January was named in honor of Janus, the two-faced Roman god of endings and beginnings. On this, the first day of 2014, I mourn an ending and welcome a beginning.

In mourning

Our modern age says chaos reigns: entropy, Heisenberg’s uncertainty, Max Planck, quantum mechanics. But our hearts are not mere quanta, empty and full; we yearn for the ancient premise of a perfect universe in perfect harmony.

My friend, Vladimir Barsukov, died suddenly on Tuesday, December 10, 2013. We knew him as a student and teacher of kinetic art, perpetual mobiles. Vladimir said: “I’ve always been fascinated with beautiful and functional objects that rely on basic principles of mechanics and geometry. The movements remind the viewer of the fragility and interconnectedness of life.”

Born in Russia, January 21, 1945, and educated as a mathematician and physicist (Ph.D. Saint Petersburg University, 1967), he was a researcher and teacher at MIT from 1990 – 2005, and maintained a passion for mobile making throughout his life.

Vladimir was an artist, a dreamer, and a restless seeker. His childlike vision delighted in everyday things –

forks, spoons, as well as textures, shapes, colors and materials of all kinds. Infinitely curious and unabashed, he touched every object he encountered at the Marshfield Festival of the Arts with us in May 2011, querying vendors about their designs, finishes and techniques – an alchemist exploring another clue.

He thought, he taught, he labored and questioned. He balanced shapes and wires in marvelous symmetry; his mobiles were like living creatures to him, continually moving and changing in space, light and color.

I was among his many students, who marveled at the simple joy he taught of balancing and bringing to life the elements of kinetic sculpture. He shared his talent and taught with wit and a contagious love of knowledge. Vladimir was the universal man. Scientist and spiritualist, cynic and romantic, outsider and world citizen. He worshiped at the alter of insight, harmony and balance – literally juxtaposing opposing forces to create a world in balance.

He trafficked in the music of the spheres and conjured up a universe in harmony — both science and art fully realized. Vladimir once said “Through my work I have discovered what many others have noticed: that precise science and art both reflect nature in a beautiful and elegant way.” Amen, brother.


sarabande-winter-2010In my winter garden, Vladimir’s “Sarabande” still celebrates his presence. In motion.

Here he and his wife, Ann Dix, install Sarabande in my garden, October, 2010.


Ryan Flynn visits our house frequently with our granddaughter, Maisy, whom Vladimir adored. Ryan offered this:

May he make heaven a little cooler with his sculptures.

Besides our sadness, our thoughts are with Ann, who has lost an irreplaceable partner. I am grateful to her for sharing her saddest of news. It was an honor to be Vladimir’s friend.

Kensington Stone Braithwaite

Forward-facing Janus celebrates our new grandson, Kensington Stone Braithwaite, born October 3, 2013 to Kristin Stone Braithwaite and Kenyatta Braithwaite. He arrived at 1:19am weighing 8 pounds, 2 ounces, at 20.5 inches tall with a very full head of hair, kind of Valentino style.

He was dressed for the new year in typical Braithwaite style. We are thrilled with our newest family member.


Making Cheese at Home

Blessed are the Cheesemakers

Life of Brian

Harry Poulter’s domain ranges beyond the garden and into the kitchen. He recently applied his skills at grain fermentation to another homemade specialty – Cheese making. Think of his story as “Rake and Palate…”

Harry D. Poulter, Cheesemaker, Buckingham, VA USA

Harry D. Poulter, Cheesemaker, Buckingham, VA USA

If you can cook, you can start making cheese at home. If you have ever brewed beer, you are halfway there. The simplest cheeses (fresh, spreadable) can be made in a day, with ingredients as common as milk and lemon juice. The most complex cheeses may require heavy presses and months or years of aging.

In addition to what you might think of as cheese, you can easily make cultured butter, yogurt, kefir, paneer, crème fraiche, mascarpone, cream cheese and many more cultured dairy products. I guarantee the fresh homemade varieties will delight you. Guests enjoy knowing you made the cheese you are serving. And savoring your own home-baked bread with your own homemade cheese or butter is an irreplaceable treat for the senses.

