Sunday Opinion: Slide Wire Potentiometers


 My partner Buck collects all manner of old gauges; he tells me they are known as potentiometers.  They measure with incredible accuracy, electric current.  These devices are beautiful wood boxes studded with all manner of knobs and dials. Many of them hang on the walls of his office; they are beautiful objects. I do not share his passion for instruments of all kinds, but I do like the idea of potentiometers.  It is my opinion that most every person comes with imagination, creativity, and a whole host of other things that make it possible to design- as standard equipment. If you think you do not have this, then maybe you need to switch on your potentiometer.

 A college professor of literature once told me he thought the transmission of knowledge was one of life’s most important responsibilities. The closest I come to teaching is speaking to groups. Some groups are focused on gardening. The herb society wants my discussion of classical English herb gardens. The women’s farm and garden wants a demonstration on proper planting techniques. Other groups are tougher to plan for, and engage.  A spring charity luncheon needs a guest speaker; what will I talk to them about? Who are they? 

 But no matter the group, or my topic, most questions people ask me imply that my ability to design, and garden is a special gift. A gift given to some, and mostly not to others.  Some people have God-given creativity and astonishing imaginations;  others do not. Most questions thus relate to rules, formulas, and tips. People love lists-and especially lists that might get them beauty through the back door, as they clearly think they have no business at the front. They ask, how can one create a garden in spite of a lack of creativity? Are there secrets I might share? Where do my ideas come from? I want to have what you do in my life-how can I engineer that for myself, hiring you, or a step short of hiring you?  I cannot keep anything alive, I cannot organize this garden, this event, or this porch-can you help me to get where I would like to be? I know you have clients; do you coach?  I recognize these straight line feelings; I often fear I have dreamed up my last idea. I worry regularly that I am going lame or repeating myself, maybe faster than I think. At some point, it shocked me to realize there was no program I could sign myself up for, and be awarded not just a degree, but aesthetic vision, at the end.  So I am sympathetic to these questions. However, I find beautiful work, talented people,inspiring ideas, gorgeous gardens, interesting landscapes, everywhere I go.  Everywhere. 

Lauren Hanson takes my writing and my photographs, and does the work of posting for me-but Sundays, I do this myself.  So why is this post in my favorite font, at my favorite size, and oo la la, in green-unlike any other post ever published here, when I know next to nothing about computers?  I have no doubt it is my potentiometer-working.

At a Glance- Spring Yellow




Butterburs In Your Future

butterburr23The temperatures still hover at or below the freezing mark here-typical for the Midwest.  But there are signs of life.   The butterburr flowers are stirring. They are preceded by huge cracks in the earth. Ungainly and ill-proportioned, they look dead as they emerge from the ground, and grow downwards back to the earth-astonishing.  However unappetizing, these flowers are quickly replaced by giant, faintly prehistoric, leafy plants of  equally astonishing scale. They form large colonies overnight-the kind that would spread into your house via the bedroom window-if you are not the vigilant sort.butterburr4

Their immense leaves are stunning. There is no texture like this, unless you live in the tropics.


How dramatically they fall to the ground in a heap when dry will make you laugh out loud. They compliment bitty -textured plants beautifully. But like many things in this world, they are willing to a fault. Give them an inch, and they will take Ohio.  They spread uncontrollably, into the most unlikely places.  The cracks in the driveway, the center of ancient and bristly yews-some surprise you by breaking forth many yards from their home. Shade will slow them down, should you have some. The butterburr battle is a loosing battle that I do not tire of.  Once I spent days removing every scrap and shred of them from a large bed. In three weeks they were back with no sign that I had ever touched them. So I embrace them, and chase them.  Our relationship is my idea of garden drama.
The design lesson here: the things you cannot change- the driveway you were dealt, the weather, the boundaries of your land, the butterburrs-make them work for you.
Give thought to where you are, who you are, and what you want. Most of all, sort out what you think is beautiful.  Be prepared to revise these answers regularly.  Then design. There could be butterburrs in your future.


Working the Earth II

scan0005I did the project pictured many years ago in central Indiana.   My client built this house in the middle of 80 acres of farmland.  He and his wife tithed the use of this land, to grow corn, to their church. The landscape became a farm, and the farm was a landscape.   All of the woody material was planted in rows, as if they were crops.  I designed a pattern of the planting of the corn perpendicular to the woody planting of the landscape, so as to connect this very large house to a large piece of ground. This many years before I ever learned about crop circles.  Crop Circles…

scan0007I was especially happy with this landscape, as I was able to persuade my client to commit to a big idea, and use smaller material, so as to keep within their  budget.  Big houses need big ideas as much as small houses do.  I have never been back to see the project, but I hope that it is all still there, sturdy and strong.


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