I Left My Heart [at the Green Wall] in San Francisco

Dion Zhang Miller

Dion Zhang Miller

I went to San Francisco for ten days to meet my new grandson. Of course I fell in love with him.

On Saturday afternoon I took a break from family to visit the newly reopened San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and report on the current “Typeface to Interface” exhibition for Print magazine. And while I was there I fell in love with something else — a green wall — something I’ve been interested in for a long time.

Designed by Habitat Horticulture, the SFMOMA Living Wall is the largest in the U.S. Measuring 29′ 4″ tall and 150′ wide, the 4,399-sq-ft wall provides an outdoor experience for visitors and background for art at the third-floor sculpture terrace — home of the Alexander Calder Motion Lab exhibition through September 10.


Living Wall 1



Alexander Calder, Big Crinkly, 1969

Featuring 19,442 plants of 37 different species, the wall is a work of natural art supported with a recycled-water system. Approximately 40% of the plants — 21 species — are native to California and the Bay Area, many of which can be found on forest floors of local parks, including Mount Tamalpais and Muir Woods.

An examination of local ecosystems with similar conditions to SFMOMA helped determine the plant selection and composition that would thrive. A lighting analysis helped predict the evolution of its growth. Featured native plants include wild ginger, redwood sorrel, huckleberry, pink flowering currant, western sword fern, and yerba buena. The wall is primarily irrigated by storm water and excess water from the museum’s HVAC system. Monitored by moisture sensors so that it’s watered only when needed, the wall is held in place by materials made from recycled polyester and water bottles.

Wal Detail

My colleagues at the Garden Club of Irvington-on-Hudson and I will be consulting with local experts in the hopes of creating a similar — but smaller and less ambitious — green wall project using Hudson Valley natives at a public site in our area next year.

Posted in Garden Design Projects, Horticulture, Public Gardens, Travel-California, Urban Gardens | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Tree Man of Holbox Island

I was touring Holbox Island on my bike. I just had to stop. The signs were so intriguing: “Adopt a Tree” in more than a dozen languages and “Vivero Plantas Endemicas” (garden center for native plants).


1 Entrance

I got off my bike and went inside.

1b Interior

There I met Vicente Caceres. With his minimal English and my very basic Spanish I learned a lot about the ecology of the island and what he’s doing to protect and enhance it.

2 Vicente

Vicente grows a lot of plants, tropicals and succulents. But mostly trees. He is the Tree Man of Holbox. The palm tree, to be exact. Two kinds of palms grow in the Mexican Caribbean, specifically in the Yucatán peninsula, he told me. There is the palma kuka, with its typical long, single stem, like the ones below.


And there’s the palma chit, with its fan-shaped fronds, like the young plant below, almost ready to transplant. Both are slow-growing.

6 Palma 3 años

Vicente has patience. He has grown many, many trees from semillas, seeds he’s harvested, collected and planted.

4 Seeds 1

5 Seeds2

It takes three years, he explained, for tiny seedlings to grow large enough to transplant. They do, under his care. Over the past three years, Vicente has propagated and planted more than 1,000 trees in public places all over Holbox: parks, schools, cemeteries, sports fields, plazas.

You, the visitor, can be part of the process. You donate some pesos and Vicente scoops compost he makes from seaweed (there’s lots of that around), coffee grounds, etc. into a pot he fashions from plastic cut from a recycled trash bag. Then he pokes a hole in the compost, transplants a tiny seedling, and paints your initials on the bag with pink nail polish.

7 Seedlings

8 My seedling

There’s mine in the lower right corner, with the ‘E’. I hope it grows up strong and healthy like the ones in the picture below, and that it ends up shading a field where the kids play soccer. But anywhere on the island will be fine.

3 Chit

Next time you’re in Holbox, stop by and adopt a tree. The name of the place is Yumil Ka’an, which means “Lord of the Hammock” (there are a lot of hammocks on the island, and I hope Vicente stops working long enough to rest in one of them.) You won’t need a map. Just follow the roads and paths and you’re sure to meet him and get the tour yourself. And if you can’t make it there, his Facebook page is Holbox Viveroyumil.


Posted in Conservation, Horticulture, Nurseries and Garden Centers, Travel-Mexico | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Hand-Painted Advertisements of Holbox

Smokin Frida2

My husband and I recently had the pleasure of spending a week on Isla Holbox, Mexico, a tropical island/wildlife reserve about 30km off the coast of the Yucatán. We stayed at Villas Flamingos, a low-key resort where the main activities are bird-watching and strolling in the shallow waters that surround the island. Evenings meant a trip (a 20-minute walk along the beach, 10-minute bike ride, 7-minute golf-cart ride) into town, which consists of small shops and restaurants grouped around the zocolo and along a few side streets. From the first moment, we loved that town, in fact the whole island, with its truly laid-back, unspoiled (no mega-hotels), friendly vibe.

The most striking feature of the town: the paintings on the walls. The people of Holbox are truly creative. Here is some of their work:


Besides a Frida obsession, there is great interest in space travel, fantastic creatures, and the local Mayan heritage.




Many of the paintings identify and promote local businesses and products. Could this medium be even more effective than Facebook advertising?






My favorite, below, is a piece that turns the corner of a building and celebrates the colobrí or hummingbird. The signature, Jade Rivera, led me to the website of the artist, who has been commissioned to create extraordinary wall paintings all over Latin America.



And here is our favorite restaurant, El Colibrí, home of delicious food and musica en vivo (live music) every evening.


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SnowNice to wake up to. Not so nice if you’re planning to go somewhere. Luckily, I’m working at home today. Hope you are, too.

