Christoph Niemann’s “Bio Diversity”

Enjoy these amusing botanical images from Christoph Niemann’s wonderful book Abstract City.  Niemann is an award-winning designer and illustrator, and this book is a compilation of creative little sketches/visuals accompanied by Niemann’s commentary, which is often hilarious.  This guy has a delightful imagination and a totally off-beat way of seeing the world.  I’d love to wander into his mind for awhile, spread out a picnic blanket, and just hang out and observe what goes on.


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Garden Designer’s Roundtable: By the Sweat of Your Brow Will You Weed Your Bed.

My husband and I moved into our house in Burke, VA (Zone 7a) early in 2003 and immediately got to work on “letting the yard go” for about, oh, 4 years or so.  I’m sure the neighborhood was horrified by our neglect, as I know you will be when you see the “before” pictures.  Continue reading

The Totally Brain-Wasted Botanist?

When I was 13 and a Junior Naturalist at the local nature center (job description: clean the aquarium, wander around) I got really good at leaf identification with the help of this trusty li’l book:

 Do you remember these?  I had a whole collection of these Golden Guides.  Pocket-sized, colorful, and glossy — they were so cute!  I think I also had The Golden Guide to Butterflies and Moths, The Golden Guide to Rocks and Minerals, and The Golden Guide to Pond Life.  But I was definitely missing this volume:


I never knew this one existed, until I stumbled upon it on Amazon.  From the image, it looks like a used library reference book, which is kind of ironic since it’s supposed to be a “field” guide after all.  How will the young folk be able to accurately identify which fungi will wizz them into the stratosphere if they can’t check out the guidebook????

Anyway, even if you’re not into serving up cannabis cannoli or going out to graze on your opium poppies, this group of plants is pretty fascinating.  I think Amy Stewart, one of the bloggers at Garden Rant, should write a book about hallucinogenic plants.  What with her current project, The Drunken Botanist (subtitle: Celebrating Horticulture’s Contribution to Gettin’ Wasted) it sounds right up her alley!  Whaddaya say, Amy?

She Wrote Other Books, Too.

Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.

                                                 — Rachel Carson
                                                     The Sense of Wonder

When the Sun Goes Down Color Disappears

It’s a pleasure to discover beautiful little gems hidden in unexpected places.  I think gardeners are especially adept at this –we notice the rustle of wind through winter grass, the pattern of frost on a leaf, the first crocus pushing through the snow .  These tiny delights of the natural world are not lost on us.

If you pay attention, you can find such gems in books, too — even when they’re not intentional.  A few years ago, when I was taking my first landscape design class at GWU and trying to practice drawing, I came across an intriguing discussion of color in Betty Edwards’ classic Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.  Color is certainly a fundamental aspect of garden design, and of art in general, but I had never really thought about color in the way that Edwards’ presented it.  Word-Nerd that I am, I decided to turn the passage into a “Found Poem” — which I hereby present for your enjoyment, or possibly your amused pity.  A scan of the original text follows.

When the Sun Goes Down Color Disappears

And what is

Is it merely — as scientists tell us —

               a subjective experience

                                                               a mental sensation

that can occur only if there is     

                                                   an observer

                     an object                                         and

        sufficient light

in the narrow band of wavelengths called the

       v   i   s   i   b   l   e   s   p   e   c   t   r   u   m


Is the world really                  


only seeming to become full of color again when we turn

                                                      the lights on?

We cannot
know.                 What we do

            is that

when the sun goes down                                               



My Fungi are Smarter than Your Honor Student

I’m going to continue my tradition of reviewing books several months — or in this case, years — after they’ve actually been published.  Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World, by mycologist Paul Stamets, was published waaaaay back in 2005, before I had kids.  If there was some sort of uproar when this book was published, I might have missed it because I was busy leading the devil-may-care lifestyle of the child-free: going to movies, meeting up with friends, sometimes even staying out past 8pm.

Now that I’m more domestic, I get to spend my evenings the way I’ve wanted to all along — reading books about obscure plants!

And let me tell you, if your attitude toward fungi is anything like mine was (disdainful, ambivalent at best) then you need to read Mycelium Running.

First, a word about terminology.  Mycelium refers to networks of fungus cells that inhabit soil or any other organic host — rotting logs, for example.  The fungi strands in this network are threadlike, microscopic, often only one cell wide.  Mushrooms, then, are actually the fruiting bodies of these mycelium. 

That’s not the cool part, though.

What blew my mind are some of Stamets’ pronouncements about this living network of mycelium: that it is a form of intelligence not unlike the human brain, that it can form mats which cover hundreds of continuous acres, that it can sense movement and distress in its ecosytem and work to repair damage, that it acts as “a collective fungal consciousness.”

 OMG, right?  Shoulda called the book Mycelium Rocking.

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New Virginia Flora Coming Out in Fall 2012

Now that all the retrospectives are over, it’s time to look ahead.  What horticultural events are you most looking forward to this year?

In addition to the Philadelphia Flower Show in March — which I’ve never attended but am determined to this year — I’m excited about the publication of a book. 

A draft of the new Flora of Virginia

Not a gardening book or a design book.  Nope, it’s the new Flora of Virginia, slated to come out in fall of 2012.  The book is being produced by The Flora Project of Virginia, partnering with several other groups: Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Virginia Academy of Science, and the Virginia Native Plant Society.

Flora Virginica, published in the 18th century

The old flora for Virginia, entitled Flora Virginica, was published in the mid-1700’s, so yeah, a new one is due.  The fact that it’s taken this long to produce a new one suggests that it’s a massive undertaking.

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The New American Meadow Garden

I haven’t had much time for blogging over the holiday break, but I’ve gotten plenty of reading done.   One of the highlights was The New American Landscape, published earlier this year by Timber Press.  

I found out about this book first at Garden Rant in their review and giveaway  – once again, I didn’t win! – and then was reminded of it in the latest issue of Landscape Architecture, who gave it a short but favorable write up in their book review section. Given my free-spending ways when it comes to books, and my bad luck at contests, I went ahead and purchased a copy from Amazon. 

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