Monday, June 1, 2009

From There to Here

As a busy mom, there is so little time to be contemplative, reflective without direction. Yet, when I do manage to find myself in such a mental space, it is always productive and refreshing. Look at your past to find your future. Well, this is one of those rare moments.

I found myself looking back to my formulative years, seeking how these times may now impact my sense of design. Which place most strongly formed who I now am as a designer, and instilled within me my design foundation? Without a doubt, I would say that this special place for me is our family’s ranch. I spent my entire childhood on the ranch, and, for me, it was magical.

It was a childhood spent in a small town. And in that small town there was a long, winding dirt road. At the end of this road there was a main entry court, encircled by our guest house, barn, shops, and corrals. Beyond this, my grandparents’ house was to the right, and my house was to the left. Further yet, were acres of alfalfa fields.

This environment made such an impression on me because I was so involved in it. I often awoke early in the morning to feed the cows and cut the fields with my grandpa. Throughout the day, my brother and I would explore the river or hike out in the fields. Our play was imaginative, always exploratory, always adventurous. In the summer, when the haystacks mounted, we would make forts within the stacks, and run, and jump, and hide in crevices. My grandpa always had a large garden. When my brother and I were young, my grandpa would carry us out into the garden. As he watered the plants, he would lift us up to pick cherries or a pear. He would then pull out his pocket knife, and carve right into the pear, and hand us little bite-size pieces. We would also eat fresh raw corn—sweeter than any candy.

Clearly, the strongest element of this childhood home was my grandpa. For me, the ranch was my grandpa. It cradled me in its arms as did he. It provided me shelter and warmth, as my grandpa did. It taught me and inspired me. It was the place where I felt distinctly at home, like no place since. Because of this connection between my grandpa and the ranch, the places which made the strongest impressions upon me were those where I spent the most time with him—the garden, his home, the fields surrounding his lake, the swimming hole.

Surely this place lingers within me, and finds its way into all of my designs, and in most that I do. Because this place has so strongly influenced me, I do now realize that as magical as this place was and still is to me, it might not be to others. Yet, I can still use its influence to help others; because in this place, I have known a place of magic. And knowing this feeling of magic, empowers me to create that for others.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Designing in Archetypes

I continually refer to symbolic archetypes as I embark upon a new garden design. Archetypes, for me, have always been such primordial and ubiquitous forces. I enter a place, especially a new place, and I become affected by one archetype or another. Often, when I enter a client’s space for the first time, I feel the presence of certain archetypes, and I feel driven to add others. I describe this to clients by suggesting the unfolding of a story or the creation of garden rooms. But because the garden has been a place within which I have grown up and spent so much of my time, I read each in terms of archetypes.

As used by early Greek and Roman philosophers, the term archetype was defined as origin or model. Similarly, the pre-Socratics referred to the archai as the fundamental building blocks of human life. Throughout his writings, psychologist Carl Jung used the term “archetype” as an inherited idea or mode of thought that is derived from the experience of the society and is present in the unconscious of the individual. Archetypes, thus, describe the patterns which lie at the depths of our being both individually and as a society, and so in turn shape how we experience our environments. However we wish to define this phenomena, with some slight convincing, I believe that we can all agree upon its occurrence.

Furthermore, archetype is a universal theme that manifests itself differently on an individual basis. To state it another way, there are a few basic archetypes or patterns which exist at the unconscious level, but there are an infinite variety of specific images which point back to these few patterns. Further, if we believe these premises, we can agree that we are born with these patterns which structure our imagination and make it distinctly human. These archetypes are our instinctive symbols by which we relate to the world.

I once conducted a study of San Francisco’s Chinatown in terms of archetypes. The following is a condensed version.

Through inclusion of archetype, a place can relate to origin, and thus allow a glimpse of the source of our own thoughts and feelings. Because a place can be experienced through these same archetypes. It is here desired to view Chinatown through this filter of archetype. Through analysis of a place’s archetypical vocabulary, we begin to understand how a place can relate to origin, and thus allow a glimpse of the source of our own thoughts and feelings through our reaction, experience and understanding of the place. And it is, I believe, in this relation to origin that we feel comfortable, safe, and stimulated in a place.

