Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I've designed my second book...

Alas it's not a gardening book. I'm hoping to eventually get to do another one of those (the Garden Walk Buffalo book was my first). I've got some ideas for a gardening book, but they'll have to wait until I have the time & resources to make that happen.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

This year's card

Every year, I design a Christmas card for family friends & clients. They're all based on traditions of Christmas. I've been referred to as the Cliff Claven of Christmas. And they're blatantly Christian -- no mamby-pamby "Seasons Greetings" here. Above is this year's card, extolling the tradition of Christmas ornaments. It features our own ornaments we buy as souvenirs when we travel throughout the year.

The process starts in October when my wife asks if I have any ideas for the card. It really starts after Thanksgiving when I sit down to work on it. It's always cut close, but they do get out before Christmas. Most of them anyway.

The cards have been collected by many friends & family and have become part of their Christmas decorations -- they bring them out every year. Each year, I tell myself this is the year I should get them printed up, in bulk, and sell them so others can send them out. This could be the year.

Below are some of the cards sent out over the years.

Last year's card was on the origin of the creche. This is our own creche, given to us as a wedding gift. Did you know, traditionally, a creche should be set up on the Sunday nearest November 30 each year, and taken down on February 2?

Probably never gave much thought to where the use of tinsel came from. It was a spider. This card had actual tinsel stapled inside. We found tinsel around the house for years after this card was assembled.

Our daughter was the model for this card with the Mexican-based legend of the Poinsettia. She doesn't look too Mexican, but she had sad & depressed nailed!

And Santa? A Greek-born (now part of Turkey) Saint - the patron saint of sailors, bakers, pawnbrokers, children, prisoners, shopkeepers and wolves. We can thank Coca Cola for the U.S.'s current incarnation of the Bishop of Myra.

The history of mistletoe at Christmas starts with pagan druids.

The first "Holiday Traditions" card I did. It held an actual candy cane. The three lines of red in a candy cane represent the Trinity.

This card, with the history of the Christmas tree, had a tree-shaped piece of paper embedded with seeds to plant.

One foretold Christ's greatness as a king, one foretold his divinity, the other, his human death. Do you know which is which? My wife put her foot down when I was trying to source frankincense & myrrh to put into cards two weeks before Christmas that year.

A pre-Christian German tradition. Different evergreens on a wreath have different meanings.

In medieval times, bells were rung during the longest night of the year to ward off evil spirits.

The wise men were rabbis and astronomers. This card had a rhinestone glued to the cover.

The history of the stocking deals with death, despair and loss of worldly goods. We can blame the Dutch for this tradition. The stocking used on the card was one made for our daughter, by a friend, the year she was born

Ever wonder how the birthday of the Son of God (December 25) was decided? It was a manipulative Catholic ploy to co-opt the holidays of other religions, in this case, Persia's followers of Mithra, the god of sun.

Sent out just after Christmas one year, this New Years card listed toasts from around the world - 69 of them! The tradition goes back to the medieval tendency of nobles to kill each other by poisoning wine.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Where do I get me one of these?

Walking around Disney’s Animal Kingdom we ran across about a dozen people staring into a tree. At first glance we wondered what the deal was, only thing we saw was a vine. Then it moved. It was a vine suit on a “performance artist.” She would be motionless for minutes at a time, then shift subtly. Sorta freaky. Sorta cool.

This is a favorite old post, created before I was on Blogger. I repeat it here to save & catalog it on this new site. Sorry if you've read it before.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009 Garden Walk mention

A glowing article about Garden Walk Buffalo, entitled Buffalo dreamin' can be found on The website. Writer Andrew Sprung, subbing for writer Andrew Sullivan's column, praises Garden Walk Buffalo with comments such as:

"Buffalo has become a site of the triumph of imagination over physical reality in two ways that have caught my heart. The first is the inkpool spread of neighborhoods that have gone mad with gardening. Really. Gardening, like happiness and obesity, is contagious, and urban pioneers on the West Side have inspired neighbors to garden and so attracted new urban pioneers."

"The movement has been driven in large part by the mind-blowing Buffalo Garden Walk, America's best event of its kind, held the last weekend in July."

He even goes on add that, in addition to Japanese- and English-style gardens, we have a new category - a Buffalo-style garden:

"...what I would call Buffalo gardens - eclectic, funky mixes in which found objects and exotic-looking surrounding rooftops figure prominently. "

"There's a miniaturist intensity to many of the small back-yard enclosures. But Buffalo's also got a fair amount of open space, and some entries are more like small parks."

