Books you'll never actually read

HOLLY: [opening the door]
"Fred, darling. I'm so glad you could come."

FRED: [entering the apartment and handing her a slim book]
"I brought you a house present. Something for the bookcase"

"Oh, you're sweet."
[Taking the book, she places it upright on a bare shelf and pauses to admire it]
"Doesn't that look nice?
Give me a cigarette O.J."
Not that I'm the sort of person to endlessly quote from old movies...Ok, yes I am. 

When I see a book like Francesco Colonna's Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, posed in a living such as mine (above). I think about the preceding exchange from the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's. I've seen the 1999 English translation of this impenetrable 1499 work casually displayed on many a higher-toned coffee table than mine over the years, always as if the owner had just sat it down to answer the door. 

But does anyone actually read it?

For most, the book is appreciated for its fantastical woodcuts and unusual typesetting instead of its convoluted allegorical story line (the title is roughly translated as "Poliphili's Dream of Love and Strife"). Most importantly for gardeners, the eroticism and dreamlike imagery in the book is said by scholars to have influenced the design and decoration of Renaissance gardens such as Bomarzo and Villa d'Este.

Page through an online version of the extremely rare 1499 original here.

Above and below photographs: Bomarzo, also known as Villa Orsini, is in Viterbo, Italy near Rome. Photographs via The Courtauld Institute of Art

Starn Twins bamboo installation

Yesterday, The New York Times Magazine showed a large-scale bamboo installation (above) by the Starn Twins at Tallix Foundry in Beacon, NY. Rock climbers, under the direction of the twins, add and remove the poles of the freeform structure so that is always evolving and moves around the space. Read more about it on the New York Times website.

The installation will be open to visitors from May 15th to May 18th, 11am - 4pm. Contact info and directions are on their website.

More photographs and in-process shots and videos can be found on the Starns website here. An animated computer rendering can be found here.

It reminds me of the bamboo scaffolding used in construction projects in Asia (below).

Ceramicists—Part 1

I like ceramicists. In fact, sometimes I wonder if I unintentionally collect them. 

Maybe it's because they work with the earth, or perhaps it's because you can (sometimes) put flowers in objects that they make with their own hands. I have several potters or ceramicists, among my friends.

Pamela Sunday is one such friend. She makes sculptural objects that are inspired by nature. They remind me of cells, plankton and most all the work, below, of Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919), a 19th century artist and biologist.

Pamela has a studio in Brooklyn and if you're near the west side of Manhattan in the next few days, she is showing her work at the Architectural Digest Home Design Show March 26-29 at Pier 94 in a section called Made.

Two of our Pamela Sunday pieces. Sad to say that the sphere on the left broke during a move. However I think it's still really beautiful in its altered state.

Some of Pamela's latest sculptures

Questions answered

Chionanthus virginicus

This week, my New York Times Q and A features alternatives to ordinary spring-blooming trees. In it I suggest some natives.

Q. I want to plant a small flowering tree in a sunny spot in my garden this spring. There are already dogwoods, cherries, plums and redbuds in my neighborhood. Can you suggest a few spring-blooming alternatives?

Spring Glory at Wave Hill

Click photographs to enlarge

How many photographs of chionodoxa (glory-of-the-snow) does a person need? I need a lot evidently. 

I spent almost two hours early this morning [thank you Marilyn!] trying to capture shots of the fleeting beauties at Wave Hill in the Bronx. They seem to grow with a recklessness there like I've never seen anywhere else. They sprout up all over—on the woodland hillside, in the grass, in the pumpkin patch, in the cracks between the stones. I half expected to find some cheerfully sprouting in my sneakers when I got back home.

Reportedly all these bulbs came from one planting of Chionodoxa sardensis that were planted years ago by Marco Polo Stufano, the garden's first Director of Horticulture. The descendants of that original group most likely have been disseminated around the garden via the scattering of their seed in leaf mulch, by the work of busy squirrels, or both.

Some might call these natives of the eastern Mediterranean weedy. Oh, but only if weeds gave so much beauty so early in the year, then quietly disappeared, without causing any trouble for the rest of the season. I have some at my house upstate, but though I love them, they don't make nearly such a huge display as here. Maybe it's the prime Hudson-view real estate at Wave Hill that inspires them to put on their best show. 

Don't miss a visit to see the glory-of-the-snow in their full glory for at least this week (if nota bit longer). I waited 20 years to make a visit at the appropriate time to catch them and I'm so glad I didn't wait any longer.

"These are not bulbs to be cherished as individual flowers, but they rate a doxology when planted in quantity." —Elizabeth Lawrence, The Little Bulbs

Modern day plant hunters

Explorers aren't just the adventurers of a bygone age. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden has set up an inspiring new blog diary revealing what they say is the first botanical survey in over fifty years of the three main islands of the Louisiade Archipelago off the southeastern part of Papua New Guinea. 

Starting in February, Dr. Susan Pell (below), a molecular plant systematist and lab manager at the BBG lead a team for five weeks to study the DNA and evolutionary relationships of the Milne Bay flora, specifically members of the cashew family.

Congratulations to the BBG for using new technologies to bring the trip to life for all of us. Still there were issues because of the isolated location. A member of the BBG staff here in New York laboriously transcribed Dr. Pell's sometimes technology-garbled satellite telephone calls from the deepest reaches of the rainy forests and savannas to create the web postings. 

See a tracking map that shows you where the research team traveled.

Visit the site to see descriptions and many more photographs (especially the more evocative ones of leeches and grotty  jungle feet).

Someone doesn't like pretty flowers

What animal did this? Is it a mole? Or a vole? Or a gopher? The rut is about an 1 1/2 inch wide and a couple of inches deep in my front yard upstate. Whoever it is, I imagine them quite satisfied in their underground lair watching TV and snacking on a big bowl of muscari and crocus. 

I'll only know how many he or she took in a couple of weeks when things start to come up.

I should feel lucky it wasn't one of these.

I [heart] Michelle

I think my grandparents, seen above thigh-high in wheat on their North Texas farm in the 1940s, would have been proud of a First Lady of the United States installing a vegetable garden at the White House. As you probably have read by now, the last time this happened was when my other favorite first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, put a Victory Garden on the South Lawn. See the new garden's plan from the New York Times below. Evidently the whole family, including the President, will work in their front yard garden, yielding not just organic produce for a select few but also photo-ops for thousands.

Perhaps a new age of gardening is on the horizon?

Spring Weekend Playlist

Listen to "Cello Song" by The Books featuring Jose Gonzalez
[Buy it
Thank you Lucy
[Buy it here]