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 www.botanyofdesign.com.  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 (www.greenhour.org), 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.

Saturday, April 5, 2014


In our age of massive industrial production, surreal consumption, euphoric communication and fictitious digital environments, we continue to live in our bodies in the same way that we inhabit our houses, because we have sadly forgotten that we do not live in our bodies but are ourselves embodied constitutions.  Embodiment is not a secondary experience; the human existence is fundamentally an embodied condition.  Today, our senses and bodies are objects of ceaseless commercial manipulation and exploitation.  Physical beauty, strength, youth and virility are adored in the realms of social values, advertising and entertainment.  In case we fail to possess ideal physical qualities, our bodies are turned against us as causes of deep disappointment and guilt.  With ever-accelerating frequency, all our senses are exploited by consumer manipulation, yet at the same time these very same senses continue to be undervalued as prerequisites of our existential condition or as educational objectives.  Intellectually, we may well have philosophically rejected the Cartesian duality of body and mind, but the separation continues to rule in cultural, educational and social practices.

Human conscious is an embodied consciousness and we are connected with the world through our senses.  Our hands and entire body possess embodied skills and wisdom.
-Juhani Pallasmaa from The Thinking Hand

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Enchantment of Gaia and the Split Between Wild Earth and our Wild Natures

Oh, what a catastrophe, what a maiming of love when it was made a personal, merely personal feeling, taken away from the rising and the setting of the sun, and cut off from the magic connection of the solstice and equinox!  This is what is the matter with us, we are bleeding at the roots, because we are cut off from the earth and sun and stars, and love is a grinning mockery, because, poor blossom, we plucked it from it's stem on the tree of Life, and expected it to keep blooming in our civilized vase on the table.

-D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley's Lover

Friday, January 10, 2014

What Would you do if you Came Upon a Blue Tree?

Would you stop to wonder?  Could you just pass it by as you might any other tree?  Would you make a judgment about the rightness or wrongness of such a sight?  Would you smile?  Frown? 

I've not come across any blue trees near my home, but if one goes to Seattle, Sacramento, Houston, or about nine other public installation locations, you'll find them.   Sculptor and performance and installation artist, Konstantin Dimopoulos explains that he creates artworks that "are grounded in my sociological and humanist philosophies.  In my environmental installation, The Blue Trees,  the colour and the Tree come together to transform and affect each other; the colour changing the Tree into something surreal, something out of this world. While the Tree, rooted in this earth reflects what we may lose."

Think about it, Dimopoulos, has made the passerby stop when he would not otherwise have.  And she does think.  Yes, we have had our impact on the trees, and here it is obvious.  Elsewhere, we might not notice.  So, also in The Blue Trees installation, the trees, a part of the natural world, are impacted by humans, yet here Dimopoulos has given them a voice.  They call out to us to bring all trees to mind.  We are jarred out of our lackadaisical hypnosis, and we are compelled to know more.

And when enough people stop to question, we can no longer idly allow the decimation of our forests in a mass of anonymity.  We become accountable.  And in this step, I see Dimopoulos as having succeeded beautifully poetical in his artworks.

Dimopoulos tells us that he has "always known that art is and has always been an extended part of nature and that art can effect social change.  For that to happen one has to move out of the art institutions and galleries and move outside among nature and human beings in their living spaces."  I couldn't agree more!  To learn more visit http://www.kondimopoulos.com/thebluetrees/about/.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Hurray for the Trees!

An ancient tree is more than a beautiful plant, it is our wise teacher and guide.  Each of us can think of a moment when we felt a sense of being overcome with the beauty of an ancient tree upon entering the cathedral of an ancient forest.  The feeling grips us immediately; we are in awe.  So many of us then react by pulling out our cameras or cell phones and quickly posing ourselves or companions in front of these ancient creatures and snapping a few photos as we take a quick loop then move on to the next "attraction."  Not too many of us, linger, sit beneath our teacher and ask for some of it's wisdom.  If you do, I urge that you will be richly rewarded.

I have a friend who received a vision that God is a tree.  I am not disinclined to believe her.  Or perhaps, God is in everything, and if we take a moment to listen to the lessons of the ancients, we become closer to God.  After all, Adam and Eve dwelled in a garden and their lives and their fall from this original home are significantly intertwined with the tree-- the "tree of life", the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil."  Buddha receives his enlightenment sitting beneath the Bodhi Tree.  And the American Indians worship nature, traditionally living within, and not against, the natural rhythms of Nature.

I've stopped watching television.  It has been about five years now.  From time to time, when I visit a friend or family member, or I catch a glimpse of television at a public place, I am suddenly assaulted by the speed, the tone and the flashiness flickering across the screen.  It is not natural.  And it does not teach the lessons of the Ancients.  To me it is hollow, and hollowing.  I become discouraged, my thoughts distracted.  There is no Holy here.  There is no enlightenment.

The calendar tells us it is the beginning of a new year.  Yet winter still caries us through our natural little death until we are reborn in the spring.  For me, this is a time of finishing my resting, but anticipating the energy of rebirth.  I indulge my introspectiveness knowing that soon will be the time to follow through with the new year's rebirth.

This year, I would like to encourage you, all of my friends, to also indulge your own introspection and to turn to our ancient teachers, the lovely trees.  Go to a park such as in Big Sur or Big Basin, Grant Ranch or Sanborn.  Take a walk in your neighborhood.  Or go sit beneath the ancient tree in your own yard.  Touch it and, yes, speak to it.  Open up and it will communicate back!