Nectaroscordum siculum

Garden Designers Roundtable: Plants, Memory and Dance

I have reached an age when I am able to stitch together seemingly disparate memories into a fluid life’s story. The ability to see, the kind of sight gained through years of training, observation and memory, is what leads me to connect plants to memory. They are visual cues to the young girl whose book Let’s Imagine took dancing feet to far off and exotic places just by closing my eyes. Since a very young age I have had a fascination with Fred Astaire’s dance and style. Like so many young girls I wanted to be a ballerina. I still tap my gypsy feet to the slightest beat and have spent many, many solo hours on a crowded club dance floor lost in a my own world of sound and movement. My lifelong mantra has been “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.” (Thank-you Kurt Vonnegut.)

This dancing, swirling memory trail leads me back to plants. When I see maple samara twirling down from branches above, I think corps de ballet. When I see a grove of  leaning, gnarled trees I think of dancers and want to be among them. It’s a palpable, visceral feeling of memory and imagination. So, indulge me and let’s play Let’s Imagine.

Read the clue in each image’s caption and then close your eyes and imagine the most beautiful dancers you’ve ever seen.  Yes, plants even rooted in the ground as they are, do dance…

Nectaroscordum siculum
Pas de deux
Cercis canadensis 'The Rising Sun'
Blue Agave
American Beech

For more memorable dance partners, try these Garden Designer’s Roundtable posts:

Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA
Deborah Silver : Dirt Simple : Detroit, MI
Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA
Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO
Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK
Mary Gallagher Gray : Black Walnut Dispatch : Washington, D.C.
Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In The Garden : Los Altos, CA
Rochelle Greayer:  Studio ‘g’ : Harvard, MA
Susan Morrison : Blue Planet Garden Blog : East Bay, CA
Thomas Rainer : Grounded Design : Washington, D.C.

Garden in New Orleans

Postcard from New Orleans

I’m in New Orleans for the first time.  I’m representing APLD as well as speaking at the International Pool, Spa and Patio Expo.  I took the morning to walk around the Garden District for a few hours before setting up shop in the convention center.

The Uptown neighborhood is served by trolley and has varying architecture, mostly dating from the 19th century. Greek Revival and a regional Victorian style, the Raised Center Hall Villa, are the predominant architectural styles. There is a specific regional style to the gardens in the district.  One of the most obvious is the layering of clipped dwarf shrubs.  Foliage texture is used to great advantage.  It’s fall and just before winter Camellia season so not much was in bloom.  It was surprising to see camellias used as hedges.

Garden in New Orleans
Clipped and layered foliage texture
Layered planting in New Orleans
Layered and clipped

Iron work, one of the icons of New Orleans’ architectural details, is everywhere, with cast iron trumping forged work.  There are balconies, gates, fences and decorative grates punctuating just about every building and street.

Iron balcony New Orleans
Cast iron balcony
Ironwork Garden District in New Orleans
Cast and forged elements in a fence and gate

Houses have deep porches or shady courtyards to offer cooler places to be outside.  I’m sure that’s the respite from the heat and humidity is matter of degree in August and September.

Layered planting and ferns on a front porch
Front Porch with massive ferns
Shades on a front porch in New Orleans
Shades on a front porch in New Orleans

Perhaps the thing that was the most fascinating from a plant point of view was the Resurrection Ferns (Polypodium polypodioides) growing wild and freely on the live oaks.   Talk about vertical planting and urban greening…

Resurrection Ferns
Resurrection Ferns on a live oak

An Unanticipated Slowdown

You may have heard that we had a wee storm here earlier this week.  These images from the New York Times tell part of the story.   There is another one to tell.

Ten or twelve years ago, before the instantaneous world of WiFi and most smartphones, I spent a random hour after dinner on the world wide web on the one desktop computer we had at home.  Mostly I just played Tetris and chatted with designers on a landscape forum.

Flash flood forward to the aftermath of Sandy, I am without even that dial-up access and have to leave the house with electronics in hand.  I journey to be with others for a few hours who also have portable techno habits but no way to satisfy them at home.  The upside of all of this is that things that I put off so I could email, text or Tweet last week have moved forward to fill the void of time that the lack of instantaneous access has left.

I have mended everything in the ‘needs a button’ pile, cleaned my house, read a fantastic book (The Rules of Civility), read the actual newspaper (instead of on my iPad) and taken walks much longer than I did last week.  My neighborhood has come alive with people out on the street, neighbors talking to each other, and boys raising money for the Red Cross by selling brownies and hot coffee.

Yes, I’m writing this at the local Starbucks and am glad for the WiFi, the camaraderie and access to information.  I’m also sad that I know that as soon as all is restored we’ll go back to our frenetic need for instant gratification and too many hours in front of a screen.  The sense of community and neighborliness will once again disappear behind closed doors.