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Stone Benches – Grounding does it.

February 21, 2017

In honor of my new book, The Spirit of Stone – 101 Practical and Creative Stonescaping Ideas for Your Garden (St. Lynn’s Press, 2017) that was released last week I am sharing this post about stone benches.

Stone Bench – Dallas Arboretum – photo by Jan Johnsen

In the heat of the summer when we should be pruning what we really want to do is sit in the cool shade and drink a tall glass of iced tea.


Antique sandstone Bench from English Garden Antiques

Ah, a place to sit in the cool leafy shade!
What better contrast to the soft green lushness that surrounds you than a stone seat or bench, immutable, grounded and cool to the touch…
sitting on stone outdoors grounds you and aligns you to the earth’s electromagnetic pulse…

It is like a calming sedative that you feel almost immediately.

See some great stone benches at the Stonepost website

Stone seats in the garden have a storied history. The Druids of Northern Europe fashioned stone chairs out of boulders. It is surmised that they were used for rituals and perhaps coronations of a sort. Today, in the British Isles and in France, you can find ancient stone seats in fields, woods and near sacred springs.

Sunny Wieler, an Irish stonemason / artist, follows in his ancestors’ tradition and wrote about making stone seats in his marvelous blog, Stone Art Blog (check it out!). Stone Art is his company which serves County Cork and Dublin. Here are some of his marvelous creations.

Sunny Wieler – Stone Art Blog

You might expect all stone seats to be massive and heavy but this is not the case.

In the Chinese tradition, they fashion rounded stone seats (some are carved to look like drums) which encircle a stone table. You can see a great example in the Chinese garden at Naumkeag in Stockbridge.

Traditional Chinese stone table and stone seats

Following this idea, the wonderful designer Jinny Blom created Spore seats. Although not technically pure stone (they are made of a eco friendly moldable stone) they hark back to Chinese stone seats with a more modern flavor. I love them.

They were a commissioned design for a permanent installation at London’s Design Centre Chelsea Harbour, which won a prestigious BALI Landscape Award.

Jinny Blom’s Spore Seats

Another modern take on ancient stone benches is made by Escofet. Their Bilbao benches are also not pure stone but look how great they are.

I show more stone bench ideas in my new book, The Spirit of Stone- 101 Practical and Creative Stonescaping ideas for Your Garden

Blog

‘Om’ in the Garden

January 25, 2017

Om symbol in garden – Jan Johnsen

We need to balance the pace and intensity of modern life
with periods of what poet May Sarton
has called “open time,
with no obligations except toward the inner world
and what is going on there.”

~ Thomas Moore

So how to touch the inner world in a garden?..

Abstract painting

I suggest chanting ‘OM.’ (really it is ‘AUM’), long and sustained, several times…“Om” is the oldest and most widely known one-syllable mantra or chant. It is said very, very slowly.

Mantras are believed to contain a vibrational power that can lift us to higher states.

Scientists recently discovered that rhythmic recitations of a mantra can slow breathing and regulate heart rhythms, this in turn oxygenates the blood, lowers blood pressure and induces a feeling of calmness and well-being.

The Sanskrit symbol above represents “OM”. It does not say ’30’ as some might assume.

The Om symbol (in photo above) consists of three letters, “a,” “u,” and “m,” and includes an after-sound of silence:

• The “a” (pronounced “ah,” the upper curve) represents our waking state.

• The “u” (pronounced “ooh,” the long, lower curve) is the dreaming state.

• The “m” (the curve issuing from the center) is the dreamless state of deep sleep.

The after-sound is represented by the dot at the top…

Garden Oms (smile)


Silently repeating a mantra does not produce the same effects as reciting them out loud.

You must chant OM. out loud…slowly. and remember the ‘dot’ or after-sound silence.

Lawai International Center, Kauai – shrines

If repeating ‘om’ is not your thing then try this during your ‘open time’:

Listen – to the sounds around you.

Feel – the plants or the ground under your feet or the sun on your face.

See – what is around you. enjoy the colors.

Smell – what does your environment smell like?

At first, you’ll find your mind wandering away frequently but this exercise is calming and pleasant, a relaxing break.

Blog

Beyond Prison : Insight Garden Program

October 4, 2016

In the 1970s, I was a part of a team that taught a one year intensive certificate program on Landscape Development and Maintenance at a community college near New Paltz, NY.

I was a young instructor but was very earnest and devoted to teaching. Then one day the president of the college called me in and told me that I, alone, would be teaching all my courses at a men’s correctional facility 44 miles away.

What??!! all my classes? away from the campus? in a prison?

After much protesting, I was sent ‘away’ to teach the entire program at a men’s prison. Well, as often happens, it was one of the best experiences in my life. I taught full time there for 2 years and still cherish the memories.

 Otisville Correctional Facility classroom  - but not my specific class


Otisville Correctional Facility classroom – but not my specific class

I have a lot of fun stories. We installed walks, plant beds and even a solar greenhouse (it was donated by a friend who had it on his property) where we grew organic salad greens. I was not backed by any grants or organizations – I just forged ahead.

I taught college level classes on plant identification and usage, horticultural techniques 1 and 2, soil science, landscape design, greenhouse management tree and shrub pruning, small engine repair and turfgrass management.

