Dani Alexander @ The USNA Friendship Garden

Prepped beds and flats ready for distribution!

Prepped beds and flats ready for distribution!

Dani Alexander is the National Garden Club representative to the Friendship Garden. Read her account of volunteering to plant its newest iteration, designed by Phyto Studio.

At 9am, it was already sweltering at the United States National Arboretum Friendship Garden. I looked down at a flat of plugs of Viola sororia. The leaves were supple and tender, desperate for a drink. It was like looking in the mirror. I, too, was already drooping.

Claudia West, however, was like the pots of pink astilbe: bright, upright, smiling, and ready to get to work. A native of Germany and Principal of Phyto Studio, Claudia has a work-ethic and presence that inspires. I immediately perked up, excited to get fresh compost under my fingernails.

As a recent transplant to DC, a landscape architect with a nascent practice, and a new member of the Capitol Hill Garden Club, I am somewhat surprised to find myself in the position of being the new National Garden Club representative to the Friendship Garden. Until I arrived to volunteer with its replanting by Phyto Studio, I had yet to visit this garden. Its history is as rich as its soil. It is a National Garden Clubs project and began in 1989 intending to create a four-season interest garden that would appeal to the average homeowner. Initially designed by landscape architects Oehme Van Sweden, it marked a new era in planting styles, deploying plants in large drifts that required low maintenance.

The garden continues to be revolutionary in its current edition through Phyto Studio’s update. Claudia, with her two Partners Thomas Rainier and Melissa Rainier, promotes cutting-edge sustainable planting practices in several ways and have done so now for over a decade. In their book Planting in a Post-Wild World, Claudia and Thomas outline their philosophy of resilience through horticultural and design methodology, case studies, and planting recommendations. It is both a highly technical and expressive approach. Focusing on layers of planting and plant sociability, they construct gardens and landscapes that are balanced in their environmental and artistic performance. For each section of the Friendship Garden, a different composition of plants will suppress weed growth, adapt to microclimates and highly localized soil conditions, create habitat for pollinators, and provide color and sculptural interest for human visitors. Claudia takes an educational approach, and often directed us to take two seemingly similar cultivars to very different locations based on just a hint more shade or sun.

After our orientation to the planting operations, Melissa and Thomas joined the fray. The smiles on their faces reflected the joy of pleased practitioners watching their vision come to life. I know that joy well.

The number of species baffled. The volunteers and I often dashed back and forth with our noses to the ground, searching for not this cultivar of this species or that cultivar, but yet a different one entirely. As most were in their plug stage of development, with only an inch or two of baby leaves sprouting from their surface, they appeared identical to the untrained. And yet Claudia and Melissa seemed to know them like the faces of old friends.

At the end of our work, we marveled at the newest iteration of The Friendship Garden. All gardens are a process and labor of love, and so thus begins a new cycle of this one's life. All gardens need advocates as well, and I am sure, as visitors are entranced by the remarkable qualities of this garden, it will have many. I am thrilled to serve as one of its stewards in the coming years.

Studio AKA @ UVA, UMD, BAC Reviews

Studio AKA Principal, Dani Alexander, will be guest critic at the University of Virginia’s Landscape Architecture graduate studio reviews to be held Monday and Tuesday, May 6 and 7. She will review Elements: Materializing Atmospheres led by Matthew Seibert and Prototyping the Territory, led by Brad Cantrell, Brad Goetz, and Andrea Hansen-Phillips.

See the full UVA Jury List here.

Following that, Dani will attend the University of Maryland undergraduate studio reviews for the Kakenya School Project, led by Tonya Ohnstad, and foundation studio, led by Michael Abrams. More on the Kakenya Studio’s amazing mission to help Kenyan schoolgirls can be learned via Kakenya Ntaiya’s TED talk and website.

Earlier this month she had the pleasure of reviewing the distance architecture thesis students at Boston Architectural College.

