Design Class for the Future of Landscape Design in America

“Things alter for the worse spontaneously, if they be not altered for the best designedly.”  Francis Bacon

My amanuensis was far afield this week.  His presentations at the New Jersey Landscape Design School were focused on the future of the art Landscape Design into the Future and the practice of  Sustainability.  The classes are held over two days with a third day devoted to study and an examination that tests the student’s retention of the material.

Rutgers Gardens, The Chair Garden, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram

The chairs in the garden were empty. All of the people were in the classes devoted to the New Jersey Landscape Design School

Mr. Brown’s passion for the subject of saving the world leaves me somewhat perplexed.  He talks a very good game but a slide on the uses of “The Little Green Bag…” will not go far to solve the problem of what’s been defined as Global Warming.

New Jersey Landscape Design School, Rutgers Gardens, Holly House, John Bartram Kirk R. Brown

The Little Green Bag was a subject of some heated discussion.

His presentations were on the second day for the education of a group looking to become certified in their love of gardening.  I congratulate them on their dedication.  The search for continuing education in the world of botany is a far-reaching one.  It is education that will return a restorative sense of health and well-being to seeker.  I am a living testament to its life-giving qualities.

Sustainability and the American Dream, John Bartram, Kirk R. Brown, New Jersey Landscape Design School, Rutgers Gardens, Holly House

Audience response was varied to "Sustainability and the American Dream." this response was unexplained at press time.

Denise and Eric Mattes are a husband and wife team of Landscape Architects who began the second day of the event with back-to-back, hers-then-his presentations on the history of their profession since the second world war.  His talk gave illumination to the practice of the science of recent design architects in a contemporary idiom. 

John Bartram, Kirk R. Brown, New Jersey Landscape Design School, Rutgers Gardens

The Mattes team of landscape architects presented history of the art and science of the craft since WWII.

Bruce Crawford, Director of Rutgers Gardens, delivered a brilliant close to the proceedings with his discussion of the relative growth and development of arboreta in America.  He demonstrated an almost life-long commitment to his own garden.

Bruce Crawford, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram Rutgers Gardens, Holly House

Bruce Crawford wrapped up the day with a discourse on developing "Community" around a botanic garden.

I had been with him on many previous occasions when his connection was an almost palpable topic in his speech.  His garden is growing and changing.  He is connecting with a wider community and using the examples of many other spaces to develop his own sense of place and space.

New Jersey Landscape Design School, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram

The audience seemed to enjoy all of the presentations on the last day of the design school.


I struggled all of my earlier life trying to connect people to my botanic garden.  I recognize a similar vitality in the work that Bruce brings to the green spaces at Rutgers Gardens.

Rutgers Gardens, Holly House, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram

The Rhododendron Collection was at the height of its seasonality. Beautiful color.

 Other botanic gardens that he used as exemplars include The High Line , The Atlanta Botanic Garden and my personal favorite of this and any group:  Chanticleer, A Pleasure Garden

Rutgers Garden, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram, Lilac Collection, Holly House

The Lilac Collection added another texture to the garden plantings: that of the sense of smell.

Time was scheduled during the day to take advantage of the beautiful spring weather and get some photos of the changes that have been wrought in the garden’s many rooms.  The hardscape that’s been added has expanded the bones of the spaces.  The new rain garden was an exciting new space that connected the sustainable theme of the day with the reality of green in a garden.

Rutgers Gardens, Rain Gardens, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram, Sustainability and the American Dream

The new rain garden makes contemporary sense and adds remarkable sustainability as a topic on the design table.

Rutgers Rain Garden, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram, Sustainability and the American Dream, Rutgers Gardens

The bluestone paving in the rain garden adds elements of texture, line, form and space to the overall design achievement.

It was a stunning day for an appreciation of the art of garden design and the growth and development of a public green initiative.  Congratulations for the success of the planning goes to Nancy Schmaltz and her dedicated crew of volunteers. 

Nancy Schmaltz, New Jersey Landscape Design School, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram, Rutgers Gardens, Holly House

Nancy Schmaltz introduced my amanuensis, Kirk R. Brown to the participants in the New Jersey Landscape Design School.

Gotti Kelley is to be commended for her control of a camera lens with which she was not familiar.  And as a final thought on the scenes of the day:  I want to acknowledge the beautiful presence of the native poppy in the distant fields of the garden.  Stylophorum diphyllum was the Latin nomenclature for such a

A Many Centenary Birthday!

“I am long on ideas, but short on time. I expect to live to be only about a hundred.”   Thomas Alva Edison

“The first hundred years are the hardest.”   Wilson Mizner

The Junior League of Philadelphia celebrates its centennial this year.  Philadelphia is home to such a large number of honored and ancient associations that it would be curious to investigate whether there is any year forthcoming in which some group or other is not celebrating a centennial…or a bicentennial…or a sesquicentennial…or an any-than-many-centennial.  When you lose count of the number of multiples of 100 that an association has been incorporated, perhaps it’s time to stop counting and go back to look at what the association was originally committed to promote.

So I believe that it is important to note the passing of important milestones; not so much to be self-congratulatory and smug, but as a way to call to mind why it was so important to meet and discuss things over a nice meal in the first place.  I greatly enjoy a nice meal with pleasant company that presents the opportunity to exchange ideas and ponder deeply.  Also, I just like to hear myself talk.  Ask my fine cook and wife if you don’t believe me.

Junior League of Philadelphia, John Bartram, Kirk R. Brown

A hearty meal at the Junior League's Garden Meeting was enjoyed by my healthy appetite

I’ve finished celebrating my tri-centennial twelve years past already.  I enjoy when people try to date me.  Perhaps it’s easier to date a rock.  Perhaps the Pyramids are more memorable.  Perhaps the Acropolis is a better architectural statement.  Perhaps the Venus de Milo without her arms and head is a prettier picture than my sags and bags and wrinkles.  But then again, perhaps the memory of a fine day in the country amidst a group of fellow luncheon guests means more than the easily noted but soon forgotten thoughts what might have been better.  It is enough said to appreciate the wonders of being alive and in good company.

Junior League of Philadelphia Garden Club

As John was relating his historical adventures the crowd sat politely silent and appeared to attend his tale.

I was introduced to any and all who wanted to speak with me.  The day moved quickly through its paces.

The president of the club is Ms. Graham Boose.  She was grace itself when I accidentally took the seat promised to her at lunch.  It is my oafishness and lack of social etiquette that always prompts me to take the center stage and seek the strongest spot light.  My apologies go to her as I reflect on the minor contretemps that occurred over my disregard of the formalities of the day.

Junior League of Philadelphia, John Bartram, Ms. Graham Boose

John Bartram shared conversation with the President, Ms. Graham Boose.

A horticultural historian in the group, Ms. Mary Cloud Hollingshead, came prepared to best me in my challenge to always appear with the most outstanding hat.  I grant you that my striving for superiority is not in the Quakerly way of being humble, but then they were not welcoming of my opinions in all those years past.  I think I might be forgiven for a bit of harmless pride in the scale of my hat!  It has need to fit a large head after all.

Mary Cloud Hollingshead, John Bartram, Junior League of Philadelphia, Kirk R. Brown

Ms. Mary Cloud Hollingshead regaled John Bartram with stories of his own travels. I was very impressed!

The lady to whom I owe my thanks and gratitude for the invitation to share my story is Jane Acton.  She is the chairperson for programming.  Her charming notes and contacts over the many months leading up to the day were some of the most memorable of my experience.  It was truly an honor to be considered for this particular time and place.

Ms. Jane Acton, John Bartram, Kirk R. Brown, Junior League of Philadelphia

Jane and John ending the afternoon with a contest of hats. I love hats!

I leave you with the thought that a celebration of 100 years is special.  Praise goes to any group capable of staying the course and successfully struggling with the vicissitudes of life that challenge us all just to get up in the morning.  Even more, I want you to think of my own personal journey of discovery during my own collection of 312 years past.  Come my next birthday, forget the extra candles and give me more butter cream icing with raspberry jam spread thickly between the layers.  Life is–and always should be–very sweet at birthday celebrations!

Junior League of Philadelphia, John Bartram, Kirk R. Brown

The audience takes its seats for the afternoon's lecture to begin.

