Monday, November 24, 2014

Landscape Design NYBG Lecture - Review of Japan's leading Garden Designer & Zen priest: Shunmyo Masuno

The Adult Education program at The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) kicked off its celebrated Landscape Design Portfolios Lecture Series with featured speaker, Shunmyo Masuno; hailed as Japan’s leading garden designer according to his bio.
Now in its 16th year, it was the first of The Garden’s three lectures: part of this season’s theme: “A Dialogue with the Elements.”

Just prior to the Design Portfolio’s premiere event, attendees received an email noting it was a “Sell Out,” suggesting we come early (and presumably to not bring an extra guest hoping to attend.)
Needless to say, anticipation for the presentation shot up a notch to a very happy, landscape-design pollinated-pitch.
On the night of the event, the attendees registered rapidly, (foregoing much of the hearty hello’s and network chatting that is a key part of attending NYBG’s talks), and scooted to get a good seat.  The room soon darkened; the audience hushed as Barbara Corcoran, NYBG’s vice president for Continuing and Public Education welcomed the audience.  
Then, Gregory Long, CEO and the William C. Steere Sr. President NYBG, thanked the guests, Mr. Masuno, and Susan Cohen, coordinator for NYBG's Landscape Design Certificate program, noting Susan has successfully shepherded the NYBG Landscape Design Portfolios Lecture Series since she inaugurated the program. 

Clearly the guests/attendees were already familiar with Masuno. His reputation certainly must have predicated the over-subscribed attendance.

Masuno-san is a Zen priest and a world-renowned landscape designer. 
Or should I say a world-renowned landscape designer and a Zen priest?  His art and his religion are so inextricably linked it’s of no consequence ordering his titles.

Masuno-san is the only garden designer I have ever encountered who is also an eighteenth-generation Zen Buddhist priest; “presiding over daily ceremonies at the Kenkohji Temple in Yokohama,” he notes in his book.  

While most everyone might say there is a spiritual practice with regard to creating gardens – Masuno elevates the spiritual discipline to another dimension – creating spaces “that are inseparable from his Buddhist practice so that each Zen garden becomes “a special spiritual place where the mind dwells.” His book, ZEN Gardens The Complete works of Shunmyo Masuno Japan's Leading Garden Designer published in 2012, is a coffee table work of curated art: a compilation of the master’s landscape designs, featuring 37 completed gardens’ imagery and more than 400 landscape design schematics and drawings, as well as an exploration of his design principles.  It is sure to be used as a reference and as inspiration. It is the “first complete retrospective of Masuno’s work to be published in English.  

Masuno-san took to the podium in his monk’s vestment robe, fan in tow, bowed, and asked the guests - in a measured, soft-spoken voice -- to “Please excuse me” for his language deficiency. 
Susan Cohen, Coordinator NYBG Landscape Design Certificate program, Portfolio Series creator & Shunmyo  Masuno  

He read most of the talk but honestly, his English language skills on display were more than accomplished.  No worries.

Masuno-san’s demeanor and delivery offered an aura of otherworldliness and no small amount of transporting mysticism.   
His oeuvre is at once traditional and contemporary; residential and commercial; urban and rural; modern and traditional. 
Long recognized in Japan for his landscape art, he is now increasingly hailed internationally, with clients from all over the world commissioning his signature designs.  In 2011 he completed his first commission in the United States: a private residence in NYC. 

Key to my interest in this lecture is that I’ve had the good fortune to possess a sort of Japanese garden portfolio of my own -- with on-sight, first-hand experience, too.  I’ve had the pleasure and honor to have visited Japan on numerous occasions – and am privileged to have seen a variety garden design disciplines there.  In addition, I studied and researched Japanese gardens as part of NYBG’s Certificate of Landscape Design program; I’ve worked in the area’s botanical gardens noted for Japanese garden installations, not to mention utilizing inspired elements in my garden design work (especially the rocks and stones) and in my own Gotham garden.  So you see, I have a fairly good understanding of the Japanese garden aesthetic. 
However, taking no chances on the level of his audience’s familiarity with Japanese Zen gardens, Masuno took the time to present a backdrop of various art genres – from painting to pottery to calligraphy and sculpture; comparing and contrasting an Asian art aesthetic to a Western one.
You might think of it as a sort of elevated “Pinterest Cultural Context” prior to presenting his opus of garden art.

Perhaps he assumed that Americans don’t really know what Japanese garden design is at its essence. (I’m kinda’ with him on this.)
On the other hand this was -- safe to say -- a pretty sophisticated audience. And willing to meet him halfway with an overview in the cultural arts, we could all better understand and appreciate his garden designs – in other words, to have a reference point. 
It was a good presentation strategy.  However, the general consensus after the talk was that Masuno could have condensed this portion and featured more of his noteworthy designs. 
After all, that is what the audience came out to see.

He did reference his personal narrative somewhat in relation to his art and that was insightful. For example, he referenced that while his family is rooted in Zen Buddhism, he said,  “After World War II, the government took over our lives and for the first time, we experienced the very idea of separation of church and state.”  Prior to that religion was part of the fabric of their culture and their more homogeneous cultural identity.
He continued: “Perhaps this change is responsible in some way for why, even today, the Japanese feel a loss – of something missing.”  (Yet) This sense of loss is rooted in a foundation of love,” he continued.
I was so fascinated by his references that I did further research on this sense of loss and nothingness.  I learned that Shinto Buddhism places an emphasis on wholeness of nature and its celebration of the landscape. In the Buddhist tradition, “all things are considered as either evolving from or dissolving into nothingness.  However, this nothing is not empty space.  It is rather – a space of potentiality. “

When it comes to garden structure, Masuno’s main point of distinction is that Japanese design is asymmetrical and not just focused on the scenery whereas beauty in the West is all about the symmetry…
I dare overlay a concept from a recent talk at The Horticultural Society of New York Art & Nature Symposium where, alongside some very provocative and compelling new garden-inspired art installations were – it can be readily argued - some American-based Zen garden concepts for the new century and beyond that embrace this sense of nothingness and space of potentiality.  One in particular is a good example of this emerging yet Zen-like garden art: the organically created one featuring “just” soil laid out in a sinuous display. 

Masuno showed trees and water while he described how thinking organically, creating harmony and unity, was not just as a reflection of nature but a freedom of the mind.
He said these elements deepen our understanding of Japanese Zen gardens and that to share the secret of beauty is linked to the understanding of Zen.
If I understand this – then sharing via social media – especially the beauty of garden design – is the essence of Zen.  Ahhhh…
Follow the path of truth found in each one of us, urged Masuno.  
And I urge you to "Follow" me @GardenGlamour and @ChefsGardens  Ha! )

One element of his cultural art comparatives that I found enlightening was in the realm of pottery and ceramics.  This art form, along with the tea ceremony especially, directly informs Zen garden designs, he said.  Masuno showed side-by-side images of a Western Meissen teacup and a Japanese teacup.  He went on to explain that a western aesthetic embraces the concept of a “perfection” whereas a Japanese perspective reflects a sense of “unfinished” or “incompleteness.”  The difference in the pottery is profound. 
To my Western eye the Meissen teacup did look finished and elegant in contrast to the simple, made-in-ceramic-class look of the Japanese cup.  

I learned with later research that this part of the Wabi-sabi Japanese aesthetic describes a mindful approach to everyday life and defines the true beauty of things as “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.”  Whether in bud or in decay, the object is more beautiful because it suggests the transience of things.  The difference in the perception of art and the reverence for arts’ meaning, expression, value, and contribution the culture is key to understanding the purpose of Zen and to finding a true self – to that search for spiritual stability – and to Zen garden making: both design and construction.  And its path of truth is found in each one of us, Masuno explained.

Masuno Garden Designs
In terms of his own portfolio, we learned he launched his commissioned work with two gardens, using sand and stone in the Karesansui style, supervising the entire construction project all the while thinking how to marry inside and outside and how to use the garden to entertain guests.  

To better understand Masuno’s moss garden reference, I researched Japanese Roji gardens and found it is the garden - - a transporting path  -- through which one passes to the tea ceremony.  It is a place for quiet reflection.  Roji means “dewy ground.” Masuno described his garden design using “Moss as water. “ The maple trees there are peaceful in appearance in what looked like a misty dream garden.

In contrast, a landscape he created for a hotel conference courtyard used material of metal and concrete and glass between artificial foundations he had constructed.

He designed another hotel lobby – in Tokyo – creating the garden along with it as “one entity.”  He designed everything in this wood and stone textured lobby project including furniture, fabrics, and cutlery. He described how he “Controlled the scenery in order to view the garden from behind it.”  He showed the lobby from a second floor coffee lounge – and remarked that he designed it to be lower by a measure of 45 centimeters.
The walls were created to offer a feeling of a water pattern, and included a large boulder. 

The banquet hall was made lighter – with its center cut out, bordering one side of the tiered garden.  He created serenity via his composition of tall walls of water and stone backed with layers of green plant material.

In terms of a residential home garden he explained the need for silence in a busy city, so he created a “controlled scenery” viewing garden, using light rocks and a running waterfall effect. He created the waterfall using an exhaust duct and then making it green on top. Masuno talked about how applying a slight adjustment to the rocks, he can produce shadows – an extremely important element.

In Germany he recreated a tea garden that at the same time hewed to the genius loci principle, giving homage to the historical significance of both the “Brandenburg Gate and the true sense of unity of the German people, “ he explained.
“You wouldn’t know it wasn’t in Japan,” he said proudly.  

A spectacular design was the one he did for the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo – it floats four stories above the street and uses backlit cut stone pavers!  Very dramatic.
He also showed the work he did for the Japanese embassy in Singapore featuring a courtyard and the use of select stones as art, placed around the circle. 

But it was the work on the Guard House that drew awe.  
First Impressions: Guard House: extraordinary design greets visitors 
He noted he wanted to make this First Impression a beautiful and memorable one.  It is indeed a far cry from the typical, institutional and scary first greeting found at most embassy complexes.  He designed the windows in the wall – and used black wall lumber and national, natural stone, achieving a modern classic and enduring look.
He showed a spectacular roof garden the he said was an ongoing vacation space for the client, as well as a Zen garden resort in Singapore located along a golf course.   Some might argue that is a double Zen (vs. a double bogie!)

Masuno-san doesn’t create “just” gardens but entire worlds. 
There is so much quiet dignity in his gardens and – true to the lecture’s theme: “A Dialogue with the Elements” – he utilizes a great variety of elements: water, rocks, plants, sand, and wood, for example, and yet the look is complete, intrinsic integration – as in nature.  
This is one of my favorite designs: small space/big looks


Some are quiet gardens in repose – the dry landscape (sand) Karesansui gardens in particular and the garden type most closely associated with Zen Buddhism. 

Others pose with an organic dynamic with waterfalls, streams, and ponds.  My observation looking through the book is his extraordinary use of the “borrowed landscape.”  

The viewing gardens incorporate many elements: power, calmness, tranquility, and elegance – and all change depending on the rock arrangements.  He believes designers must stand at the scene and “Converse” with the space in the garden.   He said, “Japanese gardens never can be formed by drawing up a plan alone. “ The garden must be experienced.”  
Masuno on-site in a garden design installation

So he visits the garden site and waits until the rock seems to speak and say where it wants to be put.  Masuno oversees all the selection and the placement of the large rocks in his garden rock groupings. 

