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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Thursday's Visual Treat - Day 4/ Peep-Show (wings of faith/endless rapture mix)

imagecourtesyofexitlineblog
Peeps,






Good Friday will be celebrated tomorrow, and across the world believers of every race and nationality gather in sacred places to reaffirm a shared belief in holy transcendence.  I am profoundly moved by their passion and zeal and faith; to suspend rationality in deference to the purported realm of the metaphysical is indeed an act of defiance.  Clumsily paraphrasing the musician David Sylvan, the words still haunt me and thus I share that song bar:  millions live their lives in His Name.  In spite of personal reservation and some hesitancy about the place and placement of oneself among the heavens, I remain quite open to the possibility of presence, as well as absence.  This state of being, I realize is quite similar to the theme of Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershoi's austere yet beautiful interior: a series of rooms plainly empty, yet somehow inhabited by an unseen presence.  I find that this work challenges me to find meaning and its ambiguity brings me a certain satisfaction, perhaps a tantalizing glimpse of inner peace.  Precious little painting (from 1905) isn't it??

Enjoy,
Shane


-- 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wednesday's Visual Treat - Day 3/Peep Show (Tycho/dream club remix)


imagecourtesyaperfectgrayblog









Peeps,
The transitory nature of life is not lost on me; my stated preference for interiors where the passage of time is markedly evident has been noted by many of my fellow design-obsessed peeps.  As an artist and lover of beautiful objects, I am especially drawn to the patina of age; the tell-tale signs of extended use and toil; the signs of wear, repair, care, and respect.  Similarly I find buildings and rooms that reveal their histories without guilt and guise to be illuminating and transformative and quite analogous to our own destiny. This beautiful sitting room captures the Cuba of both present and past.  The fate of the owners of these Colonial masterpieces is frequently unknown.  An exit visa to the US or an extended sentence at one of the many work-camps would have had the same result: a home quickly abandoned and entrusted to the vicissitudes of one's family or the vagaries of an increasingly corrupt government under Fidel Castro.  Luckily, some residences escaped destruction from the elements, theft, and redistribution to party cronies; one proud survivor from this period has been wonderfully photographed by Michael Eastman and is presented as today's visual treat.  Hauntingly beautiful, poetic, and expectantly poised between the then and now!!


Enjoy,
Shane

PS:  Today's visual treat is dedicated to the memory of Reinaldo Arenas, perhaps one of Cuba's most talented poet, writer, activist(s) and certainly a story-teller/dream-weaver/aesthete unequalled in recent history and in the literary traditions of Latin American culture.



"A remarkable writer as much for his talent as for his intellectual dignity.  I am his reader and his admirer."  Octavio Paz 







Monday, June 27, 2011

Tuesday's Visual Treat - Day 2/ Peep-Show (Araki's sweet skin and E remix)








photocourtesyofflavorwire






Peeps,

Proclamations of the royal nuptial and the extensive media coverage of the accompanying festivities appeared everywhere and with great fanfare.  Aficionados of that sort of thing seemed quite pleased with the restrained elegance and style displayed by the future King and Queen {of England}.  And yet for me and countless others, the long anticipated news of another queen quickened pulses and whetted the appetite of a legion of fans, followers, devotees, bloggers, fashionistas, curators, editors, walkers, wanna-bees, wankers, weirdos, and assorted persons as well as personalities from all genres and sub-genres of society who prepare to congregate at the temple of his highness in order to pay respect to his memory, to collectively gasp at his creations, and to be surrounded by others of like kind.  We will bear witness to true genius as displayed in the MET/Costume Institute's exhibition entitled "ALEXANDER MCQUEEN: SAVAGE BEAUTY."  McQueen, besides being an extremely masterful tailor, created garments of incomparable and haunting beauty where craft,artistry and magic were fused to heart-stopping results; wherever he turned his gaze, McQ transformed existing notions of beauty, performance, art, identity, politics, and couture to a singular aesthetic vision unparalleled in recent history.  In the image listed below, Icelandic singer Bjorkand McQ collaborated to produce what I affectionately and respectively label: 'The Future and Past Dowager Empress Upon Ceremonial Presentation to the Imperial Court, Where an Assembled Chorus of Operatic Slave Girls, Blind Canaries, Golden Baboons, and Tuva Throat-Singers Will Offer Endless Cries of Adulation to Her Benevolence and Wisdom."  Got it??


Enjoy,
Shane


PS:  The exhibition at the Met runs from May through August 7, 2011.









Sunday, June 26, 2011

Monday's Visual Treat - Day 1/ The Theme of Royalty

imagecourtesyflavorwire
Peeps,


Proclamations of the royal nuptial and the extensive media coverage of the accompanying festivities appeared everywhere and with great fanfare.  Aficionados of that sort of thing seemed quite pleased with the restrained elegance and style displayed by the future King and Queen {of England}.  And yet for me and countless others, the long anticipated news of another queen quickened pulses and whetted the appetite of a legion of fans, followers, devotees, bloggers, fashionistas, curators, editors, walkers, wanna-bees, wankers, weirdos, and assorted persons as well as personalities from all genres and sub-genres of society who prepare to congregate at the temple of his highness in order to pay respect to his memory, to collectively gasp at his creations, and to be surrounded by others of like kind.  We will bear witness to true genius as displayed in the MET/Costume Institute's exhibition entitled "ALEXANDER MCQUEEN: SAVAGE BEAUTY."  McQueen, besides being an extremely masterful tailor, created garments of incomparable and haunting beauty where craft,artistry and magic were fused to heart-stopping results; wherever he turned his gaze, McQ transformed existing notions of beauty, performance, art, identity, politics, and couture to a singular aesthetic vision unparalleled in recent history.  In the image listed below, Icelandic singer Bjork and McQ collaborated to produce what I affectionately and respectively label: 'The Future and Past Dowager Empress Upon Ceremonial Presentation to the Imperial Court, Where an Assembled Chorus of Operatic Slave Girls, Blind Canaries, Golden Baboons, and Tuva Throat-Singers Will Offer Endless Cries of Adulation to Her Benevolence and Wisdom."  Got it??