Good Bones: Part II Jane Bowne Haines, a Quaker for Feminine Education

“For I cannot think that GOD Almighty ever made them [women] so delicate, so glorious creatures; and furnished them with such charms, so agreeable and so delightful to mankind; with souls capable of the same accomplishments with men: and all, to be only Stewards of our Houses, Cooks, and Slaves.”   Daniel Defoe, The Education of Women

Temple Ambler Campus, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram

The woodland walk.

Over 100 years ago the Ambler Campus of Temple University opened its doors as the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women.   It was founded by Jane Bowne Haines to give women the educational opportunity to aspire to more than domesticity and careers in cleaning, sewing, cooking, and child-rearing.

A historic marker along Camp Meeting Road next to the campus defines its importance in female studies:  “The school was the first in the nation to educated women for careers in horticulture and agriculture.  It was founded on this site in 1910 by Jane Bowne Haines and a “congress of women.”  Three years later the Woman’s National Farm and the Garden Association originated here at a meeting sponsored by the school.  During WWI and WWII, PSHW trained women to grow and preserve food for the war effort.  In 1958 PSHW merged with Temple University.

Haines was descended from a Quaker family.  An ancestor, Caspar Wistar, was a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and an amateur botanist.  We remember him today as the man after whom the Wisteriawas named.  Ms. Haines inherited his spark of botanical interest.  They were people on the long and interconnected family tree of Quaker in Horticulture in Philadelphia.  It is a very small world when God is in the details.

Temple Ambler, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram

The pergola at the end of the lawn, terrace and borders is undergoing renovation in 2012.

The campus is home to a wonderful collection of trees, shrubs, display and educational gardens.  The centerpiece is a terraced lawn and borders along with a woodland designed by the noted early landscape designer and only female charter member of the newly organized American Society of Landscape Architects :  Beatrix Farrand.   Her Cadwalader antecedents were also part of the strong Quaker heritage of Philadelphia.  Her cousin was Edith Wharton, another noted and extremely literate gardener.

Labyrinth, Temple Ambler, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram

The Labyrinth is a very spiritual space. Everyone should be required to actively walk one once in every life.

My day in Temple’s woods ended at the spiritual center of the space.  A labyrinth has gravel paths edged with natural stone boulders.  Surrounding the “Road to Jerusalem” is a very Celtic ring of stones.  There were several monolithic menhirs standing as sentinels around the space.  The bones of this garden are reminders of our own medieval Christian religion and a far earlier and primitive Druidic culture.

It was a holy way to end the tour.  Our mentor and guide for the afternoon was Eva Monheim.  You can catch her spirit in the movement round the edge of this picture.  She is a friend of long-standing with a sense of the spirituality of life.  She shares her divine spark with the students who call her teacher.

Temple Ambler, Labyrinth, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram

The labyrinth with Eva.

Good Bones: Part I of Philadelphia Quaker Land-Grant Tour

 “And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.”   Isaiah 58:11

“There ought to be Gardens for all Months in the year, in which, severally, things of Beauty may be then in season.”  Sir Francis Bacon

I was in the countryside yesterday experiencing the change of season.  It’s early for us to be recognizing trees by their flowers.  Magnolia spp. and Prunus of all types were pushing color through the tight shells of buds and displaying to us an early spring.

Meadowbrook Farm, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram

A Folly creates the focus of this very linear garden room.

I was touring with a good friend who was here for meetings related to the grand and glorious Philadelphia Flower Show.  It was she who whose day it was to prod this old man into action.  She had an agenda and organized the day around farms and gardens that she wanted to view.

Meadowbrook Farm, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram

Mistress Nancy Buley was the reason for touring broader Quaker land grants of the Philadelphia environs.

The first was Meadowbrook Farms.  It was the manor house of G. Liddon Pennock Jr.  I’m told that it was designed in the manner of a home in the Cotswolds, England.  I wouldn’t know.  I have never travelled there.  But it looks older than its 75 years.  Mr. Pennock and his wife, Alice, appear to have led a golden life.  They were gifted the land on which their house and garden grew by her parents.  Their parcel of 150 acres was cut out of a demesne of many thousands that went back to the time of the original Quaker settlement.

Meadowbrook Farms, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram

This is the Cotswold Manor House constructed by J. Liddon Pennock. It's an English country cottage. Lovely house with garden views from every room.

Oh, I didn’t mention that Mr. Pennock was Quaker.  So, of course he was also very intimately involved with the world of Horticulture in this hot bed of botanic discovery and display.  The gardens that surround the house are the main reason for my interest.  Most especially, the magnificent Franklinia that rises majestically in a bed all to itself next to the forecourt.  It is perhaps the best representation of the species that I have ever seen.  As you know, I have seen quite a few.

Meadowbrook Farm, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram

Next to the courtyard is the magnificent Franklinia alatamaha. It's largre size and advanced age is being backed up by the three smaller trees that ring the central masterpiece.

But Mistress Nancy and I continued to walk around the grounds.   She represents one of the world’s largest growers and sellers of trees.  J. Franklin Schmidts in Boring Oregon is a nursery built on my original model of shipping small slips, twigs, bare roots, and starters to a world of those nurserymen eager to grow them up and plant them on.

Meadowbrook Farm, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram

The grand staircase leads to the wonders of the many garden rooms. Animals abound in stone, terra cotta, bronze, steel, and concrete.

She is as aware of the trees in a garden as I am.  She is keenly interested in the choice specimens that were on display in the elegantly articulated garden rooms.  Mr. Pennock crafted a beautiful series of spaces set apart by hedges and terraced into a hillside that falls away to view the rolling mountains in the distance.  It’s a statement of tranquility and perfect, human scale.  It was delightful to see the shape of the spaces without the distraction of floral color, sparkling noisy water from the fountains and the showy abundance of summer.

Meadowbrook Farm, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram

The fountains were still.

We went to the garden in this early spring to see the bones.  And they were shimmering and ghostly.  A contorted pair of Tsuga in the Eagle garden was pruned and tormented over many, many years to within inches of their wondrous lives.

Meadowbrook Farm, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram

The eagle garden with flanking Hemlocks pruned and formed into a unique cloud of evergreen.

The evergreens were in accumulated abundance:  Ilex, Chamaecyparis, Pinus, Laurels—both broadleaved and small—and Camellia.  The Camellia is a Chinese plant that was introduced to the trade by Lord Petre’s gardener, James Gardener.  You’ll remember that Lord Petre, Thorndon Hall, Essex was one of my most passionate and dedicated correspondents until his untimely death in 1743.  Camellias are members of the family of plants that also include tea.  And where would we be as a society without the calming benefit of that elixir?

Meadowbrook Farm, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram

The camellia was in bloom on a south-facing stone wall.

Several plants were unknown to me in the days of my earlier travels.  But I have taken to them as if they were of my own discovery.  Sciadopitys verticillata has been given the much more descriptive name of Japanese Umbrella Pine.  The specimen viewed yesterday was so aged that it had successfully produced cones.  Amazing.

Meadowbrook Farm, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram

The Sciadopitys verticillata was showing cones.

A pair of espaliered Beech trees had grown so old that their branches had begun to overwhelm the iron fence that supported them.  Intriguing.

Meadowbrook Farm, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram

The beech was espaliered on a 19th century piece of wrought iron.

Just as intriguing was the collection of carved animals.  In all sizes.  In all the various poses of life.  In all of the diversity of nature.  Cats.  Birds.  Rabbits.  Horses.  Mice.  Pigs.  The menagerie was frozen into poses that echoed the ghostliness of the empty spaces.  More bones of a garden out of its season.

Meadowbrook Farm, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram

The rabbit and the cat play out a dramatic scene from the likes of Aesop's Fables.

We experienced much more than we saw.  The day had a cold edge that kept us moving quickly through the spaces.  There was a dimension of a golden age and a stylish life alive in these AlléesWe felt the warm summer nights that had movie stars laughing with scions of capitalist enterprise.  Those ghosts were gathered in beautiful clothes glittering with gems that echoed the brilliant stars in the distant sky.

Meadowbrook Farm, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram

A ghost of a garden entry.

Good bones.  Haunting and haunted space.  A garden that I can experience with my own sense of history and my own ghost-like appearance on an early spring’s magical afternoon.  Our hosts for the final tour of the house were John Story and Diana Wiener.  They have taken care to preserve the ghosts of this world by remembering the life of the owners in the stories of the details. 

Meadowbrook Farm, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram

Le Chat

Like a Voyage to the Sandwich Islands

Philadelphia Flower Show, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram

Orchids drip from bamboo forests. Color and light is in abundance.

“Do just once what others say you can’t do, and you will never pay attention to their limitations again.”  Captain James Cook.

“This is the most magnificent, balmy atmosphere in the world—ought to take dead men out of grave.”  Mark Twain in Hawaii, Walter Francis Frear

Philadelphia Flower Show, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram

The visitors to the flower show enter through a wave that places them under the sea on the trip to the Hawaiian Islands.

The Philadelphia Flower Show’s presentation of Hawaii this week has called me from the history of my travels and resurrected me from the dead of winter.  It is truly a balmy atmosphere.

John Bartram, Kirk R. Brown, Philadelphia Flower Show

On the beach under a palm umbrella, I can see my way clearly to the surf and sun on a tropical island

It was on his third voyage of discovery that Captain Cook re-discovered and named the Sandwich Islands.  This group of eight main islands in an archipelago spanning 1500 miles and several hundred assorted other islands and outcroppings is volcanic in nature.  It sits in the midst of the earth’s largest geographic formation:  The Pacific Ocean.

Stone totems to island gods.

Black volcanic stones stacked as totems to the island gods. The grassy meadow basks in the artificial glow of theatrical lighting.

 Cook was lucky to stumble on this tropical oasis—stuck as it is out in the middle of an ocean like a pin head surfacing in the folds of an Amish quilt.  We’ve come to know these eight islands collectively as Hawaii. 

Philadelphia Flower Show, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram

An Hawaiian still life.

I paid attention to Cook’s travels because he was brought to the sea by a pair of seafaring Quaker brothers in the south of England.  They were traders and I made their acquaintance through my own traffic in plants.  Cook rose easily and mightily in the ranks of the English Navy.  His is a record of discovery unparalleled in the English-speaking world.  He discovered as many worlds as I discovered plants.  It was and still is quite an accomplishment.

Philadelphia Flower Show, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram

A visit to the flower show is like discovering a chest of many drawers. Each new opening, each new drawer is a surprise and a delight.

This week, Cook’s islands were delivered to Philadelphia with their color, flavor, textures, temperatures, art and horticulture.  What a spectacular tour-de-force of botanical splendor!    

Philadelphia Flower Show, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram

A recreation with fiery botanicals of the volcanic lava flowing across and through the islands.

I post these pictures and include a photograph of the man responsible for capturing the images.  He is my amanuensis, Kirk R. Brown. 

Philadelphia Flower Show, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram

Many thanks to Marie Mims Butler, fellow garden writer and Virginia traveler, for providing this fleeting view of the recorder of John's travels. It would appear that he is just bursting with the great white light of over-exposure.

To the Greatest Horticultural Show on Earth!

“Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful…’ and sitting in the shade.”  Rudyard Kipling

“A man at work, making something which he feels will exist because he is working at it and wills it, is exercising the energies of his mind and soul as well as of his body.  Memory and imagination help him as he works.”  William Morris

John Bartram Kirk R. Brown

These are the men behind the large commercial displays at the Philadelphia Flower Show: John Story, Jack Blandy, Michael Petrie.

I traveled back to Florida on a recent journey of exploration.  Those who accompanied me were the many designers and fabricators of the horticultural exhibits that were to appear at the upcoming Philadelphia Flower Show.  You’ll remember that Philadelphia serves as the home to the oldest annual gathering of horticultural material in a display designed to be pleasing to the masses.  It has become known to one and all as the Philadelphia Flower Show.

Philadelphia Flower Show, John Bartram, Kirk R. Brown

The tropical heat of passionate colors cast a Hawaiian glow over the entire show floor.

I now possess an insight into that world of magic and theatrical exuberance.  The color, light, attractions, fame, and competition are all compressed into spaces of 50 feet by 50 feet.  Or in a 10’ x 20’ that speaks to the smaller access of limited budgets, smaller plant material, or specialized focus.

But it is much more than flowers; and much more than just a show.  It is a coming together of like-minded people.  They celebrate with bounteous esthetic protestations and God’s diversity of botanical material.  What a wondrous thing to bring old hearts into young cultivation.

Philadelphia Flower Show, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram

Peggy Anne Montgomery, Dan Benarcik, Denise Schreiber, Marie Mims Butler, and Sara Brown joined fellow Garden Writers on a press tour of the Philadelphia Flower Show before its official opening. Leis were distributed amongst the participants.

To become one of the named celebrants on the show floor requires much in commitment, connectional history, quality business systems, and horticultural access.  These display designers have all of the requisites.  They are an entitled group:  legendary in their creativity, passionate in their spirit of community, and driven to succeed in the bleakness of any mid-winter season.

Philadelphia Flower Show, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram

Stoney Bank is one of the major commercial theme display exhibitors. They have been a show-stopping, prize-winning company for many, many years.

All of their success lies in the plant material that must be cultured to bloom when it would want to be bare.  They force bulbs to majesty out of season.  They coax trees to leave, shrubs to flower, water to flow in abundance, and earth to take on the warmth of a summer’s day.

Philadelphia Flower Show, John Bartram, Kirk R. Brown

The landscapes are installed as they would be seen on a warm day in a tropical climate.

It has never been natural.  The artificiality of it makes it all more wondrous.  It is not sustainable.  But the transience of the view makes it all the more miraculous.  The show floor has become a stage and these designers are true masters of the technique.  Their sets are the stuff on which winters dreams are cast.

Philadelphia Flower Show, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram

Orchids against a volcanic mountain are like tropical smiles on a warm summer's night.

 And the audience suspends their disbelief and comes to the scene in awe and amazement.  They want to believe that man’s artifice can transcend God’s laws.  And I believe that even God smiles.  This is a celebration that he has ordered.  Our revels worship at the foot of his creation.

These designers have become servants to God’s nature and therefore masters of this universe.  They pleasure themselves at the same time they work against all that is easy, or timely, or natural. 

Philadelphia Flower Show, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram

All of the exhibits on the show floor extend just another invitation to dream a little dream--indoors!

I love them for their creation.  I am given a sense of well-being and grace by their witness. 

I work enough every year to attend yet one more time.  This “Philadelphia Flower Show” is a display that demonstrates the power of nature.  It calls loudly to us to come and worship.

Philadelphia Flower Show, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram

Put me into the scene of this cabana and lap pool and I will be a very happy man...dreaming of the days in the tropics.

Ah, Holey Cheeses!

“How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?”  Charles de Gaulle

“Ah, holy Jesus, how hast Thou offended, that man to judge Thee hath in hate pretended?  By foes derided, by Thine own rejected, O most afflicted.”  Johann Heermann, 1585-1647

John Bartram Kirk R. Brown

Fromagination leaves nothing to the imagination when it comes to presenting native Wisconsin cheeses

This week we enter the season of Lent.  Again.  There will be riotous celebrations in honor of the French Mardi Gras.  To truly celebrate Fat Tuesday one must believe in the sacredness of Ash Wednesday.  One must believe that several miracles occurred to have the man we call Jesus be born of the Virgin and become quick and risen from the dead after his crucifixion on Easter Sunday. 

I have been disowned by the Quaker Friends Meeting in Darby because I deny the miracles of Christmas and Easter.  I deny Christ’s divinity.  There is one God.  And that God is singular–not triune.

And God truly knows what he is about when he allows mortal souls to sample and savor His holey cheeses. 

This week God revealed a true apotheosis to me.  His creation of cheese is revelatory.  I now regard Wisconsin as a state of pilgrimage.  It is no less a shrine to divinity than the Catholics view Lourdes, the Protestants appreciate Wittenberg, followers of Islam register Mecca, and aging Rock-and-Roll fans visit Graceland.

Fromagination Madison Wisconsin,

The storefront, Fromagination, is directly across the street from the State Capitol building in Madison Wisconsin

Holy Cheeses!  Many hundreds of them greet the supplicant entering the doors of Fromagination. They are like lighted votives on an altar consecrated to VaccaVacca is Latin for cow.  The owners could also have called this stop on my Wisconsin itinerary “Vaccation!”

All of the cheeses are fresh-from-the-farm and taste of the grass on which the animals feed.  Many are not pasteurized.  Most are not homogenized.  It’s the timing of any cheese older than 60 days that allows it to be germ-free and safe for consumption.  Most of the cheeses that I sampled were considerably older.