Posted in Hudson Valley NY, In My Garden | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Artifacts of Civil War America

FreemanStoreCoffeeLast month, I had the pleasure of visiting the Freeman Store & Museum, a charming historic house in the Town of Vienna, Virginia, a Washington, D.C., suburb.

Built in 1859 by storekeeper Abram Lydecker, a New Jersey native, the house was occupied by both Confederate and Union Army troops during the Civil War. After the war ended, the Lydeckers moved back in. In 1892, however, Lydecker was charged with “improper dealing with the enemy,” i.e., the Union, from which Virginia had voted to declare secession. We’ve apparently forgiven Virginia, and him. The house later became the home of notable local citizens—including Leon Freeman, the first president of Vienna’s volunteer fire department—and was restored in accordance with historical records. It is currently operated as a shop and museum by Historic Vienna, Inc.


Model of the house that is now the Freeman Store and Museum, as it was during the Civil War.

The first floor is a replica of a country store, intended to gives visitors the opportunity to step back in time to experience the American general store of the Civil-War era. For sale are hand-crafted children’s toys and puzzles, books, postcards, candy, and historic-themed gifts including prints and ceramics by local artists. On the second floor, the museum displays what are called Living History Exhibits designed to illustrate the way people lived, practiced crafts, and entertained one another in the 1860s. I was especially interested in the displays of photographic equipment, canned goods, sewing equipment and kitchenware.


Women were involved from photography’s beginnings in the 1830s and ’40s. I think I can see a reflection of myself shooting this picture with my iPhone 6s.


The displays of canned goods included “Burnham Brand” produce canned by the Edgett-Burnham Canning Company, which was founded in 1863 by Ezra Edgett of Camden, NY, near Syracuse. The company processed crops that were were grown on the factory farm or purchased from area farmers. Fruit, vegetables and poultry were canned to feed Union troops. I hope some of them appreciated the lovely typography and illustration on the labels.


Showcases displayed Civil-War-era sewing and crocheting accouterments and kitchenware for cooking and home canning, which were lent by Vienna-area residents.


A new exhibit, opening this March, will chronicle the history of Farming in Vienna and surrounding areas of what is now Fairfax County.

The Freeman Store and Museum is located in 131 Church Street NE, Vienna, VA 22180. The House is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday from noon to 4:00 and on Sunday from 1:00 to 5:00 (in January and February, by appointment only).


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Christmas Is Bustin’ Out All Over

’Twas the day before Christmas, when all through the (green) house
The plants were going crazy, bustin’ out of their pots.
The annuals, succulents, perennials and tropicals all loved the warm day
Happy that this winter seems more like L.A.
Alas, snow and ice may soon end New York’s 70-degree delight
Enjoy while you can! Happy Holidays, and to all a good night.


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Sheep and Wool and Much More

When my friend Frana Baruch, artist, graphic designer and craft fair and flea market aficianado, first told me that the New York Sheep and Wool Festival was “the best thing ever,” I thought she was kidding. Well, several chapters of my upcoming novel, The Secret Buttons, take place on a sheep farm in England, and everything I learned about sheep and sheep-shearing came from watching YouTube videos. Yesterday was the perfect fall day—if a bit chilly—to take a drive up the Taconic Parkway and experience it myself, so why not learn firsthand?


It was a spectacular drive—peak leaf-peeking season—and Frana was more than 100 percent right. Sheep and Wool? Who knew? Thousands of people knew. 2015 was the 35th year of this two-day event at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds in Rhinebeck, NY, jam-packed with things to see and do.

First of all, there were the sheep. Every variety of sheep, from farmers across the country. And llamas and goats and rabbits, and every other animal from which come natural fibers for weaving and knitting.



black sheepjpg

Bundled Up2_0020And contests, for the best in each category, the animals trotted around the ring and shown by their proud owners.



The nonstop events, in addition to livestock displays, included workshops, demonstrations, book signings, lectures, plus eating and drinking—including samples from Hudson Valley wineries and cheesemakers.

It was fascinating to see that in this age of the iPhone 6 (with which these photos were taken) how many people are dedicated to the arts of raising sheep, shearing, working with natural vegetable dyes, spinning, and weaving, and of course designing garments and knitting.



From the spun fibers come yarns in every weight and shade. Approximately 150 vendors participated, many of whom displayed garments made from their yarns, either for sale or as samples, with original patterns available. I especially liked the children’s sweaters, with sheep patterns knitted in, sold as kits.





Gray Close-Up



Other vendors sold books, knitting and weaving supplies, buttons, jewelry, decorative accessories, and more.

Still Life_1018_0061

Frana and Friend_1018_0031

Frana, above right, bought sheepskin slippers and yarns for her art and knitting projects. I bought a hand-embroidered shawl and a “Bullseye Bump” from Loop Fiber Studio — described as “created spontaneously from a unique blend of fibers, colors and textures… Bullseye Bumps contain a continuous length of creatively carded roving.” (Roving, I’ve learned, is a preliminary step to spinning yarn. It’s wool sheared from the sheep, combed, washed, and carded, which involves arranging the fibers in the same direction so the wool can be twisted and spun into yarn.) “These rovings are wound into center-pull bums that produces whimsical, self-striping yarn that is delightful to spin.” And as demonstrated below by Loop owner and creator, Steph Gorin and me, her rovings can be delightful conversation-startiers to wear as a scarf, twisted, tied, or arranged any way you like.

bullseye bumps


Posted in Art Inspired by Nature, Fairs and Community Events, Hudson Valley NY, Knitting and Needlework, Travel-USA Northeast | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment