Environmental Graffiti

photo from Environmental Graffiti
English artist Anna Garforth is one of many who are finding inventive uses for moss, creating a movement for environmental graffiti. The words above are part of a poem  whose four verses are being inscribed in walls in various parts of London.
Part guerilla gardening, part graffiti, the environmental graffiti movement aims to enrich neglected public spaces with the kind of work that finds inspiration in Andy Goldsworthy's site-specific art installations. I prefer moss as material of street art over spray paint any day.


Brooklyn as a mental Arden

"Perhaps the reason so many Auster characters wind up in Brooklyn is the search for that elusive mental Arden that the borough seems to represent, a touchstone of the author’s fundamental optimism. Auster inhabits our city, its bars and stationers, bookshops and subways, its parks and sidewalks, its Chinese restaurants and candy stores, with a typical New Yorker’s sense that in the recursive folds of the city, the universe is embedded. And it’s a universe and a city that produces not just fear and trembling but sublime joys, the intensities of love and friendship, the pleasures of the street, the satisfactions of a cup of coffee or a good cigar — the happy accidents that are the great gifts of good city life."

Michael Sorkin, "On Paul Auster"

I am not a big fan of Paul Auster's fiction, but his memoirs The Invention of Solitude is one of my favorite books. Luc Sante, whose writing is so much about New York City moved to the country long ago while Auster is still happily living in Brooklyn. Perhaps Sorkin's point about Brooklyn being a mental Arden is true. I hadn't thought of our own move to Brooklyn as a search for that "elusive mental Arden," but that is just exactly what it is. 

Wisteria sinensis

I've always thought that wisterias in the tree form looked awkward, unlike its graceful climbing cousins. This beautiful specimen, one of three wisteria trees planted along a large yew hedge at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, changed my mind. It just proves that pruned properly and planted in the right spot, it can be just as stunning as the wisteria vines. Of course, W. sinensis is more spectacular because it flowers before the foliage comes out in full and so the entire tree is smothered in blooms.


The Trees by Philiip Larkin

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.
Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too.
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.
Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

Jeanette Winterson

"Love is part of what is sacred in life. Through love we get a chance to see past our own boundaries – not only into the life of another, but to the edge of life too; the last step off the seeming-solid into the weightlessness of death, its free-form... love and death are made of the same stuff; the same intensity of moment, the never forgotten detail. The moment of finding that you love someone is like the moment of knowing you will never see them again; its clarity is dazzling, and it alters everything – not just everything that will come after, but everything that has gone before."
"We don’t grieve in straight lines...Grief is circular. "
Jeanette Winterson, from a review of As A Friend by Forrest Gander

Jeanette Winterson is one of my favorite writers. I find these words to be so true. Grief is indeed circular. All could be fine one day and the next would bring it all back. 


Isfahan Blue

Blue is one of my favorite colors. Blue pigment used to made from lapis lazuli, which comes from Afganistan and Persia. In Isfahan, Iran today there is a mosque that was originally built in 771 and was continually reconstructed and added to until the end of the last century. The mosque has the most amazing combination of blue tiles and mosaics in a wide range of beautiful blues. 

Carroll Gardens in bloom

We love our neighborhood. I love living here because it allows me to be in New York City while feeling like I'm in a small town. In anticipation of the heat wave this weekend, the restaurant across the street are setting out more benches on the sidewalk. The hundreds of blossoms on my favorite crabapple tree on the next block are about to explode. I have been eagerly watching its progress everyday on my way to the subway.



Valerie Finnis's study, photographed by Jan Baldwin for World of Interiors

This is how I want to live my life. I don't really want anything else, none of the stuff that can clutter a life with false promises. To have a place for my work, a small garden, and the opportunity to photograph flowers and garden - these are the things I crave and need. I can't tire of looking at this picture. I wish I could insert myself in it.  


I love the variety of colors and shapes that tulips come in. They demand to be looked at up close.


Today was a beautiful spring day, but not in the usual dazzling way we usually think of spring. A light rain fell and left droplets of water on all the flowers and foliage, rendering the entire landscape soft and shimmering. The grass and new leaves on the trees turned an intense green that I find deeply comforting. The Katsura tree stood stunningly beautiful in the rain, its enormous trunk looking so imposing and majestic while tiny heart-shaped chartreuse leaves cling delicately to its spreading branches. It made me think of Dad, who always stood so solidly to support his large clan, holding onto to everyone near and far. A chatty cardinal, a smear of bright red against the dull sky, hovered in the trees above me the whole morning while I worked in the rose garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. A group of kindergardeners on  a school trip stopped and said hello to me while I was pruning the roses. Their bright smiling faces were irresistibly cheerful. Tourists came to ask about the cherry blossoms. MaryAnn spotted a kinglet and a hermit thrush flitting about the trees. I've really come to  love this little spot of earth, a wonderful institution that serves the community in so many ways, a perfect example of Jean Nouvel's dictum for urban life, "un accès aux mêmes bonheurs urbains."  I think I could be happy spending every day there. I am not sure what it is exactly, but I have a great sense of well being the minute I step onto the grounds at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. I feel protected in its space, a calm island of greenery amidst a churning sea of life in New York City. I have found consolation in the ever moving life cycle in the plants, with spring returning as surely as winter waits in the distance. The leaves fall and the flowers bloom each in their own time, just as I am in the autumn of my life and Lily is blossoming each day. 


Thought of the Day

"Shifts are taking place before our eyes. Landscape artists and architects need to give them a name and make them visible. Aesthetic expertise is needed to enable the transforming relations between humans and the rest of nature to break through into public spaces."
Diana Balmori, landscape architect  

I do think that we are living on the cusp of some enormous changes. I read that sometime in the near future, half of the world's population will be living in urban areas, which reminds me of Jean Nouvel's mandate for "un accès aux mêmes bonheurs urbains" for everyone. Cities have to be more democratic and we have to incorporate more nature into the urban fabric. All this is very exciting.

I've been thinking that it is highly likely that I will end up in New York forever. It has never occurred to me that I will live anywhere forever, having moved around every five or six years my entire life. 


More willow works

Pussy willow bowl by Lizzie Farey


Willow weaving

Laura Ellen Bacon, "Archway into Woodland"

Laura Ellen Bacon does wonderful things with willow. I've been really interested in things one can do with willow, all partly because I am contemplating removing the willow tree that now stands right smack in the middle of our garden. A part of me feels very guilty about removing any tree, especially when my reason for doing so is purely aesthetic.

Magnolia on Third Place

Magnolias are blooming all over our street. Today I counted three Cornus florida on our side of the street, all decked out with buds waiting their turns to bloom. 

High Line

The High Line 
Saturday April 18, 2009
It looks like there's still much to be done on the construction of the High Line, which means that it will not be finished any time soon. For me it's one of the most exciting public space projects in New York City.


A Spring Day At Last

A glorious spring day at last. I planted  dicentra and astilbe in our garden. The hellebores and ferns are waiting to be planted another day.


Alexander Calder's Self Portrait

While researching Calder's work tonight, I stumbled upon this wonderful self-portrait. 



It's a rainy and windy morning, another spring day deferred. Today Guardian's travel column features 10 best sidewalk cafes in Paris, and one of which is Pause Café, our favorite café when we used to live in Paris. It was down the street from our place in the Bastille, and it was great for brunches. I want to be in Paris again, if only to sit in a sunny sidewalk café.


Flowering Quince, Chaenomales

In Vietnam, for the Lunar New Year we used to decorate the house with cherry blossoms and flowering quince. These flowers always take me back to my childhood, to a time when I was 8 and happy to welcome yet another year in my life with promises of all things new.


I want to fill my garden with these. One of my favorite plants of all time.

The little wonders of Fritallaria

Fritallarias demand that you look down closely at them and marvel at their delicate beauty and the wonder of their checker patterns.

The three stages of Magnolia stellata

I love magnolias for they herald the spring with such panache. I love their effervescence and wait all year for the one week that they put on such a magnificent display.

Cherry Blossoms

It's a gloomy and cold spring day, but the cherry blossoms at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden cheered us all. It's just a little preview for what's to come next month when all of the cherry lane will burst into blooms.


Easter Sunday

Spring blooms in Park Slope on Easter Sunday

Rainy Saturday

Lily told me she would like to have a window seat one day in her room. A place where she can sit and read, she said.

Night Flight

April 10, 1:00AM
New York City viewed from the airplane. Another night flight across the continent, the vast distance between my life and my mom's. Her face as I left her was sadder than anything I had ever seen my whole life. 


A wet garden

It rained all evening last night, and this morning I stepped outside to find a very wet garden. The maple and dogwood trees were drooping under the weight of water. The damp earth yielded quietly under my feet. Everything felt softened, even the bittersweet feeling that had filled me on this morning of my birthday. I recalled a song I used to know as a child. The lyrics went something like this: "Rain and tears are the same, when you cry in the winter time, you can pretend it's nothing but the rain."



April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land. Mixing
Memory and desire. Stirring
dull roots with spring rain.

T.S. Eliot,  "The Waste Land"

I want to stand the whole day under my father's lilac tree, its perfume filling me with memories of him. He's been gone for exactly a year today.


A lovely day

Another beautiful, sunny day. We are going to have dinner outside under the trees. Spring comes so much earlier in California, something that always take me slightly by surprise every time I come back here.