Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Ruben-esque Garden


On Wapper Street, Antwerp, Belgium, Peter Paul Rubens' home (Rubenshuis) is open as a museum. When he bought the house in 1660, after having lived in Italy for a spell, he added a palazzo to the already Italianate-style house. The house and garden were restored, after 1937, using engravings made between 1684-92. It is an enclosed renaissance garden, with straight walks and parterres bounded by yew hedges.

Left: The arbor.

Rubens was a knighted (by both England & Spain) diplomat and traveled throughout Europe - most notably living in Italy for a spell and spending much time in France and England. Along the way he collected everything from statuary, paintings - and plants!

Right: The parterre.

The garden has many structural features, like fencing, arbors, fountains, pergola and a pavilion all surrounded by Italian poplars. The garden is not the exact replica of what Rubens had. From what I can tell, it seems to be an educated guess based on gardens of the time and from Rubens etchings and one painting in particular of he and his wife called, Garden Walk (I'm not makin' that up!).

Left: The pavilion.

In 2001, for the first time ever, cultivated plants that were correct for the Rubens period were planted: the carnation (Dianthus plumarius) "Rubens Palet" and 10 historic selections of the Andes potato (Solanum tuberosum ssp. andygena), an ornamental potato introduced in Europe by the end of the 16th century. Yes, he was among the first to bring the potato (as an ornamental plant) to Europe.

The Garden Walk, Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1630. That is Rubens at 51 and his 16-year-0ld bride and his son from his previous marriage walking in his own garden. You can see the pavilion on the left and a gate leading into a section of the garden. Much of the garden was restored based on this image.

The garden seemed like it needed some TLC when we were there. Although it was fall when we were there, I had higher expectations.




The cattail-inspired fountain.










The outside of the house, facing Wapper Street.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

An outdoor watercolorist gets his $30 million dollar due



That would be artist Charles Burchfield (1893-1967). Originally from Ashtabula, OH, and a graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Art, Burchfield moved to Buffalo in 1921 to illustrate wall paper designs. All the while creating watercolor paintings described: "In them, flowers had faces, trees gesticulated and corn stalks danced."

This weekend, the $30 million dollar Burchfield Penney Art Center (no hyphen now!) opened. It's the first new museum building in Buffalo in 100 years. And boy, is it spectacular. I was there, along with more than 3,000 others on Friday night for its grand opening. I have to say, it gave me chills walking into some of the gallery spaces. Especially the images to the right, and below, as you enter the grand main gallery space. This garden arbor work is one of the many colossal pieces in their collection they've never previously been able to display.

Left: mural of an arbor by artist Russell Drisch. 50’ x 17’ feet. Yeah, it's big. It swallows you whole.

The Art Center is dedicated to the art and vision of Burchfield and distinguished artists of Buffalo-Niagara and Western New York State.

Artists represented in the museum's collection include Elbert Hubbard, Gustav Stickley, Cindy Sherman, Robert Mangold, Les Krims, Frank Lloyd Wright, Wendle Castle, Al Paley, Edward Hopper, Bruce Kurland, Edwin Dickinson, Susan Rothenberg, Joseph Piccillo, Robert Longo, Alberto Rey, and Paul Sharits among others. All hail from, or have a connection to, Buffalo or Western New York.

The Charles Burchfield Center at Buffalo State College (my Alma mater) opened in 1966 in the already cramped quarters on the third floor of a campus building that was never intended to be an art museum. The photo above shows the new facade with their old location in the background–a Buffalo State College building designed to look like Philadelphia's Independence Hall.Between 1991 and 1994, philanthropist Charles Rand Penney donated more than 1,300 works of art by Western New York artists, including 183 Burchfield paintings, prompting the name change to the Burchfield-Penney Art Center.

Right: One of its most important Burchfield paintings, Fireflies and Lightning, previously owned by Julie Andrews and Blake Edwards was acquired at great cost ($300,000) and dramatically, at Sotheby's in 1998.

The Burchfield Penney is the first art museum in New York state to be certified by the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. Slated for silver certification, the museum is designed to meet rigorous standards in the areas of site sustainability, water use and efficiency, reduced use of energy and atmospheric impact, use of materials and resources, improved indoor air quality and innovation and design process. In addition to LEED recognition, the museum will be a participant in the New York EnergySmart New Construction Program, meeting state standards to reduce energy usage and consumption.

Left: Charles E. Burchfield, Wind-Blown Asters, 1951. Watercolor and graphite on joined paper mounted on board, 40"x 30" Collection of the Burchfield Penney Art Center; Gift of Dr. Edna M. Lindemann, 1968.

