Plants and Stone for California Gardens


Rock Creek Watercolors


Last week we went out to Bishop for a wedding and then afterwards spent the rest of the week camping in the area. We went a few different places, including three days at Rock Creek, where I made several watercolors along the creek heading up from our campground to the lake, my first watercolors of the year.



Though it’s called Rock Creek, the prominent feature in that section is a beautiful riparian grass. I’m not sure the species.


Up top, Rock Creek Lake is a beautiful alpine lake surrounded by pines and aspens. It seemed like peak time for the coloring of the aspens, a great time to be there.

Tournesol Containers?


One of my recent projects includes some containers for a roof garden. I don’t generally do a lot of containers, and it can be a struggle to find the right ones. These are from Tournesol. They make a number of products and I see their advertising in various magazines, but I wonder if this was a small project for them that didn’t have their full attention because they were a frustrating company to work with. There were long waits for estimates and other information, the turnaround time was a couple of months, and then the containers showed up without the specified drainage holes on the bottom, which was irritating because they had made us specify and draft out the holes for each container. For the price we paid, we shouldn’t have needed to drill our own holes. I’m curious if other people have had similar experiences. I like the containers and how they fit into the space without distracting from the views, but it was a lot of effort to get ten pots and I doubt I’d use Tournesol again.



I grew up in the suburbs, so it’s always kind of amazing to me to be up on a rooftop like this. A different type of Bay Area garden space than I usually get to work in.


Renaissance Sculpture Restoration

I’m not particularly interested in figurative renaissance sculpture but this is an interesting story. An important Renaissance sculpture, Tulio Lombardo’s Adam, fell over and shattered into twenty eight major pieces and hundreds of smaller fragments. Instead of quickly glueing it back together around a metal armature, the restoration team took took over a decade to painstakingly restore it using a reversible adhesive and pins in only the ankle and a knee. Quite a process. There’s a cool time-lapse of the restoration here.

Scarlet Monkeys Like Greywater


Our garden is looking pretty sad these days. I’m not watering much, and a lot of the plants look drought stricken, struggling to hang on until the rumored El Niño arrives. Plus our dog has been marauding through the veggie garden chasing after a squirrel. One spot, where she repeatedly slams to a halt after missing the squirrel, looks like a shallow bomb crater. The happiest plants are the larger plants that she has to avoid or else safely in containers, out of the trample zone. Far and away the best thing in our garden right now is the Scarlet Monkey Flower, Mimulus cardinalis, in our greywater bed.


Above is what the greywater bed looked like in November when I rebuilt the bed and planted several divisions of the Monkey Flower. Below is a similar view only eight months later. Needless to say, the Mimulus has thrived with the greywater. We’ve had profuse blooms for nearly two months.


They make such a profusely blooming mass, I don’t always notice the form of the flowers, but up close I like the flowers quite a bit. Scarlet monkey flowers aren’t the most refined looking plant, they reseed a bit, and they do best with good amounts of water, but they’re a good plant. I don’t know a lot of flowering natives that thrive with greywater, so as that kind of planting becomes more common, maybe we’ll start to see them used more.


Noguchi Museum Miscellany


These are some of the other works that caught my eye at the Noguchi Museum. He worked in an impressive variety of styles and stone, with interesting variations within each style, and it was great seeing them together in one museum, seeing the continuity and the juxtapositions. In the last post, I showed some of the large basalts which were mostly concentrated in the first room of the museum. The other ground floor rooms hold work from a broader selection of time periods, styles, and types of stone, while the upstairs has works that are generally smaller in scale and feel more domestic.


These polished marble works use a tensioned cable on the inside to hold them together. If you click on the photo above, you can faintly see that the weird, striped, bone-shaped sculpture has a stone plug filling the access hole for the cable.


The floor pieces are some of my favorites. I love the one below, Another Land. A similar one titled This Place is also in this style.


More photos are below. Read the rest of this entry »

Basalt at the Noguchi Museum

The highlight of my trip to New York was a visit to the Isamu Noguchi museum. I’m a big fan of Noguchi. I don’t love every single thing he made, but all of it is interesting and some of it is awesome. And I loved the museum. As they say in the video, it’s quite unique, a museum founded, designed, and curated by the artist.


I was there at the perfect time to see the cherry tree in the museum’s garden, but, unfortunately, workers were renovating the perimeter wall around the garden and the sculptures were hidden under plywood boxes, my one regret about the visit. Two of the works I most wanted to see, The Well (Variation on a Tsukubai) and Core (Cored Sculpture), were under the plywood. Photographer Tibo has beautiful photos of the garden as well as wide-angled shots inside the museum, worth checking out, they’re much better than my efforts with my phone camera. I’ll have to go back some day when the trees are in leaf and with a proper camera. It looks like a great garden space.



Most of these photos are from the first main room of the museum. The room is somewhat open to the elements, with an open light well in one corner and openings along the top of the walls like unfinished clerestory windows. These sculptures are from later in Noguchi’s career when we was working with monoliths of Japanese basalt. The natural patina of the stone is an important element of all of these works, so it’s a nice touch letting the weather into the room so the stone can continue to age.





The world’s largest pestle, titled The Stone Within. Such a beautiful contrast between the patina’d surface, the worked surface, and the polished surface.



There are several in which he more or less drew on the surface with his chisel.


A few of the stones were claimed from Japanese masons who were splitting them with plug and feathers. I love how he turned this one into something like a moai.


In this one, from the same time period but set in one of the rooms with more varied work, he carved and polished around the plug-and-feather holes to emphasize them. He titled it To Bring to Life, which is possibly a little grandiose but also shows the value he saw in the efforts of masons and sculptors.



A series of sculptures with similar form shows what led him towards working with basalt. Looking at the first of them, a white marble titled The Roar from 1966, the form shows perhaps a neck and a head tilted back, shouting to the sky; the drill marks might be hair or action lines, though of course I could be reading it wrong. In any case, it has a range of finish textures — rough, chiseled, drill-scarred, polished — but they don’t have the same impact as they would in a more interesting stone.


Next to it is an obsidian piece, Heart of Darkness from 1974, that adapts the same form to a stone with real character. The pale skin is the natural patina, the dark edges show the color of the breaks, and then the polished surface is a beautiful shiny black. It’s smaller than the marble, but probably the biggest piece of obsidian I’ve ever seen, and the contrast between the textures makes it much more powerful than the white marble. It’s one of my favorites in the museum.


Give and Take from 1984, has a similar form again and the same range of finishes, but in basalt. To me it looks unfinished, but I can also guess how beautiful he found the natural surface.


I took other photos which I’ll post fairly soon, but this seems enough for now. The basalts and the obsidian are some of my favorites, though I also like his floor pieces in granite and marble, his upright slate assemblages, his water table and various other things he made. Like I said, I’m a fan.