Enjoy,
Shane


PS:  The exhibition at the Met runs from May through 7 August 2011.

-- 

Monday's Visual Treat - Day 1/Peep Show (Bang-bang boy/Underground remix)

sourceofimageunknown


Peeps,









Looking at this sumptuous Art Deco inspired salon, I expect a joyous crowd of revellers to burst from behind the mirrored door; I wait for the sound of corks popping and the clink of champagne glasses.  I strain to hear Cole croon about a night that is just so swell, and a slow kiss that continues well into morning.  I imagine an intimate gathering of debonair gentlemen in evening-jackets and their sleek lovelies all resplendent in ermine and silk,  Patou and Mainbocher. It is the middle of May and the lights from the World's Fair held at the Meadows can be glimpsed from the window at the far end of the library; the event in Gliwice, Poland is almost unimaginable because here, tonight, these charmed sophisticates celebrate an almost guaranteed life of wealth and continued privilege.  For this group and the others like them, the future seems rife with endless possibilities thanks to a nation seemingly flush, the result of recent economic prosperity, technological breakthroughs, and personal freedom(s).  The fact that many social allowances, or rights, were enjoyed by only a few should not be forgotten.  It would take another period of violence, turbulence, and horrors--WWII--to facilitate slow changes in the lives of many minority groups; and even today, those who have taken a sworn oath to uphold the constitution will still drag their feet, and on occasion simply shuffle, to avoid ensuring equality for all.  Flute after flute and more oysters please, the gods above them seem to smile benevolently, and the scent of Joy is so intoxicating that it makes one of the fellas quite colorful in his celebratory toast.  Who would ever believe that the world, as they knew it then, would all end within a matter of months; in September, actually!!


Enjoy,
Shane

PS:  Congrats to the folks of NEW YORK STATE (DEMS AND 4 REPS) who ROCK!!!  

Friday's Visual Treat - Day 5/The Theme of Royalty

photocouresyofflicker
Jul1992SantoTomasChichicastenangoQuicheGT



Peeps,

This week's theme--royalty, ends with today's visual treat.  I received lots of responses to Monday's posted image:  Alexander McQueen and Bjork's collaboration fondly entitled " The Future and Past Dowager Empress Upon Ceremonial Presentation to the Imperial Court, Where an Assembled Chorus of Operatic Slave Girls, Blind Canaries, Golden Baboons, and Tuva Throat-Singers Will Offer Endless Cries of Adulation to Her Benevolence and Wisdom."  Apparently, his creations struck a nerve with many fashion-obsessed peeps who expressed an interest in visiting the exhibition at the MET.  Tuesday's image of queen-of-the-night tulips and the accompanying narrative prompted many to ask for photos of the garden of the unorthodox Lady Emblom; hopefully this will be done shortly with the aid of my brand-new digital camera.  Wednesday's visual treat featured the amazing RAJA who rocked the house, worked the runway, wowed the judges and was crowned Queen of RuPaul's Drag Race; as I said before, beauty appears in many forms, apparently without reason or logic, and enables us to move beyond ourselves.  Thursdays narrative, about the celebrated beauty and doomed French queen Marie Antoinette, illustrates how gossip and malicious talk--if unchecked---can become historical fact. 

On Sunday we celebrate Mother's Day, and I had to take this opportunity to thank all the mothers, daughters, sisters, nieces, wives, aunts, step and foster-mothers of the world. You know what you do daily to make it all possible.  The analogy of Queen/Mother/Earth Goddess has been wonderfully depicted in the visual arts, countless literary masterpieces over the course of recorded cultural history, both sacred and profane song and dance, and so forth. A visit to the National Gallery or any of the other museums will allow the interested art-lover to easily view Madonnas by artists ranging from early Renaissance painters to the Edwardians to the {still} controversial Willem De Kooning. Previously I intended to offer the woven textiles of Zaire, specifically the Kuba cloths, as today's visual treat.  For reasons that will become clear later, I decided to highlight woven textiles from Guatemala.   Today's visual treat shows a Mayan girl with her mother and younger sibling at the market in Chichicastenango, Guatemala.  They are dressed in native attire and seem blessed content to choose from coral-colored gladioli and citrus-yellow marigolds.The woven creations of that region are known as huipil, and through patterns, style, colors, placement of flowers, jewelry, accessories and so forth, these tribes can communicate their marital status, economic standing, town of origin, familial ancestry, and so forth.  It is a highly developed and complex system of communication woven into everyday and ceremonial clothing; the weavers and their creations show a remarkable ability to absorb new influences and designs from the modern world which surrounds these small villages in the mountain highlands, coastal strips, rain-forests, and the swampy interior of Guatemala (and adjoining parts of El Salvador, Belize, Honduras, Mexico).  

While the weavers and their creations may seem amazingly resilient to developments from outside, the reality of their existence is much more bleak.  Indeed, if you are a female in Guatemala, your life expectancy is substantially shorter than a comparable male; the possibility of being an uneducated mother of many infants prior to reaching the age of 14 or 15 is alarmingly high; and the number of females who suffer physical abuse--rape, torture, and mutilation--or, are silenced continues to increase--almost daily!!!  Please, please take a minute and visit the attached link for the Guatemala Human Rights Commission, and see how you can make a difference by a donation/phone call/write an article/radio talk/advocate to your PTA or civic group or elected representative. Please visit the GHRC site and read about the plight of girls and young women in Guatemala.  Remember, that you can make the difference for someone who may be facing torture or death.  Please help to make the future a little better for her (someone's mother or sister or daughter or only friend).  Please help to make a difference.  Visit their site at www.ghrc-usa.org.

