May 2014

Inspired by Gardens

I am inspired by gardens, possessed by making gardens, and want to be a garden designer when I grow up. Try as I might to spend my time away from work to enrich my soul with architectural site visits (as I have done for the last thirty years of my career), I have recently found myself defaulting to garden visits. On the rare occasion that I peruse buildings, I search out ones with gardens, and then am disappointed if the gardens don’t live up to the architecture. While I am still honored to experience first-hand the many great buildings of the world, my desire to experience gardens is so much stronger now.

A few of my favorite designers of late are the well-known Bernard Trainor – who designs the most magnificent estate gardens that are stunningly beautiful and rigorously functional; and Kate Frey – who is the designer for the working beds and wandering landscape of Lynmar Winery. The beauty of the gardens at the Lynmar Winery cannot be described in either words or pictures.  I was there last weekend with Flora Grubb and her “in another time, might have been, mother in law”, Barbara. The raised beds outside the main patio had just been planted, so you could clearly see the orderly installation of seedlings at 12″ on center – with ½” hoses serpentined to reach each plant. This simple order belies the amazing and unbelievably rich, edge-of-chaos eruption that will explode in the late summer. What I loved about seeing it in May is that I realize that beauty starts with an idea and order and then coalesces into something we can’t control… as hard as we try.

Why gardens?

As I care for my aging parents, and watch my twin daughters grow into adulthood, Kate’s garden provides insight into a long human life in just one season:

We work hard to provide the place for our children (seeds) to grow. We give them nourishment (sophisticated soil amendments, compost, tea, worms).  We provide positive reinforcement when they choose good friends (synergy of planting combination of herbs, annuals, and vegetables, bee and butterfly gardens) and work hard to send the right message when they don’t (weeding of sorts). And then in summer, they start to grow (the changes that one goes through in puberty cannot be understated).  We marvel at their amazing talents, their beauty, their love of life, their laughter with friends. We know that our role is to be there, in the background, supporting and loving and simply being the person who cares for them.

And as the summer fades into autumn, Kate’s garden grows mature with age and starts to lean with the abundance of tall flowered stalks – the tentacles of vines meandering here and there, ripe with fruit and squash. And when autumn snaps, the beds take on their aging beauty, their wrinkles in full view. Some retract inward, and others shrivel from their ends. But the process reminds us that we are mortal beings who grow and die.

Death is not to be feared.

I don’t know how long my parents will live. My mom is 80 and recently had a stroke; she went from a robust, world-travelling 79-year-old to a slow, careful, unsteady, and happy-to-be-helped 80-year-old. A withering but beautiful vine with the sweetest late summer fruit ready to be harvested – and for her return to the earth.

My dad is going to be 88 on June 7th …and he is losing his memory. His flowering is well beyond autumn and withering in the dark winter months of pre-Alzheimer’s forget-me-nots. Physically healthy, but mentally deteriorating – a hard combination for any living thing.

Meanwhile, our girls just presented their 9th grade I2 (Inquiry and Innovation) research projects last night, and I was blown away by their maturity, curiosity, insightfulness, and ease at speaking in public. While neither one has a passion for gardening or architecture, it is clear that they will make their own beautiful and wonderful gardens of life.

2014_Offscreen Magazine Stripe
May 2014

Offscreen Magazine

Offscreen, Issue 8
Photographic spread featuring Stripe HQ.

May 2014

What Used to Be

Fresh from my start as Boor Bridges’ new studio manager, I set off for ten days in NYC to visit family and friends. I’ve found that repeat visitors and dyed-in-the-wool New Yorkers can always find one common topic of discussion, which is the game of “Used to Be.” That Duane Reed store Used to Be a boutique, that fro-yo place Used to Be a punk record store painted screaming hot pink. Play the game with folks a generation or two older and it gets even more interesting:  that skyscraper Used to Be where my great-uncle’s delicatessen once stood.

Everyone has their own individual mental map, as if preserved in amber. There are routes through Manhattan that I still remember perfectly, alarming in their current-day discrepancy to their appearance in my memory. On this trip, we ended up on Gansevoort Street, climbing up stairs to the High Line. This location was one where I had entered the High Line before its restoration, by more illicit means. There used to be one spot where you could climb up an old service ladder, shimmy through a hole in the fence, and explore the wildly overgrown tracks, with an unbeatable panoramic view of the city around you. My friends and I were thrilled at sneaking into somewhere forbidden; and the post-apocalyptic vibe was beautiful to behold. The High Line now is lovely in a totally different way, but I must admit I felt a little disappointed and entitled when bumping along past the many tourists taking in the weak spring sun, or peering up at the Standard Hotel’s glass façade looking for exhibitionists.

Another stop on memory lane was the Whitney Museum, currently hosting its last biennial exhibition in its Marcel Breuer-designed building uptown before a move to (guess where?) the High Line. I have memories of visiting the museum as a child, when I was frightened by the dark staircase, and spent hours there while in art school, arguing in the lobby with my classmates about the works on display. One of the most popular pieces in the show was Zoe Leonard’s installation, creating a camera obscura from the building’s iconic trapezoidal window. The room was full, but also hushed, while the world outside passed silently along the walls. I thought it was a great homage.

I attended a wedding in a former foundry, a party in a former sweatshop. With so much turnover, it was a treat to get to spend an afternoon in one spot that is exquisitely unchanged. The National Arts Club, a private club founded in 1898, is a Gilded Age jewel box, with stained glass, oil paintings, grand staircases, and potted palms galore. My sandals just squeaked by the dress code, and my companion was given a blazer on loan to gain entry. Despite the formality that a couple of California kids were not used to, the National Arts Club was incredible to behold – proof that even in New York, some things cannot be changed.

2014_Interior Design Magazine - Bonnie
May 2014

Interior Design Magazine

April Kilcrease, “Memo from San Francisco:  Insider’s Take
Interview with Bonnie Bridges.