Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Guitar and Shadows | Oh Snap! . 1

Guitar and shadows in our old office on Beacon Hill, Boston.

Oh snap! is a scrapbook of snapshots, photographs made on the fly when something interesting catches your eye. And if you didn't snap you said, oh snap! It ain't art, but it also ain't not. So always snap.

Up on the Roof . 1

Few improvements both enhance the enjoyment of your home and increase the value of your house as much as a good roof deck. Relatively inexpensively you gain a whole new room - an outside room, possibly with a spectacular view across the city and a space as large as the footprint of your house.

Every rooftop presents unique opportunities and challenges. We're going to start with the simplest, quite common existing situation, which will result in the easiest, least expensive project to build. We're looking for a fairly flat rubber covered roof, one with only a slight pitch, surrounded by a parapet or other walls with a roof house or hatch for access from indoors.

Virtually all modern flat roofs are now covered with rubber and all the old time tar and gravel roofs are being replaced with rubber when their time is up. The steaming, roaring tar cauldron by the curb is now mostly extinct. The rubber, resembling that of a bicycle inner tube but thicker and stiffer, is installed over thick foam insulation board fastened to the roof and comes in very wide rolls and specially shaped fittings all bonded together with some nasty sticky stuff.

Obviously, the roof surface, and all the through the roof rubber fittings and metal flashings should be in good shape before installing a permanent deck. Certainly there should be no roof leaks of any sort in the house. If you have any doubt, hire a reputable roofer to look over the situation, spot problems, if any, and suggest solutions. I'll give you the name and number of my roofer to call if you're in the Boston area: Mike Duby at Ideal Skylight and Roofing at 508-583-8558. He's truly an 'old pro' and we've worked together for many years.

The structure of the roof should be sufficient to bear the deck itself. If there are any doubts about that - you're already in trouble because a deck weighs next to nothing compared to the huge dead load imposed by a good snow storm. If there's any doubt at all - or you're planning to plant a forest of numerous, heavy planters, hire an engineer or architect to evaluate the situation and advise you.

The second thing we're looking for, the parapet or walls surrounding the rooftop is to keep things simple, so that we don't have to get into building walls - which we'll go into in future articles.

The third criteria is access to the roof itself up a flight of stairs tthrough a roof house or a ship's ladder to a hatch. Access up a fire escape is far too dangerous and probably illegal wherever you live. If you lack roof access, it can often be created, but that's definately a story for another time and probably a project for a pro.

Is it possible to use the roof without a deck, just walking right on the rubber? Not a good idea. Debris could be pushed down under foot and puncture the surface causing leaks, the insulation board would become crushed and lose its thermal properties and rubber roofs are hazardously slippery with any sort of moisture present. To use any sort of roof you need a deck.

Flat roofs, so called, in fact all have at least a slight pitch to shed water. Standing water is never good on a roof. But it doesn't take much of a pitch to make water run, maybe only a degree or two. Most flat roofs tend to pitch towards the back of the building and drain into a gutter. Under the roof the rafters which support it usually run at right anglees to this slope, spanning between the side walls of the house. The deck we are going to build, therefor, will rest on wood sleepers over resilient rubber padding, much like railroad ties, which run down the slope of the roof to allow it to drain and also spread the load across the roof rafters. The deck boards will then be laid and fastened at a right angle across the sleepers.

Image ... Don Bailey reading out on his roof deck. Beacon Hill, Boston.

Twitpic . 1

MaFe Sanchez. Medellin, Columbia.

I'm 18. I go to med school at UPB in medellin, I'm very delicate, sweet and sincere.

Twitpic is a new service that allows you to share pictures on Twitter. You upload on the Twitpic site and a link to the image along with a title and/or comment is posted on Twitter.

There's a public timeline on the Twitpic site, of course, a stream which is more like wading into a raging river. I was really surprised by how many great photos people make. Digital cameras have really improved the general level of photography. MaFe's portrait, which she simply titled Me... came from there.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Boston's Best . 1 - Charlie's

Breakfast is a meal that's been disappearing from the American scene. Fast food nation's breakfast sandwiches and other prefab offerings, cold cereal and protein shakes are not breakfast. Although in New England pie is, of course.

Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe at 429 Columbus Avenue in the South End serves no pies, but they do serve up the best breakfast in Boston, and maybe the world. Says who? James Beard and Julia Child for starters.

Charlie's looks much the same as the day it first opened its doors in 1927. Just check out the wall of photos that spans the rank of tables. Down to the wooden refrigerator, probably the same one. The staff - well we won't go there - but they all have many miles in this Majourides family operation. But the food couldn't be fresher or more up-to-date, maintaining the quality that Charlie Majourides, formerly a chef at the Statler Hotel, insisted upon.

Omelettes, what could be simpler? But most places get them wrong and are inconsistent. Chris and Arthur, the line chefs, nail them every time. Light, fluffy 3-egg monsters with a choice of 9 fillings, served with toast, home fries and salad. One of those and forget lunch, you're set until dinner. The home fries, something I usually push aside, are excellent - handmade, large-cut, pan fried and not greasy.

The coffee's good, a nice light roast, urn-made. They offer year-around ice coffee as well. Water is self-serve at the back of the dining area, by which there's a small hand washing sink. There's a selection of juices, sodas and spring waters.

Breakfast is served all day, but this is a Sandwich Shoppe and Charlie's has almost 40 offerings, from BLT to Western. Just about everything on the menu is also available during breakfast hours, which I consider to be the sign of an advanced civilization.

Soups, another vanishing species and one that few get right, consist of a daily special or two, with chili and clam chowder being almost daily staples. Gumbo and jambalaya have begun appearing regularly. But face it, Greeks aren't Cajuns and they just don't know. Arthur - less hot sauce (too much vinegar taste), use fresh hot peppers to help bring on the heat.

The fish is always fresh (unfrozen) and offered in a half dozen ways: Fish and Chips, Baked Haddock and Clam Roll among them. Salads include: Greek, Chicken Caeser, a Cold Salad Plate and a side Tossed Salad.

The lunch entrees are enormous, somewhat variable and pricey - mostly $10.00 and up. If I finish them, I usually feel logy for the rest of the day. These are portions for lumberjacks. And they're OK, but a bit much for the rest of us. Roast Pork, New York Sirloin, Baked Haddock and Meatloaf are among the standouts, served with appropriate sides. If cornbread is among them, ask that it not be toasted on the grill, it absorbs the flavor of everything that's been cooked on there for the last 82 years.

Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe ...
429 Columbus Avenue - 3 blocks directly behind the Prudential Center.
The South End - Boston, Massacusetts 02116.
Phone: 617-536-7669. Take-uut available.
Monday to Friday, 6:00 AM - 2:30 PM. Saturday, 7:30 AM - 1:00 PM. Closed Sundays.
Cash only, no credit cards or checks accepted.
No restroom facilities. Closest available are in the Prudential Center.

Image ... Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe, Boston.

Driving with Dashboard Widgets . 1

Dashboard is where widgets park in Apple OS X (pronounced X, as in Malcolm X, not Malcolm 10). It's a transparent layer which floats over all other windows when called with a function key or clicking its icon in the Dock.

Widgets are like a Smart Cars - compact, cute and basic - small apps, or computer applications, that usually perform one specific, simple function. Most work over the Web, acting as their own dedicated browsers. They offer many useful services - checking the weather, tweeting on Twitter, note taking, playing the radio, collecting voice mail and looking up widget on Wikipedia or in the dictionary.

It's very handy to have all these functions gathered together into one piece of screen real estate that can be summoned and dismissed like a genie. Plus widgets are speedy and stable with clean, simple interfaces. Within their intended limited focus, they are also often very deep and powerful tools. And almost addictive.

Apple offers nearly 4,000 Dashboard widgets for downloading, almost all of them for free. Of those, 3,975 are of no general interest, useless, mediocre, unstable or don't work. After extensive testing - admittedly avoiding maybe a thousand Homer Simpson quote machines - we've chosen a Top Ten. Click on any title to go to its download page.

1 - NotePad ... A real notebook, actually.
2 - Dictionary ... The Oxford American (bundled)
3 - Wikipedia ... Now with 10 million encyclopedia entries.
4 - Google ... The premier search engine.
5 - Gmail ... Google's great free email.
6 - AccuWeather ... Weather forecasts (bundled)
7 - RadioTuner ... A Web radio streamer.
8 - Chirp ... To access your Twitter account.
9 - Epicurious ... Recipe search of many sources.
10 - Armillary ... A real-time planetarium.

We'll look at each of our top ten widgets in detail, then discuss downloading and installing them.

... To be continued.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Snappers . 1

In late June, turning up one of the narrow paths off the dirt road running along the Muddy River, you'll sometimes see a very large turtle waddling along at a fair clip, for a turtle, and, a fair specimen being 18-inches across, blocking your way. This snapping turtle, or snapper, who would otherwise never leave the comfortable confines of that aptly named river, is on an imperative single-minded mission - motherhood. Do not disturb.

As their name helpfully suggests, snappers snap. They have a sharp hawk-like beak and powerful jaws that could possibly break off your finger for breakfast. And they're not vegetarians. The neck can shoot out of the shell and swivel around in any direction with a surprising range. If you encounter one in your garden and it must be moved use a large shovel. A snow shovel is ideal for turtle removal. Forget about flipping them over, they can turn turtle and be back on their feet, or perhaps flippers, in a flash. So hands off. Plus they're extremely slimy and slippery and will just slide out of any grip you might get on them.

Image ... Snapping turtle eggs. Fenway Victory Gardens, Boston.

June 26

Wrote and imaged Snappers . 1, on snapping turtles. Activated the Wild Lives department, devoted to animals, both wild and domestic.

Got an email from Charles in Paris. He and Joanne walked the Promenade Plantee yesterday. Wish I was there! Responded, reporting the Dot . news. Had a long chat with Lindsay late last night. Tweeted Paul, my nephew, a few minutes ago.

The weather looking ominous, as always lately. It seems to be misting, so while not really raining we won't forget about rain. A restless breeze. Birds fly low, a sign of rain. Their songs and distant muffled church bells rending the Sunday silence. Fire escape outside the office loaded with cornichon, Burpee Pickler.

Radio Roofscape added 20 new listeners over 2 days, probably from the special Michael Jackson set. Janet leads off with Together Again and that incredible dance video shot in Africa. Some of the craziest choreography I've ever seen.

The rain held off and I worked at a client's on Beacon Hill. Walked Charles Street to buy some supplies. The usual throng of tourists jamming the sidewalks. This is not a part of town you can walk three abreast and not gridlock the length of the street. The street's really changed - for the worse. Charles Street used to be Boston's antiques row with close to 40 antiques shops. Almost all gone, maybe a half dozen left. Replaced by high-priced ugly yuppie/preppie clothing and homewares boutiques. Charles Street use to be a walking art education. Just window shopping you saw so much and learned. And many of the dealers were world-class experts. Although often odd. Very old world. Gone.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Night of the Hunter . 1

Heralding the fall of the year, the great hunter Orion returns in October to dominate the nighttime sky. Then, just before Halloween, to clear the way for his climb to the top of the winter heavens, he shoots his arrows across the sky, every three minutes or so, in the Orionid meteor showers which peak around October 21.

Orion is one of the most conspicuous constellations in the sky. There he is below, seen through a telescope with lines connecting the main stars drawn to form the figure of The Hunter. Do you recognize him?

The hunter can be identified just by his glowing 'belt' of three medium brightness stars, evenly spaced in a straight line angling eastward.

Below the belt, pointing earthward, hangs his 'sword' of three more stars in a row. The fuzzy middle one is actually the Orion Nebula (M 42, pictured above), a vast stellar nursery.

In mid-October, Orion is just beginning to rise in the southeast at a typical backyard viewing time of 10:00 PM EST (mid-northern latitudes). The peak viewing dates - when Orion has fully risen in the south at the more reasonable hour of 10:00 PM - are in mid-January.

Four bright stars outline Orion's body (top left around to lower left) ... Betelgeuse, Bellatrix, Rigel and Saiph.

The jeweled belt consists of (left to right) ... Mintaka, Alnilam and Alnitak. Miessa forms the hunter's head.

Do these names sound exotic and maybe Arabic? They are. The Arabs were the first systematic observational astronomers in the west and as such had the privilege of naming many stars in the heavens, including seven of the main stars of Orion. Bellatrix is Greek for woman warrior and Orion himself is the hunter of Greek mythology.

The reddish-orangish star defining Orion's right shoulder (top left) is Betelgeuse, a red supergiant, one of the biggest and the brightest stars in the sky.

If this star replaced our sun this monster, 13th biggest in the universe, would extend out past the (former) orbit of Mars. It's the 9th brightest star in the heavens and usually the 2nd in Orion. It's a variable - a star who's light output varies significantly over time - and will sometimes out-shine the constellation's usually brightest star, Rigel, located in the left foot (lower right).

It's a hot young star, only several million years old, and possibly poised to explode quite soon on the cosmic stage as a supernova. If it does, or possibly already has (given the time light takes to travel), we will have front row seats as it's a mere 640 light years away. If it blew up in the late Middle Ages we should be hearing the news fairly soon.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Teen discovers strange supernova in backyard!

Caroline Moore. age 14 of Warwick, New York, discovered a strange supernova, 1000 times dimmer than a typical exploding star. Telescopes around the world turned watch.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Guest Artist . 1

Provincetown Backyards by Blanche Lazzell, 1926. From an exhibition of her works, Blanche Lazzell, White-line Color Woodcuts, at the Craig F. Starr Gallery. The show runs from June 5 - August 14, 2009 at 5 East 73rd Street, New York City. Hours: Monday-Friday, 11:00-5:00.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

June 24

Testing Constant Contact Polls (see post below).

Image ... Painter. Commonwealth Avenue, Boston.

Beans About Boston . 2

We're testing Polls from Constant Contact, host of Roofscape News. This is the current question posed by Beans About Boston.

It's big. It's ugly. At least here. What do you think? Vote with your feet.
Here's an option, it opens in a new window.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Screenscape features images selected from Roofscape Magazine to decorate your computer desktop.

Housetops, an etching by Edward Hopper of a woman riding the El, elevated railway, in New York City, gazing out the open window of the train over the housetops, as Hopper quaintly calls them. The woman may have been his wife Jo, his frequent model and lifetime muse.

Olmsted's Green Ribbon . 5

The Back Bay Fens and the Muddy River presented Olmsted with the most difficult challenges he faced in designing the Emerald Necklace. The city was essentially facing an ecological disaster the likes of which we today would associate with troubled third world countries.

What led to the complete collapse of the once pristine Back Bay ecosystem where the Indians fished with their weirs and the Puritans hunted geese and dug clams? It's partly a tale of bedrock American capitalism run amuck (so to speak).

Throughout the colonial period Boston's population was never much more than 15,000 and in fact declined in the years leading up to the Revolution. In the fifty years following the war, however, the population exploded fourfold and just kept climbing with successive waves of European immigrants. This in a town that was only slightly larger than when it was founded 200 years earlier,

The town's infrastructure remained essentially the same as well as its size throughout the Federal period. The sewers of the Shawmut Peninsula, such as they were, drained directly into the Back Bay and the town dump was located where the Public Garden now sits. Stony Brook and the Muddy River also both dumped raw sewage and industrial pollutants into Back Bay from the many surrounding upland towns. The sea, the source of Boston's expanding wealth, was also counted upon to carry away the city's growing waste stream.

Boston has an average tidal range - the difference between the high and low tide water levels - of about ten feet. Twice a day, strong tidal currents swept up the Charles River estuary to inundate the salt marshes and mud flats of Back Bay, then the tide would turn flushing away much of the city's sewage and trash out into the harbor.

At this time the Industrial Revolution, emanating from England, was beginning to transform economies and societies. But two decades into the new century, Boston still hadn't developed any industrial base, it remained a maritime rather than a manufacturing power. It lacked two of the essentials for industrial development - the land for siting factories and mills and a steady supply of rapidly flowing water to turn the mill wheels.

Ten miles up the Charles, the town of Waltham offered both of these advantages. The river dropped ten feet in its race through the town and the water supply was reliable. This became the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution in the Americas, financed by a partnership of Boston investors known as The Boston Associates led by Francis Cabot Lowell, a wealthy Boston merchant.

Contributors - Craigslist

This is the ad that we're currently posting on Boston Craigslist. We alternate every few days under Gigs between Writing and Creative.

Roofscape is the online magazine of outdoor urban living worldwide. Visit and enjoy the view ... http://roofscapemagazine.com.

Roofscape is devoted to the enjoyment and enhancement of the urban outdoors around the world. The magazine explores all aspects of outdoor urban living - nature and the environment, history and historic city walks, sports and recreation, gardening and landscaping, alfresco cooking and dining, outdoor living and work spaces, plus the sky and stars overhead.

Are you a writer, photographer or visual artist with a passion for city life and the urban outdoors? We'd like to work with you. Get in touch ... contact@roofscapemagazine.com.

June 23

Wrote and uploaded the new Cityscape department page.

Posted on Craigslist inviting contributors. See the post above. It's really pulling in responses, some of them excellent.

A real turn off, and there are lots of them? People who just say 'applying for the position see resume attached'. Robo-writers? Straight to trash.

A good cover letter is key. Actually forget the resume. Just a good letter. Tell me you understand what we're up to. Show me you can write from jump street. Photographers mostly tend to have wretched websites they enclose links to. What's up with that? And I don't mean just bad, boring photos, although that's endemic too. You do have a sense of design, don't you?

Surprise, another day of liquid sunshine.

Edited and imaged Olmsted's Green Ribbon It's now done as far as written. Sketched the second half or maybe 2/3's?).

Worked on the Budget Bathroom Makeover project. Plumber disconnected sink. Removed and demoed vanity, cut and dropped in new. Uncrated all fixtures. Trash out. Tacked up medicine cabinet and lights. Stopped by Hastone to solve more stone problems, maybe. Biked back to office in light rain and mist.

Redesigned Screenscape page and added first download, Housetops by Edward Hopper.

Monday, June 22, 2009


Launched a new department ... Cityscape explores the urban landscapes around the world. We take in both the sweeping panoramas and quiet corners of cities worldwide, nature and human nature, places to see and places to be seen and make the scene.

Charles Thiesen is now in Paris working on the first article, Promenade Plantee. ... Winding through the heart of Paris is a garden - up in the air. Built on top of an old elevated railway line, the Promenade Plantee begins at the Bastille and runs for three miles, mostly through the 12 th arrondissement, roughly at third floor level of the adjacent buildings. As you stroll by flowering garden beds, under swaying bamboo and amidst blooming trees you get a spectacular perspective on Paris and its architecture. Charles is going to take us on a walk.

Image ... The Clouds Today. San Fransisco. By Mathew Spolin.

Olmsted's Green Ribbon . 4

Olmsted's life work, in all its varied phases, was informed both by his deep humanistic impulses and an intense sense of connection to the natural world.

American cities enjoyed explosive growth throughout the entire nineteenth century. A country of farmers - as all the founding fathers and citizens were - was rapidly becoming a nation of city dwellers. The modern technologies and infrastrucure which allow large cities to function were only just being invented and introduced. Cities could barely cope with the rapid rise of their populations and many urban pathologies developed. For example, here's how the Back Bay (which was still a tidal saltmarsh) was described at mid-century, just before the Civil War.

... the foulest marsh and muddy flats to be found anywhere in Massachusetts without a single attractive feature, a body of water so foul that even clams and eels cannot live there, and a place that no one will go within a half mile of in the summertime unless it was absolutely necessary ... a nuisance, offensive and injurious to the large and increasing population residing upon it ...

The city's raw sewage and trash were dumped directly into Back Bay in the absence of the infrastrucures that we now take totally for granted - municipal sewage treatment and solid waste management systems.

Nineteenth century cities were often dirty and dangerous places. They were overcrrowded due to successive waves of immigration, subject to epidemics bred in the filthy conditions, noisy, smelly, crime-ridden, sharply divided between rich and poor, suffering chronic unemployment and lack of jobs, psychically very stressful for many residents and ... lacking in parks and other public outdoor amenities.

Olmsted attempted to address all of those urban problems with his massive Green Ribbon project, to cure both the practical and the psychic pathologies. The practical involved infrastrucure that, as noted, we now take for granted because it is mostly hidden away and invisible. But his take on the psychic effects of parks on the urban population of all classes certainly still resonates today.

We want a ground to which people may easily go after their day's work is done, and where they may stroll for an hour, seeing, hearing and feeling nothing of the bustle and jar of the streets, where they shall, in effect, find the city put far away from them .... We want, especially, the greatest possible contrast with the restraining and confining conditions which compel us to walk circumspectly, watchfully, jealously, which compel us to look closely upon others without sympathy.

To promote psychic, as much as physical, health, he proposed to transform the reeking Back Bay Fens into ...

... a scenery of a winding, brackish creek, within wooded banks; gaining interest from the meandering course of the water.

And he accomplished both beautifully over the course of twenty years.

Olmsted's Green Ribbon . 3

The Emerald Necklace consists of a dozen linked green 'jewels', its parks parks and parkways, which are almost contiguous. The first three - Boston Common (1634, 50 acres), the Boston Public Garden (1837, 24 acres) and the Commonwealth Avenue Mall (1865, 8.7 acres) - already existed when Olmsted was first consulted in 1875 by the Boston Parks commissioners on possible public park sites within the city. But it was his idea to link the existing and proposed parks together into one continuous greenway or Green Ribbon.

The Necklace currently comprises half of Boston's park acerage and half of the city's population of over a half million live within its watershed. But, although few people know it, a major part of it is missing. Looking at a the map of the Emerald Necklace as it now exists, you'll notice that its shape is a lot more like a dogleg. The missing link that would have completed the Necklace was what Olmsted called the Dorchesterway in his master plan.

The Dorchesterway was to be a linear park, similar to the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, running from Franklin Park down Columbia Road in Dorchester to the Dorchester Marine Park, then continuing along the harbor via the Strandway (now William J. Day Boulevard) to Castle Island at Pleasure Bay in South Boston. This part of the plan was never implemented because Columbia Road was already very densely developed by the late 1800's. Some form of this plan may eventually come into being, which might additionally include a link from Castle Island back to Boston Common to truly complete the Necklace.

Timely Garden Tip . 1

Frederike taught us this trick for tomatoes that she says everyone in Germany uses. Wash and fill an empty wine bottle with water, upend it and drive the neck down into the soil close to a tomato plant. The bottle will drain slowly over the course of a week or so automatically irrigating the plant with warm water. We're experimenting and will report back. If it works, we may do the whole garden. I figure about 10 cases of Chateau Lafitte and we're covered. Now what if you used a dilute solution of MiracleGro? Intravenous steroids?

Olmsted's Green Ribbon . 2

Olmsted moved with his family to Boston from Manhattan in 1883 specifically to design and manage the building of this massive civic project. To do this he established the world's first professional landscape architecture firm at his residence and offices, Fairsted, in the leafy Brookline hills.

Boston without the Emerald Necklace would be as unimaginable as New York City without Central Park ... and amazingly Olmsted designed and built both of them. Central Park, his first commission, launched his career as a landscape architect in 1857 and the Emerald Necklace concluded it upon its completion in 1896, after almost 20 years of tireless work. In between he also designed and built many other parks, park systems, parkways, landscapes and planned communities around the country and in Canada.

We take it as a given, the parks and park systems within the cities of this country, but it wasn't always so. Boston Common, for example, was established in 1634 by the Puritans, primarily to graze cattle and hang criminals and Quakers. For 200 years the Common was the only public park within the booming city of Boston, until the creation of the Public Garden in 1837. Public parks are an invention of the modern mind, and most especially of Olmsted's.

As we see daily, Boston is a city always under construction, a work in progress, constantly reinventing, tearing down and rebuilding itself. One fairly changeless constant over the past century, however, has been the Emerald Necklace. It looks somewhat different from Olmsted's original designs, but it's still intact and if he returned today for a visit he would find its main features quite recognizable. In short, it has stood the test of time, when time has swept away so much of the urban American landscape.

June 22

Wrote Studio 411 for Roofscape Studio, our collaborative online workspace. Today's work ... Olmsted's Green Ribbon.

Edited and imaged Olmsted's Green Ribbon. Uploaded each section to garden journal as I finished it. Up to part 4 so far.

Took a break for a walk in the rain. Made some photos of the 1880 Victorian house on Monadnock Street. Nothing really useful. Took dark under the dense trees on this gloomy day. One of them is above.

Created, imaged and wrote the Cityscape department page.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Coop Confidential . 1

Frederike's folks are here visiting Boston from Berlin. L-R: Fred (as she styles herself), Mom and Dad. They were hanging out, chatting and reading the Sunday papers when I said, 'family picture' and immediately snapped two photos. Notice the shy player, #36.

Charles and Joanne flew to Paris for a 10 day visit with Chrystal and Olivier and a brief stay in Bruges. Everyone was hilarious at breakfast. Fred's dad put his pocket translator PDA to good use. More rain!

June 21

Another day of rain possible. Probable, certainly looks and feels like it. The forecast just creeps forward adding another rain day daily. On Thurrsday it was Sunday, Friday added Monday, Saturday recruited Tuesday. We seem to be stuck in a pattern, much like the very cool spring we had. June can be tricky. I remember one June it rained nonstop the whole month. People were about to lose their minds during the last half of the month. At least these are just more like successions of passing showers.

Downtown consulting with a client. Bussed rather than biked, rain being imminent. Wrote and sketched there and back again on the Silver Line. Fitful showers, both chilly and clammy. Arrived home around noon to catch the late risers breakfasting and hung out shooting the breeze, leafing the Times.

Designed and uploaded (many times to check) the new Roofscape cover. Unexpected. Quite different. Now conforms to Roofscape News specs, so the two share the same format and can easily exchange entries back and forth. The cover is now more advanced and the next RSN will be the one updated to the new specs.

Did some major programming for Radio 1 very late at night. A real mix. Many new and unfamiliar artists. Lots of props flowing in. Added some new listeners to RR and Twitter followers. We now check out all Twitter followers, including their websites, and follow them back unless there's something off-putting about them.

Compost Adventures

Huge piles of fresh compost in the three compost areas. Several years ago we designed, and partly built, a waste management system for the Fenway Victory Gardens, where our garden is located. The waste generated by 500 garden plots, each roughly 15'x35', is immense.

Up to that time 'waste management' consisted of paying contractors over $10,000 a year to haul away the garden's 'trash', most of it soft plant materials, a small part of it woody plant matter. And then - get this - the Society would go out and buy expensive truckloads of compost for the gardeners.

The gardens had been crippled for years by incompetent management. They (a chef, then a hairdresser) finally got the boot and a new president was elected who was actually a professional gardener (at the Gardner Museum up the street) and had a clue about managing an organization. She committed to developing a comprehensive waste management program and we signed on to design it. Which violated ny common sense rule of dealing with a nonprofit organization (code word for non-functional).

The focus of our waste management program was to be composting. This required much research into large-scale composting techniques. Eventually we decided on the windrow method, in which soft plant materials are piled up in long narrow lines or rows. I had seen this technique successfully used at Greenleaf Compost, a commercial composting operation adjacent to the Franklin Park Zoo, (one of their sources of raw materials). They did it on a scale that required machinery, our system would be designed it to be managed by hand.

From the start I empahasized, and designed for the fact, that the actual operation of the areas would be as important as the areas themselves. The key was proper management, which would also require the cooperation of all the gardeners.

A basic question was turning the windrows. When you hear the word compost, you almost automatically think turning the pile. But for years I'd made good compost with no turning by simply piling garden debris up in a bin and shoveling finished compost out of the bottom.

I checked the science behind the turn-no turn controversy, such as it is, and it came down to this. Turning is folklore and possibly counterproductive.

Now the rationale behind turning is to aereate the pile, the efficient breakdown of organic matter being an aerobic process, one requiring air. Three problems with that theory.

First. Air adequately infiltrates a pile of mixed soft plant materials (both green, fresh and brown, dry) from 2-feet in any direction. Therefore, no-turn windrows can be made up to 4-feet high.

Second. Soon after turning the oxygen level inside any pile drops back to what it already was. And not much happened in that short time.

Third. Turning disturbs the hot center of the pile where decomposition is actually taking place, like fusion at the the hot center of a burning star. Therefore, it rather than speeding things up, it slows them down.

To be continued ...

Saturday, June 20, 2009

June 20

Against prediction ... a day without rain. So far, 7 AM. The weather's been anyone's guess these days and they've all been wrong.

Biked to garden, a 25 minute ride Dot door to Fens gate, all downhill or flat, except for the bridge over the Orange line by New England Conservatory. Everything damp, fragrant, rain soaked, humid, dripping, filled out and lushly green

Parked my bike leaning against the compost pile. The usual spot is lost in a cascade of soaked grape leaves, droplets glistening from every sharp leaf lobe. Cloudy, but no rain. Yet. Kick back under the grape arbor with the iBook in my lap. Accompanied by bird chorale. The city hushed and far away. Writing about ... compost.


For years I biked in Boston with a cruiser - a one gear bicycle with coaster brakes. And not only in the city. I did the Minuteman Bikeway many times with that one-speed, which is mostly uphill for 7 miles to Lexington. Rather than shift gears, you just peddle harder and/or go slower. And back-pedal to brake. It's the bike of childhood. Minus the baseball cards clothespinned to the frame to slap the spokes. Or not.

Seen aboce is a rugged new cargo-carrying city bike that's caught out eyes, the Torker Cargo T.

D,L. Byron of Bike Hugger gives the Model T these props ...

What I like about the Torker Cargo T is the simplicity. US customers would call this a *grocery getter". Or errand bike for the Plain Clothes Cyclists. It's based on the Batavus Personal Bike and made for the city. Nothing much to explain. Put some groceries up front and a backpack on the back. Pull it up and onto the center stand to park it. To ride it just pedal. Sit upright and twist the shifter.

Wit | Thought . 1

Soul is the wit of brevity.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Dot . 6

Dress shop across Dudley Street from our offices in Dorchester, Mass.

Olmsted's Green Ribbon . 1

Frederick Law Olmsted perhaps did more to shape this country than any other American in our history. And shape we also mean in the literal and physical sense ... sculpting the landscape of the United States. A contemporary described his work this way ...

An artist, he paints with lakes and wooded slopes; with lawns and banks and forest covered hills; with mountain sides and ocean views.

Boston especially has been shaped by Olmsted's visionary painting. One of his last and most important projects was the Emerald Necklace, which he referred to as the Green Ribbon. The Necklace, as it's now known, is an interconnected park system stretching for 7 miles and over 1,100 acres throughout the city from bustling Boston Common downtown out to bucolic Franklin Park in Roxbury.

June 19

Added an article from the New York Times, Urban Farming, A Bit Closer to the Sun to the journal and magazine, posted just below.

Work for today ... 1. Olmsted's Green Ribbon, part 1 posted just above. 2. New cover for the magazine. I changed the main image last Friday, but that's as far as I got. Making the new newsletter, which emailed on Monday, took all my time and attention, it was a total re-design.

And it's raining again! As it's been for weeks. Did I suddenly switch coasts to Seattle? Cucumbers, Burpee Pickler, blossoming and setting fruit out on the office fire escape.

Visited with Jenny yesterday and we chatted. She may be joining us. We may have a new hand to welcome aboard. A mad Aussie from Melbourne. We need that perspective. Worked at Sharon's on her bath makeover. Biked back in the rain, soaked. Charles got caught out too on his recumbent.

The magazine now has over 100 followers on Twitter and 50 listeners to Radio Roofscape and we add new fans daily. Welcome all of you. We love you all madly ... as Duke Ellington always said to close his shows.

Urban Farming, A Bit Closer to the Sun

By Marian Burros. Courtesy of the New York Times, June 17, 2009

THIS summer, Tony Tomelden hopes to be making bloody marys at the Pug in Washington, D.C., with tomatoes and chilies grown above the bar, thanks to the city’s incentives for green roofs.

Mr. Tomelden, the Pug’s principal owner, says he’s planting a garden to take advantage of tax subsidies the city offers in his neighborhood if he covers his roof with plants.

“If I can do something in my corner for the environment, that seemed a reasonable thing to do,” he said. “Plus I can save money on the tomatoes.”

There won’t be bloody marys at P.S. 6 on New York’s Upper East Side, but one-third of its roof will be planted with vegetables and herbs next spring for the cafeteria. The school is using about $950,000 in city funds that it has put aside, and parents and alumni are providing almost a half-million dollars more.

“For the children, it’s exciting when you grow something edible,” said the school’s principal, Lauren Fontana.

Aeries are cropping up on America’s skylines, filled with the promise of juicy tomatoes, tiny Alpine strawberries and the heady perfume of basil and lavender. High above the noise and grime of urban streets, gardeners are raising fruits and vegetables. Some are simply finding the joys of backyard gardens several stories up, others are doing it for the environment and some because they know local food sells well.

City dwellers have long cultivated pots of tomatoes on top of their buildings. But farming in the sky is a fairly recent development in the green roof movement, in which owners have been encouraged to replace blacktop with plants, often just carpets of succulents, to cut down on storm runoff, insulate buildings and moderate urban heat.

A survey by Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, which represents companies that create green roofs, found the number of projects its members had worked on in the United States grew by more than 35 percent last year. In total, the green roofs installed last year cover 6 million to 10 million square feet, the group said.

Steven Peck, its president, said he had no figures for how many of the projects involved fruits and vegetables, but interest is growing. “When we had a session on urban agriculture,” he said of a meeting of the group in Atlanta last month, “it was standing room only.” Mr. Peck said the association is forming a committee on rooftop agriculture.

Tax incentives have accelerated the plantings of green roofs, particularly in Chicago, which has encouraged green roofs for almost a decade. The Chicago chef Rick Bayless uses tomatoes and chilies he grows atop his restaurant Frontera Grill to make Rooftop Salsa.

New York State has subsidies both for roofs with succulents spread out over a thin layer of soil and for edible plants covering a smaller area. A proposed amendment to New York City’s tax abatement for some roof projects would include green roofs. Most roof gardeners aren’t in it for the money, though.

After her Lower East Side co-op refurbished the 1,000-square-foot roof of its six-floor walk-up, Paula Crossfield persuaded fellow board members to spend $3,000 to put a 400-square-foot garden on it. They built planters and paved part of the roof so people can walk easily among the plantings.

Ms. Crossfield, managing editor of the Civil Eats blog, about sustainable agriculture, is paying for the seeds and will do the harvesting, sharing the bounty with her neighbors. (She and her husband live on the top floor.)

In the process, she estimates she carried up 500 of the 1,500 pounds of soil they bought and put in planters.

“My decision to start a garden is an extension of my work,” Ms. Crossfield said. “Growing my own food helps me understand better what I write about: how food gets to our table, the difficulties it entails.” It’s not all about agricultural policy, she added.

“The bottom line,” she said, “is that I harbor a secret desire to be a farmer, and my way of doing that is to use what I have, which is a roof.”

Two weeks ago Ms. Crossfield transplanted seedlings from her apartment onto the roof: golden zucchini, oakleaf lettuce, brussels sprouts, butternut squash, watermelon, rainbow chard, cucumbers, nasturtiums, calendula, sunflowers, amaranth greens, tomatoes and herbs.

In San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, Maya Donelson has filled planter boxes with vegetables on a 900-square-foot patch of roof at the Glide Memorial Church. For the past year she has managed the Graze the Roof Project at the church’s Glide Center, a neighborhood social service provider.

The food goes to the center’s volunteers and children in the neighborhood who work in the garden one day a week and learn to cook what they grow.

“I’ve never had one kid who hasn’t wanted to get his hands dirty,” said Ms. Donelson, who studied architecture and environmental design. “They are willing to try anything if they see it growing and pull it out of the ground. We juiced the purple carrots and the kids drank that.”

Sustainable South Bronx, a nonprofit environmental organization, said it will help Alfred E. Smith High School plant a roof garden and has helped a company in Hunts Point put strawberry plants on its roof. (The owner likes strawberries, an official of the group said.)

One of the more ambitious projects is a 6,000-square-foot roof farm in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, which will grow food for local restaurants and shops.

Ben Flanner, a transplanted Wisconsinite who’s running it, said he became fascinated with organic agriculture and was set to take an internship on a rural farm but then had a change of heart.

“I wanted to farm but I didn’t want to leave the city,” he said.

Mr. Flanner was lucky to find an environmentally aware company — Broadway Stages, a stage and lighting company — that wanted a green roof on one of its buildings. It paid to prepare the roof for planting and agreed to let him grow food on it. Mr. Flanner and his partner, Annie Novak, did the planting and will be able to keep all the profits from their organic vegetables.

“People are knocking on my door to buy the stuff,” he said. Andrew Tarlow, a partner in four nearby restaurants, including Marlow & Sons, has agreed to buy anything Mr. Flanner grows.

The roof cost $6,000 to prepare, according to Lisa Goode, who with her husband, Chris, owns Goode Green, a company that designs edible roof gardens. There are at least 1,000 seedlings planted in 16 beds, each about 60 feet long.

“A smaller roof would cost more per square foot,” she said. Mr. Flanner’s costs for the garden itself were less than $2,000, but Ms. Goode said it will take more than one roof for him to make a living.

“This is sort of a pilot to see if it can become a viable business model because he isn’t going to make any money from this,” she said. “If we can get the owner to do more roofs, he can then make a profit.”

Not long ago, edible rooftop gardeners were less likely to be thinking about sustainable food systems or the environment.

Lee Utterbach wanted to recapture summers on his grandmother’s farm. But there was no land around his house in the Mission district of San Francisco. So when he bought the building where he lives and runs a photo equipment rental shop, he turned the roof into a vegetable and flower garden. Since the roof slopes, all the planting was done along its perimeter. Some of it, like the rosemary, is so well established, it hangs over the front of the building.

Reaching the roof means a trip through the kitchen window, then up an incline. A small ladder takes visitors to his wife’s greenhouse and a hot tub, a deck , a composting toilet and the future guest room. In one area that his wife, Aly, describes as his “man cave,” Mr. Utterbach watches his 17-inch TV screen from a comfortable chair.

“I was probably eight or nine years ahead of the curve when I built this,” he said. “I just enjoy watering plants and digging in the soil.”

Peter Bergold, a neuroscientist who teaches at SUNY Downstate in Brooklyn, was also inspired by the past. Memories of the first asparagus and carrots he ate from a garden years before led him to start growing produce on the roof of his landmarked brownstone in Park Slope, Brooklyn, six or seven years ago.

“That was my epiphany,” he said of the sweetness he was trying to recapture. “I assumed asparagus grew with a rubber band around them.”

Environmental awareness came slowly. “One of the things that got me interested,” he said, “was that between global warming and the thermal bubble of cities you can start things much earlier so you have a much longer growing season.”

Another benefit gardeners get from planting well above the ground is that they face fewer pests.

But roof gardeners also have to think about winds that can knock over tender vines. And while concentrated heat on top of city buildings can help tomatoes ripen, it also means more frequent watering, even if irrigation requires lugging watering cans up stairs.

Though rooftop gardens go back at least to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the modern green roof movement has made its way here from Europe, where for years government policies have encouraged or required green roofs.

The government benefits take into account the fact that gardening on the roof requires much more preparation than gardening on terra firma.

First, it must be determined whether the roof can support the weight of the soil, the plants and the water. It may need to be retrofitted. Barring that, gardeners can place planters around the perimeter, which is generally its strongest part.

The containers can be almost anything: ready-made planters; boxes made of reclaimed wood, old milk cartons, children’s wading pools. A screen at the bottom holds in a lightweight substance, like packing peanuts for bulk, topped with a barrier fabric so the soil can’t go through. Potting soil, mixed with ingredients to lighten it, is put on top.

When gardens are planted directly on the roof, a waterproof membrane is laid down first, followed by insulation and a root barrier. (A guide to roof gardening is available at baylocalize.org.)

All this work can be off-putting for landlords. Five years ago, Ms. Crossfield said, the owner of an apartment building on Sixth Avenue in the West Village told one of his tenants to get rid of a garden she had planted.

“He told the woman to take it off the roof,” she said, “because he didn’t see any benefit in it.”

That’s not so likely these days.

“Several years ago you might have seen a certain amount of resistance,” said Miquela Craytor, executive director of Sustainable South Bronx, “but now people are coming to us saying they want one.”

Image ... Maya Donelson, helped by neighborhood children, tends the rooftop garden of Glide Memorial Church in San Fransisco.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Kidscape just launched, the playground for kids at Roofscape Magazine. Our first feature is Walkie-talkie Hide and Seek, a fresh take on the good old game of hide and seek. Join our team!

Image ... Girl with a lemonade stand along the Minuteman Bikeway in Lexington, Massachusetts.

June 18

Stones in a front yard on St. Botolph Street. Boston, Massachusetts.

I took this picture after having lunch at Charlie's, while I was working at Sharon's. The gray beach stones were lined along a front yard fence. The image was enhanced, filtered and the saturation bumped up quite a lot (75% or so), really bringing out the latent colors captured by the stones. It often pays to play. A simple and satisfying picture.

What if Andy Warhol were alive now. What do you think he'd be making of these new mediums? Digital cameras, blogs, laptops. Everything is my best guess. You know where the Diaries of Andy Waarhol would be. With lots of pictures.

I have to say that Garden Journal is one of my favorite parts of the magazine, and in the past (our past incarnation) it's always been popular with readers as well. It's a pleasure to produce, easy and effortless. Probably distracting us from the serious effort, that is to say work, of making a magazine. But, as we know, writers always have to have several writing avoidance strategies always at their fingertips (lest they tap those keys). Twitter helps too. There are only so many weeds.

Launched the Kid'scape department, the playground for kids at Roofscape. See the post just above. Very exciting. First article is Walkie-Talkie Hide and Seek.

Fresh Street Scene article by Word!, So I'm llike quotatives? Laughing at no laughing matter.

Rox . 1

Double Dutch. Dudley Station. Roxbury, Massachusetts.
Rox is devoted to the people and places of Roxbury. Check out Raven Symone's version of Double Dutch Bus at Radio Roofscape.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Radio Roofscape

Here are 13 tracks added to our playlist tonight at Radio Roofscape ...

It Was a Good Day - Ice Cube
The Boston Rag - Steely Dan
Soul of a Black Man - Maceo Parker
Paint the White House Black - George Clinton
Dino's Song - Quicksilver Messenger Service
The Witch Doctor Life - Captain Beefheart
Valley Girl - Frank Zappa
The Diamond Sea - Sonic Youth
1901 - Phoenix
I Love You So Much Better When You're Naked - Ida Maria
Geraldine - Glasvegas
Zero - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Let's Groove - Earth, Wind & Fire

Note ... The radio widget above may not work in your browser.

Go figure. But it works. To my ears, anyway. Certainly not on paper. But just listen. It's not as bad as it sounds. As Mark Twain was reported to have said about Wagner. Quite rightly.

Oh, and then I had to go back and mess things up by adding the Isley Brothers' Footsteps in the Dark, the source of Cube's sample.

By the way, we mix with Koss UR-40 headphones. Fantastic, very accurate, well balanced sound. So comfortable you can wear them all day and not even notice. A pleasure to own. Affordable luxury.

Image ... Mural on Mission Hill. Roxbury, Massachusetts.

White House Garden

The White House vegetable garden.

Michelle Obama in the White House vegetable garden. The garden just had its first harvest. The Bancroft School kids who tend it made lunch.

