Friday, July 1, 2016

A Visit to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Surrounded by beauty in the rose garden. Photo by TD. (click on photos for larger, clearer versions)

The weekend before last, TD and I took the subway to the wonderful Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which we had not been to in a while. I remembered that June is a great time to visit when the Cranford Rose Garden is in high bloom.  I've done several posts about botanical gardens recently, which offer such bounteous natural beauty inside city limits. A theme that runs through my book is my predilection for a simple, natural country style while living in the city - combining my upstate youth with my Manhattan adulthood. Certainly city parks and botanical gardens, with their rolling green lawns and fragrant flowers, offer the epitome of this appealing combination.

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which is a museum of living plants, was founded in 1910 on a 39-acre section of Prospect Park. The Olmstead Brothers, who designed Central Park and the New York Botanical Garden, laid out the original site plan. Now it features more than 12,000 different kinds of plants from around the world and is comprised of all kinds of gardens including a Japanese garden and pond filled with orange koi fish, a lily collection, a daffodil hill, and a lot more.
After exiting the subway at the Eastern Parkway stop, we payed at the Garden entrance and walked through the property with our destination in mind - the blooming roses. In the Shakespeare Garden, an artist sketched some plants in the shade -

The Conservatory, built in 1917, houses many kinds of indoor gardens like a desert and a tropical garden -

In the Cherry Esplanade, visitors lounged under the trees. It looked like an Impressionist painting - 

Before we got to the rose garden, we passed this rose-covered arch which gave a taste of the pleasures to come. I love the sweeping movement of the roses clamoring over the arches. "The eye has to travel," Diana Vreeland famously said.

At last we reached the Cranford Rose Garden, which was built in 1928 and paid for by subway engineer Walter Cranford who ponied up $15,000 to create it. It features a plethora of all kinds of roses planted in beds in rows so it feels very intimate as the visitor can get up close to the blooms. You just wander up and down the rows and enjoy the beauty and the fragrance. When we visited at the end of June, some of the roses were past their peak and on their way out but the garden was still spectacular.

These lovely pink roses edged in red are called Delany Sisters - 

These huge yellow roses, called Edina, posed at the corner of a bed.

At one end of the garden, pink roses and a bank of lavender offered a dreamy combination.

I just love to wander around in this garden, up and down, back and forth. You really don't want to leave.

At last we extricated ourselves and walked down a grassy lawn. TD checked the Phillies baseball score on his phone under some shade trees. 

We exited out of a different entrance than where we came in, and noticed that the wonderful Brooklyn Museum was right next door rising above the trees.

Flowers and art in Brooklyn – a lovely corner of the world.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Antique Garden Furniture Fair Preview Party at the New York Botanical Garden

With Designer Chairman Fen Fulk.
After my recent trip to the beautiful Orchid Show, I made a return trip to one of my favorite places, the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, with TD to attend the Antique Garden Furniture Fair Preview Party and Collectors' Plant Sale. The Preview Party kicks off the weekend-long Antique Garden Furniture Fair when leading antique dealers offer furniture, art, and accessories inspired by the garden for sale. I'm a big fan of garden antiques used indoors; I love things that bring nature and flowers inside and give a room a natural, relaxed feeling.

At the Botanical Garden, the Antique Fair was set up in a spacious tent next to the stunning glass Enid Haupt A. Conservatory. In the courtyard between the Conservatory and the tent, Elle Decor, one of the event sponsors, presented a glamorous garden vignette created by the magazine's interiors editor Robert Rufino. Mannequins languidly dressed in ballgowns made out of Chinese newspapers and covers of Elle Decor were posed around the latest Roche Bobois furniture collection. 

The Collectors' Plant Sale was well underway. Collectors arrive early to scoop up treasured plants. Martha Stewart and Bette Midler had already come and gone by the time we arrived.

Inside the tent, the party was in full swing with about 500 guests in attendance. We chatted with Michael Boodro, Elle Decor Editor in Chief and Honorary Chairman of the event, and then ran into Ken Fulk (pictured above) who we had met at John Derian's opening for artist Hugo Guinness. The celebrated San Francisco-based designer, who was resplendent in a green, floral, bell-bottom Gucci suit, was the evening's Designer Chairman. Ken told me that jeweler Mish Tworkowki, an event Chairman, had first enlisted him to get involved. "Gregory Long [the longtime President and Chief Executive Officer of the Garden] gave me a beautiful tour proving that this is the most important garden in the world," said Ken. "I love the Botanical Garden."

Ken came up with a yellow and black bumble bee theme to give the party a fun, "buzzy" flair that ran though out with fabrics, napkins and accessories. To enhance the theme, Ken told me that three giant bee hives were constructed in San Francisco and shipped to New York. The gorgeous L.A. DJ Kiss spun records inside one of the big bee hives –

We strolled around and perused the offerings. It was a chic, good-looking crowd  – a favorite ensemble among the women guests was a simple, short evening dress with a short matching evening coat with bracelet sleeves plus slingback shoes. I love that kind of style that is polished and elegant but also easy and effortless at the same time.
There were handsome urns at Finnegan Gallery from Chicago –

and a wall of colorful watercolor botanical paintings at Earl Vandebar of Knightsbridge –

These metal garden hoops hung on a charcoal wall looked like a modern abstract painting, like a Cy Twombly –

Buying and packing at Withington & Company Antiques from Portsmouth, Maine –

At the end of the party, on the way out, candles lined the Conservatory courtyard reflecting pool - 

and dusk was falling on the Conservatory.

It was a lovely night in New York.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Manus x Machina at the Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Chanel Haute Couture Winter 2015 wedding gown is the centerpiece of the exhibit.
I had the pleasure this week of attending the preview of the new exhibition at the Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is called "Manus x Machina, Fashion in an Age of Technology" and was produced by Curator in Charge Andrew Bolton. Given the title, I thought this show would be about modern technology, and many of the women who attended the Met Ball Gala later that night wore silvery metal robot-like dresses, but to me that missed the mark as this show is more about processes and techniques, and how the handmade (manus) can combine with machine-made (machina) in clothing. The show celebrates how technology carries craft into the future - kind of like a digital blog about beautiful things.

For the preview on a day when the museum was closed to the public, guests were directed to the Robert Lehman Wing, where I have never seen a costume show staged before. This wing consists of a two-floor circle that visitors walk around but for this show the center was ingeniously filled in with a temporary floor creating an inner gallery where the Chanel gown pictured above was housed. OMA, the architectural firm, did an amazing job designing a cathedral-like environment for the show with gauzy white scrims complete with arches and alcoves. The mystical "An Ending (Ascent)" by Brian Eno played overheard. The whole setting was very serene and ecclesiastical, which I thought was a striking juxtaposition given the machine technology theme.

The Chanel wedding gown provided the inspiration for the show. It's made out of a scuba knit synthetic material and is machine sewn. The pattern on the long train in the back was digitally manipulated to make it look pixelated. But then the gold metallic pigment was hand-applied, and pearls and gemstones were embroidered by hand, thus illustrating the marriage of the machine-made and handmade.

I circled around the exhibit, trying to take in the 170 garments, dating back to the early 1990s, on display.
Shimmering Louis Vuitton dresses were shown next to turquoise Norman Norells -

and artificial flowers in pretty pastels were applied to Prada dresses (center) -

I walked down to the lower level and while I was admiring jewel-tone Mary McFadden pleated gowns, New York Social photographer and writer Jill Krementz snapped this pic of me - 

You can read Jill's very thorough report on the preview and show here.

Is was time to hear the prepared remarks in the stunning Carroll and Milton Petrie European Sculpture Court. Thomas Campbell, the director of The Met welcomed the crowd, and then Jony Ives, the chief designer of Apple, which sponsored the show, spoke. Andrew Bolton (pictured below) said that the show is "a celebration of the art of making, using hand and machine," and offered "a temple to the beauty and artistry of fashion." Anna Wintour, resplendent in a colorful Prada dress and coat, sat with her three British compatriots in the front row as well.

After the remarks I returned to the galleries to look at more of the garments.
In a gallery devoted to tailoring, a small team of Chanel suits proved their timelessness –

This dress that looks unconstructed is actually a Dior haute couture ensemble by John Galliano designed to appear dramatically unfinished -

A jacket by John Galliano for Maison Margiela is hand-trimmed with black lacquered toy cars. He really is a genius.

A dress by Gareth Pugh is hand-embroidered with clear plastic drinking straws around the neck. The see-through scrims and shadows created an ethereal setting.

It was hard to leave this show that really offers an escape from the reality of the street. But soon it was time to go. On the way out I passed empty halls of marble sculptures -

and the majestic Greek and Roman Gallery.

It really was a dream.

Blog bonus: Hear Andrew Bolton talking about the new exhibit in this video:

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Design on a Dime Benefit

The Elle Decor vignette, above, and Elle Decor Editor in Chief Michael Boodro with designer Robin Baron, left.

The other night TD and I walked up three blocks in Chelsea to the Metropolitan Pavilion to attend a wonderful annual event - the Design on a Dime Benefit where you can "design on a dime," thanks to the great deals to be had. The event was founded in 2004 by designer James Huniford to benefit Housing Works, an  organization in New York that provides services and housing to the homeless and those living with HIV/AIDS. Top designers create inspirational room vignettes, and at the VIP Opening Night Reception that we attended, guests can shop the vignettes for merchandise that is discounted up to 80 percent off retail prices with the proceeds going to support Housing Works.

Elle Decor magazine was one of the sponsors and Editor in Chief Michael Boodro was one of the co-chairs, along with Alessandra Branca, George Oliphant and Nicole Gibbons. This year, almost 1,300 attendees were on hand to shop vignettes created by 68 designers. The event is quite a scene as stylish guests rush to get first dibs on furniture and accessories in the chic vignettes. Guests jostle and rub shoulders good-naturedly to peruse the offerings. Bars located strategically throughout the immense space plus great music playing overhead add to the festive atmosphere. Triumphant shoppers carry their new purchases to the cashier and out the front door.

TD and I roamed the aisles and caught up with some friends. It's always a fun event with a well-dressed crowd and a lot to look at. This year, its twelfth year, the Design on a Dime Benefit raised $1.2 million for Housing Works. That's what I call style with substance. 

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Orchid Show at the New York Botanical Garden

(click on photos to enlarge)
I went recently with my high school friend, Suzy Ferenczy MacEnroe, to the New York Botanical Garden located in the Bronx to see the Garden's annual Orchid Show. What a treat it was. I had previously been to the gala dinner which launches the Orchid Show but not to the Show itself.

The New York Botanical Garden is situated on 250 acres where over one million living plants grow in extensive collections. Besides its different gardens, it's a major educational institution dedicated to conservation and research, employing 80 Ph.D. scientists. The Garden was created at the end of the nineteenth century and was inspired by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, near London. The great New York financiers of the day funded the Garden which was designed by Calvert Vaux, who designed Central Park with William Olmstead. At the end of the nineteenth century, New York City was becoming a great world capital, with a new library and a new art museum, and the Botanical Garden was part of that development, as it brought plants and the beauty of nature to the city and its urban dwellers.

The jewel of the Garden is surely the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, which is the largest Victorian glasshouse in the United States. Opened in 1905 and recently renovated, the glass and iron marvel includes ten glass greenhouses where all kinds of plants are displayed. Suzy and I took the MetroNorth train together to the Botanical Garden stop and headed straight to the Conservatory to see the Orchid Show.

Inside, we followed the signs to the Orchid Show. We filed through the various plant exhibitions - the rain forest garden, the desert garden, the water lily garden. It felt like we went through all ten greenhouses! "Where are the orchids?" we thought, "Did we miss it?" We kept following the signs. Finally, we came upon it - an explosion of orchids -

The Orchid Show was in two rooms and there were orchids everywhere - sprouting out of rocks, hanging from trees, lining a waterfall, displayed on tables. It really was an eyeful.

On the clear sunny day, outside the glass windows, the beautiful garden was in view and the blue sky beyond.

There was Debussy piano music playing in the background which added to the delight -

Suzy and I paused in front of a orchid-covered waterfall for a pic -

Orchids were crowded onto tables - what luxury.

Boxes of orchids packed in a crate on the floor were ready to be displayed. It would be nice to have just one!

We kept walking around looking at everything. There were so many flowers to take in. Each petal looked like it was handpainted.

Finally we left, satisfied that we had found it. We walked to a nearby cafe and sat outside and ate lunch. Inside the gift shop, an array of orchids were presented for sale - smart!

A ride on a tram offers a tour of the full Garden and all that it includes. As it was early in the season, there was not a lot in bloom on our view from the tram as it rolled up and down the verdant hills -

but I know from experience that the Garden is glorious in season. Go in June to see the rose garden in bloom! The Brooklyn Botanic Garden also offers a rapturous rose garden in June. Suzy and I were so glad to see the annual Orchid Show, which ended on April 17. Coming up May 14 - Sept. 11 is an exhibition called Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas, which sounds wonderful too.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A Trip to Murray's Cheese

Murray's Cheese, at 254 Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village.
My brother Thom and sister-in-law Karen invited family over for dinner on Easter and I thought it would be nice to bring some cheeses so I headed down to Murray's Cheese on Bleecker Street, which is a delightful destination. Murray's Cheese was founded by Murray Greenberg in 1940 so it has been in institution in the Village for more than seven decades. Rob Kaufelt bought the business in the early 90s, and has expanded it with a branch in Grand Central Station and shop-in-shops in local grocery stores across the country. Additionally, the store is committed to education, offering cheese classes and a cheese bar next door.

It's always fun to go and shop there. The people who wait on you - yes, they are called cheesemongers - are very helpful and knowledgeable, and they give you little tastes of the cheese. And there is a huge case of selections to choose from –

Ok, so I have read in magazines that for a cheese platter, you offer a soft cheese and a hard cheese and something in between, which is what I told the guy who was helping me. I think it was his first day on the job. But he was very eager to please. We started with the soft cheeses. He suggested a brie and gave me a little taste of it on a small wooden knife. It was ok. He offered a taste of another, and I asked for something not so soft. The young woman working next to him suggested the Fromage d'Affinois, which was creamy and mild and buttery. Wonderful. He took out a big knife and cut off a piece and wrapped it in paper and attached a detailed and descriptive label of the cheese.
Then we moved to the hard cheeses –

A customer standing next to me was tasting a hard cheese and she said, "It's like golden light." I said, "I'll have what she had." It was Beaufort Alpage, which an eighteenth century gourmand named the "Prince of Gruyeres." The descriptive label on this cheese said, "Enormous 85 pound wheels are trundled down from the Savoie Alps at the end of fleeting summers where indigenous cows have feasted on sloping meadows of flowers and grass." Delightful!

We moved on to blue cheeses. I tasted a couple. Another cheesemonger suggested Chiriboga Blue, which was moist and earthy and a little mineraly. I got a wedge and as I was waiting, more of it was sold - it must be a popular blue. Then I got some crackers to accompany the cheeses. I picked up Firehook Sea Salt Mediterranean Baked Crackers, which are crisp and dry and speckled with sea salt. I like a little fruit with cheese so I also got dark Kiwi Natural Artisan Crisps with Date, Walnut and Fennel.

At the party, I put the cheeses and crackers on one of Karen's platters with cheese knives.

We drank a cold pale pink rose wine. It was all delicious. Stop by Murray's in New York or one of the branches if you can. The service and the product are great. It's a wonderful local business, which is getting rarer and rarer here in New York City. Many of our neighborhood pleasures have been crushed by escalating New York City rents (Restaurant Florent, Camouflage, Mxyplyzyk, our sushi place) and our neighborhood grocery store is closing because the landlord is TRIPLING the rent. Hopefully Murray's Cheese will be around for a long time.