Monday, December 26, 2011

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas!  It has been a week of delights eating wonderful food and visiting with great friends and going out to parties.  I have been wondering which of us would explode first from all the food and drink but we have all managed to survive and will hopefully continue a while longer.  The dogs have been having lots of fun especially Limo who can't get enough play time running around the meadows and the wooded trails.

For a Christmas gift I was given a kit with greenhouse and all that is supposed to produce Sequoia trees.  These are the famous California trees that live thousands of years and are four hundred feet tall.  You are supposed to start the seeds in a refrigerator where they spend a month or so followed by similarly detailed instructions.  Somehow, I don't think that they will thrive in the Florida sun and heat, so I guess I will try and propagate these and bring them back to North Carolina to see if we can get a grove started on the east coast.  A bit of pie in the sky but it is a time for wishes and dreams.  Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and Happy Gardening.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Meanwhile Back in the Tarpon Garden

When I first saw the Tarpon house one of the things that inspired me was the adjacent lot that was undeveloped and would be a blank palette for the creation of a new garden in the tropics.  It has been slightly more than a year since I purchased the property but my attentions have been everywhere with little time to lay the foundations of the new garden.  As much as I have done has been to plant within the existing fence enclosure and to add a few plants outside the perimeter in the anticipation that in a near future they would be free standing in the new garden.  Well, the wait is over!

I have taken the house interior as far as I can for now and the time is ripe for the garden.  The weather is wonderful.  In summer to work in the garden is to exhaust yourself in vain; to work in the garden now is invigorating and good exercise.  The first thing I had to do was to have compost delivered that would serve to improve my sand dune.  I say sand dune because the garden, if I haven't said so before, I live on a pile of sand.  Somehow, lawn has managed to take hold and eventually other things have grown, but when you remove the lawn there is little else like the rich soil I have experienced elsewhere.  The breakdown of the compost will add some character to the sand and hopefully continue improving with more compost to follow.

I propose to introduce about a foot or more of compost throughout to the plantings beds that will enrich this sand base.  In New Jersey I lived on top of a clay pan.  A clay pan is an area that is not permeable to water and often floods but clay soils are very rich in nutrients.  Eventually clay pans may deteriorate due to amended soils that improve the organic profile or its makeup.

As with all projects there are always people to  be satisfied.  It was not surprising to go before city hall and request permission to put up a new fence to be told that because I live in the "historic neighborhood I would be required to keep up the materials that were in place on my property.  I was asking to put up chain link along my side neighbor and keep the plastic pickets up front.  The chain link would have allowed plants to grow and populate the fence as a vegetative barrier.  Well, that would not do for the city who wanted to make sure that my historic property be developed according to the accepted standards that does not allow for mixing up materials. All around me houses are comprised willy nilly but arguing gets you nowhere.  It is also necessary to point out that a neighbor, a block away, has added a toilet to his dormer that is free floating, where you can see the piping exit the dormer running through the roof.  Not a pretty sight.  The town is trying to get permitting under control and it works to ensure that in the Historic District is diligently enforced.  Meanwhile a block away and out of the  historic district you can have a nuclear reactor emitting fission without control, but nobody cares, because it is not historic!  Well, it is not exactly like that but you get my point.

So the new vinyl fence went in without a hitch and I finally met my neighbors as I was putting up the fence.  For a year I have lived there but they were very private and I had not ever seen them up close to get or be able to say "Good Morning".  Once the solid white fence came up they came out to inspect it and introduced themselves.  They asked me how I was liking the house and the neighborhood.  I reminded them that I had moved in over a year ago!

I removed the fence that bordered the sideyard and had four trucks fully loaded of compost dumped in my backyard over time I will distribute the compost and the garden will be quite remarkable.   Everyone who passes by wonders if I have a little too much.  The compost came from the neighboring town of New Port Richey which seems to produce more compost than their residents can use.  So when I contacted them and asked if I could get some compost months ago for another project in the front of the house they said "Sure".  I was pleasantly surprised that it was free and delivered and asked how that worked and they simply had too much and had to find people to take it off their hands.  They don't come and deliver a cubic feet for you, but if you are willing to take 12 cubic yards, they will do it.  I took 50 cubic yards and another neighbor of mine who has a whole empty lot took 62 cubic yards.  So that should help them with their piles of steaming compost. For now it looks, my side yard looks like an unkempt bordello (not that I have ever been to one!).

Just as I was finishing the fencing a local nursery had a 50% off sale.  I was surprised that in this time of year when the weather is perfect nurseries try and empty their stocks fearing some cold snap that might damage the potted inventory.  Needless to say I could use a few plants so I got the new foundations plantings that one day will shelter and screen the side yard.  They now look like lollipops but that will soon pass.

It was a close call trying to get the garden planted and mulched before leaving for the Christmas holidays.  Now as I write this from Tryon, North Carolina I look forward to returning to see how it all looks and how much it no doubt has grown.  The weather in Tarpon has been in the 80's and with some irrigation that a neighbor is providing the garden should be on its way.  Happy Gardening!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Frank Lloyd Wright's Florida Southern College

Florida is not really known for its schools.  Great universities, it seems are left to the Ivy Leagues such as Penn, Harvard, Columbia, etc or the California schools such as UCLA, Berkeley, Stanford or Caltech.  Of course, there are many other great universities in the US but one does not really associate them with Florida where beaches, sunshine, flamingos and Disney World seem to be the common currency.  Yet, Florida has a very fine school system in the University of Florida.  To ward off this limited view associated by Northeast coast intellectuals, some schools reached out to create great looking environments by hiring top notch architects.  Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW) was enlisted in the 1930's to design for Florida Southern College.  The college has had various names over the years and different locations.  It finally moved to Lakeland in the 1920's where developed an amazingly beautiful campus. 

I had the fortune to go to graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania where as  students we were entrusted with great projects.  One of my earliest restoration projects involved designing a solution for the mistakes that had taken place in the landscape at Fallingwater in Millrun PA - the Holy Grail of FLW projects.  So you can imagine that when I moved to Florida I was quite excited by the prospect of seeing a great master project by this  great architect.  Well, it took a trip to see another project, but there was enough time in the day to spend rummaging about and inside these great buildings.  The campus in Lakeland is rather subtle and hard to find as most of the neighbors see it as just another school.  I suppose it is, but for those of us who have studied FLW we feel otherwise.  

The campus is quite grand although in need of restoration, as are all FLW projects.  This one has managed to survive as the materials are more suited to the tropics where freezing does not damage the stone or concrete blocks.

It is incredibly beautiful to see landscape and architecture so beautifully integrated.  Yet at the same time it is shocking to read some of the statistics of the university that seems to have produced so little by way of graduates in spite of its gilded cage.
The integration of plantings and paint colors are synonous with FLW.  Taliesin West outside of Phoenix, Arizona displays marvelous color, landscape and architectural ensembles.  These designs follow a typical pattern of reaching for the stars and adapting to the practical.  FLW was a man with a huge ego and talent.  Unfortunately few of his acolytes or students have managed to go reach his level of creativity and make a name for themselves.
The Annie Pfeiffer Chapel was the first project begun by FLW in 1938 and dedicated in 1941.  It was  restored in 2007.  FLW proceeded with numerous building projects that lasted until the 1960's with his wonderful  dome fountain crowning the variety of projects.
The Original Library


To avoid the Florida sun, the breezeways work like connectors spines to shelter the public.  A similar technique was used by FLW in Taliesin West for his own school of architecture

Of course during FLW times there were not ADA requirements.  In this picture you can see some of the ramps that have been added to transition between the levels connecting these wonderful esplanades.
Water Dome partially completed in 1949 and restored in 2007 to FLW plans
The present campus comprises some 64 building on roughly 100 acres.  It is the largest collection of FLW architecture on the planet.  The Princeton Review (of architecture) listed it as the most beautiful campus in America.  The campus is on the National Register of Historic Places.
It is great to see that Florida has not lost its great desire for fine architecture to influence the learning process.   This time, not far from Florida Southern College in Lakeland, the University of Florida is proposing a new Polytechnic campus designed by no other than Santiago Calatrava.  The project is reminiscent of what Thomas Jefferson designed for the University of Virginia at Charlottesville. I hope that the future does provides this community and State with such a marvelous vision for education as we are more in need than ever to provide stimulus to everyone that education is certainly the key to unlock dreams.  Happy Gardening!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Bok Tower's Boktoberfest

Hills around Bok Tower filled with Orange Trees
It is funny how you can go from time on your hands to so many things to do that it you fall behind on everything.  Well retirement, even forced, can provide you with a rich life if you make it so.  I have had so many projects going on that I have not been able to keep up with the blog.  I am back visiting my friends in North Carolina for Christmas and this will allow me some time to relax from household duties, volunteer activities and provide a few fresh blogs of some wonderful things that I have seen or done around Tarpon Springs.  

A couple of months ago I was invited to attend a plant sale on Octoberfest at the Bok Tower in Lake Wales, Florida.  Bok Tower is a carillon tower located in the highest point in Florida in the middle of orange country.  The Gardens are named for their creators Edward W. Bok, editor of the Ladies Home Home Journal and his wife, Mary Curtis Bok, who founded the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.  Surrounding the tower is a famous garden designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. in 1921.  The gardens were dedicated in 1929 by President Calvin Coolidge.  The original plans called  for thousands of native plantings that included 1,000 live oaks and 10,000 azaleas as well as thousands more.  The gardens have been added to over time.  Today the gardens are lush and have the feel of a tropical jungle. There is an interpretive center, visitor center and horticultural facilities add to the fine gardens and the Tower.  With the extra excitement of the Boktoberfest and plant sale it was really quite a fun Saturday.

Bok Tower

Inside the tower is quite a grand Carillon
Rare blue ginger

Water Lily Victoria Regina

Philodendron leaves are 5 feet tall

one of the many ginger

Entry to Garden Center Complex

On top of wonderful gardens we got music and beer in the gardens!

As the gardens were free for the garden fest they had a plant sale to  make a little extra money. 

Yours truly and my friends from the Gro Group

One of my favorites volunteer duties is helping out the Gro Group.  A program for special need adults and and younger.  Located in Tarpon Springs and sponsored by the Pinellas County  School district these individuals are provided outdoor activities in the fresh air where they deal with plants and growing all manner of flora.  I have taken to bringing rare plants to help propagate unusual plants that might be sold to the public and help fund special outings or projects.