Sincerely,
Shane

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Thursday's Visual Treat - Day 4/ The Theme of Royalty

imagecourtesyofflavorwire
Peeps,

Have we all been too hasty in our condemnation of the little queen?  Did we without much cajoling or prompting become part of a mob mentality, and similar to many others, senselessly rush forward to sling insult, to throw rock, or worse yet--pass silent judgement on a woman still misunderstood by history.  Who among us did undertake any additional search, any attempt at understanding the reason for her remark:  "Let them eat cake!"
Noted historian Lady Antonia Frazer kindly points out that 'cake' in the time of 18th century France would have been a robust, hearty, family-sized bread roll and possibly enriched with eggs and butter; when served with a drink of sorts it would have been the equivalent of a complete meal.  It is quite uncharacteristic of Marie Antoinette to have been so callous or so dismissive upon hearing of the famine, as she had always maintained a relationship of great sensitivity and compassion to the commoners.   Additionally, dates of published public records, as well as the writings of various scholars and poets cannot place the remark to Her Highness, but instead to another royal person, and approximately 18 years earlier.  Marie Antoinette was routinely suspected of 'improper' relations with numerous foreign diplomats, and guilty of overspending on her various estates and homes; she had a voracious appetite for jewels, gowns, shoes, gloves and hats; and showed a remarkable zeal for masked balls, garden fetes, the opera, the races, and other forms of costly entertainment.  Yet, these behaviors which we now frown upon, were perfectly acceptable within Louis XVI's court, and was expected if one was to fulfill the duties of one appointed position.  More damming to the flirtatious and pretty Marie Antoinette was the fact that she was an Austrian national residing within an extremely xenophobic and chauvinistic French court.  On the occasion of her execution, the French queen carefully selected her ensemble, choosing a simple white frock devoid of ornamentation and suggestive of a certain piety.

Enjoy,
Shane


PS:  The photo above shows a still from Sophia Coppola's gorgeously designed and brilliantly photographed movie-Marie Antoinette.  Actress Kirsten Dunst narrowly avoids artifice, and instead emotes ennui within a fairy-tale salon of pastel sweetness.


Tuesday's Visual Treat - Day 2/ The Theme of Royalty

photocourtesyofhabituallychicblog
Peeps,


My neighbor, Lady Emblom is a devoted gardener who almost wordlessly ushered me away from convention and towards a wider gaze.  Not for her are the pastels and softness of pink, coral, and white David Austin roses; nor is she inclined to limit her labors to boxwood, ferns, hollies, laurels--the stalwarts of those who still cling to the notion of compulsory all-year interest, and undoubtedly also to the crossing-guard's hand long after the all-clear signal has been given. Maggie's garden is ablaze with the dynamic combination of fiery-red crocismia planted next to orange day-lilies and courted by undulating banks of strawberry-colored snap-dragons.  Equally captivating are masses of lily-of-the-valley frolicking with queen of the night tulips, this contrast of white against deepest purple, almost black causes neighborhood strollers to always stop and stare.  Frequently I gaze through the crepe-myrtle branches upon this sliver of heaven and I am blessedly content. If I am patient and wait long enough--yes, there goes three clever cats beneath the shadows of the yew bushes, and much later in the evening, tiny white bunnies furtively hop through newly-planted zinnia seedlings.  In the wee hours of morning appear scores of energetic bluebirds who seem curiously intent on endless chatter, perhaps work-place gossip.  The whine of distant leaf-blowers, persistent dandelions, bothersome ivy creeping again on the fence, the slippery trail left on the walk by voracious snails--these all seem so minor when I pause to remember that the garden, indeed this life is transitory and so fleeting, and everything changes and moves, and soon it'll be Memorial Day and time to look for the beach blanket and the sentry-blue picnic basket with the broken top-latch.  Maybe this year or the next, botanists or breeders will succeed in getting the color of the {queen of night} tulip from almost black to deepest black. How black, you wonder?  Black, like midnight multiplied by infinity, I finally venture. Or, black as a state of being without hope.  Enough, I think.

Enjoy the image of q-o-t-n tulips photographed in Oscar de la Renta's famed CT garden.

Thanks,
Shane 



Thursday, June 23, 2011

Friday's Visual Treat - Day 5/Gardens to Cultivate

photocourtesyofjjjjoundblog
Peeps,

Almost anything can be pressed into service as a planter, such as wooden mixing bowls, coffee-cans, waste-paper baskets, plastic milk-crates, and so forth.  Experience has taught me that invariably the container which does not have a drainage hole(s) will end up somewhere on the balcony where through some fluke--either human or divine--the contents will turn yellow and die from over-watering.  Lesson learned: always drill holes, cover with pebbles, pottery shards, a layer of sticks/broken branches/leaves, and if nothing else is available when the urge hits you after the hardware store has closed, cut a square of burlap, lay on the bottom of the container and then fill with a mixture of potting soil and water gel crystals, that new invention which slowly releases water and eliminates multiple trips to the kitchen faucet and spilt water which can rot the wooden floor or puddles on the waxed linoleum.  Nothing is so pleasurable as walking down the street and looking up at the narrow balconies overflowing with vivid flowers, shrubs in mismatched pots, hanging baskets, tiny bistro tables and chairs, the sound of music and laughter through open French doors, and the chatter of brightly-colored parakeets.  New Orleans' French Quarter, Madrid, and Mexico City are cities with large populations in relation to square miles and every bit of one's house or apartment must be utilized in creative and ingenious ways; thus container plants crawl upwards and outwards, outdoor balconies become extensions of living rooms/kitchens/reading rooms and on occasion, pleasant places for an afternoon siesta. Tiny coffee-shops, sans overstuffed couches, offer just that:  a cortadito of two sips and then a quick goodbye. The rituals of everyday life become almost public, yet dignity prevails in the shared experience of urban living.  Quite a stark contrast to the modern mausoleum, cagily termed the McMansion--and hopefully a trend now past.  In said place, a life of sorts is played out behind a facade of sorts to applause of sorts.  Sort of..

Enjoy the visual treat, forget the rules governing color and just container-plant to your heart's content.  

Thanks,
Shane


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Wednesday's Visual Treat - Day 3 / Gardens to Cultivate

photocouresyofjjjjoundblog
Peeps,

I received many emails today about yesterday's visual treat which recounted the massacre at Hiram's koi pond by the alleged perpetrator, namely Betty Beaver.  Mark I., a gentleman farmer in Manitoba succinctly pointed out that beavers are vegetarians (herbivores) and consume herbaceous plants such as clover and raspberry canes and aquatic plants such as water lilies and grasses; they especially enjoy eating the twigs, barks and leaves of aspen and willow trees.  As such they could not have been responsible for the carnage in Hiram's koi pond.  A phone call to Hiram and an half hour of sleuthing was enough to shed some light on the matter; apparently Betty Beaver had never been actually seen partaking of the sea-food buffet, however had been noticed one season ago on the property which borders on a large fresh-water pond.  Numerous sightings of groups of raccoons had long been reported; all known information about these critters suggest that they were the actual culprits.  I am so glad that we were able to clear up this matter and not sentence based solely on circumstantial evidence.

Happily, today's feature is the shady garden and one that may just be the easiest to maintain.  Blessed with shelter from the harsh sunlight and hopefully receiving partial or dappled light, there are scores of plants that thrive extremely well under these conditions.  Ferns, hostas, astilbes, brunneras, bluebells, tiarellas, solomon's seal, and viola are just some of the many that will happy take up residence and provide many years of enjoyment.  Rhododendrons, laurels, azaleas, viburnums, sweet-spire, leucothoe, weigela, steawartia, tree peony, witch hazel and hydrangeas are perfectly wonderful in the woodland setting.  Of concern for the newly planted are adequate waterings since large trees compete fiercely with more extensive root-systems, and providing nutrients through systematic feedings of Plant-Tone/Holly-Tone, fertilizer spikes and so forth, leaf-mould, or the application of a rich compost.  If challenged by inadequate sunlight, consider judicious pruning and selective topping which any qualified arborist will be happy to provide.  Judiciously placed containers of annuals, garden statuary, comfy furniture and outdoor lighting can turn your shady garden into a visual joy and an even easier way to enjoy the summer when compared to that horrible ride down Rt 50, across the Bay Bridge, and into crowded, pricey Dewey Beach and Rehoboth.

Enjoy,

Shane

PS:  The Strand Bookstore has loads of garden books already deeply discounted,  visit at www.strandbooks.com, or any of the charming used-book stores in Old Town Alexandria, Falls Church, Woodbridge, Reston, and Chantilly.  I visited Book Bank in Old Town (1505 King Street), surprisingly found much more than pencilled on my wish-list, and happily left with 8 books for $50.00.  Sweeeet!!
-- 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Tuesday's Visual Treat - Day 2/ Gardens To Cultivate

photocourtesyofllindlou.blogspot.com




Peeps,

The wet garden allows us to indulge in plants and novelties which otherwise would have been impractical.  Once you have determined that the water-table for a particular spot is high (this can be easily verified during the spring months when rainfall is plentiful) and retains water long after the rest of the garden has dried, you can set about creating your version of a bog-land or miniature marsh--wildlife and all!!  Plants such as ferns, sweet flags, reed grasses, marsh marigolds, rodgersia, chelone, skunk-cabbage, umbrella plant and irises will settle in wonderfully and spread without any restraint whatsoever.  Make your garden the envy of all the other parents on the block by planting pitcher plants, which is sure the draw every kid within a five mile radius.  Additionally, several trees such as willows, silver maple, red-osier dogwood, and poplars just love these growing conditions; as do arborvitaes, birches, black-gum and summer-sweet.  If you want to incorporate a moving water feature, or shore up the area for the cultivation of lotuses, papyrus and other exotics, be sure to discuss this with an expert as you may not want to disturb the sensitive balance that presently exists or inadvertently provide a breeding ground for mosquitoes.  While the idea of koi fish and other ornamentals is alluring, be advised that these make great snacks for critters such as hawks, raccoons, possums and others.   My friend Hiram's Japanese-themed koi pond had once been his pride and joy;  frequent visits by Betty Beaver changed all that, for the voracious animal clearly loved the idea of a free buffet under the stars, and nothing was spared.

Enjoy the peep-show and show your respect for the planet by recycling (and planting a tree).


Sincerley,

Shane

-- 




Sunday, June 19, 2011

Monday's Visual Treat - Day 1/ Gardens To Cultivate

imagecourtesyofjjjjound.blogspot




Peeps,

Because I received so many happy emails after posting ' Beautiful Flowers That Make Me Swoon,' the focus of last week's visual treats, I decided to write (or blog) about the different types of gardens cultivated by many of us; namely:  the dry/sunny garden, the wet garden, the shady garden, the urban sidewalk or street garden, and lastly the container garden.  I hope that the daily postings will be informative, enjoyable, and perhaps motivate the non-gardeners and timid among us to try something new and different such as starting a few potted plants, visiting a public garden or park, or making an appointment with a garden/landscape designer or landscaper/gardener to discuss fall plans for the integration of a garden to your existing home. Besides being thoroughly enjoyable, stress-relieving and life-enhancing, an ice-breaker or conversation starter, it adds mucho dollars to your property value--so there!!!