Click here to see a live view of the new museum. It had a 31-hour straight opening this past weekend.

Directly across the street is the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, which has the one of the greatest collections of international contemporary art in the U.S. Its collection contains not only works by artists such as Matisse, Picasso, Van Gogh, Gauguin and their ilk, but many works are signature pieces from these artists. And that's just the old guys. The collection also exhibits and collects work by up-to-the-minute current modern artists. Only the Museum of Modern Art in NYC has a better collection of contemporary art.

Right: Charles E. Burchfield, Early Spring, 1966-1967. Watercolor, charcoal and white chalk on joined paper mounted on board, 42 x 37-1/8 inches. Collection of the Burchfield Penney Art Center, The Charles Rand Penney Collection of Works by Charles E. Burchfield at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, Buffalo State College, 1994

And not to be outdone, within shouting distance is the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society. The only building left from the Pan American Exposition of 1901 (the rest of the buildings were not permanent structures). If you know your history, you know that this is where President McKinley was shot. (McKinley later died just up the street and around the corner from my house.) The gun that was used to shoot McKinley is in the museum's collection along with many other significant artifacts from U.S. and local history. (Even pieces of Grover Cleveland's wedding cake). In front of the historical museum is Delaware Park's Japanese garden. A 1974 gift from our sister city of Kanazawa, Japan. We had our wedding photos taken there.

Left: Burchfield's art studio, from his home, recreated in a permanent space in the new museum.

Back to the Burchfield though. Designed by NYC architectural firm Gwathmey Siegel, (also designers of the NYC Guggenheim addition) the building is all about the art. There are immense galleries and intimate spaces. (The largest gallery has lights embedded in the ceiling configured to mimic the constellations of Orion and Taurus, which Burchfield often referenced.) There's a gallery just for media arts that includes unimaginably (right now) infinite options for multi-media artists, including an adjustable-height ceiling. There is a "Useum" for young kids, a circular gallery space designed for the exhibition of Burchfield's seasons paintings (as he intended them to be viewed), a 150-seat state-of-the-art theater, large common areas and a conference room for meetings & events, second-floor gallery overlooks offering other perspectives of large-format works, offices for staff, space for Buffalo State College's nationally-renowned art conservancy program and the obligatory gift shop and gallery cafe. And I'm sure I'm leaving even more out.

Well-represent in the Burchfield Penny collection is internationally-renowned social documentary photographer Milton Rogovin (b.1909 - he turns 99 next month!). The collection includes about 150 photographs with selections from all of Rogovin's major series, including the Triptychs series, in which he photographed the same subjects over a 30-year span. To the right is a Rogovin print from one of his triptychs. This print belongs to me and hangs in my house, before that, it hung in the Getty Museum's first photography exhibit after it was opened. Milton gave it to me.

This is just what they have on site. They also have exhibitions in many local corporate headquarters and the Roswell Park Cancer Institute. Also, in their old building, the 1882 dining room and library of the McKim Meade & White-designed Metcalfe house (demolished in 1980) is reconstructed so you can walk around in them. The staircase from this house has been on display for more than 20 years in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

GARDEN BLOG READERS SIDE NOTE: Elizabeth's (of Garden Rant and Gardening While Intoxicated) husband, Alan, was part of the 31-hour grand opening with a performance of his work, Digital Fiction, a collection of stories created expressly for viewing on the web, using text, images, audio and video where users can interact and sometimes participate.

Elizabeth has posted about the new museum and Charles Burchfield
here. She's a past curator, critical art essayist, art reviewer and the editor of a widely-read local arts & leisure magazine. Her post has fewer grammatical errors and better use of punctuation.


Burchfield was a chronicler of the outdoors–primarily painting landscapes of forests & fields around his home. The woods where he formerly lived are now the Charles E. Burchfield Nature and Art Center with 29 acres of nature trails and woods, wild and cultivated gardens and sculpture, situated on the banks of Buffalo Creek. One garden is designed using plants Burchfield often painted. They host adult and children’s art classes, art exhibitions, free summer concerts and special events. I would venture to guess no other watercolor artist has left such a legacy.

In short, this is the kind of museum every city would wish to have. And across the street is an art gallery any nation would wish to have. Add to all this our collection of some of the best examples of American architecture in the country and our Frederic Law Olmsted-designed parks and parkways. These are all in the area of Garden Walk Buffalo. You can see these as you tour our more than 300 gardens, each a personal work of art in themselves, much like your garden is.

