you flourished there, or hate the place if you suffered there.  But love it or hate it, you cannot shake free."

-Scott Russell Sanders "Staying Put: Making a Home in a Restless World"

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Greetings to October

I love October, despite the fact that it is the time that our gardens become sleepy and disheveled.  This time of autumn colors and slowing down to build up strength for renewal is beautiful to me.  The air is crisp after so many days of summer's swelter, and it is evident that a shift is on the horizon.

In The Echoing Green: The Garden in Myth and Memory, Jennifer Heath writes of her garden, inspired by the changes brought on in October:
Round and round.  I try never to think of the garden in terms of "success" or "failure." No gardener I know really does.  It seems inappropriate to bring the spirit of competition into this sacred place whose function is to mediate for the divine.
Gardens are completely personal, not up for judgment.  There's no right or wrong in Nature.  There are gardening flubs, miscalculations, and so on, but none of it matters much.  The garden is always in flux, forgiving, ready and able to teach, ready and able to change on its own, as well as with our interventions.  We bring our sorrows here to let our sorrows go; we bring our joy here to share our joy with birds and bees and flowers and trees.  Paradise is precisely here, in the oldest, strongest, most majestic oak and in the thinnest, weakest, most anemic window plant.  What counts is how we give ourselves to it.
 Success or failure, triumphs or troubles, whenever I look over the garden from my bedroom perch, I can see nothing but perfection, simply the Nature of it all.  Everything in the garden coexists in constant, active relation.  I am.
 Here, linear time ceases, so that history and myth blend seamlessly with this day, this moment, this breath.  In the garden we are entirely of the cycle: in summer we sense its retreat; in winter we hear the echoing green.
And soon, we will be hearing the echoing green.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The philosophy of Landscape Design

The philosophy of landscape design began as a belief in myth, merged into humanism based on the establishment of fact, and is now grappling with the realization that facts are no more than assumptions.  Humanism is passing into another, unknown, phase.  It is possible, for instance, that the present disruption of the environment can be traced beyond the manifest reasons to one basic cause: the subconscious disorientation now in man's mind concerning time and space and his relation to both.
-Geoffrey and Susan Jellicoe from The Landscape of Man: Shaping the Environment from Prehistory to the Present Day

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Design, stripped to its essence

“Design, stripped to its essence, can be defined as the human nature to shape and make our environment in ways without precedent in nature, to serve our needs and give meaning to our lives.”
- as defined by John Heskett and quoted in Daniel Pink’s “A Whole New Mind”

Greetings to fall, and the daughter departs...

The days and nights are beginning to cool.  Perhaps a rare day of rain will again come soon.  The flowers are drying on their stems, the grasses are beginning to yellow.  We are harvesting now, for soon there shall be no more.  The daughter is again departing...

We have, just last night, given our goodbyes to the fair maiden Persephone.  It is, alas, time for her to leave her mother Demeter, Goddess of the Harvest, to return to her husband, Hades, Ruler of Death, in his underground lair.  We lament, for in Persephone's youth, Demeter adored her little daughter. They played together in the fields nearly every day, and as Persephone smiled up at her mother, Demeter's heart swelled with happiness, and the crops grew high and healthy. Flowers tumbled everywhere.

This beautiful, fertile love begat life, yet of course Persephone must leave on this day of Autumnal Equinox in September.  There is no other choice.  Only corruption comes from eternal infancy.  The cycle must continue.  Mothers must loosen their tight grips on their beloved daughters, for Persephone's liberation from her mother creates the ground in which the seasons can flourish.  Life is, therefore, stimulated and made potent.  And, thus, death begets beautiful life which withers again to death only to resprout as life.  The joy in life and the hope in death is only possible in this eternal spinning of the wheel which yet manages to take us back into the wilderness.

Let us give these "essential gifts" to Demeter for the Greater Mysteries in spirit of celebration:
  • Her sacred plants are wheat and barley as staples.
  • Pomegranate fruit will signify sex and death.
  • Poppy will bring poor Demeter, and indeed the Earth itself, peaceful sleep.
Demeter's fifth animal, the snake shall retreat underground, too, to protect the the grain from rodents.  And when it is again time, he will shed his skin and rise and life will be renewed in this time of Spring.

The tears will soon fall again, and we will watch the last of our gardens and crops wither.  There is, of course, always the hope borne in the knowledge that Spring will return; yet the missing and the longing prevail as the cold sets in and winter covers the land and our souls, compassionate in Demeter's great loss.  Let us shed our tears, for our particularly parched land needs this mourning to rejuvenate.  And let us rest through the winter.  Take up the Poppy, and may the slumber be peaceful.