The dry, sunny garden receives lots of sun and calls for plants which are quite happy to spend long hours baking, as well as growing in a soil base which either dries out quickly, such as one which is rocky or sandy, or does not receive plentiful rainfall or frequent watering from an irrigation system/hand-held hose/green plastic watering-can.  An exposed, windy site adds to the the loss of moisture and the smart gardener/designer should consider windbreaks in the form of sturdy shrubs and trees; the smart placement of low walls or large container-pots (either in a better-quality plastic/synthetic materials/metals/glazed ceramic as these dry out less quickly than clay); the selection of drought-tolerant or native species quite adaptable to the existent conditions; and a thick cover of finely-shredded mulch or leaf-mould helps to prevent roots from drying out.  An alternative to the layering of mulch is to cultivate a low-lying, spreading/creeping plant(s) to provide cover from scorching sun and deflect evaporation/moisture loss--some examples of these are creeping sedums, herbs such as mints, sages, and shorter lavender/rosemary/thyme types, basket-of-gold, dianthus, and native grasses.  Between June and September, pretty much from North Carolina to Maine, it is quite hot and usually dry with a few variances in humidity due to elevation and/or proximity to ocean or large body of water.  Irrespective of your zone, I lump all these areas into one, which I designate 'WYEG' or in its entirety 'WYEGIDSADNDOTR,' meaning Water Your Entire Garden IDaily Sections And DNot
Depend OThe Rain.

Seriously, check with your extension department, local plant-center, nursery, or garden club, online wild-flower or native-plant directories listed by state or region, as an extensive list of suitable plants is easy to obtain or download; additionally, plants from the Mediterranean area, most bulbs, roses, and annuals from Central and South America will flourish, as well as be forgiving of temporary lapses in your watering duties.  If you are in the DC metropolitan area, be sure to visit the US Botanical Gardens located near the US Capitol.  Wonderful experience, beautifully designed and maintained theme gardens, and a gift shop!!

Enjoy the week and the attached photo of a Mediterranean-inspired garden.

Shane


Thursday's Visual Treat - Day 4/ Gardens to Cultivate

photocourtesyofjjjjoundblog



Peeps,

Realtors, appraisers, developers, architects, civic association board members, community groups, landscapers, and various HGTV shows routinely laud the necessity and value of 'curb appeal.'  Apparently curb appeal is the attractiveness of a property to prospective buyers, passersby, civic leaders, and plain folk like you and me--who just want our home(s) to look good, and the block that we live on to look good too.  Curb appeal can be accomplished through painting (or repainting) in attractive colors which are consistent with the style of the house and in keeping with the relative charm and look of the community; exterior and landscape lighting which prolongs that charm at night-time as well as dissuades the criminally inclined from any thoughts of mischief; landscaping to complement the architecture of the house or building, as well as beautify the property through the integration of trees, shrubs, flower and plant beds, borders and walk paths, fencing and driveway/walkways.  Of particular interest to us is the design and maintenance of tree boxes, those rectangular areas of dirt, turf-grass, weeds, newspaper and debris-strewn islands surrounding trees along city streets and avenues.  In areas of high density population and undoubtedly loads of of civic pride, say neighborhoods such as Georgetown, Adams Morgan, Capitol Hill, Brentwood, and Dupont Circle, there is no limit to the creative ways in which dwellers will express themselves as they apply their horticultural and gardening skills to the aforementioned strip of real estate to which they are able to exercise some creative control--albeit with the tacit approval of the DPW's inspectors who unless tangled in a thorny labyrinth of untrimmed roses or confronted with waist-high cannabis plants tend to look the other way.   

Sturdy fences make for good neighbors, similarly a low wrought-iron tree-box fence is the smartest way to keep drunks and wheel-chairs from trampling plants, car doors from breaking taller branches, dogs (leashed or unleashed) from using the planted strip as an exercise field, lolling green after chasing imaginary balls, or the canine version of a Jiffy John.  Besides accomplishing all of these tasks, this sturdy fence will help in retaining soil and preventing erosion or run-off after a thunder-storm.  Some municipalities may insist on a permit for the installation of this fence; any hours spent standing in line at the ill-ventilated permit office is a lot less painful than watching your newly installed garden thoughtlessly destroyed after a Saturday evening graduation party (and after-party) for the cocky kid in the next block or the Sunday morning runners' group who have eyes only for each other and tend to ignore most street signs, traffic lights, and neighborhoods not their own.   Lack of water, smog, dust, dirt, salt or other de-icing chemicals, extensive heat during the summer, bugs and insects, and apathy or indifference are just some of the factors that must be considered when choosing plants for the street box.  Additionally, one should not disturb the root system of the existing tree so that smaller and shallow-rooted shrubs and plants are advisable.  Drought-tolerant and tough-as-nails selections are almost essential unless you plan to pay a neighborhood kid to water, and be prepared for some surprises in the middle of the night, or when wildlife takes up residence and PETA intervenes.  Anchor your street-box/sidewalk/curbside garden with a few evergreens to provide all-year interest, especially necessary during the winter months when the grey skies of January can make the city almost resemble Glasgow or Dresden.  Have fun in the spring with bulbs and a visit to your local nursery can help with determining which of the many annuals/perennials/shrubs/ground-covers will be placed in your street-side garden.

If confronted with rats-in-residence, a gang of children cutting your precious dahlias, or the neighbor-hood bum who insists on laying his army-fatigue jacket on the azalea shrub in order to dry, KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON.

Enjoy the visual peep show. 

Thanks,
Shane

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Friday's Visual Treat - Day 5/Inspired By Gardens

imagecourtesyofwavehillgardens
Peeps,


I want my garden a little dirty.  I want my garden, like natural--you know.   Baby, I want my garden 'real.' 
I want my garden to resemble what I imagine is the harmonious order of growth: trees and shrubs and plants that provide food and shelter to the birds, bees, butterflies, and one that provides me with beauty; also somewhere where I can work off my stress (in the tedious task of weeding or pulling ivy).  I want a garden that exemplifies the inherent rhythm of life through orderly phases and then death, or an indeterminate sleep.  I want this all in a well-planned design that mimics what I imagine 'nature' to be:  thus-- the natural garden principle(s) that rightfully should be adopted by every concerned community within earshot (or eye-sight) of this f/blog.  Following closely the native flora of that region for integration into one's design; installing and maintaining one's garden as close to undisturbed as possible; holding back on the fertilizers, pesticides, invasive non-species like ivy, loose-strife, barberry, and Chinese clematis; stop or decrease the use of mulch and anything resembling plastic such as weed-barriers and mulch made out of car-tires; read any literature on methods to encourage birds, bees, and butterflies; utilize methods and technology to minimize erosion, mineral depletion, and rain run-off;  cruise around any of the many web-sites devoted to native plants and land conservancy.  And visit your nearest public park or garden, you'll be glad you did.

