Xeriscaping goes Mainstream

xeriscaping (Photo credit: tylernol)

“Lisa Gimmy’s Designs for Livable California Gardens”
Photo Essay
Lindsey Taylor
Peter Bohler (photos)

The New York Times continues its coverage of California’s growing movement away from English-style gardens and toward xeriscaping, the trend in landscape design toward the use of indigenous flora and ground cover, with a photo essay of the work being done by landscape designer Lisa Gimmy.

What is interesting about Gimmy’s approach is that just as she seeks to integrate the garden with its surroundings, she also takes cues from the architecture and interior design of the home. In short, she seeks to create a continuum between natural surroundings, garden, and living space.

The approach is thus an outright rejection of the traditional approach to gardens, which is to bend nature to our hand and to draw a clear distinction between the “wild” and the “civilized.” I see in xeriscaping, and in particular in Ginny’s thinking, an embodiment of a more genuinely Californian (or far-Western) ideal. We need not alter the landscape to live in it – indeed, we are discovering that the less we alter the ecology around us, the more livable we are making it.

Looking at Gimmy’s designs, both in the essay and on her website, there is an interesting dynamic at work. Rather than force her clients to give up sod and hedge completely, she seems to be leading them – and, by extension, us – through a transition process by integrating traditional gardens and xeriscapes. Purism would be easier, but Gimmy is not trying to hit us over the head with a new orthodoxy. Instead, she is going the more difficult route, designing gardens that wean us away from our customary ordered Englishness into something more natural and Californian.

That is art indeed.

Homage to the Gadflies

Late last week I was perusing the pages of a New York opera site, and I discovered an article that was a review of a book about the art and critics of the New York opera scene. What surprised me (but probably shouldn’t have, was the sheer volume and heat of the anger at critics. All the old saws were there: only failures are critics; critics never added any value to anything, and one particularly harsh missive that argued that any critic who was unable to perform at the level of the artist he critiqued had no credibility.

Which, of course, is so much rot.

Now, I can’t paint, draw, sculpt, make a movie, write a song, or design a building. But I do write, and I have taken no shortage of verbal double-ought buckshot for my writing from people who cannot themselves assemble a coherent sentence. What is in question, though, is not their ability to write, but their ability to read, and if someone can read, he can critique a writer. If they could not (or did not) read, they’re disqualified, but only then.

The same, I would argue, applies to any art.

So while some critics can be insufferable (and some artists can be divas,) to suggest that one must be an artist or have an artist’s talent in order to critique art is so much elitist hogwash. It delegitimizes the opinion of everyone but a closed coterie of talented specialists who (I would argue) are more likely to engage in critical back-scratching (“if I go easy on him, he’ll go easy on me”) than someone without that kind of skin in the game.

What is more, that sort of intellectual snobbery seems somewhat antithetical to a democratic nation, one whose society is built on the presumption that everyone’s choice – and by extension, opinion – is of equal value, if not of equal merit. And don’t get me started on the importance of some undefined level of expertise: it was a child that pointed out that the emperor was naked, not a fashion designer.

Finally, I think we need to admit that critics have a great value if we both recognize their strengths and their limits. Critics have been instrumental (pardon the pun) to my musical growth and appreciation – I would be much more of a tyro than I am today without them. If there is one message we must comport to noobs and aficionados alike, it is this: a critic is entitled to his or her opinion, but he is not entitled to yours. Read, learn, then go listen/look/watch with an open mind.

Industrial Design with Californian Characteristics

American Design, California Style | Fast Company.

Someone once told me that design is where style meets business. California has long played a major role in industrial design for American industry, and increasingly it is doing so for companies around the globe.

In this quick and thought-provoking read, San Francisco-based designer Brett Lovelady explains why this is the case.

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