The link to the article can be found here:

A slide show of his own making can be found here:

Monday, December 14, 2009

National Historic Trust park system's care in jeopardy

Okay, so it's a little too late to go to the Rally mentioned in the video (that was yesterday), but tomorrow there's a Buffalo Common Council Finance Committee meeting (Tuesday, December 15, 10 a.m. in council chambers, 13th floor of City Hall) open to the public -- and the Olmsted situation will be on the agenda.

Other things that can be done:

Sign the Olmsted petition!

Call the Mayor's office and voice your concern. Call 311, or 716.851.4841.

Email the Mayor at

Write letters to the media endorsing the Conservancy's work and sharing park memories.

As more proof that the mayor's letting the clock (and funding) run out on the Conservancy, here's a link to the City's website where they're asking for group that utilize the park to "register" with the city, rather than working with the Conservancy for this information. Visit:

The Conservancy may have to start laying off employees as soon as this week, with no contract and funding in place for January 1. I just can't understand how our mayor cannot pick up the phone and deal with one of the nation's leading park system managers.

And, if all appearances are true, how can he drop the Conservancy and the $8 million they've raised in the last five years to help maintain the parks (matching what the City & County have contributed). Isn't it financial mismanagement? Dereliction of duty? Is due diligence being set aside? What happens when there is willful disregard for cost savings? How can a mayor make decisions with such an impact on the city budget? Are there not checks and balances? I guess well find out more at tomorrow's meeting...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Mr. Mayor, what the hell are you doing?

Mr. Mayor,

Back in September, you announced that, at the end of Erie County's five-year take-over of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks on December 31, 2009, that the City wanted the responsibility back. In 2004, the County had placed the day-to-day management of the Olmsted Parks, Parkways and Circles into the hands of the non-profit group, The Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy.

Since that time, The Conservancy has not only maintained the parks, parkways and circles, but have vastly enhanced them, reconstructed lost aspects, and has a master plan to restore gardens and structures to more closely match Frederic Law Olmsted & Calvert Vaux's original plan.

They were the first non-profit in the nation to manage a park system. Other cities look to the Conservancy as a model of how public/private park management can work. When people from outside our region look in and see what is right in our community -- The Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy is chief among them.

They have done a nation-wide search and found a leader in Thomas Herrera-Mishler. He's a professional Landscape Architect/Planner/Urban Designer with experience running the Toledo Botanical Garden, and has led a state-wide, non-profit horticultural society. He has experience in management, operations, budget & finance, fundraising, programming, education, strategic planning, board development, public relations, and partnership building. I have yet to meet him, but I'm told he also has a vision of restoring aspects and structures of Calvert Vaux's design. With goals of rejuvenating the Rose garden reached and Japanese gardens almost in reach, he's a leader with vision -- and the will & skills to make them happen. Folks with his experience don't come around too often. He should be on your team.

The Conservancy has put in place professionals that solicit annual memberships, grants, corporate partners, donations and organize creative fundraisers -- matching the $8 million spent by the County & City since 2004. Their board alone has given over $1 million. Do you have the staff in place to keep this going?

They have hired other specialists to take care of the parks -- landscape architects, a tree-care specialist, program coordinators, a rental & volunteer coordinators, and managers for golf operations and fundraising -- and in the process have revolutionized how park systems can be managed through Zone Gardening, utilizing a community-based advisory council, developing a 20-year master plan and more. Do you have the innovative & enthusiastic staff to keep these and other new initiatives going?

Constructed in the 1870s, these six parks, eight parkways, nine traffic circles and seven smaller spaces, were the first of their kind in the nation and represent one of Olmsted's largest bodies of work. They are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Olmsted's inspiration for their design included England's Stourhead and Paris' boulevards, parks, squares and gardens. The parks have been in gradual decline since their construction under the City's care -- a highway slicing through one park, eliminating a boulevard & parkway for a below-grade highway, circles eliminated, portions of parks taken away, ponds & streams left to dumping, structures razed, fountains that didn't work, overgrown & dangerous pathways, services closed (boating, skating, etc.), graffitti-ridden buildings. One ticked-off Parks Commissioner ordered barrels of salt dumped into a park lake years ago. Still tremendous assets for Buffalo, but far from their former beauty & intended purpose. Only the Olmsted Parks Conservancy has started to reverse the decline in the past 133 years. Some aspects of the original design will be gone forever.

I understand completely the City's need to review The Conservancy's contract. It's smart (and the law) to do so. The Conservancy, as any other group, should have to meet the City's standards as set by the city charter, codes and contracts.

As The Conservancy's contract now stands, they are to continue to operate one year into the City's takeover of the parks - through 2010.

At first, it was stated the Conservancy needed to satisfy diversity hiring goals (turns out 40% of their employees are minority) and adhere to residency requirement rules (turns out 68% live in the city, even though they have been county-funded for the past five years and that hadn't been a requirement).

After those were satisfied, the new issue is insisting the Conservancy comply with a living wage provision, equipment needs and inflationary riders, yet you are unwilling to provide them with the means to resolve these issues.

But there had to have been agreement as of last week in order for the Conservancy to operate into next year. No contract has been arranged. No negotiating has taken place. No meetings have been held. No phone calls have been returned. As it stands now, an emergency meeting of the Conservancy has to be held this week to determine what employees have to be fired first, two weeks before Christmas. They will not have a budget for salaries as of January 1, 2010.

Your spokesman has said, "...that negotiations with the Conservancy were continuing." But there haven't been any. You have been negotiating with the county to take over 50 parks employees and negotiating with unions on their contracts.

You have proposed to the City Council to create an $85,000 a year position of "Deputy Parks Commissioner," but have yet to respond to the Council's questions about the position. So that's on hold too.

The majority of citizens want the Conservancy to stay put. The majority of the City Council wants them to stay put. Your opposing mayoral candidates, in three years, will have the rallying cry of, "Remember the Olmsted Parks fiasco?" Who is advising you on this issue? The unions? They're not looking after your back.

The lack of communication with the Conservancy reeks of ineptness, ignorance, incompetence and -- if not those -- deceit. It certainly doesn't seem like there's a plan where all the partners are clear on what the goals are and everyone heading in the same direction, resolving issues, with transparency.

As the president of Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest garden tour in the country, I am more than aware of the value of our Olmsted Parks as both a quality of life benefit and as a a tourism draw. It is an asset any city in the nation would envy. Having the right stewards in place to keep, improve and restore one of the city's most valuable assets is just good business.

The Conservancy is that steward. The City of Buffalo neither has the reputation, capability nor history of being diligent and progressive stewards of the Parks. Whatever you're planning (because it's not clear), The Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy should be your partner in stewardship. Pick up the phone and give them a call Mr. Mayor. The number is 838.1249. Ask for Thomas. He's waiting by the phone.


Friday, December 4, 2009

My first garden group presentation sucked


It was a fiasco. I'm totally incompatible with the Greater Rochester Perennial Society. Not only was my MacPro laptop incompatible with the projector (You'd think a bunch of gardeners would use Apples...), but I prepared the presentation in an Apple software - Keynote. It's Apple's version of Powerpoint. Well, between these two issues, I was not able to project the slideshow I'd worked on feverishly for two days onto the screen.

Despite valiant attempts by my Rochester friend, Pat P.,-- with trips to a hardware rental place (closed), a Bestbuy (couldn't help), and an Apple Store (bought an adapting cable, but it didn't work) -- I ended up setting up my laptop on a cart and using that to talk about Garden Walk Buffalo in front of around 50 members of the group. Gardeners tend to be pleasant, generous accommodating and patient souls. Well, except for me.

Once I got going and was able to tell some of the stories of some of the gardens, point out some of the unique gardens of Buffalo and was able to answer some questions, it all went well. Just without the impressive visuals. Most of the photos in the presentation were shot by Don Zinteck and really were of a great quality.

Afterwards, while they were trying to make me feel better about botching up their meeting, they said I did a good job, that I was entertaining, funny and informative. They said they usually have speakers talking about plants with bad photos and that it was good to have someone talk about the plant settings and the other aspects of gardening -- architecture, art and garden design ideas. And even small visuals of great quality were better than big visuals of poor quality.

A handful of attendees had been on the Walk and I think many more will attend this coming year. It's an easy day trip for Rochesterians (about an hour-and-a-half by car). The biggest issue may be their big plant swap, which happens the Sunday of Garden Walk Buffalo this coming year.

I raffled off a Garden Walk book. So I know at least one person in the room was grateful I had attended.

There was a small honorarium, and I would love to come back and do it again for the group at no charge, I feel like they only got to hear me talk, which is not worth the money the attendees spent on gas to get there. At the very least, you'll be able to see the presentation above in video form. Though now you get to see it without the benefit of my off-the-cuff talk, which was apparently entertaining and funny -- if I wasn't lied to.

If only one thing showed me it was a success, it was the three people that came up to me afterwards asking if I knew of any good hotels to stay in for the Walk. My recommendation is always Embassy Suites in the Avant Building. Not only are they a Garden Walk Sponsor, and the hotel that will accommodate the Garden Bloggers during next summer's meet-up, but they have some of the best views of the city, look over some Garden Walk Gardens and are basically across the street from one of our three headquarters during the Walk. Oh, and free internet access, breakfasts and happy hours.

Thank you Laurie B. for inviting me. Lesson learned -- get a hold of my own projector and not be dependent on the hardware generosities of others.


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