Creating harmony, simplicity and peace in the landscape......

"Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help.

Gardening is an instrument of grace. "

May Sarton

Friday, April 15, 2011

Brooklyn Bridge Park Tour is April 21, 2011....sorry for typo

The Dreamy Brooklyn Bridge Park - April 21, 2011 Tour

I spent a part of my childhood living near Brooklyn Bridge...back then, us kids didn't venture down to the river even though our elementary school, P.S. 8,  was in its shadow. The neighborhood by the waterfront was sketchy, filled with abandoned piers, parking lots and dilapidated industrial buildings. I would go home to my little apartment and dream of trees and flowers.

Today, thanks to a lot of talented, committed  people, Brooklyn Bridge Park is a beautiful riverfront landscape dotted with rolling hills, promenades, playgrounds, bicycle paths  and restored marshlands. The view of lower Manhattan from the park is amazing... My dream has come true.

In the future, a total of 12 acres of paddling waters will be created for kayaks and  rowboats and there will be designated fishing areas and a marina.

 This summer, Jane’s Carousel will open, on the waterfront, housed in a Jean Nouvel pavilion.

The next phase of the park will include three large playing fields for soccer, field hockey, softball, cricket and football - as well as a picnic peninsula on Pier 5 (projected Summer 2012). Future phases include basketball courts, handball courts, an in-line hockey rink, and tennis courts.

 WOW WOW WOW...I guess I should have stayed in Brooklyn.


$10 Urban Green Members

$15 Non-members

$10 Students (must show valid ID at the door)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Healing Gardens, Sacred Gardens and Serenity Gardens = Remembering

Yesterday the sky was a leaden gray, with rain swollen clouds folding in on themselves. Like a gray meringue ceiling, shifting in long, slow waves, its undulating motion reminded me of the way our gardens constantly evolve, a quiet dynamism, unceasing. Always growing...

Ted's Stream Garden

Down here, on terra firma, we sometimes forget that we live among a swirling world of energy clothed within the forms of plants, stones, water and soil.

That is a shame because then we forget what a magical place the earth is and how we all share in its bounty. To elevate our awareness of this wondrous blue / green planet we can go to our gardens and ‘remember’ and reconnect with the source of all there is.

Alfred Savinelli eloquently writes about this in his fascinating book, ‘Plants of Power: Native American Ceremony and the Use of Sacred Plants"’:

“To bring our lives back into alignment with the cosmos, to reconnect with the source that deeply feeds us, to remember that life is but a dream and we are, collectively, its dreamers, requires vigilance. We must keep remembering.”

Marc and Rosemary's Sunset Border
‘Remembering’ means that we recognize “the spiritual aspect that lives within and behind all forms and structures that we take for granted” (Savinelli, p 6).

  • Native Americans and aborigines use ritual to remember their connection to the plant spirits and sky gods.
  • Churches and temples conduct ceremonies and prescribed rites to remember transcendent stories and events.
  • Buddhists and monasteries use chants and meditation to illuminate the unseen world around them.
Gardens, too, can be quiet places of spiritual ‘remembering’. That is where I go to hear the 'whoosh' of the universal engine. It is the heart of what I call a 'Serenity Garden'.

So through careful selection and judicious placement of walks, plants, water, rocks and features you can create a garden space that helps you and your visitors to remember...a place where all who enter can quiet their inner energy and see our mother earth a little differently.

A garden designed with intent and knowledge can “remake ordinary time and space into sacred time and space” (Savinelli p.6).

It is here, amongst pathways, pools of water and thriving plants,  that we can take a break from our everyday life and feel the aliveness and energy of this ‘dream’ that we all share.

Marc's amazing Roses

Once we become attuned to this energetic world we understand how a serenity garden is a place of refuge where ordinary time and space is elastic.  It harkens the solace of Nature and offers a chance to experience the 'stop time' moment.

As Lily Tomlin said, 'For fast acting relief, slow down'.

Friday, April 8, 2011

What this blog is really about - Divinity in the Garden

In this blog I aim to explore traditional approaches to landscape design, plants and earth tending and share them with you, the garden lover.

 I believe that now, at the dawn of the 21st century, we can learn a lot from these 'rediscoveries'.

It is my firm belief that the ancient ways and ideas can help us reconnect with the 'numinous dimension' of a garden.

And this, after all,  is where the enchantment that we are all seeking can be found....

Thursday, April 7, 2011

'Little Lime' Hydrangea

Limelight Hydrangeas in one of my landscapes - Jan Johnsen

I love the tall 'Limelight' Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight')  for its beautiful and reliable lime green flowers, easy growth and its easy care.
It is hardy to Zone 3 and thrives in full sun or partial shade. It makes both a wonderful cut flower and landscape plant.