I got started when an old friend told me his precocious 11-year old stepdaughter was making cheese. That was a challenge I couldn’t ignore. I thought “Why am I not making my own cheese?” I had been making my own yogurt for years. A short time later, I had acquired the tools and knowledge and had the process down for making some basic and semi-advanced cheeses.

Interested? I’ll show you how to get started.

Cheese, Glorious Cheese

Fresh, homemade Camembert - If you can cook, you can make cheese.

If you can cook, you can make cheese.

The origins of cheese making are lost in the mists of time, but the process was well established by the time of the ancient Romans and was described by writers of the period. Cheese making probably developed by a series of serendipitous discoveries, which led to a process by which the protein and fat of milk could be separated, solidified and preserved. Rennet and milk-digesting bacteria help acidify the cheese, and, with the addition of salt and other beneficial microbes and molds, inhibit the development of harmful or decay-producing microbes. The breakdown of proteins also leads to the development of wonderful flavors. Local milk varieties, native micro-flora and –fauna and special conditions (like caves) led to regional specialties. The ancient Romans especially esteemed cheeses from what is now France (for much more, see “On Food and Cooking – The Science and Lore of The Kitchen” by Harold McGee).

Information on Cheese Making

Get some good books on the subject. I find it is best, especially for the more complex cheeses, to compare several recipes and see what they have in common and how they differ. I keep a record (my “cheese log”) of each batch to record any notable successes or attempts that could be improved. The book I use most frequently is “Artisan Cheese Making at Home” by Mary Karlin. It’s a good reference and cookbook, though there are some math errors in some recipes (again, compare several sources). Second favorite is “200 Easy Homemade Cheese Recipes” by Debra Amrein-Boyes. I also use Ricki Carroll’s “Home Cheese Making”. There are also numerous online sources, YouTube videos, etc. The most useful online site is probably . Cheese making suppliers’ websites (see Supplies) also have recipes and tips.

Equipment and Supplies

If you are a cook, you probably have the equipment you need to make the simplest cheeses.  For the  more ambitious cheeses, you will need a few specialized items – molds for forming cheeses, a special ladle and curd knife,  butter muslin (a fine-weave version of cheesecloth), draining containers, etc.  My biggest investment so far has been a “cheese cave”  which provides a controlled environment at about 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  I use a “dorm-style” refrigerator, with no freezer compartment, that is plugged into a thermostatically switched outlet.  The switch has a long wire probe that is run into the refrigerator to monitor the temperature.  Amazon sells a good switch for about $50  (Johnson Controls A19AAT-2C).  The best sources I have found for equipment, supplies and specialized ingredients are and


First – the freshest dairy products you can find.  A local dairy is your best choice.  Try a farmer’s market, or Whole Foods. We have a smallish dairy in nearby Roanoke, VA that sells good quality milk and cream, including non-homogenized (cream on top) milk, which makes a superior cheese.  For recipes requiring cream or half-and-half, look for brands which have no additives and are not ultra-pasteurized.

Mold cultures/bacteria cultures/rennets –  These specialty ingredients require an initial investment, but they keep a long time.  Store cultures in the freezer, rennet in the ‘fridge.  Animal rennet is made from the stomach of calves, so some people avoid it.  I find that vegetarian rennet is suitable for all but some long-aged cheeses.   Commercial cheese manufacturers have started to use rennet produced by modified bacteria, but as far as I know this is not yet available to the home cheese maker.

Let’s make cheese!

1. Dead simple cheese (lemon cheese)


½ gallon whole milk
¼ – ½ cup fresh lemon juice (2 or three lemons)
½ tsp. salt – kosher salt works well
Optional herbs and/or garlic


Hanging the curds to drain.

Hanging the curds to drain.

Heat the milk slowly, stirring frequently, to about 175 degrees F.  Remove from heat and stir in ¼ cup lemon juice.  Wait 15 minutes and see if you have a distinct separation of curds and clear whey.  If the whey is still cloudy, stir in another tbsp. of lemon juice and wait another 15 minutes.  Repeat until you have a clear separation.

Line a colander with several layers of cheesecloth (or use butter muslin if you have it).  Dampen the cloth and dump the contents of the pot into it. Set the colander over a bowl if you want to save the whey (for bread making).  You can either leave it to drain as is, or gather up the cloth into a bag and hang it.  After an hour or two, it should have a good firm texture.