So now, when I invite you all to come to Buffalo for Garden Walk Buffalo this year (July 26 and 27, 2009, mark it down!), you'll have so busy a weekend you'll need to come back again and again.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Have we gone too far?



Found this online:

"Botanicalls Internet-Enable your Houseplant There’s a school of thought that says that plants, like higher animals, have thoughts and feelings. They have an inner voice, and can tell you their life-stories, if only you could speak "plant." It’s not a difficult language to learn, actually - there are only a few words to contend with, since all they seem to care about is how much water they’re getting.

There are no masculine or feminine nouns. Plus, there are no verb tenses, because plants have no concept of linear time.
The original breakthrough was made just a few months ago when the chief scientist at CERN, attempting to converse with a patch of catnip translated through their Milliard Gargantubrain computer, was able to discern "I CAN HAZ TWITTER?"

The scientist didn’t quite understand that gibberish, but his granddaughter did, and the Plant Twitter Kit was born. Once the kit is assembled, connect it to the Internet through the built-in ethernet jack, jam the leads into the plant’s soil, and subscribe to the plant’s twitter feed. It will tell you when it needs watering, or scold you if you’ve overwatered it, and report its status in between. The DIY Plant Twitter Kit comes unassembled, so you’ll have to break out the soldering iron and get to work. Don’t worry, it’s not that difficult to put together, and the satisfaction you get from building your own translation circuit is huge."

Buy it for only $100 Soldering iron sold separately.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Indoor-Outdoor: Carpeting the house with plants


The last three weeks has been the slow labor of dragging the potted plants indoors–scratching floors, dropping leaves and leaving trails of disgusting, plant-tray water.

I don't have tons of plants that summer outdoors, but what I have are good-sized suckers. Above is the hibiscus–a donation from a friend. The photo is deceitful–this is the only flower on the entire 8' tall plant that has about 1/16th of its leaves. And the ones that are there, are yellow. The above also photo satisfies my obligatory November Garden Bloggers Bloom Day post.

To the left are the two ficus. They're both planted in large crocks picked up at estate sales. The tree in the foreground is the son of the one in the background. I planted a branch of the store-bought father with some rooting powder a few years ago and had more of an opportunity to encourage it to have a single trunk. Plant coasters are the only way to handle these bad boys. Father plant has seen better days. I need to do some extreme pruning and get him outside next summer. He stayed indoors this year. The comparison between father & son is shocking. You'd think he was adopted.

The next two are two neighbor plants, both huddled near one of the few windows that gets filtered light. The pencil plant was a cutting from a friend last year. It LOVED being outdoors and seems happy here.

The cactus was a going away gift from a photographer from the early '90s. He was staying, I was moving. My job had me take a position in Rochester, NY against my will, better judgment, and wife. Turned out to be short-lived–but the cactus lived on! It doesn't get lots of light but has been in this spot for seven years and doesn't complain. He stays inside during the summer, though next year I think he could use a summer away. The orange blob next to it are the Chinese lanterns brought indoors and dried from last years' garden.

Some of these plants I've had so long I don't remember where they came from. Maybe in my zeal, I brought in a few of my neighbor's plants over the years. Many have gotten too big for their pots and if they have they get bigger pots–or divided. So now I have two of most plants. This winter at some point I'll be dividing again. Then I'll have four of each, then, next year eight. When does it all end?

To the left is a pot that had some tropical-looking, store-bought plant in it. For a winter I kept throwing avocado pits in the dirt–straight from the avocado–no toothpicks in water for us. As you can see, the avocados (guacamole trees) are very healthy and happy and do much of their growth in the summer outdoors, overtaking the plant that was in the pot originally.

Hey–did you ever burn dried avocado leaves? I had some dead brown leaves on the floor last year and threw them in the fire place. My wife came downstairs asking what the hell I was doing. The house had filled with the very strong and very distinct smell of pot. I can't imagine what the neighborhood thought as the smell went up the chimney and outside for all to enjoy. Good times. Good times.

Does the fern sculpture to the left count? It was created by local artist Paul Gallo. I've had it for about seven years. I take that outdoors in the summer too. It is wonderfully rusty and will catch any fabric that comes within three inches of it. Outdoors it looks great mixed in with the live plants.

I do have one fake plant. My father-in-law hates the look of kitchen upper cabinets that do not go to the ceiling. It's sort of a joke, but for Christmas a few years back, he gave me the basket of plastic greenery. You can see it to the right, on the cupboard above the refrigerator. I've got to admit, it fills a hole.