And I sampled an incredible variety.  God doesn’t provide just cheese alone.  He also provides artisanal crackers, condiments, and complements like teas, savouries, and chocolates.  I did a lot of fiscal damage avec fromage.

Fromagination Madison Wisconsin

In addition to cheese, Fromagination also has a full selection of condiments, crispy crackers, and complements.

But the best is reserved by the staff and they speak eloquently about the curing and the caring.  It’s the holes that create the sparkle.  Cheeses exude a liquor that collects in the holes.  This liquid condenses and evaporates, leaving behind a crystalline salt.  The crunch found in many of the most mature are these crystals bursting as they are bitten in the soft creamy matrix.

Ah!  Holey Cheeses.  Some of the staff recommendations that I brought home include:  Bleu Mont Dairy Reserve Bandaged Cheddar, Buttermilk Blue Roth Kase, Pleasant Ridge Reserve Uplands Cheese, Chalet Cheese Swiss Wheel Aged , andAlpine Renegade.

John Bartram Kirk R. Brown

Even more cheeses are available not from the state of pilgrimage: Wisconsin

It was a fattening experience.  But that’s what Mardi Gras is all about.  Since my return from this travel experience, my wife agreed that we needed to share our bounty and host a cheese tasting.  We will have a dinner and it will, most assuredly, be a wholly holey religious experience.

Thai High

Kirk R. Brown John Bartram

A jewel from Thailand viewed through the winter bones of Olbrich Botanic Garden in Madison Wisconsin

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes…”  Marcel Proust

John Bartram Observations Kirk R. Brown

John Bartram observes the Thai Pavillion at the Olbrich Botanical Garden Madison WI

I traveled to Madison Wisconsin.  I anticipated the trip as a view to their deepest winter landscapes.  I anticipated desiccated, dry botanic bones and horticultural sculpture.  I wanted to collect evergreens and acknowledge structural habit.  I wanted to see how temperature and snow-cover impact survival and hardiness. 

I wasn’t imagining urban;  seeking an international experience;  or requiring sophistication.  I wasn’t thinking oriental.

John Bartram Kirk R. Brown

This Thai gable end is mortise and tenon construction. Gold leaf is hand applied and the roof shingles are high gloss, fire-glazed terra cotta.

New eyes.  Different landscape.  In turning a corner of a wondrous wintry collection of grasses and structural shapes, the botanic garden’s path led to a distant pavilion of gilded and graceful arches with winged pediments.

Where in the world was I?  What powerful King and craftsmen transposed the warmth of this art into such a cold clime?  It was the magic of theatrical artifice.  The view conjured dancers amid palms;  spotted leopards hunting in tangled jungles;  elephants spouting fountains of murky river water;  and people conducting their business and managing their lives in glinting rainbow of colored silk and shimmer of beaten gold.

In short, everything that a Quaker gentleman from Philadelphia should most resent, despise and condemn.

Instead, I was struck dumb.  My wife would say that it was a natural reaction.

John Bartram Kirk R. Brown

The skin of the Naga was represented by the scales of paving along the sinuous path

The path became a sinuous curve of Naga-hide.  The Hindu representation of this snake god plays well within our Christian context of being reborn within a new skin.  For me, especially, it connects with the elemental forces at work in nature.  I carry my snake stick as a talisman and also as a reminder of the interconnectedness of all things.

Olbrich Botanic Garden Madison Wisconsin Kirk R. Brown John Bartram

The Naga guards the entrance to the Asian jungle recreation

Here I found myself an heretical Christian, walking a Hindi snake-skin path to a pavilion dedicated by a 95% Buddhist-worshipping culture.  I didn’t have time to consider the horticultural implications.

Olbrich Botanic Garden John Bartram Kirk R. Brown

The Thai pavilion has a platform for dancing, ceremonial services and parties.

Then I turned around and walked back by the way I’d come.  It was obvious that a great many people had worked a great many hours to bring us to this understanding.  And nature connects us all.  It was a revelation.

Kirk R. Brown John Bartram

Olbrich Botanic Garden boardwalk over the dry pond.

A Winter’s Night

John Bartram Kirk R.Brown Olbrich Botanic Garden Madison WI

Like a tree in winter, I have been lean and drawn out.