The beautiful daughter is the promising bud, yearning to burst into her glorious flower; and her mother the fertile fruit which begets life.  The daughter must go for her bud to fully flower.  And so her mother must allow her to go in happiness to return to the fulness of her fertility.  Yet, so must the daughter return for the circle, the cycle, this wondrous wheel to remain spinning, and for the seasons to remain unbroken.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Botany's website has a new face

I have been working some months now, and I'm so happy to announce that the new Botany of Design website has officially been launched!  Please visit at  I'd love to receive all constructive input you have to offer.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Last Child in the Woods

As a mother of two small children and as a beneficiary of a childhood spent on a large farm in the country, I realize the importance of fostering a close connection between my children and the natural environment.  Because of this strong belief in maintaining the connection with nature, I guide my children there and foster their love for natural places.  We regularly spend days at the beach, we go hiking, we have favorite picnic spots on rivers, we swim in alpine lakes, we camp often, we participate in a nature club with a group of friends where we regularly go to wild places, and we go backpacking in the wilderness.  Many of our friends enjoy similar experiences, but, alas, this is not the norm.

In his book, "Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder," Richard Louv laments that:
our society is teaching young people to avoid direct experience in nature.  That lesson is delivered in schools, families, even organizations devoted to the outdoors, and codified into the legal and regulatory structures of many of our communities.  Our institutions, urban/suburban design, and cultural attitudes unconsciously associate nature with doom-- while dissociating the outdoors from joy and solitude.  Well-meaning public-school systems, media, and parents are effectively scaring children straight out of the woods and fields.
It is important that we care about and rebel against this trend because:
at the very moment that the bond is breaking between the young and the natural world, a growing body of research links our mental, physical and spiritual health directly to our association with nature-- in positive ways.  Several of these studies suggest that thoughtful exposure of youngsters to nature can even be a powerful form of therapy for attention-deficit disorders and other maladies.  As one scientist puts it, we can now assume that just as children need good nutrition and adequate sleep, they very well need contact with nature.
Indeed, in the most nature-deprived parts of our societies, we can see the rise of what might be called a cultural autism with symptoms including tunneled senses and feelings of isolation and containment.  This has clearly been the trend with the wide-ranging worship of the secondary experience offered by technology: television, computers, cell phones, internet "socializing," or video games.  But where do we achieve "primary experience"-- that which we can see, feel, taste, hear, or smell for ourselves?  In our modern "machine culture," it is shockingly lacking.

North Carolina State University professor Robin Moore directs a research and design program that promotes the natural environment in the daily lives of children.  According to Moore:
Children live through their senses.  Sensory experiences link the child's exterior world with their interior, hidden affective world.  Since the natural environment is the principle source of sensory stimulation, freedom to explore and play with the outdoor environment through the senses in their own space and time is essential for healthy development of an interior life.
We all love our children, and so many of us spend great amounts of time and money to purchase our children computers for learning or sign them up for classes and organized sports.  We are literally running from the moment we awaken. And so are our children... Is there a better way?  I remember spending hours sitting in the river catching crawdads, tadpoles or frogs.  I could be "lost" for hours with the baby animals born on our ranch.  Or I could walk for miles looking for rocks and arrowheads.  I'd trade a computer for these experiences any day.

Yet it is not so easy anymore for us increasingly growing masses of urban folk.  So what can we do?  Louv offers a great list of 100 actions we can take in his companion field guide.  The following are a few of my favorite:
  1. Send your kids outside to play in the dirt.
  2. Invite native flora and fauna into your life by replacing part of your lawn with native plants and maintaining a birdbath in your garden.
  3. Regularly visit nature as an antidote to stress.
  4. Tell your children stories about your special childhood places in nature.
  5. Make the "green hour" a new family tradition (, a time for unstructured play and interaction with the natural world.
  6. Go for a hike!
  7. Invent your own nature game.
  8. Keep a "wonder bowl" where you can keep all of your children's collected treasures from nature for display.
  9. Keep a nature journal with your children.
  10. Go harvesting at local you-pick farms.
We are now building the foundation for our children's adult lives.  Richness of experience will help them to build survival skills-- for both in the natural world as well as in the urban jungles.  Help them to build these survival skills, and then help them to thrive by regularly taking them outside to engage with the natural world in unstructured wild play.