UVA’s Grad Review Poster

UVA’s Grad Review Poster

Dani Alexander to Co-Edit book on Food Urbanism

Dani Alexander will be co-editing a book on Food Urbanism, authored by Craig Verzone and Christina Woods of Verzone Woods Architects. Included in the work is research she carried out on the Urban Agro-Park Competition in Bernex, Switzerland, while working at the firm in 2013 as a part of the Food Urbanism Initiative, a Swiss National Science Foundation funded project. The book, which covers the strategic planning and design of urban agricultural planning, is expected in the fall from Birkhauser Press.

Diagrams created by Danielle Alexander as a part of the research for the Food Urbanism Initiative.

Diagrams created by Danielle Alexander as a part of the research for the Food Urbanism Initiative.

Freshkills: Reorientation published on Urban Omnibus

Something bites the corner of my right eye – my skin warms and hardens as it rises into a perfect circle. The welt is maddeningly itchy. I am now a part of the ecosystem; someone’s food source. Buzzing and chirping envelop me. I mistake the trickling of sweat down my leg for another hungry intruder and slap it away.

I’m looking out into the distance. Across the river in the foreground, I can see trucks moving up and down, back and forth across a hillside. Laborers too small for my eyes are working over a patch of black plastic, tacking it down, adding more panels. They are spreading the layers that will close and protect decades of trash from disturbance.

Where am I? I ask myself this over and over again at Freshkills Park, continuously under construction for over ten years. The site was once entirely a vast wetland, and the waterways’ names hearken back to the original colonists of Manhattan – “kills,” deriving from the Dutch word for water channel or riverbed. Claimed as a temporary dump site, the concatenation of trash mounds expanded into the world’s largest landfill. For decades, local residents and politicians fought the landfill’s expansion. The odor of years of waste and chemical deodorizers pervaded the west side of Staten Island. I’ve heard it called “the dump borough” to this day. As the New York City Department of Sanitation expanded the site and created new mounds, it closed and capped others, creating a landscape of smooth humps and river valleys.

Now the plants and animals are moving in.

Read the full article on the Urban Omnibus website here.

Featured Post on Freshkills Park Alliance Blog

Dani Alexander wrote a blog post reflecting on her work as the Urban Writer in Residence at Freshkills Park.

Her final work as a part of the residency will be published later in November. Urban Omnibus will host a panel discussion on November 30th exploring the design process, evolution, and current state of Freshkills Park. Panelists include Dani Alexander, the Urban Wild Writer in Residence; Tatiana Choulika, a landscape architect and principal at James Corner Field Operations; and Cait Field, manager for science and research development at Freshkills Park. The discussion will be moderated by Mariana Mogilevich, editor in chief of Urban Omnibus.

For more information or to attend the panel discussion, click here.

Dani Alexander named Urban Wild Writer in Residence at Freshkills Park

The official announcement can be found on the Freshkills Park Alliance website here.

"Urban Omnibus, Freshkills Park, and the jury panel are pleased to announce the winner of the inaugural Urban Wild Writer Residency. This residency seeks to bring a first-hand perspective to topics that include the environment, technology, urban life, nature, and waste. One writer will gain personal access to the diverse ecosystems present in the unopened park in late summer, 2018. The writer will produce a work of creative nonfiction engaging with the contemporary metropolitan landscape to be published online by Urban Omnibus in the fall of 2018."

2018 Urban Wild Writer Residency Winner:

Dani Alexander

A practicing landscape architect with a passion for writing, Urban Wild Writer-in-Residence Dani Alexander plans to spend her five days at Freshkills Park walking the site and collecting impressions of “its techno-nature, tracing its regenerative processes: activities of creepy-crawlies, the movement of water, layers of constructed soils, seeping of gasses, and more.” In addition to the resultant lyric essay to be published by Urban Omnibus, Dani will continue her practice of making pocket-sized booklets to document the process and material qualities of the site and her residency experience of the “ever-changing” Freshkills Park.