The best thing was to hear from my students later (mostly black and Latino from NYC) who got out and got jobs based on their hort. training and their knowledge of landscape plants. One student got a high position with the Parks department, he wrote such a wonderful letter thanking me.

I left after 2 years and I never found out what happened to our solar greenhouse. Today I hear that similar programs are happening around the country and it makes me so glad.

As a kid from the city, I know exactly how life-changing developing a connection with the natural world can be: I remember being 20 years old when I realized that sunflower seeds came from a real sunflower and not a box. An epiphany.

sunflower-seeds_sunflower

Today, Kallopeia Foundation is supporting transformative prison programming (see their multi-media website here: www.beyondprison.us) including a project called the Insight Garden Program.

Here, inmates at San Quentin prison in Northern California are offered vocational training in horticulture and are also introduced to holistic practices like mindfulness meditation. I love this approach because it enhances a connection to nature. Click here: http://insightgardenprogram.org/

from the Insight program

from the Insight program

Please check out their article called Beyond Prison – Breaking New Ground (click on this) from the website. They are doing a great job!

We need to offer more opportunities for all city kids to touch the earth and work with it – not just in prison. Landscape development careers offer the grounding we all need in this screen-dominated age.

they have a video too - go to their site

they have a video too – go to their site

Blog

The Rolling Crabapples – smile

September 21, 2016

This is funny.

Glenn Eichler wrote an open letter to the New York Botanical Garden in 2014 in the New Yorker regarding his love of their rock garden. He felt it deserved more attention:

“…rocks—dragged by glaciers, striped and striated by, I guess, also glaciers—deserve better.

Not sexy? Compared to what, the Donald J. Bruckmann Crabapple Collection?

No disrespect to Mr. Bruckmann, but Mick Jagger and Keith Richards haven’t spent fifty years playing to sold-out crowds as the Rolling Crabapples, the world’s greatest crabapple-and-roll band.”

Glenn has a point, don’t you think?

Mick Jagger in garden

Mick Jagger in garden

Blog

A Great True story about Organic Soil

August 18, 2016
Tony Avent runs the wonderful Plant Delights Nursery - offering a diverse collection of plants and the catalog is a collectors' item

Tony Avent runs the wonderful Plant Delights Nursery – offering a diverse collection of plants and the catalog is a collectors’ item

On April 29, 2010 Anne Raver of the New York Times asked: “How does Tony Avent, the horticultural mythbuster, grow so many plants successfully in his garden?

Rule No. 1: he uses the same mix of 40 percent native soil, dug on his own land, and 60 percent compost for every plant.

logo”The soil for every plant we have is prepared exactly the same, whether it’s a pitcher plant or an agave,” ….

After he switched to organics, he said, ”it took about a year before everything started jumping. Our insect problems disappeared. It was just amazing.” ….”

This observation took me back to 1972 when I was a landscape architecture student at the University of Hawaii and minoring in tropical agriculture

The university farm was in Pearl City ( next to Pearl Harbor) and it was divided into one large section devoted to standard agriculture (agribusiness majors) plots and a very small section reluctantly relegated to organic gardens (run by us ‘hippie haoles’ who were studying tropical agriculture)…

I had come to Hawaii via Kenya and was very interested in saving the world through tropical organic gardening.
Jan hawaii

This is me in Pearl City, Hawaii tending to my vegetable garden years ago – note the Kenyan Kikoy I was wearing..the latest in fashionable gardening clothes.. .:-)

The agriculture students got stipends for their seeds, fertilizer and pesticides…

the organic students got nothing….and you know what happened?

banner_ctahr
Well, every semester the organic plots got better and better because the soil was being improved consistently with fish emulsion and compost ( a local health services organization was training mentally disabled students on how to make compost on premises)

while every semester the big fertilized plots run by the aggies got worse and worse…this was back when ‘organic’ was some weird, unrealistic approach to agriculture….and no professor back then would acknowledge what was pretty evident to the eyes. The crops treated with herbicides and chemical fertilizers were poor and weak….

untitled

Of course, it didn’t help when the campus newspaper did a cover story on our ‘new organic plots’ at Pearl City..and they interviewed me.

I talked about how our crops were flourishing and about a new (ha!) organic pest control called BT -bacillus thuringensis. After that interview, I presented a report to a Hawaii legislature committee on why Oahu should use their sewage sludge in a soil fertilizer similar to Milwaukee’s Milorganite ….

they didn’t go for it but look at what is out there today:

menehune magic

Now, almost 40 years later, I marvel at how long it took society to understand what we – the hippies – knew: Organic is the only way…it is Nature’s Way.

And look at what they offer at Pearl City today:

Organic Gardening!

Live demonstrations by UH Master Gardeners including Organic Gardening 101, Building Healthy Soil, and Composting! First demonstration begins 9AM -10AM, next session 10:30AM -11:30AM.

Composting Worms for Hawaii
Small-Scale Vermicomposting
Backyard Composting Recycling a Natural Product
Building Healthy Garden Soil
Organic Gardening Resources

whole1crew menehune magic

We have come a long way….

The truth is that true tranquility lies in compost and happy earthworms….

And if you live in Connecticut you should know about these people too:

ctnofa_logo_webpage5

And you should know:

Authentic Haven Products - Compost tea

Authentic Haven Products – Compost tea