Put the curds in a bowl and stir in the salt.  You can also add a mixture of herbs (Herbes de Provence is good), chives, garlic, etc. to taste.  Refrigerate to firm up the cheese and blend the flavors.  This cheese will keep well for about a week.

2. Camembert – A good beginner’s “real” cheese.

I won’t give every detail of the recipe here, since it is widely available, and you should have at least one good cookbook before you get this far, but I will illustrate the process.


Milk and equipment - thermometer, ladles, etc. all sterilized

Thermometer, ladles, curd knife, measuring spoons, etc. All sterilized and laid out on a clean cloth. The foil packs hold the bacterial and mold cultures.

Since this cheese needs to age for a while, we need to be more careful about sanitation than with our quickie lemon cheese.  We don’t want bad bugs or molds to get a foothold.  The first step is to sterilize all cooking vessels and equipment that will contact the milk and cheese.  A weak bleach solution (1 tsp/gallon of water) is sufficient.  Brewer’s B-Brite or similar oxidizing cleaners will also work.

More equipment - all sterilized.

More equipment – sushi mats, PVC “hoops”

The perforated PVC sections are open-bottomed molds, or “hoops”, for forming the Camembert. The bamboo mats are sushi mats. Also a rimmed baking sheet and two plastic cutting boards. All have been sterilized.


Thermometer checks the bath for 85 degrees F.

Preparing the bath at 85 degrees F.

Heat the milk, slowly, in a heavy-bottomed (sterilized) pot to 85 degrees F. Then sprinkle on the starter culture (bacteria), and the cheese molds which will form the white rind of the Camembert. After letting the cultures hydrate on the surface for a few minutes, stir them in and hold the temperature for 90 minutes. Most cookbooks advise you to use some kind of double boiler or stove-top water bath to maintain heat. I just fill the kitchen sink with water at the target temperature.

After the curds have achieved a “clean break” from the whey, we slice the curds into chunks.  They will not be neat cubes, but a cottage cheese-y mess.  The whey should be clear, though.

After cutting, the curds are stirred, then allowed to rest to consolidate and further separate from the whey.

Ladling the curds into the molds to drain and consolidate.

Ladling the curds into the molds to drain and consolidate.

Once the curds are consolidated, we spoon them into the two hoops, which are set upon a sushi mat, which is on a cutting board inside the baking pan.

Then, another sushi mat and cutting board are placed on top. Periodically, we need to pick up the whole assembly and flip it so the alternate cutting board is on the bottom.  This is a little tricky.  We may also need to drain the bottom pan.

After repeated flipping and an overnight rest, the cheeses are consolidated into their final form.  They have picked up a nice pattern from the sushi mats.  At this point, they are rubbed with salt to inhibit “bad” mold formation and moved to a draining container.

Cheese consolidated into final form, rubbed with salt

Cheese in final form

Drainage container

Drainage container

Cheese cave

Cheese cave

My cheese “cave” is a refrigerator I modified to maintain 50 degrees. The red cheeses in the photo are Jarlsberg (I hope. I won’t know for a couple of months how they turned out).

The Camembert rounds stay in the draining container for about 2 weeks. After that, they are moved to cheese bags or plastic wrap, still in the “cave”, for about another 2 weeks, until the centers are soft. Then they can be moved to regular refrigeration and the aging process stops. You don’t want to over-age a Camembert, because it will start to break down and get a little stinky. Still safe and edible but not as tasty.


Almost finished Camembert covered with fine white mold.

Camembert c'est finis!

Camembert c’est finis!

Happy cheese making!

WaddAle 2012 – Marshfield Homebrew

This year, after a long hiatus, I was inspired to brew a batch of “WaddAle,” my nearly eponymous homebrew that I last concocted in 2006. The topic came up while we stood in Small Bar, a hole-in-the-wall beer joint in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Why not? Thus, the plan for WaddAle 2012 was born. Here’s how it worked.

Assemble ingredients

I needed a beer kit. I’m not an adventurous ale maker, I use a kit of pre-selected, pre-measured ingredients. Then, I typically introduce a personal variation. On an errand I accidentally discovered The Homebrew Emporium, a new to me beer supply outlet in Weymouth, MA, managed, it turns out, by an old thespian friend, Jim Bowser. I took that as a good omen.

Nut Brown Ale beer brewing kit from Beer Emporium

Nut Brown Ale beer brewing kit from Beer Emporium

I selected their Nut Brown Ale kit (~$32). I’ve also used the True Brew brand kits from Pioppi’s Package store in Plymouth, MA. These beer making kits contain all the ingredients plus brewing instructions, but you need your own equipment – brew pot, fermentation tank, tubing, valves, bottles, caps, capper, etc. Fortunately, the Homebrew Emporium has all that stuff. I had my equipment on hand from my old True Brew Maestro kit.

Next to godliness

The beer gods require cleanliness – the magic of fermentation creates alcohol and fizz but the nutrient rich  brewing medium (aka wort) can just as easily nourish invading microbes who will spoil your batch and doom your brew. I avoided that calamity by taking seriously the cleanliness principle. So, first step is always cleaning and sanitizing the equipment with a special cleansing solution (I used B-Brite).  I also bought new glass bottles, instead of reusing old ones. For my style of occasional brewing, saving money comes second to simplifying the process. I’ve since learned of a product called PBW (Powdered Brewers Wash) that’s said to positively eliminate any organic residue – so thriftier folks should look into that.

Stinking up the house

If you relate well to the pervasive, hoppy/yeasty smell of a brewpub, you’ll like the next part — brewing the wort. In my case, I announced my brewing plans in advance and waited til I had the house to myself for half a day to spare the sensitive noses.

wort cooking on the stove

cooking the wort

Combining ingredients per the given instructions, you end up with a bubbling, gurgling, sometimes overflowing pot of deep brown liquid that cooks for about an hour. Toward the end of this process, I added 4 oz. organic chocolate and

slivered orange peel for seasonal effect, having sanitized the orange peel in advance.

The brewing step ends with transferring the hot wort to the fermenting tank, adding water to make 5 gallons and waiting for it to cool to the right temperature (~78° F.) to allow brewers yeast to kick in. Too hot destroys the yeast critters. I underestimated the cool down time — it took hours and hours (Note to self – start with really cold water in the fermentation tank next time).

Airlock releases carbon dioxide throughout the fermentation process without letting in air

Airlock releases carbon dioxide

Finally, I sprinkled and lightly stirred in the brewers yeast, snapped on the lid, fitted the airlock and lugged the tank into the back room. Next morning the fermentation bubbles were manically rattling the airlock. Yes!

Bottling the batch

Waiting for fermentation to complete took about 10 days. Bottling began with — you guessed it: sanitizing. Here’s where having brand new, long neck bottles helps. To further reduce the cleaning and bottling effort, I used 24 oz. bottles, instead of 12 oz. ones. I cleaned and sanitized the bottles, bottle filler, filling tank and tubing in the downstairs bathtub using B-Brite again. Dissolving the priming sugar in boiling water, adding it to the filling tank and siphoning the fermented wort into it readies the filling process. Then, I simply attached the tube to the spigot and let ‘er rip. Capping is fun and makes it feel like a real bottling operation.

Yikes – I almost forgot to sanitize the caps! Major mishap avoided by the timely reminder in the kit instructions.

Sharing the bounty

As Christmas week approached I retrieved bottled WaddAle from the basement fermentation zone, labeled each with my 2012 WaddAle label (Avery 22829), and packaged shipments for points west, north and south with instructions for awaiting complete bottle conditioning (another week or so). So, if you’re a WaddAle recipient — today’s the day! Open and salute the  end of 2012 and the beginning the new year! If you feel left out, well… get busy and brew!

WaddAle 2012 under the Christmas tree

Celebrating WaddAle 2012


Garden Mind

Not this blue, really?

I got the White Flower Farm Spring 2012 catalog this week. It’s a page turner as usual, with saturated floral images of garden gems in perfect flower – where the reds are redder, the greens greener and the true blues truer than life. One day, there might be a garden catalog with wilted, spent flowers going to seed. Unlikely.