I don't keep any plants on my second floor. I tried, but found I am extremely unreliable and irresponsible when it comes to watering–especially those farthest from a water source. Fortunately, I am acutely aware of my inadequacies.

This post was inspired by Elizabeth's post on Garden Rant, Behind Closed Doors. She's got a plant room in her house (hope it's near a source of water). And she's got an office of plants with a plant maintenance company on retainer. I don't have either of those luxuries. So I pick up dead leaves every day in every room.

Did you get all your plants in before the first frost? I lost one Swedish ivy this year (above). Laziness on my part.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Roman Holiday


Have you ever seen the Audrey Hepburn/Gregory Peck movie Roman Holiday? Peck’s character lives in a small apartment on the street in the photo above, Via Margutta, Rome. To the right, below, is the door to the actual address he mentions in the movie. No peeking in on this day. My wife's been by before and says there's a pretty courtyard inside. Of course, there're pretty courtyards behind every door in Rome.

I show this as a gardening destination in that the narrow street is beautifully planted from top to bottom with greenery. Considering there is no "earth" to plant in, it is impressively verdant. Climbers, drapers, overhanging trees and planters keep the street quiet and cooler than surrounding streets.

There are natural-spring, continuously-running fountains up and down the street for drinking water (left). This is not a "top" tourist destination - it's not listed in any tourism info we saw. It's not far from the Spanish Steps - so if you're planning a visit, it's worth a walk down this quiet street. There's no shops or restaurants here, so it's a welcome peaceful walk in a hustling bustling city.

Much of the film was shot nearby, including the sequence with Hepburn’s princess driving a scooter through the streets while Peck hangs on for dear life. There are also scenes of the two interacting near the Coliseum, the Trevi Fountain, and Castel San Angelo, a round fortress used by past popes.

In one scene, Peck and Hepburn visit the Bocca della Verita (Mouth of Truth). Peck tells Hepburn, while his hand is in the mouth, the Roman legend–if one tells a lie while one’s hand is in the mouth, the hand will be bitten off. Then he scares her by screaming and grabbing for his mangled hand. Don't worry, it's not mangled, it's a romantic comedy, not Saw VI. We watched the movie before we went and my daughter was scared out of her mind that her hand would be bitten. She didn't want to touch the thing. She must have something to hide.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Circle of Fire (and water)


Photo taken while driving, pardon my lack of composition & focus.

Buffalo is graced with a series of traffic circles designed by none other the grandaddy of landscape design, Frederic Law Olmsted. We are doubly blessed with the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, the caretaker of our Olmsted parks (six), parkways (eight) and circles (nine), one of his largest bodies of work (designed from 1868-1896).

Olmsted designed the circles and parkways so that within steps of each resident’s door you would enter a world of "sylvan beauty" on your way to a magnificent park. His words, not mine. I'm not sure what sylvan beauty is, but apparently, I've seen it.

The circle at the end of my street, Gates Circle, was originally just called "Chapin Place." It's named, appropriately I think, after Buffalo's first water commissioner. The circle was sited here because, supposedly, there is a natural geyser at this location originally called Jubilee Springs. The circle is the gateway to Buffalo's "Millionaires Row," Delaware Avenue–home to many large estates and mansions–and downtown Buffalo.

The circle is well planted for seasonal interest. The interest this season? Screamin' red burning bushes. In spring, the bushes are a great green backdrop for the screamin' red tulips that circle the circle. Hundreds of 'em. I'll have to get a shot next spring to share. I have no idea if these are the plantings Mr. Olmsted originally had planned for this circle, but it does look impressive.

Right now though? They're bright red and a traffic stopper (not really STOPPING traffic, although, it being a circle, the cars at least have to slow down). Even the yellow foliage of the trees helps to make the red scream more. I love traffic circles.

Having driven in almost every major country in Europe (and nearly 30 years in Buffalo), I appreciate their traffic-calming nature, time-saving ability, the conservation of fuel (NOT having to wait for traffic lights). Nothing annoys me more than to have to wait for a traffic light, late at night, when there are no other cars around, what a waste of time and gas. I also love a traffic circle's opportunity for aesthetic-pleasing creativity–lamps, fountains, plantings, trees and sculpture.

Having ridden a bike through the Place de la Concorde in Paris, during rush hour, on a Friday, I feel for bikers and pedestrians in traffic circles. They are NOT pedestrian-friendly. Fortunately, every 174th driver is friendly though. My biggest beef is people do not know how to drive in a roundabout / traffic circle / rotary. You have to yield to the traffic already in the circle. It's as simple as that. Well, unless you're driving in England–on the opposite side of the road, on the opposite side of the car – THEN traffic circles are panic-inducing.

