Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Archive for the ‘miscellaneous’ Category



On my Italy trip I went to Brion Cemetery, the chapel and memorial garden Carlo Scarpa designed for the Brion family on a parcel of land adjoining a smalltown cemetery. It’s a family memorial, but it’s also a de facto Carlo Scarpa memorial, a destination for the legions of Scarpa fans, which now absolutely includes me. I knew of Brion, but didn’t know where it was, just that it was in an obscure town in the Venezia, and it didn’t seem like somewhere I could easily visit on the bicycle. But then as I was riding along, I randomly saw a sign for it and immediately detoured. Pure happenstance.

It’s hard to overstate how glad I am. I’d seen photos, but it’s fantastic in person, a tour de force of concrete detailing. There’s symbolism and a narrative to the garden, but what fascinates me is Scarpa’s ability to execute variations on a theme and to incorporate eccentric design moves into a cohesive design. It’s all very quirky, but it all works.

It also struck me that the concrete feels like it is built out of discrete units, there’s a respect for each element of concrete and the joints that bring everything together. You get a sense of the construction of the place and the hand of the designer and workers that created it; it’s as if the wood used to form all of the board-formed concrete still has a presence in the garden. I studied the joints to try and figure out the process, and I’ve seen some of the construction drawings, but I would love to have seen the forms. ‘Damn, he had a good concrete person,’ was one of the first things I said as I walked around.

Brion has been photographed a great deal, but never by me, so I’m indulging myself. An excess of photos are below. (more…)

Cycling Italy and Switzerland

I have a garden again! After two years splitting time between the Bay Area and the foothills, I’m now back in the Bay Area full time. The foothills were nice but ultimately an impractical place for me to live, and I spent way too much time driving. Also the cows rampaged every time we tried to start a garden, which frustrated me after a while. So now I’m back in Berkeley, and my new place has a garden. It’s not terribly interesting at the moment, but it has a lot of potential. There are a half dozen vegetable beds, a shady area with some natives, and a large area that was recently reclaimed from blackberry and now patiently waits for fresh new plantings. At some point I will start posting about it, but for now I am just taking ‘before’ photos and developing ideas.

At the moment I have other things to blog about: I spent the last six weeks riding a bicycle in Italy and Switzerland! It was fantastic, of course. Hotter and sometimes steeper than I might have chosen, but awesome cycling and fantastic landscapes. Lots of stonework of course, plus art, architecture, plenty of gardens. I took about 1500 photos and made a stack of drawings. I’ll probably post my drawings next and then some posts focused on specific places, but first, here’s a rather self-indulgent selection of photos from the road. (more…)

Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf

Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf documentary trailer from Thomas Piper on Vimeo.

The Piet Oudolf movie, Five Seasons, is coming to the Bay Area this week, with showings in Berkeley, San Rafael, and San Francisco. I haven’t seen it yet but I’ve been anticipating it for quite a while now. Oudolf is probably the single biggest figure in the plant world and I’m excited to see his work up on the big screen. It’s not to be missed. There are details about the showings at the movie’s website.

2017 Miscellany

‘That packaging of time is a journalistic convenience that they use to trivialize and dismiss important events and important ideas.’ Utah Phillips

Hello, 2018, goodbye, 2017. I don’t always embrace the packaging of time into tidy calendar years — as Utah Phillips said, time is a river and we are in it — but I would like to wrap up and put away 2017. It was not an easy year; that seems to be the general consensus and it was my experience as well. But it wasn’t all bad, there were some good times to look back on. I’ve done these sorts of retrospective posts before, and it seems to be a healthy exercise; I’ve been feeling better as I look back at some of my photos and watercolors from the past year. I especially liked looking at Anita’s watercolors. We painted together pretty consistently throughout the year, and it was one of the main things I’ll remember. It’s been a long time since I posted any of her watercolors on this blog, but I like seeing them mixed in with mine. She’s been working with pattern this year, really nice in my opinion. A very incomplete collection of photos and drawings from the past year is below. (more…)

Why I am Not a Painter

‘I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,

for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
“Sit down and have a drink” he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. “You have SARDINES in it.”
“Yes, it needed something there.”
“Oh.” I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. “Where’s SARDINES?”
All that’s left is just
letters, “It was too much,” Mike says.

But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven’t mentioned
orange yet. It’s twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike’s painting, called SARDINES.’
Frank O’Hara

This poem by Frank O’Hara is my favorite description of the creative process. I love the way its irreverent tone and seemingly arbitrary decision-making belie a seriousness of purpose. I’ve also thought that O’Hara’s Lunch Poems, what he called his ‘I do this, I do that poems’, with their casual accumulation of meaning were one of the great antecedents of blogging.

I thought of this poem recently because a project began with an orangish-colored wall as a possibility in the design, but somehow by the time everything was done the wall was olive green. Probably too literal a connection to the poem, but it gave me all sorts of amusement. I even wanted to include sardines in the design but realized of course it would be too much.

You are currently browsing the archives for the miscellaneous category.