Michelle always looks so stylish, even just out in her backyard planting parsley or pulling weeds. In fact, our whole first family is a fashion plate.

Dot . 5

Planter in the front yard of a house, with an overall nautical theme, on Columbia Road near Upham's Corner. Dorchester (The Dot), Mass.

June 17

Finished the Pho Faux recipe. At the same time, developed a new recipe page design. And it looks great - finally! The recipe page layout has given me maybe more trouble than all the other pages put together. Now, with the design nailed, they need photos. Every page in the magazine must have at least one photo. That's what makes a magazine. Now all the other recipe pages need to be brought up to the new standard.

Designed contributors page. Each contributor has a personal page with info about them, a photo, a list of all their works in the magazine and contact info. Made the first pages, for Charles and me. Updated the Contributors index page, which is accessed from the About Roofscape department index page.

Biked to the garden in the late morning. A sunny day - and a day off - finally. Read (OK, Stuff magazine), wrote (well, jotted some notes), chilled (true enough), did nothing (what gardens are really for), napped (soundly under the grape arbor). Picked a plastic shopping bag of mixed greens, 3 pounds - kale, collards, mustard and chard. Weeded beds, 1 bucket's worth. Biked back home.

1:00- 74°. H- 92°. L- 39°. Sky- sun, high thin clouds. Wind- S,1-5. Reset maximum/minimum thermometer. Not sure what period these m/m temps are for. I'll be more careful in resetting and recording regularly.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

June 16

Finished and released Roofscape News #8. The image is above, Sunbather in a Saltmarsh, also the current cover of the magazine.

A collective sigh of relief, but a real feeling of accomplishment. The new News is a new design from the ground up and required a major amount of work, careful attention and lots of testing. But now it's done future issues will be far faster and easier. Now on to the new Roofscape cover. It's getting a design tweak too, but nothing major, just refinements.

Imaged Charles's article Strip City, 1952. A photo from the web with the Harry's Strip Club sign added. Not sure I like that touch. We'll see what Charles says. If he likes it, it stays. Otherwise the image is OK. Got to go back and find the source to credit, closed the browser window too soon.

Writing the recipe for Pho Faux, our vegetarian (hence faux) take on the national dish of Vietnam. I developed this recipe two weeks ago and it tested well, but I'm only now getting around to writing it, although I already did the ingredients list and have notes. It should be done soon after making so that I don't miss details.

Monday, June 15, 2009

June 15

Programmed Radio Roofscape 2, adding a gospel set, building this way ... More About Jesus, The Blackwood Brothers. How I Got Over, Mahalia Jackson. Looking for You, Kirk Franklin. Run On for a Long Time, The Blind Boys of Alabama. We Fall Down, Donnie McClurkin.

Working on Roofscape News #8, writing and new layout. The News is now going to be more of a guide to the magazine and less, a lot less, of a publication in itself. It will have: N-E-W-S @ Roofscape, the current cover image, the guide to what's new and hot and of course Beans About Boston, our trivia test.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

June 14

Frederike, Charles and I drove down to Roofscape's garden in the Fenway to pick Sunday dinner. The greens were large and lush - kale, mustard, collards, chard - after all the rain and cool, cloudy weather. Herbs - basil, taragon and oregano. Green gumbo for first dinner on the porch this year.

Started our second radio station, Radio Roofscape 2. Programmed about 50 tracks. RR2 is devoted to down tempo, as a companion to RR1 which is definitely up tempo, dance music to party with, get you moving and accompany your workout. The new one is chill - ambient, aleatory, cool jazz, trance, folk, world, slow dance, gospel. For chilling up on the roof.

Worked on writing, imaging and laying out Roofscape News #8.

Image ... Collard greens, with birch poles to build the roof of the sunroom in the background, in the Roofscape garden.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Dot . 4

Firehouse. Uphams Corner. Dorchester, Massachusetts.

June 13

Two deer were captured in Dorchester yesterday. Photo by George Rizer, courtesy of the Boston Globe. The bucks were tranquilized and driven, snoring, to 'an undisclosed location in central Massachusetts'.

Went with Charles to Home Depot to get supplies for building new fence in the yard at home - 2x3's, 3" galvanized deck screws and 4p galvanized common nails. The place was almost empty, we sped in and out, as with shopping with a client last Saturday. The recession must be hitting HD hard, although it is a gorgeous beach day.

Moved my personal work space online to Google Notebooks and Calendar, pretty much abandoning Personal Organizer after years of use. They're just too powerful to ignore and I have confidence in the security and safety of Google and the future of cloud computing in general. Google's integrated suite of products: gMail, Blogger, Picasa, Groups, Notebooks, Calendar and Documents are all killer apps. And together? No wonder Google rules. Quite rightly.

Worked through our Constant Contact mailing list, cutting and adding.

Added our second radio station, Radio Roofscape 2. Radio 2 is devoted to cool jazz, ambient, trance, minimalism, new age, acoustic and folk music - down tempo and chill music in general.

Skyscape . 1

Pru lost in fog.

Friday, June 12, 2009

June 12

Made Studio Manager for Roofscape Studio, our online collaborative work space, a whiteboard for managing projects in progress.

Added an article by Michael Felson, Everyone Should Plant a Vegetable Garden to the Garden Gates department (and reproduced below).

Worked on our client's Budget Bathroom Makeover.

Dot . 3

Charles, one of our writers, created this fearsome structure in his garden to support his 101 tomatoes. The neighbors have dubbed it the Temple o' Tomatoes. Lupines in the foreground. Notice the sign over the entrance, in case you had any doubts.

Everyone Should Plant a Vegetable Garden

By Michael Felsen

When I graduated from college in 1971, I moved to Vermont to explore a simpler lifestyle. A few days after I arrived, a friend told me I had to plant a garden. City boy that I was, I thought he meant flowers. No, he meant vegetables - organic vegetables. And so my gardening life began.

Several years later, I returned to the city. My family and I have lived in Jamaica Plain for 30 years, and we plant a vegetable garden every year. In the summer, all the vegetables my family eats - lettuce, beans, peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, beets, chard, cucumbers, pumpkins and much more - are products of the soil we till.

Now I echo my friend's words by crying out to my fellow city-dwellers: Plant a garden!

Why? Because there's nothing better for people's health than organically grown vegetables. Because by growing your own you eat the freshest possible, and reduce the "carbon footprint" left when food is shipped from who-knows-where. Because in these trying economic times, it's reassuring for people to know they can put food on the table several months a year - and longer, with canning and freezing-for minimal expense. The Boston Natural Areas Network reported on Oct. 20 that the average community garden plot produced $431 worth of food. And because the act of gardening itself-the connection to nature's life cycles, and the pleasure of nurturing growing things-is simply so rewarding.

How? We have about 150 community gardens in Boston, with more than 19 in JP. My family plants in one of them. But we need to create many, many more. Large swaths of parkland in residential areas throughout the city-Franklin Park and the Southwest Corridor Park in my area come to mind - can become shared urban farmsteads, with minimal outlay. Workplaces with some green space around them or even a flat roof can set a portion aside for employees to garden. And, of course, home front - or backyard gardens are the simplest option.

Schools should be included as central to this urban farming vision. "Food" can become a theme for each grade, with growing vegetables at its core. Classes can start seedlings in the classroom, plant them in the school's own community garden, tend and harvest them, and cook up tasty recipes together. Parents would be strongly encouraged to participate, especially during the summer - bonding with other families while gardening together. The curriculum possibilities are unlimited.

As a city boy who was introduced to the joys of gardening many years ago, I hope we find ways to make urban farming an integral part of life in Boston. Several organizations like BNAN, EarthWorks and The Food Project - are already working hard to make that happen. Let's urge our civic leaders to cultivate their ties to these and other green pioneers, giving every Boston household a chance to "grow their own."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Floating World

Cantilevered balcony and steps, sliding shoji screens.

This is a detail from the project that we (Otis and I) built for Meg Gurnon, a client on Beacon Hill in Boston. The idea was that everything was floating, suspended or hovering ... the floating world. It became such an intensely spiritual space. Some day I'll tell the whole strange story and reveal some serious design secrets ... or not.


The banks of the aptly named Muddy River in Boston are choked with thick stands of Phragmities, a non-native invasive reed imported from the Middle East. They die back in winter leaving a waving sea of tan 16-foot tall paper-dry tapers that can explode into flames which spread as fast as you can run, or faster. The heat, power and speed of these fires is frightening and potentially lethal. The only mushroom cloud I've ever seen, outside of history books, towered above one of these wildfires.

So far we've had none this year, that I know of, and few in recent ones. In the past there have dozens of wildfires each year. Why? We don't know. But lightning wasn't a factor, a string of them would start when the sky was cloudless and clear blue. Arson perhaps? That seems likely.

Entryway | Dot . 2

Entryway on a street near Upham's Corner, Dorchester (The Dot), Massachusetts, on an overcast day.

June 11

Working through the magazine bringing all of the existing articles up to the new page design standards, starting at the top and going to the bottom (of our local directory, actually, rather than the nav bar department sequence).

Working on our client's Budget Bathroom Makeover.

We decided to remove the hideous sliding glass tub doors, which I did yesterday, and replace with a shower rod and curtain. The removal left a thick, persitant bed of scum it took hours to scrape, dissolve and scrub off the walls and tub.

Scraped the walls. Filled holes with DAP CrackShot, a great new product I recently discovered (thanks to a clerk at Economy Hardware who actually knows something) that's always been needed. It fills cracks and holes without shrinking, eliminating the taping required to cover cracks, sands smooth quickly and can be used indoors or out. Plus it can be used to skimcoat. In short, it does it all. Well.

Hastone sent a man to measure for the stone we selected on Saturday. He didn't speak much English and my Chinese is, well, I used to know the New Year's greeting. And there's hundreds of dollars of stone at stake. We had a totally Lost in Translation encounter. The last item to measure for is a threshold, I explain. A marble one exists but it's too small and the wrong color, we want a new one.

Here, roughly, is the exchange. ... "That one good, no need friend." "Want to match threshold with bath shelves." "Close curtain no see." "Open curtain see." Waste money. Keep curtain close." "We want waste money." "Waste money bad. No do." ... Closes his notebook, end of conversation. Maybe this is wolfish face of capitalism in the PRC.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Budget Bathroom Makeover

We're starting a bathroom makeover project in Boston's South End for a client who has both a small budget and space. Join us as we go through all the steps to transform this chilly relic from the 70's into a stylish, inviting home spa. Modest as the bath is, above is the magnificent view from her living room window of the Christian Science 'Mother Church' dome seen floating through the trees.

Sherry, our client, and I began talking about this project over a month ago after I did some renovations, makeovers and staging (styling a house to show it for sale) in the unit downstairs. Her original idea was to do a total renovation, but when the estimates came in that was clearly out of the question - the plumbing alone killed that plan.

The approach I suggested was to leave all the plumbing in place, change cabinets and fixtures, adopt an elegant, unified color scheme, use some high end touches in places where they'd make the most impact and to accessorize.

The role of a designer is to help the client discover the design. This involves, above all, lots of listening and asking questions. Sometimes leading questions. Then making helpful suggestions and offering options based on what you're hearing. It's pretty much like therapy. Only then are you ready to 'design', and the client's already done most of the work for you. Again, as in therapy.

Most projects at this point involve producing a drawing. This is an essential step that can seldom be skipped. This project is sufficiently simple that it doesn't need to be drawn. A few dimensions jotted down to take shopping are all that's required. Had we gone with the original plan, however, there certainly would have been a complete scale drawing(s) showing all the details.

With the design determined, we selected a color scheme. Sherry wanted to use her existing deep brown bath linens, so we used them as the basis of all our color selections.

... To be continued.

June 10

Spent the day at our clients house working on the Budget Bathroom Makeover.

Created, wrote, imaged and uploaded the three About Roofscape pages ... Welcome to Roofscape, Contributors and Advertisers.

Found the microcassette tape recorder and tapes, powered it up and practiced. Going to use it for interviews, etc., of course, but also in the kitchen when developing recipes. I've learned that you can't type or write while cooking. And I'm sure pressing play would pose a similar problem, but this has AVR, you start speaking and it records. Because it lags slightly when you start to speak, you turn it on by clicking your tongue, or making some other sudden sharp sound. It doesn't make it to tape and your first word doesn't get edited out or truncated. Essential if that first word is a number in an ingredients list ... 2 teaspoons minced habanero peppers.

Dot . Victorian

Is anyone interested in developing this property in Dorchester, Massachusetts with us? If so, seriously, please eemail Steve ... roofscape@gmail.com. See listing at Roofscape Realty.

June 10

Finally finished making and upgrading all the department pages in a (real) late night session. Boy, was that a workout over the past week since our launch. Next job is to do the same for all the existing articles. Then we can continue adding from our archive of material. At the same time, developing new projects.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Dot . 1

Dorchester, Mass., where our offices are located, is known as The Dot. Why? Being a part of Boston, the neighborhood's name is pronounced Dotchesta (or maybe Dawtchesta). The Dot will be a regular feature of Garden Journal, an ongoing walking tour around the back streets, main streets and mean streets of one of the largest and most varied neighborhoods in the country.

Image ... Statuette in a front yard. Uphams Corner area.

June 9

Studying Tipjoy. How to make it work for us and our contributors without getting into the API, at least for now, which is over my head.

Finished the Roofscape 2009 garden log of all the plants in our garden, with their cultivation details. Although I do have to dig up some missing data by flipping back through the calendar.

Continued upgrading department pages. Worked on the Pho Faux recipe. Researched Paul Revere's ride. Rainy day. Walked around making pictures. Perfect light.

Started a regular new feature in the Journal, The Dot, devoted to images of Dorchester, Mass. See post above, The Dot #1.

Monday, June 8, 2009

June 8

Spent the day in the garden. I hadn't even visited since May 23, over two weeks ago. Very unusual. This time coincided with the week before and after the launch of Roofscape when I was flat out busy in the office and needed a constant WiFi connection, which the garden lacks. Happy to be back.

While I was gone the garden exploded. We've had light but regular rainfalls and everything was thriving. All the greens - kale, collards, chard and mustard - are ready for harvesting. Tomatoes are setting.

High- 91°. Low- 38°. 1:00- 70°. Wind- west, 5-7 mph. Sky- sunny, high thin clouds. The high/low represents 5/23 to 6/8.

Image ... Roofscape garden. The Fenway Victory Gardens, Boston. Fall 2005. The design is now somewhat different and different things are growing in different places, of course. The entrance is through a gate at the lower left by the willows. The entire garden is fenced in and oriented with the corners, each containing a patio, aligned along the cardinal compass points.