The following will illustrate in both text and photos the several archetypes which are particularly evident in Chinatown:

• possession
• boundary
• perch
• art
• metaphor
• incident
• museum


Possession encompasses the obvious—a sense of belonging, but it extends to a freedom of movement, a freedom of static, leisure, markings, and openness. In a world of given definitions and delineations, possession allows one to step beyond the boundaries.

In this Chinatown park, possession is taken in the naming of place, and in the depicting of images which reflect the character of the citizenry.

Again, images are depicted. Possession is also captured in the freedom to openly expose the banalities of the everyday.


Boundary complements possession, allowing a sense of arrival and a feeling of belonging. The sense of what is here as separate from what is there defines a place.

Perhaps nothing signals a sense of arrival as effectively as a gateway.


The concept of perch extends back to a time when the perch literally allowed for human survival. Perch continues to elicit a sense of safety and well-being.

Here the perch archetype is observed at a sacred place.

Colorful perches look out above markets below.


Emily Dickinson wrote “Nature is a haunted house, but art a house that wants to be haunted.” Compare this to ordinary life and culture: nature is an enchanted place, while human culture is an effort to evoke and sustain enchantment. The arts, thus, allow us to reflect upon our experiences and in so doing, invite soul into view. The soul is always searching for itself, and it receives great pleasure when it finds itself reflected in the surrounding environment.

Details charm and fascinate the soul of the passerby.

Movement and undulation offer artistic contemplation.

Art is evoked in the detailing of the columns.


Incident serves to awaken. Tower, belfry, silhouette, vivid color, etc. entrap the eye so that it does not slide out infinitely to boredom. The skillful location of incident gives point to the basic shapes of the street or place, a sort of nudge. The pattern is there, but in the preoccupation of the everyday, our attention must be drawn to it.

An exclamation at the corner of this building serves as a comma to give pause.

Here, punctuation awakens the awareness.


Metaphor extracts meaning at the suggestion that “this is that.” In this suggestion the imagination is awakened in the comparison.

This bank reflects a palatial metaphor.


Above all, museums are palaces of memory, and in such a place, the most important activity to occur is simple, quiet, prolonged, and undisturbed meditation. We can observe that a museum is an important element in a city or town. It is important for the citizens to recall, and it is important for visitors to hear the message. Likewise, we can see that a museum extends beyond the physical building. We each build our own small museums—a collection of old love letters, grandma’s antique armoire, grandpa’s old hunting jacket, our child’s first lock of cut hair, a photo album. In thinking about the museum in such terms we can, thus, understand our deep connection with this archetype.

The museum archetype is in evidence in this barber shop window. The photo album displayed in the window testifies to past satisfied customers, friends, and happy events.

This carved stone memorial transforms Portsmouth Square into a museum by its inclusion. It marks the site as the location of the first public school in California.

Museum reflects the passage of time. This building clearly testifies to its memory of the passage of time. Without judgment, it is a living, or perhaps dying, museum.

Here, the building, itself, remains as a museum.

In summary, perhaps the best way to query my postulates would be to go out and seek them. I’d like to request that you ask yourself a few questions when you do so. Are you able to find archetypes? If so, do they help you to understand a place better? Do you find an abundance of archetypes in places which you feel comfortable in? Do you feel that a place void of archetypes is uncomfortable? In comparison of one place’s archetypes to another, do you find similar archetypes exist in each, yet manifested differently?

Perhaps I will soon traverse through one of my gardens and offer a similar photo journal of archetypes. This has, for me, been a refreshing reminder of the importance of archetypes driving good design.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Plant a Kitchen Garden!

“In these times of great political, economic, and environmental upheaval, we crave a bit of certainty in our lives. Here's some for you: if you plant a seed and give it what it needs, it will grow into a plant. If you give the plant what it needs, it will not only bear the fruit of today's feast but the seeds of tomorrow's as well. How's that for return on investment?”

-Kitchen Gardeners International

As we look for small ways that we can help alleviate the intersecting food, fuel, financial and environmental crises, we at Botany would like to encourage our friends to become kitchen gardeners. There are many good reasons to do so; here is some inspiration:
-Enjoy a fresher, organic harvest. Some of my favorite childhood memories are of walking through the garden with my grandpa and brother. My grandpa had a grand, sprawling garden, encompassing about an acre. He would lift my brother and I to pick fresh fruit off the tree, and he’d cut the fruit open right away. I remember that nothing tasted sweeter.

-A kitchen garden can save you money. Fresh, organic fruit and vegetables are expensive, and if grown from seed with no or minimal chemical input, and conservative water use, you’ll enjoy a fresh delicious harvest at a fraction of the store-bought cost.
-Gardens have a way of engaging neighbors. Perhaps you may need to borrow tools, seek advice, or share your harvest. Each, an opportunity to connect with neighbors.

-Growing a kitchen garden at home is a great way to teach children healthy lessons about food, life cycles, nature and nurturing. Gardening can be magical for children!

-Reduce your carbon footprint. “It's estimated that the way we feed ourselves (or rather, allow ourselves to be fed),” laments kitchen garden proponent and author Michael Pollan, “accounts for about a fifth of the greenhouse gas for which each of us is responsible.” Producing even a small portion of the food we eat, thus, can make a significant difference.

-Any one can create a kitchen garden. If you have enough space, create a separate kitchen garden. If space is limited, integrate edibles into your existing ornamental garden or use pots.

-At least in this one corner of your yard and life, you will have begun to heal the split between what you think and what you do, to commingle your identities as consumer and producer and citizen.
-Join a movement! Around the world, many people are gathering together as kitchen gardeners in support of sustainable food production. To learn more, please see our resources listed below. August 23 is International Kitchen Garden Day; be a part of the celebration.
-Michael Pollan urges, “The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world.”

Consider espaliered fruit trees to conserve space.

A strawberry tower is an excellent addition to any garden. It takes up so little space to produce a significant harvest, and you can enjoy strawberries throughout the summer without worrying about pesticide contamination.

A cold frame can help to extend your growing season. Use it for late season gardening or for starting seedlings early in the season.

Raised beds are convenient and comfortable for gardening. They also allow you to easily create the perfect garden soil, if your garden soil is lacking.

For further information, please browse our resources:

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan
My Vegetable Love: A Journal of a Growing Season by Carl H. Klaus
Kitchen Literacy: How We Lost Knowledge of Where Food Comes from and Why We Need to Get It Back by Ann Vileisis

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Plants are Good for us!

Alright, so I'm preaching to the converted, but did you know: A WSU study says that plants are good for us!

Many of us think we feel better in places with plants. Some suggest that this is just the placebo effect — if you think the presence of plants is healing, then you'll subconsciously make yourself better. What are the facts? Should you invest in plants as an investment in your health?

At Washington State University, they used double-blind studies to examine the impacts of plants. They documented the effects of interior plants on air quality, well-being, productivity and pain perception. And they also explored the impacts of trees on people's well-being and the impacts of childhood contact with nature on adult attitudes towards trees in urban spaces.

During the past two decades, researchers have documented many benefits from plants, including these:

