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Japanese Garden Notes…a review

One hundred magnificent gardens from Japan. One hundred thirty design elements. Marc Peter Keane.
A person could stop here and persuade many garden aficionados to pick up a copy of Japanese Garden Notes: A Visual Guide to Elements and Design (Stone Bridge Press, Albany, CA, 2017). But there is more. This is my early contender for garden book of the year.

There is not a gardener, of any kind, anywhere, that would not benefit from owning this book (and it must be owned…libraries are destined to lose their copies) and keeping it close at hand. It is that rare book that can be enjoyed all at once like cool water on a hot day, or returned to repeatedly for savoring in sips, like a fine, single-cask bourbon.

The book’s value to gardeners far exceeds what its modest title conveys. It is a rich source of information and advice for ANY kind of garden and not only those that are “Japanese” or so inspired. It is not just about “design”. It is elemental, fundamental, foundational in its approach to what gardeners do and why. It informs all gardening and garden design. If you’ve adopted these techniques instinctively, you’ll learn why they work and how to use them intentionally–and better.

From its beginning, “The gardener creates a design that submits gradually to nature’s touch,” to its last page, Japanese Garden Notes captivates. Keane moves seamlessly back and forth between dozens of gardens. Some are recognizable, others a delightful new discovery. The photography is exquisite, the text, poetic.

The book is divided into six major design topics that function as baskets to hold the tips and techniques of Japanese gardens and design. It is intensely visual. The text is sparse and often poetic. Combined with the captions on the photography it does an eloquent job of conveying what Keane wants us to learn. (And for you book fanatics, though many of the photographs are full page, the use of white space throughout the book is fantastic and enhances, rather than constricts, the content).

There is perhaps no culture that gardens with more thought, feeling, and care for the fine details. Because of this, people are often intimidated by Japanese gardens. In a fast-paced world, gardening this way is very deliberate and thoughtful. The Japanese have always known this but it’s cultural dissonance for many of us. This is one of the takeaways of the book. Gardening can be literally meditative and therapeutic.

It’s not too dramatic to say this is the distillation of a lifetime’s work. Keane has been doing this for decades, including 20 years designing and installing gardens IN Japan. Several of the most popular books on the subject are written, or co-written by him. More than most “shinnichi” (=Japanophiles), he knows whereof he speaks.

This is NOT just a “garden” book. It is a meditation. It is a love letter. It is the world’s longest haiku. Enjoy it at the speed you wish. It will leave you looking for more…and you can find it on page one.



“The Orchid Show: Thailand” opens at NYBG February 18th!

It’s orchid show season and no one gets it off with a bang better then The New York Botanical Garden. This year’s Bacchanalia of flowers, which opens to the public February 18th and continues through April 9th, is themed for Thailand, and celebrates its rich orchid flora and horticultural industry. The Enid A. Haupt conservatory explodes into color, beginning in its Palms of the World Gallery where topiary elephants are decorated with orchids rather than the paint Thai people use in their celebrations.

Elephants (Elephas maximus indicus) are the national symbol of Thailand and a significant cultural icon.

Thailand is a world center for commercial orchid growing and breeding, and the show highlights many of its contributions to orchid horticulture. Most noticeable are Vanda cultivars and their close relatives. Popular for years, breeding has intensified the range of color and size of flowers. Two of these eye-catching cultivars (sorry, they were sans-label) are found on the twin pillars of Vanda found in the Seasonal Exhibition Gallery where most of the show unfolds.










Vanda cvs.

The show doesn’t shy from that darling of the home orchid grower, Phalaenopsis which are found liberally throughout the venue, most notably when they are massed with others of their lineage for impact. The first orchid for many indoor gardener, these “moths’ are blessedly easy to grow and are widely available.


Phalaenopsis cvs. displayed en masse.

Orchid shows are eagerly awaited by botanical garden visitors. Coming, as they do, in the weeks that usually mark the deepest doldrums of winter, they provoke a nearly drunken revelry in the anticipation of spring. NYBG’s floral detonation is clearly calculated to treat seasonal affective disorder. Solar yellow flowers vanquish the ice and snow of February and lull the viewer better than any groundhog, into believing that spring is just around the bend.

x Oncidesa Sweet Sugar ‘Lemon Drop’, a complex hybrid with blood from the genera Oncidium and Gomesa

Those with more tender eyes will find less blinding offerings available, including displays artfully blended into the conservatory’s permanent collections and vignettes tucked hither and yon and calculated to appeal to discerning orchid fans. “Wow” takes a backseat in these areas providing a brief opportunity for the eye to rest before continuing the journey.

Reflections in the pool                                                                                                    Paphiopedilum species perched on a rock in another pool

Cultural references are scattered throughout the show, including lanterns–which should light up the display romantically for the garden’s “Orchid Evening” events (for more information on NYBG’s slate of events including films, dance, tours, demonstrations, and orchid how-to, visit–and the centerpiece of the exhibit. Located at the terminus of the show, a façade festooned with orchids brings to mind the traditional pavilions of Thailand, salas, where people gathered to relax out of the sun.

Sala inspired façade dripping with orchids…the centerpiece of 2017’s NYBG orchid show

Kudos to the staff for what will undoubtedly become another huge hit. It takes a small army, time, and a lot of effort to put together a show of this magnitude and the curators and gardeners of NYBG do it every year–and as part of a seasonal schedule of major exhibitions. The exhibition galleries are stripped down to their skeleton of permanent plantings and thousands of orchids and supporting plants are sourced, secured and sited to bring to life a design that originated just after last year’s show closed and made way for the annual spring exhibit.

An artful display or orchids and Calathea lancifolia (Rattlesnake Plant)                      Orchids and supporting plants

NYBG’s orchid show is one of its biggest draws of the year bringing in tens of thousands of people. It also provides the best opportunity to purchase orchids of your own at the NYBG Shop where hundreds of special plants are being made available. And since you’ll be fully in the swing, Thai food will be available at the garden’s restaurants. Advance planning will maximize your botanical garden experience–and, amazing as it sounds, things are beginning to flower outside as well! Plan to spend the day….

The walk back is just as beautiful as the walk in!

Support YOUR botanical garden by visiting The Orchid Show: Thailand. Places like The New York Botanical Garden are more important now than ever. That such a jewel was snugged inside a growing New York City 125 years ago is mind-boggling and visionary. Be part of it–and the fine work they do.



Merry Christmas from Mt.Cuba Center!

My. Cuba Center got its presents out in perfect timing for the holidays! If you’re on their list and you’ve been nice (powdery mildew to you naughty ones), you will soon be receivingtheir brand new research report on Monarda! A must read for the genus, especially in the targeted mid-Atlantic region, the study involved 40+ selections over three years. Overall performance and powdery mildew resistance were the key factors.

The report, another yeoman’s effort from research horticulturist George Coombs, has a terrific introduction to this popular genus, sections on garden culture, powdery mildew and pollinators in addition to…the results!

I’m not going to steal Mt.Cuba’s thunder by leaking their results and recommendations. You simply have to get your hands on their attractively put together report. While you’re at it, don’t forget they’ve given similar attention to Baptisia and other genera. Fantastic–and useful–work from one of America’s garden treasures.

I’m disabling comments…

Because of the overwhelming signal to noise ratio in favor of spam, I have decided to disable comments on posts. Communication, however, is welcome and I encourage anyone with legitimate comments, suggestions, or chat to contact me by other (obvious) channels.

Published in Public Garden!

We’re very pleased to announce that photographs from Carlo Balistrieri Photography were selected for the cover, and center spread of the American Public Garden Association’s magazine, Public Garden. 

The cover image, featuring macro-detail of Zinnia flower parts, was shot outdoors from a cut-flower bouquet purchased at a local farm stand.

The center spread is a photographed of fasciated Rudbeckia flowers taken in a meadow at the Royal Botanical Gardens-Canada in Hamilton, Ontario.

In all my years of gardening/botanizing, these are perhaps the most beautiful flowers affected by fasciation that I’ve seen.And yes, this shot on the director’s page is mine as well:

…featuring one of the fabulous Bulbophyllum…this one formerly a Cirrhopetalum. Ain’t nature grand?

If you have any image needs, I’d love to discuss them with you!

New social media links!

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve (finally broken down and) started an Instagram account and added a link on! It features iPhone photography and is one more way for us to communicate about gardens and our relationship with the natural world. There’s nothing (next to being there) that cures plant blindness like a fine photograph.

I’m also excited to provide links to Twitter and LinkedIn to provide complete access to what I do online.

Welcome to my social circle….let me know what you think!

LAST CHANCE to see NYBG’s 2016 Orchid Show: “Orchidelirium!”


The New York Botanical Garden’s 2016 orchid show, “Orchidelirium” closes Sunday, April 17th. It’s one of NYBG’s annual can’t miss events and will forever change your views on the importance of flowers to our daily lives….
Whether you can make or not, this video, by NPR’s Science Friday crew and featuring orchid curator and good friend Marc Hachadourian, is well worth a watch:

Going now, aren’t you?



The Orchid Show: Orchidelirium opens February 27 at
The New York Botanical Garden

I’m passionate about plants and gardens. In plants lies the salvation of the world. As a  recent campaign by the United States Botanic Garden pointed out, “Plants are not optional.”

I talk a lot about “plant blindness”—our amazing capacity to walk right past what makes our existence possible. I talk a lot about the relevance and importance of botanical and other public gardens to our daily lives. I talk a lot about plants.

NYBG's Enid A. Haupt Conservatory in winter...but ready for the orchid show.

Another gray winter’s day in New York. NYBG’s conservatory has only the barest hint of what’s waiting inside….

Now we’ve got an opportunity to SHOW rather then tell, and it couldn’t be better timed. The New York Botanical Garden orchid show opens tomorrow and runs until April 17th—and you should run to see it. Leave the world-weary, winter-weary city grind behind and head for the garden.


The show traces the history of orchids in cultivation, from intrepid explorers to our homes.


Thousands of orchids are combined with tropical plants from the garden’s collections.

Marc Hachadourian gets it. NYBG’s orchid expert is fond of calling orchids the “pandas of the plant world.” They excite attention, awe, and interest—inspiring sometimes extreme passions. It is our relationship with the orchid family that NYBG plumbs with its 14th edition of its show, The Orchid Show: Orchidelirium.


Fanciful depictions of orchids showcase their beauty.

On the occasion of NYBG’s historic 125th anniversary, the garden looks back and celebrates the colorful (both bright AND dark, sometimes sordid) history of the orchid’s long march into our homes; first as precious, coddled rarities, and now as pot plants available at any grocery store.


Staff designed set pieces demonstrate the skills of NYBG horticulturists.

Thousands of blooming plants are packed into the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory in an exhibit planned, designed, executed and interpreted by staff. Starting over a year ago with a concept and months of planning, the show took over two weeks of intense effort to install by an interdepartmental team.


Epiphytes spend their lives off the ground and many tropical orchids appreciate the lift.

Designed by NYBG’s Christian Primeau, the show promenades through the conservatory’s galleries—with plants incorporated into the permanent collections—and culminates in a splashy display guaranteed to take the chill out of winter.


Take at walk into history…and beauty at NYBG.

This brings us full circle to the proof of the critical importance of plants and gardens to human well-being. I propose that ‘seasonal affective disorder’ (SAD) is not simply a climate related phenomenon. My theory is that SAD comes as much from lack of contact with plants and flowers as from the dreary gray of winter weather. While it may not make you delirious, The Orchid Show: Orchidelirium will certainly take the edge off SAD, drop the scales from your eyes, and reaffirm the importance and relevance of having places to go to see such spectacles. I dare you not to feel better after your visit….


‘Orchidelirium’ is guaranteed to make a difference in your day.

The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, NY; show dates: February 27-April 17, 2016; visit for ticket information and times.


Remote posting? You bet!

   I’m late to to the game, but I’m back! Both and have been reimagined AND have remote posting capabilities. I could be IN Montauk with these Nipponanthemum nipponicum and regaling you with my musings (yes they’re Montauk Daisies…but what a great formal name!). Stay tuned…the sky’s the limit.