31 May 2013

Green, part IV - A vertical garden

This may look like it just another lawn—a lawn that could be just about anywhere in the world for that matter—but it might come as a surprise that this particular patch of grass is actually growing on a wall.

As you walk (or drive, or take a bus) along the tree-lined & traffic-busy Viale Giovane Italia, at first you may notice that what appears to be someone's garden is spilling over the top of its wall. But as you draw closer, rectangles of varying shades & textures of green, not so random after all, begin to distinguish themselves.

As you come directly upon the tableaux of green, you will probably find yourself stopping to look skyward, and marveling at the arrangement of grass, herbs, ivy & other plants bringing the wall alive, then walking the full length—and back again—as you try to figure out how such a thing came to be...

Crossing over to the other side of the road, it's possible to get the full gist of what's happening on this crenelated wall; interspersed with metal panels, the composition of greenery reveals the geometry behind its design...

With its plethora of road signs, parked cars & a nearly non-stop flow of traffic, it wasn't easy to photograph this seventy-meter-long stretch of wall (which originally bound a convent, then a prison, and now a recently-transformed housing complex complemented by cultural/commercial activities). But these 'obstacles' did give me a chance to spend more time considering the garden from several vantage-points, and I also really enjoyed observing people's reactions to the unusual wall treatment.

I like the three-dimensional aspect, how the shadows (and some of the plants) extend below the rusty edges of the 'box' that contains the garden—not to mention the natural palette of rust that's formed in the few seasons since the vertical garden was a installed (seen in the quartet of images below). All in all, it's brought a rather inspiring, if fairly discrete, new landmark to keep an eye out for when in this part of Florence.



It's worth pointing out that this recent addition to Florence's landscape alludes to one of the patterns from Christopher Alexander's A Pattern Language—No. 246: Climbing Plants. While the carefully conceived, orchestrated & maintained design means it only loosely follows the premise set out by the pattern—that "A building finally becomes a part of its surroundings when the plants grow over parts of it as freely as they grow along the ground"—this vertical garden certainly captures the spirit of the pattern by helping to smooth the transition between built form & nature. And it is undeniably more alive & intriguing than the continual conglomeration of posters that once covered this wall (fascinating though these fleeting records of city-wide events can be, in their many-layered stages of pasting/peeling).


I'll close with a photo of my once-blue hydrangea, which has now turned mostly green. It reminds me of how many other photos of 'GREEN' didn't make it into May's series of ROY G BIV-inspired blog entries, but they may well be used for an idea that's slowly evolving from the imagery of the lovely vertical garden composition. It has truly piqued my imagination!

{Click here to learn about Patrick Blanc, the Parisian botanist whose work has led to a recent emergence of vertical gardens in urban spaces.}

{Click here to read about Le Murate, the ex-convent-turned jail-turned-housing complex bounded by the vertical garden (it's in Italian, but there are some photos & additional links).}

22 May 2013

Green, part III - Inspired by asparagus

I mentioned recently that my favorite way to prepare most vegetables is to sauté them quickly in olive oil. But another delicious option—for both vegetables & fruit—is to make it the centerpiece of a rustic tart. Whether destined to be sweet or savory, I use the same basic crust recipe, with occasional minor variations/additions (I might use all white flour, a mix of white & whole wheat or nut 'flours', add a dash of sugar or cardamom or rosemary and so on). Besides the apples or pears, or asparagus or onionsor whatever central ingredient has inspired the tartI also choose a few ingredients as accents: herbs, spices, nuts or other hints of flavor. The asparagus tart shown above is garnished with garlic, chili peppers, thyme & bacon (recipe below).

Asparagus is still plentiful in the markets, so we've been enjoying it a lot these days, either simply sautéed, served with poached eggs, tossed with pasta, stirred into risotto—or lined up in a crust. I love the look of the slender, segmented stalks tied together into fat bunches, with their tender tips curving off in different directions...like a bouquet of stems, still smelling of the earth. Though, if I've ever seen asparagus growing, I probably wouldn't have known it. I was surprised to learn that the plants ('crowns') that produce these extremely green vegetables give way to feathery, fern-like foliage with red berries later in the summer, and then turn yellow in the autumn.