The overarching impression of these garden art installations is serenity; stability and they are shaped like boats and mountains…  Talking with us…
Zen rock
Zen garden rock
Gazing at them, one feels they are alive.

He said the same is true for tree placement. The trees tell him where they should be planted.   “Don’t plant trees just for their beauty in the landscape design,” he noted.  “Trees should be used to create shadows and express contrast or elegance especially in the ways they are trained and pruned to bring out their distinguishing characteristics.”

Masuno writes, “The idea of garden design as a dialogue between the designer and the elements in the garden is clearly stated in the first known Japanese garden manual, the eleventh-century Garden Making… implies the requirements to have a dialogue with the elements in the garden in order to have a complete understanding of the unique character of each element.”

Masuno-san autographing my Zen book
I don't know what it says, but it sure looks special!

Masuno-san and me 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Garlic Planting Guide and Discovering a Garlic Zombie!

I always thought garlic was used to ward off vampires and zombies. 
This season I learned garlic could attract a kind of garlic zombie as well.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

First, let’s get right to the important news: tips on planting your own homegrown garlic. After all, there’s not a moment to lose.
The window for planting garlic here on the US east coast is closing all too soon. 
But there is still time.  Climate change can be your friend…

We thrill to our homegrown garlic – sharing it as a gift and enjoying the taste and health benefits of garlic.  (See the Garlic “Fun Facts” below.)
I love to smash a garlic clove and add it to a savory breakfast or lunch of Mother’s weekly, fresh-baked bread - lightly toasted, doused with avocado or extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, and fresh avocado. 
Sometimes I add fresh-made ricotta cheese.
Sometimes I also add anchovies with red pepper. 
At a recent WNYC Lopate & Locavore event, How to Write a Cookbook the NY Times food writer and cookbook author Melissa Clark, (@goodappetite ) who I adore -and refer to as “Culinary Cutie,” noted a shared love of anchovies and says she uses them in most every recipe when she can.  Me too.
Melissa is so irrepressible – when I told her I refer to her as a "Culinary Cutie" – she squealed delight in her signature high- pitched, super-energy style, saying, “I love that!  I’m gonna’ put that on my business card!” 
More Culinary Cutie love...  

One of the garlic varieties we enjoyed last year was sweet and juicy Music.
Another was Duganski.  And then there was the exotic, cinema-sounding “Indochine.”
This year we planted Inchelium Red Garlic. German Red Garlic and Russian Red Garlic.  

The texture of homegrown garlic is akin to a water chestnut -- its shared characteristics are crunchy, juicy, light and flavorful. 
Homegrown garlic is nothing like the overbearing, petulant garlic that most are accustomed to -- and that lingers on the breath and the clothes far too long.
Not so with fresh-from-the-garden garlic. 

Soil Prep

My husband Bill – a passionate and dedicated master cook and gardener --had already taken the soil from this year’s “Compost Cabanas” and transferred it to the farm-ette – spreading the rich, organic “black gold” as a top dressing.  

We got a bit more than usual this year because we must have the house foundation rebuilt before we do the second half of our home’s renovation – and the compost bins had to be broken down and removed for the work to be done.   
(Don’t you just hate spending all that money on infrastructure when it could go directly to a beautiful, glamorous tub or fireplace?? Sigh…I’m having fun teasing friends, saying, “No one ever says, “I just love your foundation.”  

But let me refocus.
The farm-ette benefited from the extra layer of black gold soil there is no doubt.

Bill measured off three garlic beds marked by string; each bed is nine inches by 12 inches, for a total planting bed that is 18 feet long and 3 feet wide.  

We planted the garlic cloves about a foot or so apart.  


And labeled them.  
We plan to yield about 100 garlic bulbs next harvest.

Not to be overlooked is the beauty of the garlic plant.  Who couldn’t help love the graceful, globe-shaped sphere of the allium flowers in the spring? A happy lavender color – in fact it’s a glamorous Pantone Color of the Year 2014 Radiant Orchid.