“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day-to-day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”      Shakespeare Macbeth Act 5 , scene 5, 19-28

John Bartram Kirk R. Brown

Home is where the dreams lead you at the end of the journey

I have been away too long and missed the connection with HOME.  In the olde days, I would anticipate Ann on the porch with outstretched arms and a shout down the path of, “Welcome home to Bartram’s Garden…”

Walking up the Bartram's Garden path, Kirk R. Brown John Bartram

"Welcome home to Bartram's Garden!" always greeted me as I walked up the path to the house.

So all month I’ve said that I will post tomorrow.  And tomorrow.  and tomorrow.  Because of this month of travel that I have survived, I never reached the tomorrow of my dreams. 

I’ve seen sights and dreamed dreams.  I am an olde man, after all.  I have traveled to new worlds, met new friends and gathered a great many experiences about which I need to write.  And then I never preserved a moment to reflect on all of the opportunities that I passed. 

John Bartram Kirk R. Brown Horticultural Speaker

John is caught in a frozen moment in Madison Wisconsin

Where are the reminders of the sights?  What are the addresses of the friends?  How were the experiences praised or relived or examined? 

John Bartram at the crossroads

I have traveled many roads in the last month

How many were the times that I said I needed to note this thought?  How much was the value of the moment?  How many plants did I touch that I could not name?  What was the nature of the mission and what did I bring back to the safety and security of HOME?

The value of the plants that I discover is only as much as they survive the trip.  They need to be brought home alive.  So if it doesn’t survive the trip, did it actually ever exist?  Talk to the Franklinia alatamaha.  I never answered the question about that plant.  It ceased to exist in nature. 

Franklinia alatamaha

Franklinia alatamaha captured in a painting. Extinct in the wild.

It’s time to post.  It’s now a moment in the history of the world to capture the thoughts that were bright and sparkly in their passage.


Pater noster

Muse, tell me the cause:  how was she offended in her divinity?  How was she grieved, the Queen of Heaven, to drive a man, noted for virtue, to endure such dangers, to face so many trials?  Can there be such anger in the minds of the gods?”   The Aeneid, Virgil 

Pater noster.  Our father. 


It is a papist sentiment and I never thought myself capable of one.  But here I am and here is the sentiment.  Staring me in the face of all that I consider to be sacrosanct.  Another papist thought.

They collect around me this morning in a dim and frosty light.  Anathema.  Now there is a religious sentiment with which I have some familiarity.  Outcast and pariah all carry the same meaning and weight.

There was a man who claimed much of his life’s inspiration came from this first reading in Latin of Virgil’s epic poem.  This man claimed as his most esteemed mentor the priest who unlocked the door to the magical reading room.

The Aeneid begins as quoted above.  It is the story of band of men in search of country…home…and ultimately God.  It is a tale of hardships shared, trials survived, and treacheries overcome.  It was a world much like our current one where heroes are made on a patch of turf 100 yards long.

Much the same as today’s tale, the Aeneid is a great love story.  A passionate affair of man to woman and hero to nation. 

Unlike our current tale, the Aeneid ends in triumph as Aeneas vanquishes his enemy and achieves his destiny.

Life rarely imitates art.  In this cold and bitter morning our tale’s would-be hero rests not on laurels but on criticisms from those who would be like Cassius:

“Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world like a Colossus, and we petty men walk under his huge legs and peep about to find ourselves dishonorable graves.  Men at some time are masters of their fates:  The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”  Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare

I come not to bury Caesar, but to praise him.  My Pater Noster will dwell on recognition of goodness and valor, humor and strength.  It will speak to the legions of followers who like their dramas large and heroes free from stain.  And to the smaller numbers of those who believe that common humanity binds us all into forgiving frailty and imperfection.

Virgil’s Aeneas founded a dynasty that became the Roman Empire.  He was a mythological being crafted to support a reign of Caesars.  Our modern-day Caesar ruled a world where Brutus and Cassius played out their drama in the intensely bright light of moral scrutiny.  The battle lines were drawn across computer screens.  The armies were arrayed in blue and white and red. 
Virgil could never imagine an enemy of such scope and reach.  And then again, perhaps he did.  In Virgil’s age, the enemy was most often defined as “The Gods!”
Today we are much too civilized and God is silent.
Pater Noster.