Tag Archives: videos

music in the garden

Painting: Giverny revisted
Raisy Derzie. Giverny Revisted.

None of us live by gardening alone. Lately I’ve been going back to some of my earlier days, composing music. If you’ll be anywhere near Long Island later in July I invite you to a performance that’ll include one of my new pieces, Afterimages, for clarinet and cello, composed for Thomas Piercy (clarinet) and Suzanne Mueller (cello).

There is a gardening tie to all this: the premiere will take place at the Old Westbury Gardens as part of the Sunday Afternoon Concert Series. The date is July 22, and the concert will commence at 3 p.m.

The New York new music organization Vox Novus invited composers to write something in reaction to this painting, Giverny Revisited, by Raisy Derzie. And, oh yes, the piece had to be sixty seconds long or shorter–talk about a big limitation! They then picked fifteen of the submissions for their ongoing Fifteen Minutes of Fame series of concerts, and my piece will be one of them. In keeping with the idea of the painting, where the artist has taken up the subject matter of Monet’s garden through a modern lens, my piece uses contemporary harmonies and rhythms to riff on the opening of Reflets dan l’eau, the first piece of Claude Debussy’s first set of Images for piano.

Southern view of Phipps estate

Also on the program will be pieces by all sorts of composers from Leopold Mozart, Beethoven, and Bartok to Charlie Chaplin. Cool music, all performed on the very manicured grounds of the old John S. Phipps estate on Long Island in New York.

I had another short short work selected for another of Vox Novus’ concerts, this one featuring the West Point Wind Quintet in a concert designed to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. I was feeling a little contrary, so not only did they get a piece less than a minute long, the piece was a three-movement suite, all of which clocked in at about 54 seconds. It’s all a little square and academic but it was fun to write.

The piece: Field Notes: Three Volleys for Wind Quintet

The movements (linked to the YouTube performance):

[ Program notes to the whole concert, including videos of the concert, in two parts ]

The entire world premiere performance on April 29, 2012:


california native plant week, the cartoon

Here’s a little cartoon I whipped up this morning on Xtranormal, the site that lets you create and distribute your own animations without needing to really know what you’re doing. (When it comes to CGI, that pretty much describes me…)

It’s pretty much California Native Plant Week meets Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf meets Hello Kitty. And it’s a test of how well voice synthesis can deal with some common (and less common) scientific names.

Pixar, my number is (619) 555-0213.

cgi gardens

Los Angeles artist Jennifer Steinkamp has been creating computer-generated botanical video installations for the last decade.

A spectacular new work, Madame Curie, just opened at the downtown gallery of the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art. It fills a 4,500 square foot gallery with swirling computer-generated flowering shrubs and trees based on a list of plants Madame Curie tended in her garden. YouTube doesn’t have any examples of this work yet, but you can see documentation at the artist’s own website [ here ].

The new work places the viewer into clouds of branches and flowers that swirl against a dark black background. This is a garden growing without a sun, reacting to an un-felt wind, out in space or down at some sub-atomic level. It’s all mysterious, exhuberant and flat-out beautiful.

Enjoy these short clips of some of her other works. And if you’re in San Diego through our flowery late winter or spring, stop by the museum for a look at this new piece. Meeting the work face-to-face is totally more engrossing than watching snippets on your computer. (Madame Cuire will also be on view in Los Angeles at ACME from February 12 – March 12 of this year.) It makes the plant world of Avatar look like bland Etch-a-Sketch drawings. And just imagine if this work were in 3D!

And here’s a final one that isn’t botanical, but it’s oh so cool, especially when you get into the space and interact with the projections:

stefano mancuso, standing up for plants

Plants are way smarter than humans give them credit for being…

Here’s a cool, thoughtful video from the very cool TED program that I was first pointed out to me courtesy of a link sent out by International Carnivorous Plant Society. (Yes, there are a couple shots of a Venus flytrap.)

You can select subtitling into any of ten languages in case you’d like to catch every word Stefano Mancuso, one of the founders of plant neurobiology, has to say. Part of his message: Genesis got it all wrong, but then so did Aristotle.

(An aside: I’ve written at least once about pronouncing scientific Latin names. Listen to how Mancuso pronounces the Latin name of California’s own giant sequoia, Sequoiadendron giganteum at the 3:51 mark. If there’s any country that can lay claim to even begin to pronounce Latin correctly it’s gotta be Italy, and the way the name comes out sounding has almost nothing to do with how I’m used to hearing it. Of course the word “Sequoia” originates on this side of the pond, so this is a puzzle with no real answer–the most interesting kind!)

growing together

Community gardens are at least as much about community as they are about gardening.

From 120 miles away, I followed in the pages of the Los Angeles Times the final days of what was then the country’s largest community garden. In a controversial land deal, the city had sold the site just south of downtown Los Angeles where almost 350 families had been growing crops for their kitchens or for sale, and the community gardeners faced having their spaces bulldozed. The story of the gardeners trying to save their spaces in the face of a city government bent on finding more profitable uses made for compelling newspaper copy, and it’s now the subject of The Garden, the Academy Award nominated documentary that is making its way around the country in general release.

Check out its most current screening dates on Facebook. The film came to town two weeks ago, but it was gone within a week, like much of the produce grown in the garden it profiled.