Healthier indoor air. Plants reduce pollutants, such as formaldehyde and carbon monoxide. Plants can raise the relative humidity from levels below what is recommended for human health and building performance to levels within the recommended range. Dust accumulation on surfaces is also lower when plants are present.
Reduced stress. Blood pressure and muscle tension are lower when people are near plants, both indoors and outdoors. Stress is reduced when people have window views of plants and gardens. People performing stressful tasks recover from that stress more quickly and completely with plants in the room where they are working. Walking in gardens is particularly beneficial.
Better health. When stress is lower, stress-related illnesses including headaches and backaches are fewer. Improved air quality results in fewer respiratory and skin problems. Pain perception is also reduced when plants are present, so people feel better.
Improved productivity. Productivity on repetitive tasks is higher when performed with plants present. Even cognitive capacity has been shown to be higher in the presence of plants.
Reduced mental fatigue. Mental fatigue, which has become increasingly common with the constant intrusions from e-mail and cell phones, is lower when plants are present. People are more attentive when they are in environments with plants.
Enhanced moods. People are happier and feel friendlier when plants are present. They also are less sad when plants and trees are nearby.
Better employee morale. People recognize that putting plants in their workspaces and creating places to relax and exercise outdoors around plants show that their employers are concerned with their health and well-being. Satisfaction with spaces is higher when plants are present.
Reduced absenteeism. When employees are healthier, less stressed and happier, they take fewer sick days.
Less violence. Rates of physical violence are lower when people are in spaces with plants than when they are in stark surroundings.
Reduced energy costs. When plants are appropriately placed around buildings, both heating and cooling costs can be reduced. Proper plant placement can even reduce snow removal costs in cold climates!

Benefits such as these come from having interior plants and from landscaped areas outside. Green roofs with seating areas also contribute to these effects.
To get the most from the plants, they must be healthy and well-maintained. With all of these positives, why not try it?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Mila Ballerina

Mila: meaning "pleasant one" or "my beloved." A name well suited. My daughter, Mila, is now 3-1/2 years old, and she has graced me with a perfect, beautiful true love. Passion and love of life just oozes out of her. And one of her passions is dance. Most visitors to our home are gifted one of Mila's dances (usually accompanied by a special "dress-up" change of clothes; and the dance is usually a ballet interpretation performed with plenty of twists and hops and often with eyes closed as if she is rendering her gift of dance from somewhere deep within.

Mila is my shadow, and as such, she is rarely far away from me. We have our three musketeers a few hours a day during the week, but she has never gone to day care, and her circle of best friends is small. It is time, I thought, for her to ease into a more structured school format; and what better way for her than through dance?

For her very first class, she was attentive, and eager to learn. I was so proud of her!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Living Tiny

While searching for a playhouse for my daughter on Craig's List recently, I came across this posting:

Tiny House On Wheels - $34000 (rohnert pk / cotati)

Intrigued, I clicked to learn more. The husband and wife owners have lived in the home for over a year, and will now move into a larger home to start a family. The home's outside footprint is 7x18, and the owners describe it as follows:
"Custom, hand built, tiny house featuring true craftsmanship and recycled materials. Traditional cottage styling with contemporary accents. The compact but smartly designed space boasts seating area with two upholstered chairs and Dickinson Marine fireplace, kitchen with stainless steel refrigerator and cabinets from IKEA and a large sink, fold down eating table for two, walk-in closet/bathroom with toilet, sink and shower and an intimate sleeping loft accessible by a rope ladder. The seating area has a vaulted ceiling and feels spacious." This is what I saw.

A home has a soul which is lovingly revealed when the inhabitants no longer see it as a mere "house." Years ago, I fell in love with a book by Scott Russell Sanders called "Staying Put: Making a Home in a Restless World." Sanders' words come to me now as I try my hardest to dream up a way to make this tiny house a part of my family's story. "Real estate ads offer houses for sale, not homes. A house is a garment, easily put off or on, casually bought or sold: a home is skin. Merely change houses and you will be disoriented; change homes and you bleed. When the shell you live in has taken on the savor of your love, when your dwelling has become a taproot, then your house is a home." I am fortunate, my first house has surely become a home over the past ten years. I suspect that this tiny home did, too.

Wanting to learn yet more about the tiny house on wheels, I followed the photo links and This is what I found.

The Avesund’s “Hermitage’s Cabin”-- just big enough for one person and equipped for all seasons

Williams Cabin based in Durango, Colorado and featured in the latest Dwell magazine is one of Stephen Atkinsons minimalist projects.

The fuselage of a Horsa glider - the type used by airborne troops in World War II - is being converted into a home for a London businessman by Mr. Arthur Bedford, a building contractor at Southbourn, Bournemouth, Hampshire. The glider-home will have three rooms - a bedroom measuring 10 ft by 7 ft, a living room 15 ft by 7 ft, and a kitchenette 8 ft by 7 ft.

The tiny hand-hewn log cabin was once a children's playhouse and was relocated not far from Deep Creek Lake. It looks like it’s always been perched on its windswept ridge above rolling fields and forests.

Simon and Jasmine Saville built this unusual eco-house in Wales. This is not your transportable home but one built right into the land.

This little cob cabin was built by members of and cob cottage. Located in Mayne Island British Columbia, Canada.

I have long been offended by the incessant race to build bigger often at the expense of creating smarter through good design. So many beautiful old neighborhoods have been scarred by individual owners wanting to enlarge. And we end up with 3-5' setbacks, windows hovering over neighbors' gardens, and a skewed architectural vernacular which almost always subtracts from the neighborhood's sense of place and consequent level of comfort. I am equally saddened by the increasing reality shows, which demean the concept of home, rendering it but a commodity to "turn," a sexy envelope, or a prize in a competition. For these reasons and more, I am heartened by this tiny voice urging us to live tiny: build with quality, respect the land and your materials, design smart, and lighten your footprint.

On 29 March, 2009, the Tiny Village blog was conceived at

The first post speaks of the mission:

"Americans from all over the country are joining us and
clammering for the same thing:

1. the ability to live in a small, affordable home without
breaking any laws in the process;
2. the opportunity to "park" that home on a small piece
of land;
3. to live with other like-minded people and maybe grow
some food together.

To paraphrase, we just want to live a little more simply.

These requests should not be complicated, but because of
the bloated housing industry, distorted municipal codes
and unnecessary zoning laws, they are incredibly difficult
for the average person to navigate.

It's hard for me to express how important I think this
project is. The numbers should speak for themselves: home
vacancy rates soar, tent cities are on the rise, more and
more people are living in and around the edge of poverty.

The Tiny House Village Network is 100 people strong today.
Let's make something of it! Please join us and help us on our
journey for a new era of affordable small housing."

Perhaps one day we may form a tiny village...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Container Gardening

We love container gardening. A few well-placed pots always add so much to a space. Yet when they're not well-placed, they end up looking like so much clutter. When placing pots for clients (or in our own gardens), we consider the following:
  • We plan out pot purchases as much as possible, noting how many pots to purchase and the locations where to site them.
  • In gardens which have views that open up all at once, we color coordinate the pots, and we don’t use too many types of pots. We stay with one to three types that coordinate well and match in styling.
  • We encourage clients: "Don’t be afraid to buy large!" And if we convince them, they’re always pleased with the effect. Even in small gardens, large pots are striking. Too many small pots of differing types of material and color just end up looking like clutter.
  • In gardens with many “rooms” and concealed views, we use pots to tell a story. They can be a centerpiece of a vignette. They can be used as fountains, or they can be placed in a planting bed to add height and interest. Some pots are so beautiful, they don’t even need to be planted!
  • When we plant pots, we typically like to use the "Thrillers, fillers and spillers" prototype. The thrillers are tall, often architectural plants usually placed in the center of the pot. Fillers are mid-sized and lower-sized often full or frilly plants. And spillers are placed at the pot's edge and are encouraged to drape down over the sides of the pot.
  • Pots can punctuate a garden style when planted in a similar style as the surrounding garden, or they can add flavors of a complimentary garden style such as large colorful pots placed around a pool and planted with tropicals when the surrounding garden is cottage style plantings.
  • Pots are fantastic for framing views. Striking pots with vertical elements always direct the eye.
  • In areas where planting is not practical, adding pots can create a lush beautiful space.For other tips on pot shopping, placement, and planting, contact us at to inquire about our pot shopping and planting service. You’ll be amazed at how much a few well placed pots can transform a garden!