Dream Small

I often cheer people on and tell them to dream big. This works well in many instances, but not when you have a difficult planting area. I have a planting box on my north facing balcony. It gets too much sun in the summer, and no sun in the winter. I've tried many plants there and they all died or looked like I was purposely torturing them, "Damn you plant. Suffer, suffer!"

So I decided to follow advice I once heard on Strangers With Candy from Dr. Iris Puffybush, "Dreams are a great thing. But they take a lot of energy. But that's okay, there's a job waiting for you down the block that doesn't require a thought in your head, or hope in your heart. So come on down and work at the artificial flower factory. Why fight it?"

I went to Michaels and bought every artificial geranium in the store. This was brave, as the store was filled with zombie like people with tiny shopping carts mindlessly staring at glue options. I cut up some florists styrofoam and inserted my new flowers. Now I have a perfect planting box. In fact, I overheard a neighbor say, "Oh, look, that's so pretty. They're so healthy." And wonderfully, they'll be just as healthy six months from now.

Freestyle Swimming

I’m a pushover when it comes to biomorphic shapes. There’s something about a kidney shaped coffee table or a boomerang shaped desk that is miraculous to me. I have a swimming pool shaped like a rectangle with a bulge. If I could build a new pool, it would definitely be kidney shaped. Thomas Church’s design of the Donnell Garden, “El Novillero”, in Sonoma is a perfect example. He designed the garden and pool in 1948. This was right after the war, and the California economy was booming. As part of the idea of “California Living” Church created a space that merged indoor and outdoor, and created places to entertain, relax, and swim.

To be more analytical, the biomorphic forms incorporated forms from surrealism. Adaline Kent (1900-1957) created the sculpture in the center. She was a member of the group the West Coast Surrealists. The sculpture serves as a tiny island (for drinks I assume), and a focal point in the pool. The pool is remarkable, and spawned the thousands of kidney shaped pools across the country. Why they went out of style and people now prefer the fake rock and waterfall pools is beyond me.

Life without hard edges

Robert Burle Marx, Safra Bank roof garden, Sao Paulo 1982

I love working in the yard. One of my favorite activities is growing indigenous plant species, and working with my cacti. I’ve cleverly planted cacti along one edge of the pool as a special treat for anyone who dares to run at the pool.

Several years ago, I came across Roberto Burle Marx, the Brazilian landscape architect. Marx (not one of the famous brothers) was born in 1909 and studied in Germany during the Weimar Republic. He initially considered the Brazilian vegetation as scrub, but evolved to recognize its inherent beauty. His forms clearly are derived from a modernist sensibility, with a touch of the organic. Marx’s landscapes read like a Miro painting or Calder sculpture. The paving at the Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro echoes the forms of the waves and creates a wonderful sense of motion.

I was watching one of those design shows on HGTV yesterday. The owners of a new house insisted that the freeform palette shaped pool, clearly based on one of Marx’s forms be taken out and replaced with a rock/waterfall pool. I’m not one to talk back to the television, but I found myself doing that. “No, no, no, for the love of everything sacred, please no,” I found myself begging the hapless homeowners on the screen.

Roberto Burle Marx, Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro 1970

Robert Burle Marx, Cisneros Residence, Caracas 1980

Roberto Burle Marx, New York Botanical Garden

Roberto Burle Marx, Ibirapuera Park, Sao Paulo 1953

Roberto Burle Marx, Safra Bank, Sao Paulo 1982

Roberto Burle Marx, Ibirapuera Park, Sao Paulo 1953