Classical chinese garden design calls for spaces that engage all the senses - that allow one to experience nature not only by seeing, but by hearing, smelling and touching. In the torpor of late summer, once all the various rhythms of life and even thoughts slow down, I take advantage of the still moments, where I can simply enjoy sensation. I do this particularly well when on vacation. This summer, my travels took me to Sardinia - and if there is ever a landscape that engages all the senses - it is Italy's.
In Sardinia's villages alone, the scent of jasmine and citronella geranium seep through narrow, twisting allies, and plants root themselves in little chinks in the walls, gushing out from them in torrents of green which seem to explode all that architectural symmetry and perfection.
In the broader landscape, a hot wind rips through the silver foliage of derelict olive groves, and the yolk yellow flowers of wild fennel infuse the air with such a heady licorice scent, it's all you can do not to stop a moment, pick a stalk of finocchietta and bite into it as dry brush scratches at your legs.
It's these moments of stillness, when an intense heat, a sudden breeze or scent stop you, that are so important for us. Because they force us to catch our breath and remind us how, even in a place like New York, where stillness seems so impossible, it is so necessary.
Now that I've returned, I've made it my mission to spend a moment every day focusing on something natural, even if only for thirty seconds. The rustle of bamboo on a client's terrace, the scent of lavender, rosemary and mint, pinched between thumb and forefinger, the brush of Juniper against my wrist.
With so much distraction around us, we need to continually train ourselves to focus. But in order to do this we need to first clear the mind. I am so lucky to work with the natural world, because engaging with nature and reawakening the senses allows one to do this. And so I plan to take full advantage of my encounters with nature in the coming months, even if they occur in the studio. I'll return to work this fall, to the mania of event season with revived energy and concentration, treating each stem, each leaf I work with as a momentary mandala.
In the meantime, I will benefit from these last days of summer, and spend as much time as possible in the out of doors, letting nature take over my senses, so that for just a moment, I am aware only of the feeling grass beneath my feet, the gentle lapping of water against a jetty, the scent of sweet autumn clematis as I pass it by. I'll pick some rosemary and smell it on my fingertips, taste a tomato that's only just been picked and still smells like the plant it came from. I'll simply stop doing. Stop making, and be. And then I will return to life as usual, only with renewed focus.
If you are anything like me, you are just dying to say, with conviction, "spring is here."
We've had so many false starts in NYC this year. Everything seemed to be going so well, with February feeling positively balmy - so warm, in fact, that on a mid-February visit to a client's terrace I saw that last season's Gardenias - not even close to hardy in our zone - were still alive. And the star jasmine? Looking positively verdant. A first in my gardening career. But that was before the mid-March snow and freezing weather. And before, with my tail between my legs, I hopped a flight to Florida where I could drown my sorrows in seas of big green foliage.
I indulged in the landscape immediately, wandering the sand trails of the Hobe Sound Wildlife Refuge, and then finding my way to the tamer, yet no less glorious Four Arts Botanical Gardens. And there I basked in all that big, leafy drama, feeling a little jealous of the proportions of it all, wishing that every once in a while I had something a little meatier to stick my green thumbs into, a northern equivalent to that mammoth Philodendron that was scaling the rough bark of a native tree.
Photos, top left and two below, Four Arts Botanical Gardens.
And then I remembered. The little jewel box patio in an UES townhouse we are installing this spring, with palms and ferns infinitum, touches of Chinoiserie and faux bamboo furniture. I cannot wait to make that little hardscape of bluestone and wood into a lush oasis of soft fronds and ferns cascading from wall mounted planters and springing from each corner.
And then there is that June wedding, in a raw industrial space, just begging for strong, architectural fronds, that somehow manage to soften the space while staying in keeping with the modern lines of it all.
While standing there in the sun, I thought of all that, and remembered why I was there. For warmth, of course, but mostly for inspiration, and hope. Because those are what the growth of green things give me.
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