My garden overwinters – stark and dreary, especially without frost or snow cover. I hope it gets cold enough to kill the bad bugs; I hope there is enough snow cover, eventually, to supplement the good stuff (my brother told me snow is the poor man’s fertilizer). But, I digress. What is really at work is stillness. No growth, just the remnants of the garden being earth bound — skeletal, essential, and creating reserves for the proper blooming time.

What I have is garden mind.

Our garden (aka, “R” Garden) sits, while last year’s beauty decomposes into next year’s growth. I see the garden’s shape from our upstairs window – the straight and curvy lines, the beds, the flow from one section to another joined by lawn, paths, steps, and bridges. I like this flow and work to refine it in my mind: firm up that edge with a low border, trim that shrub to be a better neighbor, hack that pachysandra, reset those stones, et cetera. In a process of refinement, endless tweaking shapes the garden and morphs its profile. Its essential personality, established long ago, matures incrementally, bringing charm, whimsy and nature into harmony improved by age.

Of course it’s a living thing and changes occur, apparently spontaneously, as well. Like the clumping bamboo that finally, finally decided to become the screen I imagined ten years ago. Who knew it would take this long? I suppose that’s where annuals come in. They provide the instant gratification that delights the eye and other senses. Not much mystery but adornment galore and great expectations easily met. We enjoy the splash, the visual spice, and the abundance of blooms overlaying the perennial foundation.


The garden mind dwells on ideas and suffers no toil. No: weeding, spraying, mowing, aching backs or biting no-see-ums. It sees golden possibilities; it harbors hopes and plans — flights of fancy that could occupy the whole of next season. It’s a great place to visit.

Just add water

I’ve often toyed with the idea of a water feature in my garden. Done right, it adds a sense of essential life — a focus on origins, mystery and beauty. Harry Poulter, my colleague in another realm, features water in his garden design and shares his insights in the following article.

Knowing of my interest in water gardening, Michael asked me to contribute something on building a water feature and water gardening in general. – Harry Poulter, Buckingham, VA

It’s mid-March in Virginia and my ponds are just waking up.  I love the look and sound of water in the garden, and I love to be able to extend my gardening palette by adding aquatic and semi-aquatic plants.

A few of my pond pals (koi) to the right.  I got them very young – FedEx overnight – from a Florida fish farm about 3 years ago. There have already been several generations of babies.

Water, water everywhere

Over the years, I have water gardened in:

  • half whisky barrels with liners,
  • non-draining planters,
  • livestock watering troughs from the Tractor Supply Store (makes a great deck or patio pond),
  • preformed liners sunk into the garden bed, and
  • a fully excavated koi pond with a custom flexible liner (pictured above).

I’ve grown aquatic and bog and wetland plants, as well as koi and other pond fishes, and hosted local frogs and newts. I’ll cover water gardening options, and show how I created an overflowing pot garden fountain.

Floral Variety

There is a huge array of plants available to the water gardener, and you can add unusual interest to a perennial bed by sinking a water planter in it or adjacent to it.

Popular hardy aquatic plants include water lilies and lotus, pickerel rush and various iris species, including native yellow and blue flags, and some cultivated varieties such as Japanese Ensata. There are tropicals like dwarf papyrus, water hyacinth and water lettuce that can be grown as annuals.

Many plants which do fine on dry land do even better with their feet in water, such as cardinal flower, canna, and some hibiscus. A visit to a garden center which specializes in aquatic plants can be a real eye-opener.

Starting Simply – barrel liner fits the bill

The simplest water gardening can be done in a waterproof planter on the ground. You can grow a single lotus or a stand of Flags in a large pot.

Like all containerized plants, they will be more winter-hardy if the container is sunk into the ground. If you are going to bury a container, a good choice is the standard “barrel liner” available at many home centers.

Sized to fit in a standard half whiskey barrel, they hold about 20 gallons. In a whiskey barrel, they make an attractive deck pond, large enough for a couple of small plants and even a fish or two (depending on your raccoon situation). Or, excavate a hole in the ground, line it with some sand and sink the liner to use as a pre-formed minipond. Leave it as-is for an aquatic planter.