And here are some more of the 'story strips' I mentioned in the last post. I still haven't figured out what they're all about, but continue to enjoy organizing things from my days into these somewhat orderly lines.



{There will be at least one more 'GREEN' entry before the month is over...}

18 May 2013

Green, part II - Inspiration from an olive tree

I have had such fun collecting 'GREEN' this month that I don't think I'll actually get a chance to post everything. It feels like we are practically immersed in green right now, so it's been easy to find...and oh-so-welcome after winter.

A visit to the Rose Garden earlier in the week inspired its fair share of green. From up here, overlooking the city from the terraced garden, you can make out the full palette of Tuscan greens: groves of olive-tree green, columns of cypress-tree green, umbrellas of stone-pine green, fresh-spring-grass green & everything in between. In the garden itself, the rose bushes are fully leafed out at last (and dotted with colorful blooms).

You may recall past mentions of my favorite olive tree at the Rose Garden; its branches create a little room of sortsa wonderful place to sit and contemplate the view. While not as showy or dramatic as the rose bushes, I very much enjoy the olive tree's subtle change from one season to the next. Sprigs of pale green foliage extend from the older growth, gently, lightly curving up at the ends, reaching toward the sun, and spring's delicate flowers will eventually give way to dot-sized olives that will turn from green to deep purple as the months pass. I love how the leaves, distinctly colored & textured on front & backwhether the new growth or the older, more leathery oneseach catch the light in their own way, making the tree appear to glitter. And how the long, narrow leaves project so decisively from the stems, often at right angles, casting an appealing network of shadows on one another. 

A backdrop of cypress trees that borders one edge of the Rose Garden creates a ground of indigo that beautifully sets off the olive trees (seen in first quartet of images below). The second quartet is layered against greens, and the images in the third set reveal pieces of sky between the branches.


While sitting under my favorite olive I noticed, nestled among the blades of grass and patches of mint & tiny wildflowers, a fallen leaf in mottled shades of green, yellow & brown. It didn't take long to gather a collection of fallen leaves, each with its own markings. Then I started noticing the even-better-camouflaged, older leaves that had curled tightly as they dried on the ground. I was intrigued by the long, sharp forms, so they, too, went into my little collection cup.

Once back in the studio, the various stages of leaves found themselves arranged into a series of 'story strips' (seen in the image at the top of this post). As part of my ongoing quest to find ways to preserve some record of time's passage, I've been assembling rows/lines of things I encounter in the course of my days (and photographing the results). Though the olive tree leaves stand on their own, my 'story strips' are often composed of strips of paper, ribbon or string from around the studio, which are layered with flower petals, buds, leaves or other objects/shapes I'm working with. I haven't quite figured out what they're all about yet, or where they are 'going', but the inspiration to continue the ritual continues... I will share another one in a future 'GREEN' entry...


{More green still to come...}

16 May 2013

Green, part I

Here's a little taste of 'GREEN' for my first installation of May's ROY G BIV photo challenge*. This crazy, psychedelic green vegetable—an intimate relative of broccoli & cauliflower—was a frequent guest in our kitchen this past winter. Fascinated by its naturally occurring fractals, and in anticipation of this month's ROY G BIV, I photographed the last broccolo romanesco of the season...it almost could have worked for 'YELLOW' last month, but it is most decidedly, if oddly, green.

As with most vegetables, my favorite way to prepare the broccolo romanesco is to simply chop it into bite-sized pieces and sauté in a little olive oil, along with a little garlic, then season with salt & pepper...quick, easy & delicious! 


 By the way, it isn't 'growing' in the pot...it just seemed like a fun way to photograph the broccolo romanesco, and this one fit perfectly.

{More green still to come...}

* The ROY G BIV photo challenge was started by artists Jennifer Coyne Qudeen & Julie Booth last year. Each month is devoted to a different color of the rainbow—red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo & violet. This is the second year, and all are welcome to join in; guidelines are here.

12 May 2013

Lilacs for Mother's Day


It has been a day of lovely surprises from my daughter. After dashing out in the morning, ostensibly to procure some ingredients for brunch, she returned with an armful of deliciously fragrant lilacs. Then, with the bouquet on the table next to me, I enjoyed a second coffee and the first chapters of a new novel (Glaciers, by Alexis Smith), as more good smells began to float into the living room.

First came a platter of luscious chocolate-covered strawberries (a Mother's Day tradition that she & her father began when she was yay-high, and which she has by now perfected). I had smelled good things frying, so I knew there was more to come, but I was utterly surprised to see what she brought out of the kitchen next: flower-shaped 'rings' of green & red pepper, each holding a gently cooked egg + bacon, sautéed onions & toasted slices of baguette. And glasses of freshly squeezed sanguinello orange juice (few things taste better than orange juice someone else has squeezed for you!).

My daughter & the lilacs


In a past post I had mentioned a favorite book, A Time to Blossom by Tovah Martin, and quoted a passage about the bundles of bare branches her mother would encourage the children to collect in late winter. I love what Tovah has to say about lilacs ~

The weekend before Mother's Day, I always went shopping for a trinket for my mother. With my father or an aunt, I picked out a necklace or a bracelet that they imagined she might enjoy. But deep inside, I knew that my mother would really prefer a giant armload of lilacs. They would bring the biggest smile; they would make her eyes well up in sheer pleasure. That was why I sneaked out on Mother's Day morning, barefoot and still in my nightgown, before anyone was awake or my hair was brushed, to fetch lilacs.

Every house I have lived in has had lilacs lolling around somewhere, usually leaning against the back porch or lurking near the front door where the wind might carry the fragrance inside. They were gangly, leggy, and easily overlooked most of the year. When they weren't laden with their lavender blossoms, who noticed them? Except when they drooped in a drought or became dusted by mildew in the mugginess of high summer, they neither drew the eye nor begged for attention. The bushes lacked grace, which made you love them all the more. And their faults were easily forgiven in the flush of flowering. But most critical for my purposes was the timing. They were reliable. They'd be there on that Sunday morning—you could set your watch by it.

Even on tiptoes, I could reach only the lower branches on shrubs that stretched taller than the front porch roof. But with a little effort, I could bend some flexible branches down to retrieve the plumpest clusters. That is, until my free hand became too busy holding on to its impromptu bouquet.

And that's why I really loved lilac: because they fell naturally into a bouquet. They demanded neither skill nor dexterity to harmonize into an arrangement of luscious colors more beautiful than any florist could possibly compose. No ribbon, no tying of bows, no fumbling with filler was required. Lilacs were exquisite all alone. When that clutch of flowers was flourished with great fanfare from behind your back, your mother would smile—she would always smile, and love it.

Later I learned how to strip and smash the stems. Later I discovered how to make a lilac bouquet that would last longer than a few days of wonderful-smelling splendor. But initially, the only lilac bouquets within my capacity were incredibly evanescent. For just a couple of twilights, the aroma traveled with the fluttering of curtains from the dining room table to my bedroom. After a few days and a few lamplit evenings, the blossoms would be wilted beyond consolation. But then, nothing in spring was meant to last, least of all the lilacs.


Surrounded by sweet Mother's Day lilacs, and with the whole country seemingly in flower—plus a studio-full of projects in progress—'bloom' would be a fitting word for this month. But I'll go a step further and choose 'flourish', which I think fully captures the abundant spirit of this particular moment in time.



To mothers (including my own creative, patient & loving mother), grandmothers, and all women who generously bestow their motherly warmth on those around them (plus little girls who take such good care of their dolliesI'm thinking of my thirteen-month-old niece & her first baby doll):

Happy Mother's Day!

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