Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Spring Arrives Saturday

2002 entry gateway filled with cymbidiums

For 20 days there has been snow on the ground. Recently we have had a major storm pour several inches of rain trying to dislodge the two prior snowfalls. Yet, the snow remains in banks, drifts and patches throughout in spite of all the fury the rain-showers. Today another storm has been announced for another foot or more of snow. Spring is just 24 days away and who knows what kind of weather we will have before then. One thing is bound to change all that: The Philadelphia International Flower Show.

Club Display
Fabulous Alocasia Specimen
Typically, the Flower show has been an adventure in horticultural wonders displaying wondrous plants and arrangements of same for all to see. In the first show in 1829 the Poinsettia was introduced to the United States. In the early years there were be two shows one in spring for flowers and one in fall for fruit as there were hundred of varieties of apples, pears, and the like. Over the years focus shifted and Landscape and Floral Displays took center stage.

2002 Club winning Class inspired on the Majorelle Garden in Morocco

Today the Flower Show has its feet firmly planted in three major fields: Specimen plants, Floral Displays and Landscape displays. The show has many sub-categories that accommodate the interest of leaders of the professions, the membership, and the public at large. It strives to educate and maintain focus on a variety of factors that are critical to the world and gardeners alike.

Pinelands Garden Landscape

I am judging again a category that was created last year. Then, I chaired the panel of judges in a new way of interpreting the Flower Show competitors. Titled, Showcase, the category tries to bring together a hybrid of styles that best exemplify a combination of all things floral interpreted with more of a landscape sensibility. A very difficult category to judge, I can assure you. I will arrive at 7AM on Saturday and spend the morning looking at the exhibits then our judging team will huddle and review all our notations and each of us will have to agree on every point awarded - no averaging! By 3PM I will be exhausted from the process and all the walking in the acres that make up the show.

Central feature

In years past I judged Horticultural Club entries (residential gardener) and after years of that I moved into the major Landscape Displays typically put on by professional Landscapers. Here, I was always excited about seeing what the top Landscapers in the field would come up for entries and sometimes disappointed that they used tried and true methods of getting the public excited rather than going out on a proverbial limb and making an astounding statement.

Floral Extravaganza
To my eyes few exhibitors really go out on a limb, most are above the norm and certainly above much of what we see in the real landscape around us. The Flower Show has always tried to take a topic and run with it, but like in all races there are world records, Olympic records, and personal best. To have participated in this great event is more important than who wins which prize. I know it sounds corny, but all are winners, the public and the exhibitors alike. As far as I am concerned we need this event to re-freshen our soul and give us a boost for the spring and growing season to come. Enjoy some entries I have photographed in the past and if you are in the area come visit and rejoice that spring is here on Saturday!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

History of Navigation Mural

Historic image of Grand Salon

Sometimes, there are events in your life that leave a lasting impression you will treasure forever. My recent trip to NYC had a few events like that. Besides my walk in Central Park and other outings I had the fortune to go with my friend RJ to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As many times as I have visited, there is always something new to see. When you think you have seen it all there is a curator who decides to bring something back to dazzle you and all who visit. Such was the case on this visit.

It was donated in 1976 and appropriately, if partially, displayed in the restaurant; best seen from the bar until a remodel in 2002 that forced the watering hole's closing. The object in question: a 58 panel Art Deco glass mural depicting an allegory on navigation by Jean Dupas that once graced the walls of the First Class Salon of the most luxurious steam ship ever created: The SS Normandie.

Historic Image of First Class Dining Room

The SS Normandie was launched in 1935 by Compagnie Générale Transatlantique, named for the French province from which it sailed, connecting Le Havre to New York. It became the new flagship and sailed the Atlantic along with its two sister ships the SS Paris and the SS Ile de France. The Paris, launched in 1916 was known for its Art Nouveau interior. The SS Ile de France was launched to coincide with the Paris Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes of 1925 that coined the term Art-Deco. The SS Normandie was known for its luxury exemplified by the finest artist of the time. Besides the Grand Salon by Jean Dupas, there was René Lalique's of sumptuous Dining Room encased in Lalique crystal and larger than the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.

56 panels mural turns corner and is lit by numerous guilt light fixtures

It is unfortunate that you can't go and have a cocktail or a cigarette and cruise the crowd as many thousands no doubt did. If you can, go and visit and see a marvelous collection of other wonders of Art Deco housed in the gallery. Regardless, enjoy the images.

The panels each weighing 40 pounds are fashioned from reverse-painted gilded glass through a technique called verre églomisé (guilt glass). The scenes were painted in black and varying pastel colors and applied to the back of plate-glass panels. Gold, silver and palladium leaf were then laid atop the paint and sealed into place with a canvas backing.

The ship had a short run. With the German invasion of France in 1940, the SS Normandie was seized by US government and retrofitting was commenced to use as a troop ship. In 1942 while dismantling the interior decor an acetylene torch ignited a stack of thousands of life vests filled with kapok a highly flammable plant (and buoyant ) material, stored in the dining room. [See: Plants have a role just about everywhere you go!] The flames spread quickly and engulfed the ship. Fireman pumped so much water to suppress the fire that the shipped rolled over in its side.

Art-Deco Queen Mary Observation Bar

Of that era little remains. Certainly, most of the new ocean liners of today are nothing but floating malls and buffets for those people that want to shop rather than luxuriate. If you ever catch yourself in the LA area drive down to Long Beach and check out the Queen Mary, a contemporary of the SS Normandie. It is permanently anchored and serves as hotel, restaurant and museum. I have had cocktail or two at the Observation Bar thinking of the fabulous places this ship sailed. Have one for me!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Blizzard, blizzard which blizzard?

My street looking more like Alaska than NJ

I hurried home from New York City to avoid getting stuck in a little blizzard that dropped 29 inches of snow in neighboring Cherry Hill. Many of you in the heartland of the country or in other cold climes will probably say poppycock, but then there are those to which this is quite a spectacle. My relatives, all safe in Florida or California coastal warmth would probably say "Que bonito!" at the Christmas Card images we now have, not realizing the other implications of all this snow.

Notice the balcony railing above my porch
The reality is that winters in the Delaware Valley Region have been mild since I moved here from California. There is normally a small snow storm once a winter that drops 6-10 inches and we are done for the year. Yet somehow, since I moved here we have had the three biggest snowfalls on record: 1992, 1996, 2009-10. Mild winter, big snow fall; you figure!

Balcony railing snow fall on a board 6 inches wide: 19.5 inches of snow

All this snow will certainly be wonderful water for all our garden plants, except for those that are crushed by the weight of the snow or frozen. My rosemary that has lasted and flourished for the last ten years is under three feet of snow. I hope it survives. My wonderful bridal veil spirea has collapsed from the snow it was supporting. I could not get anywhere near my backyard because with the drifts the snow measures over three feet thick. My boots only cover eighteen inches and my body likes it warm...

After I cleared the path to the gate this is what I found beyond it!

Cranberry Viburnum with a little whipped cream will still be tasty to the remaining birds in the Garden

My neighbor Amanda having a little fun

The day after: rediscovering my Prius

At the neighboring Wegman Shopping Center in Cherry Hill 12 foot pile of snow!

If you wonder why public trees don't fare well here is one answer. On top of the snow, there is salt that is slowly cooks the trees, and of course there is the impact occurred by vehicles and snow removal equipment.
The current storm is making mince meant of the spirea. The big blobs are my barbecue and picnic table

As I write the blog another storm has descended on us. This one, barely three days after the big blizzard, is anticipated to drop 18-24 inches of additional of snow. Pennsylvania has announced the closure of all major Philadelphia Highways and public transportation will close early at 5 this afternoon. I pity those who ventured out to work and are now fearing how they are going to get home. I also hope that our electric wires don't collapse under the weight of the snow. I think that I wrote something about our past mild winters with little snow. As Gilda Radner as Emily Litella used to say when she goofed: Never Mind!
February 11 Addendum: The total snow fall for the season is 71.6 inches of snow so far! This morning I went out in the garden with my boots wearing ski pants and window washing brush to shake of the snow from my precious shrubs that were covered and collapsed under the snow. The Japanese styrax was collapsed and a major branch had cracked. So much for prevention...If you are in the blizzard affected area and can make it out safely go shake off your shrubs gently you will be glad you did in spring.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The First Central Park

I came up to NYC in further search of job opportunities and to catch an obscure and wonderful 18th century French opera with friends. Few cities in the world have so much going on that it takes a 100 plus-page events magazine (Time Out New York )that is published twice a month. Fewer cities still, have anything quite like Central Park. There is no landscape quite like Central Park. Whether for a stroll by yourself, with a friend, to walk a dog or to watch nature, there is simply nothing like it. In the summer, spring or fall the park is always magnificent. In winter, with snow, it takes on magical qualities.

Designed in 1858 by the first Landscape Architect of our profession, Frederick Law Olmsted and Architect Calvert Vaux as a democratic place for the people of NY it is a marvel of concept, design and execution. It reclaimed an old marsh and trash dump into probably the premier city park in the world. Not a leftover royal park like most European green spaces, Central Park was designed for the people of NY. The Astors as much as the Smiths, Oharas, Schmidts, Rossis, Garcias or any other immigrant that came and labored in the city and would benefit from the great outdoors.

The landscape was simple yet complex. The architectural elements were designed of the best materials of the day, granite and stones. For a 150 years the efforts of these two man lasted but at a 150 years old the park has needed much by way of deferred maintenance that was not done until the Central Park Conservancy came along. Founder, Betsy Rogers, rolled-up her silk sleeves from her flat overlooking the park and bankrolled and got her friends involved and they had a lot of fun while raising a ton of money for the task of the restoration.

Today, many years into it there are marvelous restored buildings, lawns, plantings, gazebos, beautiful gardens all around the expansive 843 acre park. This is a serious landscape folks!

All this renovation has come at a price. What once was a pristine landscape of granite outcroppings, lakes, ravines, boathouse and marvelous elm trees and fountains is now littered with the gratitude that we owe a lot of people for shelling out the bucks necessary to restore this city's treasure and probable national monument!

It is not enough that people are getting a tax deduction for their donations, they have to also get a plaque that tells everyone of their beneficent magnificence! The world is not what it was. I think of John D Rockefeller Jr. who bought and donated millions of acres of what are now Grand Teton, Acadia, and Virgin Islands National Parks without ever laying claim to any naming!

There is nothing wrong in wanting to remember friends and I offer that benches with plaques sometimes give further character to great places. There has to be a difference between remembering people in the heart rather than just plastering their names, on fountains, buildings, trees, asphalt pavers, fences, walls, gates, restored park urns, balusters, and benches. Yet for a couple of hundred bucks or more you can get yourself a bench for however long the plaque lasts and in the process take something beautiful and turn it into a memorial park for benefactors! I am sorry, this is something that strikes me as vain and selfish and not for the common good. I hope we somehow overcome this period of vanity, self satisfaction and stop deluding ourselves of our mortality. The men who designed and built this park, I don't believe, have their name anywhere on it...they just did it.

Woody Allen has loved Manhattan over and over in his films. Bobby Short, late singer and spirited pianist's renditions of popular standards evoked the glamour of Manhattan nightlife. For me, I love the culture I go to experience in Manhattan, but I get my charge when I am in Central Park.