PHYLLIS ODESSEY

GARDENSYou Can’t See

New York City Gardens
Horticulture Society of New York

An Illustrated talk with Betsy Pinover Schiff
Monday, March 14, 2011
I admit to being a garden snob.  Any chance I have to be a voyeur, I jump on.  And any book that turns me into a nosy parker is worth writing about. 

On Monday night, I went to hear Betsy Pinover Schiff talk about her new book, New York City Gardens.  What to choose? Schiff gave us a glimpse into how she limited her choices:
  1.  Include Public and Private Gardens from all boroughs, not just Manhattan
  2. Since the audience was European, all the gardens should have views of New York City
      landmarks or iconic vistas.

  3.  There had to be surprises and unknowns.
  4.  There had to examples from landscape architects and homeowners/designers.

This book was commissioned by a German publisher and at the time, was going to be distributed to a European audience. Subsequently, the book has been published in French and English.

It’s always interesting when you live anywhere to see what you cannot see.  Besides the public gardens selected for this book (New York Botanical Garden, Brooklyn Botanical Garden, The Conservatory Garden in Central Park, The Heather Garden in Fort Tryon Park, The Rockefeller Rooftop Gardens, Wave Hill, etc., etc.) Schiff’s choice glimpses a world those of us who pound the pavement and ride the subway rarely see and for me that is the value of the book.  The photographs are well-done, the text is illuminating, but 5,000 sq. ft. of terrace with elaborate lace-work wrought iron pergola the length of the building makes you gasp.  

In addition to the traditional, Schiff includes two landscape architects who are as far away from a Italiante terra-cotta pot filled with papyrus as you can get:  Ken Smith and Topher Delaney.  Ken’s camouflage garden for MoMA, which can only be seen from above and Topher’s garden for a private residence, which is totally empty except for mirrors were the stars of the “show.” 

At the end of the talk, Schiff was asked about her next book.  In the 1950’s, Ruth Orkin took hundreds of pictures of Central Park from her window.  Schiff has taken up the baton, and decided to photograph the Park from windows on all four sides.  Let’s wait and see if she can top Ruth Orkin.


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