And we love eating the garlic scapes in late spring.

We order our garlic – and potatoes from the The Maine Potato Lady – a certified organic grower and handler. I highly recommend them.

The Garlic Zombie

Ok, the zombie the reference might be a smidge too dramatic but it’s a fun way to refer to a situation that is one of those bizarre “only in the garden” tales.
Let me set the stage.

One of my dearest garden clients is a celebrated family who live together in the best way possible: extended, multi-generational - with the kids all the way to the great uncle -- as in their grandfather’s brother. “Great” is not just a moniker. But in the end – he is truly better than ‘Great.” I cite him as inspiration in my book, The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook."

The cultural, cerebral, adored uncle has been oh-so-unfairly anointed with a progressive movement disorder.  I only bring this up with great discretion and respect as it figures into the garlic caper.
See, the medical situation gave rise to the need for an in-residence/on-site medical professional to assist with nutrition, physical therapy and consequently, a kind of  “Jeeves & Wooster” errand and adventure, about -town kind of dynamic.
All good.

With regard to the garlic planning, the story’s first chapter opened like this:
Last year about this time, I’d asked one of my Duchess Designs team members – the master gardener, Dennis – to plant some of our Russian Red garlic that I’d gifted to Uncle B.
This Russia element would come to play perhaps a critical character role in the garlic saga…
See, the good doctor is from Georgia – not the state that embraces Atlanta and all things peachy – but the country of Georgia.
And when Dennis attempted to plant the Russian Red garlic, the good doctor stridently halted any notion of garlic planting.  In fact, he took the garlic and put it in the refrigerator.  No planting till spring, he declared.
Being the respectful, client-focused team member, Dennis backed off and didn’t argue.
Later, when he told me, I thought it was a fantasy.  Surely it was a misunderstanding.

It was only after an early frost (precursor to last winter’s crushing frost that area nurseries told me led to heartbreaking plant loss.  One respected nursery owner described the scramble to water spray to heat the plants and move as much as possible to the greenhouses.  To no avail… it was too much cold; too fast, too “unexpected.”
In this case, Climate Change – was decidedly not our friend.

Once that frost occurred there was no going back. 
We lost our window of opportunity to plant the garlic.
Nevertheless, like incredulous, bereft, caregivers, Uncle B and me found ourselves at the refrigerator door.  We couldn’t help but peer inside, staring down the garlic.
It was perched there like bad kids in detention – knowing that once the fridge door closed they’d be getting away with something – they knew they didn’t belong there.
It was as if we were willing them to get out of there into their rightful place in the garden.
The garlic seemed to thumb their nose at us – it was to be a winter garden party of sorts for them – all snug inside and not working to root in anything as their job required.
All aided by the good doctor.
My unconfirmed psychic-babble suggested that perhaps in Russia it is far too cold to plant garlic in the autumn. Perhaps the ground freezes way too much and so they plant garlic in the spring.
I meant to research this but because in our situation it was of no consequence – I didn’t pursue it.
Woe to those who are unprepared …

Harvest Time 2014

This autumn, Bill and I harvested a bountiful crop of that same, spicy, flavorful garlic. 
Uncle B’s? Not so much.  In fact after a spring planting there was just a whisper of garlic to be had – slivers  - not worth a smear, a roast, or even a taste. 
It was like Scarlett O’Hara seeing the crummy carrot in Tara’s fields when she passionately rips the tuber from the ground swearing, “As God as my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.”
Well this garlic was like that. No one was going to eat it; much less enjoy it. 

So it was almost with a small sense of logical smugness that I thought we would never encounter any kind of garlic contretemps this year. After seeing the non-harvest tweezer-sized harvest, who could disagree that fall planting was the way to go.
I was wrong.

What happened next is too hilarious – but trust me—all true.

This year, I asked my Mother, Virginia, to deliver the Red Russian garlic to Darin – another superlative Master Gardener I’m privileged to have working on the Duchess Designs team. 
Darin was constructing an extended edible garden bed with borders from the wood we had left over after building the tiered corner “beach” garden beds. 
I’ll write about this design concept and construction shortly.

As it was, we laid out the extended edible garden, secured the extraordinary super soil for maximum benefit, eager to plant our client’s edible garden.

Later the next week, I asked Darin via text how the new garden bed construction and garlic planting went.
Confirming the garden bed was “all good,” he wrote that the garlic was taken before planting.
I couldn’t understand  - who took it and why.

So here is the incredible, can’t make this up sequence of why the garlic wasn’t planted  -- and how my Duchess Design team – aka Garden CSI – and Uncle B surreptitiously coordinated in order to get the garlic planted.

It seems the good doctor must have been monitoring the new garden bed construction.
Is he a “Garlic Whisperer?” A “Garlic Zombie?!” 
How did he know we’d be planting the garlic?  Was he monitoring our moves?

In any event – it turns out it was indeed the good doctor who saw Darin planting the garlic. 
At the point he came out to hijack the garlic! 
Despite the no-yield harvest and subtle suggestions about the best time to plant garlic here, the good doctor was unyielding.
I was mystified about what had transpired, (not being on-site that day) and had written to Uncle B to ask about shedding some light on the situation.
I learned from great, good, uncle that in fact, he had to intervene. He took the garlic from the good doctor, telling me, "We were about to face the problem again so I confiscated the garlic and waited for your response. Let's plant the garlic in a place different from the beds (handled by the good doctor) and show him the results in the spring. He is unreasonable on this subject. He does his job tending to physical arrangements for me… Attempting to persuade him on the garlic planting is a waste of time…”

The Garlic Plot Thickens.

Alas, not the plating kind of plot! 
The next chapter in the garlic saga was me and Uncle B emailing about how the Duchess Design team would secure the garlic from him and secretly plant it in the front yard – far from suspecting and suspicious eyes that might yet again thwart the garlic growth.

After the clandestine planting, Dennis wrote, “He (Uncle B) stealthily handed off the garlic goods to me. I surreptitiously planted seven cloves of Russian Red out front. I placed a small flag to denote the location. Hoping the garlic zombie is not on to me.)

Fingers crossed our secret garlic planting is a) not discovered and b) Mother Nature favors us with a bountiful garlic harvest next year.

Lest anyone think there is no intrigue or mystery in our home gardens, this homegrown tale is sure to bring a smile and badge of hope to all your armchair garden friends this winter who think the drama of King Louis XIV and his Versailles and Nicolas Fouquet and his Vaux-le-Vicomte and their garden battle of the wills contest from a long-ago era doesn’t happen here.  Look no further.

We managed to triumph this year and look forward to a good garlic harvest.
This was just an incredible series of garden dramas that will surely be an authentic, fun story to pass on under the banner of "you can't make this stuff up!"

Plants incite passion!

Garlic Fun Facts -- Did you know that?

  ·          Garlic can ward off vampires!

  ·          Garlic is rich in antioxidants which help destroy free radicals

  ·         Garlic is used to prevent heart disease, including atherosclerosis, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and boosts the immune system.

  ·         Garlic may also protect against cancer

  ·         Garlic may help prevent the common cold

  ·         Gravediggers in 18th Century France drank crushed garlic in wine, believing it would protect them from the plague.

  ·        World War I & II soldiers were given garlic to prevent gangrene.

  ·        China is the world’s largest producer of garlic, followed by India

  ·        Egyptians fed it to the workers as they built the pyramids

  ·        Alliums are beautiful plants with puffy hairdo heads on a slender tall reed

  ·         The word garlic comes from Old English: garleac which means Spear Leek

But in the end – it’s all about the taste.  And homegrown garlic is unrivaled in its flavor.  So get out and plant your garlic. Even if it’s in your containers. 

You will thank me next year.