Joni Mitchell captured our current dilemma and impending crisis quite well when she sang: 

Hey farmer, farmer, put away that DDT now
Give me spots on my apples but leave me the birds and the bees (please!) 
  

Enjoy the visual treat and have a wonderful holiday weekend....
Shane








Thursday's Visual Treat - Day 4/ Inspired By Gardens

imagecourtesyoffilmstock
Peeps,


It has got to be one of the nicest months on record.  Lots of rain at night, t-storms at times hardly appropriate- like rush-hour; yet we welcome both the precipitation and the distraction it brings to the daily hour and a half ride from downtown to Riding, Va.  Temperatures are fairly mild and not rising above the 80's until this coming weekend.  The gardens are loving it, and it shows.  The past few weeks have been all about the azaleas.  Just like circus acrobats or Vegas show-girls, they look good in pink/white/coral/fuchsia blooms and lots of it.  Previously quiet and demure during the earlier months of the year,  really just waiting for the sign, the signal, the drum-call; and then in a blaze of feathers, sequins.  Face. Body. Attitude. DIVA.  This I know:  PARIS IS {NOT} BURNING!!  
Azaleas are like gypsies in spirit, meaning unconventional.  To place them in rows as foundation plantings does them a disservice; attempting to prune/clip/shave/shape/bully them into formal hedges is an injustice; and sticking them in the middle of a sterile, manicured lawn surrounded by four inches of pine chips and the occasional pathetic annual misses the point completely and shows a total disconnect on your part, dear reader.  Please place azaleas where they can enjoy some shade (they love dappled light and woodland forests in the company of ferns, hostas, rhododendrons, evergreens, and moss).  Use them as accent plants; they connect with the audience once (during mid-late spring and a few varieties bloom in the summer) and then become a little uninteresting as gardeners continue to search for the next visual high, which means that roses had better get in and out of wardrobe and makeup quickly.  Azaleas really need very little pruning; remove leggy or broken branches after snow-mageddon; perhaps light trimming and loose shaping once a year after they have bloomed, a fairly rich acidic soil, and adequate watering in the summer.  Do not attempt to have them provide you with all-year interest;  get a pet lizard instead.

Enjoy the visual treat, and thanks for participating in the (visual) peep-show.

Shane
 




-- 

Wednesday's Visual Treat - Day 3 / Inspired by Gardens

imagecourtesyofpaulgervaisandinspirtetodesireblogspot
Peeps,


Wednesday is here and the realization hits me that the month of May is almost over; in a few days it will be Memorial Day and the Rolling Thunder parade will once again honor the fallen, the forgotten, the missing and those who honor and love them.  If you have to run an errand across town, or plan to visit the District with visitors from back home, please be on the alert as the highways are abuzz with throbbing activity as scores of muscled/mustached/tattooed/pierced/shaved patriotic dudes and their preening 'babes' in biker-chic ensembles cruise up and down the beltway in search of hospitality, camaraderie, or just looking for a good barbecue joint with ample parking.  I enjoy the sight of hundreds of bikes spilling across four or more lanes and creeping upwards from south of Potomac Mills through Shirlington and clear to the Wall.  Row upon row upon row of bikes and banners and flags and hearts burning with purpose.  I am deeply moved by this public manifestation of machismo and bravado fueled by patriotism and solidarity for the fallen brother (or sister) in all of our lives.  No longer spectacle and beyond performance; art and life collide on the black asphalt, and in the words of Precious, "I feel here!"

Enjoy the visual treat and thank you for your continued interest in our little blog.

Shane

Tuesday's Visual Treat - Day 2/ Inspired by Gardens

sourceofphotounknown
Peeps,

With the focus on taking in every minute of life, it seems only logical that experiencing the pleasure of dining al fresco creeps upwards in one's consciousness.  After all, the evenings are balmy and the light is still magical way beyond dusk; thus the opportunity to contemplate the garden must not be wasted.  Lady Emblom has already set up an impromptu dining room on her patio.  Between the garden shed and vegetable beds, she has carefully positioned a round table and four sturdy, comfortable wicker armchairs painted engine-red.  When setting her table, she always first covers the tabletop with colorful Moroccan-style linens, and then lots of candles in assorted sizes and shapes.  She prefers to use old china plates, mixed patterns of crystal glassware, and vintage silver found inexpensively at estate sales; she said that setting a pretty table reminds her of growing up in small-town Illinois, of a favorite Grandmother who insisted on long naps in the afternoon, and politeness in a time and place where a lady's purse and pumps were carefully matched.  Last year the entire family could be seen dining under the stars practically every night through the 4th of July, when it becomes unbearable warm and mosquitoes claim ownership of backyards and patios.  Thankfully, we have many many evenings ahead of us for relaxed suppers under the stars with friends, who not unlike ourselves, crave peace and simplicity in a increasingly discordant and seemingly chaotic world.  Deep breathe.  Deep breathe.  Deep breathe.  Enjoy the visual treat and keep on grooving!!

Best,
Shane 

Monday's Visual Treat - Day 1/ Inspired by Gardens


imagecourtesyofnordicgardenblogspot




Peeps,

As earlier promised, the collective focus shifts away from wood-paneled libraries with peeling paint and faded, thread-bare carpets (the only way I like them), bedrooms in the G. Vanderbilt style, and kitchens that tug at the heart through sheer nostalgia for a lost innocence.  It's May and the gardens outside are brimming with joy and color, bursting forth with energy and zest, spilling out and over the gravel paths.  Since returning home--after the little incident--I've begun to take a second look at the 'weeds;' really, some of them are downright beautiful, as well as useful.  Any obsession with ridding an area of dandelions has long vanished; instead I think of dandelion tea with heaps of sugar and if one can, open-faced sandwiches of salami on Dijonned-rye.  Or, young leaves tossed with skeletal slices of red onion, a few cubes of cold, ripe mango, a sprinkle of cilantro leaves, dash of vinegar/oil combo, and a calorie-low, vitamin-rich pleasure to be quickly devoured by guests, well-wishers, peeps, and the annoying neighbor who doesn't quite take the hint that leaf-vacuuming is unnecessary and destructive to micro-level activity and insects.  If he could only embrace the infinite wisdom of mother nature and let the leaves gently decompose and return to the waiting earth, there would be less noise on Sunday morning as he meticulously micro-cleans his concrete driveway free of anything resembling organic matter. " Well, give it time," was a favorite saying of my mother' s and perhaps most apt.  Hope you all have a wonderful week...

Enjoy today, and the accompanying visual treat.  Loved getting all your comments, get-well wishes, hugs, kisses, and everything else.

Shane

Thursday's Visual Treat - Day 4/ Flowers That Make Me Swoon

photocourestyofgardendesignmagazine
Peeps,


     The weather changed quite drastically without any warning and suddenly it's 92F in the shade, about 99F out in the sun, and feels like 1000F if you are a construction worker mixing cement or pouring asphalt on the new connector bridge near the Merrifield/Gallows Road exit off the Beltway.  Seems almost cruel to expect human beings to work under such brutal conditions as we attempt to finish the Purple Line within schedule and budget which realistically has already been exceeded as local/state/federal officials, transportation boards, special interest groups, and concerned citizens demand/lobby/negotiate/coerce/beg/maneuver for concessions, add-ons, exceptions, increased funding, additional lanes, and so forth--not quite pork belly yet certainly more than pork chops. 

     On a lighter note, it's day four of the flower show and the featured star is the rose; I can't imagine any garden or gardener's list to be complete without the inclusion of this all-time favorite.  Roses are quite easy to grow and respond well to hot, sunny days provided that a light mulch is applied to keep their roots cool; plants should be watered in the early morning instead of late in the evening as this allows them to dry out and lessens the chance for disease and bugs.  Watering at the root base instead of standing from a distance with the garden hose (or sprinkler) and getting the leaves all wet is really counterproductive and can actually spread disease to neighboring plants.  Feeding roses at the beginning of the growing season with a organic fertilizer such as Plant-tone or Rose-tone is fairly easy as directions are provided.  Most roses respond favorably to the cutting of blossoms, and pruning is best undertaken in late, late winter or early spring when the itch to get outside and do something becomes almost unbearable and another episode of Mad Men seems somehow maddening (as well as redundant). There is a rose type for all locations ranging from shady to hot/dry to coastal dunes, with the added feature of a obtaining a hybrid tea/climbing/shrub/grandiflora/miniature or min-rose in almost any color short of green or black.  

     The scent of roses has long been the basis of sonnets/songs/poems/prose/legend/lore/fact/fable; and Texas A + M (long time pioneers in agriculture) reports that, 'Some of the mystery and illusion of rose fragrance may, in part, be due to the fact that there are actually over two dozen different sorts of rose scent, with some roses having a mixture of these various perfumes. The seven basic scents that are most often found in hybrid tea roses include rose, nasturtium, orris, violet, apple, lemon, and clover. Some of the other scents are fern or moss, hyacinth, orange, bay anise, lily-of-the-valley, linseed oil, hone, wine, marigold, quince, geranium, peppers, parsley, and raspberry.  In general, the most highly scented roses are ones that are either darker in color, have more petals to the flower, or have thick, velvety petals. Another correlation is that the red and pink roses are most likely to smell like a "rose," while white and yellow ones lean to orris, nasturtium,violet, or lemon. Orange-shaded roses will usually have scents of fruit, orris, nasturtium, violet, or clover.

     Seems to me the next best thing to reading this treat is getting down to the local nursery, chatting up the cute sales-person, and getting yourself something to plant that is going to bring you countless years of beauty.  And all this (even a David Austin hybrid rose) can be had for less than the price of one of Nordstrom's overpriced T-shirts on sale at $49.99.

Stay cool tomorrow and thanks for being a dedicated peep,
Shane

Wednesday's Visual Treat - Day 3 / Flowers That Make Me Swoon

photocourtesyofuprightandstowed.typepad.com/weblog/images 
Peeps,  

It's day three of the peep-show (of visual treats) devoted to the theme of "Beautiful Flowers that make me Swoon," and by the number of emails received, it seems that flowers have the uncanny ability to trigger memories, generate passionate conversation, evoke emotions, and in the case of our group of design-obsessed peeps, prompted many to share their thoughts upon reading the posted daily treat.  Of the many emails that I received in response to yesterday's posting of cosmos, the following arrived late this evening from one of my favorite peeps who wrote:  

Cosmos… I reflect on the wild beauty of these little wispy gems and embibe, almost drunkenly, of their carefree splendor!

Don't you just love the poetic language and the sentiment expressed;  it crowned my day and made this whole f/blog thing worth the effort and an endeavor to continue.  Thanks a million!!

While I struggled on Sunday evening to narrow down the list of flowers that would be presented this week, I had very little problem in placing the gardenia on the short list.  It was a favorite of my mother's, and a plant that we were unable to grow successfully in our garden at home.  In my eagerness to please and make things pretty, I probably over-watered and drowned the tiny bush which gradually turned yellow and died to the chagrin of my 11-year old self.   While not especially hardy to our area (zone 6) unless kept in a container and brought indoors to the garden room during the winter rooms, folks who live a little further south have the opportunity to revel all year in the beauty of the gardenia, a native of China much beloved everywhere for its graceful form and glossy, green leaves; and of course adored and treasured for its intoxicating aroma.  Jasmine has long been used for body oils and in the composition of perfumes such as Marc Jacobs' DAISY and NAMESAKE, CHANEL'S GARDENIA, GARDENIA by Elizabeth Taylor, JUNGLE GARDENIA by TUVACHE, and Kate Middleton's alleged favorite:  WHITE GARDENIA PETALS by ILLUMINUM.  Interestingly, gardenia is not used in the production of men's colognes.

Gardenias are quite popular in Mexico where I remember seeing and smelling it in the courtyards of my parents' favorite hotel in Chetumal City.  There is something magical about walking up to the white blossom, reaching up and then slightly parting the petals as the nose is guided to inhale the heady, sweet, floral-scented notes of the jasmine flower.  And in that moment, for a split second and then another, emotion overcomes reason, and sensation triumphs over thought. In a place outside of time, beauty reigns {momentarily/precariously/joyously} and if one chooses to inhale again, the excursion in pure beauty offered through the olfactory sense is repeated without any variance. Again and again...

Enjoy the day,
Shane

PS: Jungle Gardenia was given away by Bob Barker as a consolation prize to the losers on the daytime quiz show Truth Or Consequences from 1950-1958.

Tuesday's Visual Treat - Day 2/Flowers That Make Me Swoon

Peeps,


Cosmos make me so happy cause they are just so darn pretty.  Seemingly carefree (like teenage girls on summer vacation) and always swaying with the slightest wind (like teenage girls on summer vacation walking down the board-walk), surprisingly drought-tolerant cosmos keep their luster during the heat of the summer months and right up into the first cool evenings of the fall season.  Producing an abundance of 2-3 inch blossoms amidst wispy, fern-like leaves on tall sturdy stems, the blossoms range in colors such as white/yellow/gold/scarlet/lemon-yellow/pink/rose/maroon/chocolate-maroon.  Quite easy to grow from seed and fast growers; under favorable conditions they will self-seed and return year after year.  Breath-taking in the wild-flower, natural or perennial garden, tall cosmos give a lift to an otherwise low and heavy bed, and will elicit accolades from passersby, looks of envy from the next door biddy who every year without fail stubbornly crams red and white geraniums in two blue plastic tubs on either side of her front-door and completes the ensemble with petal-shaped banner flags bought on sale at Joann's Fabrics (which really makes the neighborhood look a little less VA and more WV).  Best of all, cosmos are highly attractive to to wildlife, so your place will be quite popular with butterflies and hummingbirds.  A win-win situation for everyone, right Mary??  
Enjoy another beautiful day tomorrow and thanks for tuning into the (visual treat) peep-show.

Sincerely,
Shane

Friday's Visual Treat - Day 5/ Big Bang Art Peep Show

Maman




Peeps,

It's the last day of the BIG BANG ART/PEEP SHOW and the featured artist is Louise Bourgeois.  I was fortunate to view her works at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in an exhibition entitled "The Locus of Memory,"  and later saw beautiful little prints of her 'Spider' series hung at the now shuttered Manfred Baumgartner Gallery on 7th Street NW.  For artists, art-lovers, cronies and poseurs, Baumgartner Gallery was the peak of both art-exhibition and art-chic--at least as we then knew it to be.  Manfred maintained a pristine all-white gallery perfect for the display of 'serious' art;  he showed an enviable list of local (regional to be more precise), national and international artists whose works were always featured on the pages of the expensive art magazines; in solo shows and group exhibitions held in New York, London, and cities in Germany, Italy and France; as well as featured in the design monthlies when articles ran about wealthy art collectors and their fantastic homes and art.  Manfred allowed me to drop in (others were not so lucky and were denied entry) and so I was able to view legendary works previously unseen in this city; artists such as Richard Artschwager, Ross Bleckner, Saint Clair Cemin, Malcom Morley, David Seidner, and Andres Serrano among others.

I digress temporarily, you see, probably because I am both fascinated and repulsed by spiders, a subject much explored by Bourgeois.  Spiders have lots of legs covered with tiny hairs which fill me with revulsion for reasons yet not understood. Yet, I am fascinated because they can be extremely resilient under the most extreme living conditions; they produce silk thread cleverly spun into a web used to catch living prey; additionally they eat their young, and quite frequently in many species, males are consumed shortly after sex--behavior I find puzzling, yet understandable in the game of survival of the fittest (or-the-fastest-one-up-off-the-nuptial-bed-and-out-of-the-door-and-down-the-web-lives-yet-another-day). I believe that we can all agree that spiders are mysterious and so is ART; and undeniably the art of Louise Bourgeois displays this characteristic, as well as expresses anxiety, sexuality, sensuality, betrayal, and loneliness.  State(s) of being of which we are all familiar.

Upon acquisition of Maman, a press release from the Tate Gallery reads:

In the late 1990s, Bourgeois began using the spider as a central image in her art. Maman, which stands more than nine metres high, is a steel and marble sculpture from which an edition of six bronzes were subsequently cast. It first made an appearance as part of Bourgeois’ commission for The Unilever Series forTate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 2000. It is the largest Spider sculpture ever made by Bourgeois.
The sculpture alludes to the strength of her mother, with metaphors of spinning, weaving, nurture and protection.
The Spider is an ode to my mother. She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver. My family was in the business of tapestry restoration, and my mother was in charge of the workshop. Like spiders, my mother was very clever. Spiders are friendly presences that eat mosquitoes. We know that mosquitoes spread diseases and are therefore unwanted. So, spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother.
– Louise Bourgeois