Little Lime Hydrangea close up

Now there is a new dwarf form called 'Little Lime' from Proven Winners which grows in full sun or part shade. Its final height is 3-5’ tall and wide, about a third to half as big as Limelight.

These lime green flowers turn pinkish in late summer / early fall

This hydrangea blooms from midsummer to frost. Like its big sister, Little Lime’s flowers gradually change from lime-green to pink and make wonderful bouquets, fresh or dried.

It is especially charming as a container plant.

It will flower every year.  It will fit in any yard. It works well with most other plants in landscape designs. It will grow in full sun.

What's not to love?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

'A Pattern Language' by Christopher Alexander - #106 Positive Outdoor Space

illustration of Christopher Alexander's 'Positive Outdoor Space' by Matt Noiseux

One of the books I use in my Landscape Design Studio class in Columbia University is the classic, 'A Pattern Language' by Christopher Alexander. It offers 'patterns' as basic design templates for you to follow. 

These are principles of  design that are founded on common sense as much as anything else....Alexander says his design language  is based on human and natural considerations.....Adding to the delight it that they are numbered for easy reference in the book!  'Accesible Green' is # 60. 'Quiet Backs' is #59. 

One of the more elusive patterns is  #106 Positive Outdoor Space. It is a favorite of mine. It talks about manipulating outdoor space and refers to space as being 'negative' and 'positive'.

 Yin / Yang anyone?

The gist of this pattern says that there are two fundamentally different kinds of outdoor space: negative space and positive space.

Negative outdoor space is shapeless, the formless residue that surrounds buildings ....

aka  'empty space'...

Positive outdoor space has a distinct and definite shape -  its form is as important as the shapes of the buildings which surround it.

Just as the universal Yin Yang symbol illustrates the interrelation of positive and negative, so does great site design.

Make all the outdoor spaces which surround and lie between buildings positive.


Give each one some degree of enclosure; surround each space with wings of buildings, walls, trees, hedges, fences, arcades, and trellised walks,

until it becomes an entity with a positive quality and does not spill out indefinitely around corners.


portion of Hannah Warren's functional diagram...

'A Pattern Language' belongs in all designers' libraries.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Ecopsychology, Solastalgia, Biophilia and Serenity Gardens

Photo by Corbyrobert - Garden of the Gods

Big words for simple ideas: ecopsychology, solastalgia, biophilia....

Recently, “solastalgia” has appeared in various places like in an instrumental track called “Solastalgia,” released by the British duo Zero 7 and  it was the title of a 2008 album by Slovenian recording artist, Jukeen.

In 2010 The New York Times published a great article on this term by Daniel B. Smith (he holds the Critchlow Chair in English at the College of New Rochelle).  I took a lot of info from that article for this blog post.

Solastalgia is "A pain or discomfort caused by the present state of one’s home environment".

It is an emotional suffering felt by different people in different locations as the ongoing degradation of the environment continues apace.

It is a global condition affecting indigenous people and urban / industrial denizens alike. Solastalgia is what we feel when we become disconnected from our natural environment.....

“Solastalgia” has been used to describe the experiences of Inuit communities coping with the effects of rising temperatures

Bangladeshi subsistence farmers faced with changes in rainfall patterns

 and refugees returning to New Orleans after Katrina.

This concept is not new.  Ecopsychology -  “the relationship between environmental issues and mental health and well-being” - addresses this in detail.. Ecopsychology is taught at Oberlin College, Lewis & Clark College and the University of Wisconsin, among other institutions.

Why is this important to serenity garden lovers and designers?

Because the scientists are following our lead!

The vital link between well being and nature that is our calling is now being investigated by Ecopsychologists. They use words like 'solastalgia' and 'solasphilia' give talks and write scholarly articles on how nature makes us feel good.   

They say that their field’s roots are in traditions like Buddhism, Romanticism and Transcendentalism.

And these too are the philosophical roots of Serenity Gardening...Thoreau, Lao Tzu, et al.....

A great book.....

And don't forget the wide concept of 'biophilia', a hypothesis of the great biologist E. O. Wilson, who said in 1984 that human beings have an “innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes.” AMEN to that!

Dr. Edward O. Wilson

Over the past 25 years Wilson's ideas on 'biophilia' have inspired many scientific articles, books, conferences and the new E. O.Wilson Biophilia Center in northwest Florida.

The E.O. Wilson Center's Exhibit Hall

Yes, we gardeners focus on life and revel in its exquisite forms in the green world....
Serenity gardens sing praises to Mother Nature's effect on our wellbeing in a quiet way.  No scholarly words here...just the hum of the bees at work.
Ecopsychology is alive and well in my back yard when I am puttering there.

photo at Flikr by one2c900d