If you want to create a mini-bog garden, drill drain holes a couple of inches from the top, and fill with saturated peat and sand. You can also buy larger, irregularly shaped pre-formed liners to sink in the garden as I did here – this one is about 55 gallons:

Mini-pond in late spring with yellow flags and Ensata iris. Later, pickerel rush and a small water lily will take over. Wild phlox creeps over the edge.

In retrospect, I would not use one of these large pre-formed liners again. Digging is hard enough – trying to fit your dug hole to a pre-formed shape while leaving enough room for a sand liner and not leaving any air voids to weaken the structure is too difficult. Use a flexible liner instead (Pond Making Resources, below).

Another good choice for a deck pond or other preformed water planter use is a livestock watering trough from a farm supply store. These are indestructible, a nice depth, acceptable looking, and reasonably priced, if you can find them. I live in farm country, so these are everywhere.

Pond Making Resources

Flexible liners, cut to shape, are the ultimate in-ground solution. If you decide to go that route, do your homework and buy a good liner, along with a protective underlayment. is an excellent resource for pond liners and general pond supplies.

For any in-ground feature, be sure it is as level as you can get it. It seems obvious but it is easy to misjudge. Don’t rely on your eyes – use a level. You can’t fool water.

For plants and fish, find your local pond supply or pond garden center. There is no substitute for seeing the plants and picking your own. My own favorite is an hour’s drive from me in very rural Virginia:

For equipment – shop around. Garden centers tend to have a high markup on durable goods, and you will pay a lot more for standard plumbing fixtures, for instance, than you could get elsewhere. Also, you may find that the same item marketed as a “pond” pump will have a higher price than when it is sold as an “aquarium” pump.

In addition to Best Nest, above, I shop at and as well as my local Lowe’s.

Making a fountain

You have probably seen the “overflowing pot” type fountain, and you can buy an entire kit ready-made. They are usually filled with pebbles around the base of the pot, and have no open water except in the pot. I preferred to have open water at the base, to be able to add some small plants – and have actually picked up some resident frogs. Here’s how I made my own.

What you need:

  • a decorative pot
  • a basin larger around than the pot, with a sump,
  • a pump and some plumbing

You need power for the pump, and like all outside power, it needs to be from a GFCI-protected outlet.

For a basin, I buried a 20 gallon barrel liner and surrounded it with concrete pavers. We bought a 4-foot tall pot at our favorite rural pond center and had them drill it and add the bulkhead fittings and internal standpipe.

You may be lucky enough to find a pot with a usable bottom hole, or be able to drill it yourself, but I wasn’t confident in my ability to drill a hole in a $300 ceramic pot without cracking it.

The picture shows the sunken barrel liner and broken cinder block used to make a sump under the pot. It is important to get this firmly placed and as level as possible before proceeding.

I added my own pump (an aquarium pump with a small sponge filter) and made a sump by placing the pot on a half cinder block with a side partially knocked out to allow the hose to pass through.

Ready for assembly: There is a threaded bulkhead fitting on the bottom of the pot, and a nylon barbed hose fitting (partly obscured by the hose on the pump) screws into that. You can secure the hoses with screw-down hose clamps – use stainless steel clamps (no rust) from a boating supply store.

Once assembled, follow these remaining steps to fill, level, and enjoy your fountain!

I like the bell-type fountain fitting on the top of the standpipe, but there is a disadvantage – the wind will blow some of your water away, and you will have to refill more often. The alternative is to omit the fountain fitting, and just let it overflow. Then, you won’t even need a standpipe on the inside.

Water gardening provides yet another way to synchronize your soul with natural and constructed beauty. Thanks, Harry, for nurturing our garden ideas! – Michael Waddell, Rake & Palette

Tin Man Garden Art

Tin Man overlooks the garden, standing near its wooded, western edge. He is flanked by two Tupelo trees and footed by woodland perennials: ferns, trillium, Lenten Rose (helleborus),

and viney ground cover (ajuga reptans). Hint: Don’t ever plant Bugleweed – ajuga. Ever.)

The Tin Man Cometh

Tin Man was created by Peter Beals, an auto body repair man from Kingston, Massachusetts. I purchased his work

at the annual North River Arts Society (NRAS) Festival of the Arts in Marshfield Hills, MA because it appealed to a grand whimsy and the price was right. Standing over 7 feet (2.1 meters) tall, Tin Man has occupied his outpost in my garden since June 2, 2006.

He debuted at the garden party celebrating Kenyatta Braithwaite’s (Weymouth, MA) academic success. I had to disrupt NRAS protocol to liberate Tin Man in advance from the Festival; accomplished with support from our friend and NRAS kingpin, David Brega, just in time for Keny’s party.  Tin Man has attended all of our backyard events ever since.

Ars Longa Vita Brevis*

Gazing across the quiet garden he is stalwart, with a look of permanence and solidity.

But his profile reveals another truth – Tin Man is shallow and insubstantial. Almost two-dimensional, like Flat Stanley.

He takes our parties seriously. He attracts attention, yes, and teasing. But teasers poke fun fondly and he’s never offended.

*Ars longa, vita brevis (Hippocrates), commonly translated as “art is long, life is short.”

Tin Man Zeitgeist

Postured, impermanent, intent, revealing and deceiving. Tin Man was one of the first non-functional additions to my garden. He has his own story and he’s sticking to it. What story does your garden have? Share it!

18 Steps to a mirror in the garden

I discovered an outdoor art installation in a Paris park that inspired my garden mirror. The art was well-integrated into the context of the outdoor setting, not separate from it. I liked that. My idea was to hang a full-sized mirror in the garden that would reflect back on the garden. Read the story, see how to do it! Read the rest of this entry »

Sarabande: Kinetic Garden Art

Sarabande is a mobile – kinetic art made from copper, bronze and aluminum, standing six feet tall with a six foot radius. She was conceived to replace a withered dwarf maple that once stood in the center of the garden. Whimsical wind mobiles, like garden sculptures, provide vertical and horizontal contrast — plus movement — to the surrounding perennials.

A Garden Dancer Comes to Life

Named for the courtly dance and musical movement from the Baroque era, Sarabande is the work of kinetic artist, Vladimir Barsukov (Perpetual Mobiles) from whom I took a mobile-making class in November, 2009. You might think of Alexander Calder, an American mobile artist whose work is in the Guggenheim Museum (NYC).

Sarabande was almost a year in the making because Barsukov had to experiment with ideas and materials that would scale to larger proportions and perform well outdoors – wind mobiles can have a rougher life. Barsukov invented a sturdy pivot to give the mobile the needed “degrees of freedom.”

Besides freedom of movement, a mobile requires precisely balanced elements that communicate with each other, and sensitivity to slight, animating air movements.
Outdoors, a mobile must maintain its responsiveness while coping with extremes of wind, weather and elements; it must float on gentle breezes and ride out coastal gales. And do it all gracefully.

Installing the Mobile

I saw the first prototype at Barsukov’s Cambridge studio in July, 2010. While the artist completed the final design, I had to figure out how to keep a mobile garden sculpture permanently straight and plumb.  Googling

Install flag pole” gave me a suitable plan — I used: a post hole digger, gravel, concrete mix, wooden brace, with a carpenter’s level to set the holding tube in a solid base, and… voila! I had a stable home for my mobile (a mobile home?).

The dwarf maple stood leafless in its last years. Stark and twiggy, it became a favorite perch for small birds. Chickadees and humming birds would alight on the end of a tiny dead branch to rest; it was our snag tree. It toppled of its own accord just before Sarabande’s installation on October 30, 2010. Sarabande was too broad for that spot so we installed her farther back, overhanging the dwarf mountain laurel (kalmia latifolia v. ‘Elf’), Alberta spruce (Picea glauca ‘Conica’) and daphne. Originally a backyard patio idea, Sarabande moves gently and more subtly far away, where her long arm and large sweep complement her surroundings.

Reflections on Sarabande

As a foray in garden art, Sarabande makes quite a statement. A captive prima ballerina, both  sturdy and lithe. Across the garden stands Tin Man looking on. In the spring, when the woods behind fill in with green, I may install a reflective background to highlight Sarabande’s dance-like movement.  Here’s one idea I’m thinking of, using mirrored window panes:

With Sarabande, Tin Man now has a garden partner.Tin Man - by Peter Beals, Kingston MA
What moves your garden? Share the vision.