Gates Circle is a major thoroughfare for our northern suburbs. We all benefit from the planning and care of this and our other circles.

We often walk to the circle and, risking life & limb, cross the street into the circle center - with stone benches, Beaux Art stone urns, pools and an awesome fountain. Cooling off in the fountain (by kids) was cracked down on a few years back, it's not designed or intended for playing around in. And with occasional bits of "refuse" floating in it, not particularly appetizing. 'Cept if you're a dog.

It's a nice place for patients, visitors and staff from the hospital across the street to sit a spell, relax, eat lunch, contemplate life, or yell on their cell phones and have a cigarette. I wonder how many people trying to walk cross the intersection ended up in the hospital.

There is a 10-story hospital (left in this architectural rendering) on the circle (lower left), slated to move in two years, as well as an upscale apartment building (right), a few big homes and businesses– and a 23-story glass residential tower of million-dollar condos (center) is to be built on one lot across from the circle, this is all at the end of my street. The neighborhood is generally excited about it, as long as some traffic and parking lot entrance concerns are met.

Olmsted designed Central Park & Prospect Parks, NYC; the Niagara Reservation, Niagara Falls, NY (the country's oldest state park); the Capital Mall, Washington, D.C. and the Emerald Necklace, Boston, MA; and Belle Island Park, Detroit, MI, among others. A past post that mentions an Olmsted-designed private property was on Shelburne Farms, Vermont.

Eventually I will get around to posting about each of our traffic circles - each are vastly different - some have statues, some have mature tees, some have monuments and others have light standards. All are creatively planted and well cared for.

Any world-class, well-planted, well-tended public spaces in your neighborhood?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Buffalo in Cleveland



Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, back in July, my house was shown in the Cleveland Plain Dealer in an article featuring Garden Walk Buffalo. Reporter Susan Glaser interviewed me by phone about the Walk. We had a nice conversation. Our local convention & visitors bureau set up the interview.

We had many people visit from the Cleveland area. The wife of one couple planning on making the trip out here from Cleveland called asking for directions. She said she read the article in the paper. At that point, I had not seen the article, or even knew it ran. I asked her what photos they used and she described my house!

We do have about 20 images on the Garden Walk website Press Room available in high resolution for media to use in promotion of the Walk. The photo of my house is just one of them. I was obviously pleased they chose mine.

The woman from Cleveland told me was a big fan of gardening and tours. She said she would bring a copy of the article to our house during the Walk, on that Saturday. I wasn't here at the time, but she had a nice conversation with my wife and dropped off two copies for us. Aren't gardeners just the nicest of people?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Get thee to a fishery



A couple weeks back we went for a quick visit to Rochester's Powder Mill Park Fish Hatchery. No intense gardening going on here, but it was kinda cool to spend some time with some Steelhead and brown trout, as well as some Chinook salmon. The trout grow up to 12 lbs., the salmon to 25 lbs. The tanks were divided by fish type and age.

This 1933 hatchery was originally owned by Monroe County to support local sport fishing. It's currently a non-profit organization that receives eggs from the state of New York and the fish are released each spring into Powder Mill Park and Irondequoit Creek.

There are 25 cent "bubble gum machines" of fish food that can be purchased to feed the fish. It's a great activity for kids. There were plenty of them running around. Much to our surprise, no kids fell in the tanks while we were there.

Just down the road from the hatchery, really just walking distance, is a private home locals call the Mushroom House (or Pod House, or Floating House). Designed by architect James Johnson and built in 1970, the house supposedly took its design inspiration from the stem of Queen Anne's Lace. It was featured in HGTV's Off Beat America TV show.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Oprah's Paradise Island Garden


Okay, so we didn't get that close, but you can imagine it's nice - it's on Paradise Island, how good does that sound?

We were "by" last week on a five-day cruise out of Miami. These two houses are Oprah's – on the left is her house, on the right, is her guest house. The locals joke the guest house is for her dogs. They're next to each other on Paradise Island in Nassau, the Bahamas.

Her immediate neighbors include Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan. Up the road a piece are Mick Jagger, Nicholas Cage (in Charlie Chaplin's old place) and the Atlantis Hotel.

Not much of a gardening post. But good for name dropping. I do think it would be interesting to see some celebrity gardens/backyards. Sometime in the future I'll post what I saw of the grounds of the Atlantis hotel.

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