Yard-sharing offers a smaller-scale alternative to the larger community gardens and some of the politics that go with it. Hyperlocavore is a social network that helps to match up people who want to garden with homeowners or renters who want to produce food on their land but lack the time or expertise to do it.

It’s a fairly new space online, and not all communities have people who want to participate. Here in San Diego, for instance, there’s currently only one person on the site. But with growing press, there should be more collaborators signed up. It’s a great concept, building community, one garden at a time.

You can also check some of the other garden-based social networks on Ning: Here. There might be just the perfect space for you and your interests. And if not, you can create one.

milkvetch update


I wrote earlier about a little patch of Nuttall’s milkvetch (Astragalus nuttallii), a new California native groundcover I’m trying out. Last time, I was pretty enthusiastic. Now, after eight weeks with less than a quarter inch of natural rainfall, I’m a little less excited.

At this point, at the end of April/beginning of May, the plant continues to be interesting up close: a mix of reddening stems, small green-gray leaves and dramatic red-tinged cream-colored pods.

When the seeds have ripened inside the pods, they rattle in a really interesting way. You can see why many Astragalus are called “rattlepod”:


But the down-side about this plant, I’m finding out, is how it looks from a distance. The red stems, whitish pods and green leaves all give the impression of a brown, dying plant. Just squint while looking at the next image and you can begin to see that it’s not the most kempt looking selection for one of the first things you encounter.

This introduction might work well in an informal area, mixed in with big plants that will take up the slack when this one takes a vacation. A spot that gets occasional garden water also might keep this plant looking nicer, longer. But since I planted it at eye-level, right at the front sidewalk in a spot that gets no supplemental water all summer, I’ve decided it’s probably not the right plant for this spot.

So…I’ve cut it back pretty heavily, and it may be out of this spot if it doesn’t look a lot better quickly. That’s the fate of a lot of California natives: They look great during the cool, wet growing season, but look less wonderful during when it dries out and get hotter, which unfortunately also happens to be the season when people want to be outdoors, enjoying their gardens.

Don’t let that discourage you from planting natives, however. Some of the buckwheats I’ve planted next to the milkvetch are still green all over and are about to begin their long season of flowers and dramatic dried seed heads. And there are many other options for plants that look good throughout the year. It’s just a matter of finding the right plant for the right spot in the garden.

gonzo topiary


I posted a couple months ago about the presence here in town of an extreme topiary garden. At that point I hadn’t had a chance to visit it, but last week I finally made it.


The house responsible for the garden perches high above the street. The owner could have chosen to plant groundcover on the long slope, or to terrace it and garden the different levels. Instead they opted to populate the slope with several dozen crazy little topiaries. Some of them are geometric, but most are fanciful little figures. Bunnies, sea monsters, Texas gunslingers, you name it.



The plants making up all the figures appeared to be cape honeysuckle, Tecomaria capensis, a plant that isn’t one of the classic topiary selections. But it accepts shaping really well, and seems to be a good choice for topiary if you don’t mind a little bumpiness here and there. The plant can have spectacular tubular orange flowers, though don’t expect to see many if you’re sculpting a giant bunny out of it.


A spectacle like this doesn’t just happen, so it was no surprise that I found a gardener maintaining it. I was hoping to see someone shaping the topiaries. But instead he was using an electric hedge trimmer to keep the plants off the stairs that led up (and up and up) to the house. But I guess that’s gardening for you. There’s a certain amount of the really gratifying work of putting in new plants or admiring the flowers, but there’s a lot of basic maintenance that goes into it as well…

Speaking of things topiary, I finally had a chance to see A Man Named Pearl, the 2006 documentary on Pearl Fryar’s amazing topiary garden in Bishopville, South Carolina. The basic story is inspiring: a sharecropper’s son moves into a white neighborhood where his presence isn’t appreciated at first; over time he makes a garden that is awarded “Yard of the Month”; and then he goes on to shape a collection of some of the most original topiaries ever clipped. Some of you have seen the documentary already–particularly now that HGTV has broadcast it. But if you haven’t, it’s definitely worth a look.

quaking and shaking

The morning was warm so I went up onto the deck to soak up a little of the January sunshine. While I was up there I noticed the wind shaking the leaves of one of the potted plants growing up there.

This is Euphorbia cotinifolia, a shrub in the same genus as the exalted poinsettia and the lowly and weedy spurges. Species like the quaking aspen tree (Populus tremuloides) get all the glory for having foliage that quivers in the wind, but I thought the maroon leaves on this plant were doing a pretty good job of it.

This turns out to have been my first YouTube video upload. John’s little digital Instamatic has a movie mode that lets you capture moving snapshots. The quality isn’t what the perfectionist in me would like for it to be, but like other snapshots I think you get the idea what’s being photographed…

carnivorous plants in action

I’ve had a couple recent posts on insects. While I’ll on the subject it looks like there’s a whole subculture of insect snuff films on YouTube. Notice that the “no animals were harmed during the filming of this video” assurance appears nowhere on any of these videos… Here are a couple showing droseras in action:

You can read up on how the insides of the sarracenia pitcher plants are lined with hairs that point downwards, into “the drink,” making escape almost impossible for small insects. Or you can see it for yourself:

And what collection of carnivorous plant videos would be complete without one showing a venus flytrap doing its thing: