There is nothing I love more than creating Christmas and other holiday arrangements and decorations. For myself and for friends and clients. I start as early as I possibly can, which means that within a few days of Thanksgiving, I’m on my way to the wholesalers, the retailers, the online shops…anywhere I can find inspiration for what will be my daily creations for the next four weeks. I’ve already spent several months thinking about the possibilities for the upcoming season and creating various prototypes of some of the more “standard” seasonal requests, but I still get excited about discovering new things that can enhance (or even totally change!!) my design vision. I’m not married to any of my ideas, despite the sketches and recipes and prototypes I’ve come up with from July through Thanksgiving. They guide my process, but they don’t govern it. So, while other people use this time after Thanksgiving for holiday shopping, I use it for scooping up gorgeous greens and identifying unexpected elements that I’d like to incorporate into my designs. And along the way, I always remember to savor each new discovery, to try new things (even if I hate them and tear them apart after completing them…it’s a process!!) and to enjoy this one time of the year when I’m just as happy working inside as I am working outside. I just LOVE all of the creative opportunities that this season offers!! And with that…
I had planned for this post to be a mea culpa, of sorts, to the world of “mums.” I have been made aware, through the incredible photographs sent to me by one of my wonderful Instagram friends, as well as through my recent work with mums, that I should have been more discerning with the tone I took in last month’s post . I did not mean to disparage ALL mums. Only some of them. So yes, the mea culpa will come, but not today. Today, I am going to take advantage of the fact that this is my very own website, and I am going to use it to introduce you to my daughter, Merritt, a singer/songwriter/musician who is just about to release her first album.
As you can imagine, I was thrilled to take to FB, Instagram and Twitter this afternoon to announce that Merritt had launched her album campaign. I did all of the “Shares” that you would have expected me to do, which was no easy task for a non-tech savvy person like me. After about an hour or so, I thought I was finished and had shared the posts well enough for full coverage across all of my accounts. But….lo and behold, I did not know that Merritt’s website had *also* gone live. But suddenly, there it was! I had not yet seen it, and I was so excited to see the finished product and to read her musical bio. I have no idea where this sweet, smart, talented girl came from, but here she is. Please take a look at her website, and follow her on Facebook @MerrittGibson, on Instagram @merrittgibson and on Twitter @merrittgibsonxo for news and frequent updates.
**And I’ll issue my mea culpa another time. Right now, I’m going to go listen to Merritt’s soon to be released single!
It is October 15. A little late for my fall window boxes and urns, but that’s ok. If there are still apples on the trees (which I discovered to be the case yesterday when I went apple picking with some of my favorite people!), then the time is still right to install some fall plantings and floral displays. And my window boxes certainly deserve to have some life injected into them after my summer of horrible neglect. (Actually, I was performing an experiment with them…I called it “Weeds or Winners? Established Plantings and Benign Neglect.” Let’s just say that Proven Winners are Proven Winners for a reason!! And Sweet Potato Vine is a Betsy Winner for the 7th year in a row…it goes straight from summer right into fall. Love it! Oh, and I’ve found one really great looking weed, too. I just can’t figure out what it is…a project for another day.)
Scott Macgregor (@scottmacgregor), who penned a short post on LinkedIn about an ID card that he had kept from a visit to Cantor Fitzgerald just before 9/11, inspired me to sit down and write this post. It’s the first thing I’ve ever written about 9/11. I worried that I might be too late to write for the 15th anniversary. Driving by the flags set up on our Town Green this morning, however, I realized that my story still mattered, even if it happened to be more than a week late in the telling, and that I owed it to those who perished on that fateful day to paint a picture of the months following 9/11–different from what we all saw on television or in cell phone footage–but a very important picture, nonetheless. **Please see addendum below for 9/11/17 update to this piece.
I worked at 195 Broadway, and our building was uninhabitable for almost 2 months after the attacks on the WTC. When we returned to our building, the air inside was heavy–I broke out in weird hives, which would remain for months, and had trouble breathing. The air outside was still punctuated with the leftover acrid smoke, and whenever the wind blew, it carried ash and soot with it. And every day, there were groups of dedicated police, fire and rescue/recovery personnel working away in the middle of that very smoke and ash and soot. There was no way to escape the reality of what had happened so close to us, but there was also no way to process it.
My office overlooked the site, and my floor to ceiling window forced me to confront the site and the activity going on in and around it every single day. But it also forced me to confront the memories of the two buildings that had always stood “over there”–and still did, really. It was difficult to grasp the empty space up on my floor where there had always been others working along with me just across the plaza in their own sky high offices. The Towers had been a presence for me ever since I’d worked in NY and ever since they had served as the gleaming backdrop of one of my favorite photos of me with my mother as we pulled out of NY Harbor on the QE2 headed for Southampton, England back in 1986. The empty space that I faced outside of my window was a stark reminder that our world was no longer what it “always” had been.
I viewed my place above the site as sacred, and I took the responsibilities of someone entrusted with a position of such importance very seriously, as utterly heartbreaking as those responsibilities were. I knew that I was in the unique position to honor and pray for and think about people I’d never met. On a daily basis. I realized that I was the last “civilian” to witness the incredibly respectful way in which the first responders treated the remains they brought up from the site. What I saw, day in and day out, was a group of responders–police and fire–who, through their actions and the solemnity with which they carried them out, showed their dedication to, and love and respect for, thousands of people who did not have the comfort of being with their loved ones when they were besieged by terror. And they did so when they thought no one was looking.
The slow wail of a siren rising from below the ground would signal to those on street level that remains had been found and were being brought up to the surface and into the light. The siren sounded often, but each time it did so, it was as though it were sounding for the first time. Because it meant that another individual was coming back to us. And each and every individual deserved, I thought, to be recognized and honored. So with every siren, I rose and stood, looking down from my window, at what became all too common a scene. I watched what looked like little golf carts climbing up the hill and over the debris as they carried the remains, covered with a white sheet and strapped onto what appeared to be a backboard of some sort, of yet one more human being who had been loved while here on this earth. And every time, there were quiet tears and thoughts for the victims. But when the siren stopped wailing its slow wail, and the cart disappeared from view, my time with a particular victim was over. It was time to return to my desk. But it was extremely difficult to turn my back on the window and the site and try to focus on “work”. How could I focus on “work” when innocent people were being brought up several times a day by heroic people who took such great care with each and every body or bone fragment they found? It was surreal and heartbreaking. But I desperately hoped that the victims knew that they had a friend high in the sky at 195 Broadway who was thinking of them. They were not alone.
Nothing was “normal” for a very, very long time–for anyone. In fact, the first time the 2 beams of light were projected into the night sky, the glow to the heavens haunted me. I was leaving the office at 2AM, and during the walk from the lobby of my building to the Town Car outside on the street, I felt alone in that sacred space in a way that I had not yet felt and have not felt since. The place where the towers stood truly was, and remains, sacred ground.
After a little while, and only once we were back in our offices at 195 Broadway, my firm was forced to lay off close to 60 people. I was part of the first wave of those let go (I may be the only person ever to be thankful that I was a LIFO). The partner who hired me was part of the next round of layoffs. Things were tough for a while, just as they were for everyone. The NY office of the firm is thriving now, because that’s what New Yorkers do. They rebound and come back stronger. And I’m proud of my wonderful colleagues for working through the worst possible experience and its aftermath and doing so with grace and dignity. But I am proud of myself, too. Because for 15 years, I have carried with me from one apartment to the next and finally to my current house, one of the boxes of things that had been packed up from my office shortly after that horrible, horrible morning. The work related boxes were opened for us at our temporary base of operations in midtown. But the personal box was sent home. After 15 years, I was finally able to open it.
On 9/11/16, I was flooded with memories of walking through the site behind our building in order to enter the building and retrieve some files that a client “needed” (why he could not wait, I will never know); of attending one of the most heartbreaking funerals I have ever attended–that of a colleague who was a volunteer firefighter and who died while helping others in the Towers; and of taking calls from my pro bono client, a 22 year old firefighter’s widow with a new baby. Her husband was, by all accounts, beyond dedicated to his calling. In fact, he was called “Holy Man” by his ladder company. But his remains still had not been found by the time I left NY for Boston. So opening that box released so many memories–and yes, there was a lot of dust and debris, as well. Everything that came out of that box saddened me. But I’m so glad that I opened it. Even if it took me 15 years. And I will keep that box, and the memories contained within it, always.
I spent the weekend on Nantucket, and before my afternoon trip back to Boston, I made sure that I made it down to Cisco early this morning. It was in the Cisco Beach parking lot that I first heard Bruce Springsteen’s album “The Rising” back in 2002. I was, as I was today, alone, and I remember that I just wanted to be able to sit in my husband’s Defender–a strong, rugged vehicle that made me feel strong and rugged when I was anything but–and just think. And grieve. I knew that I’d end up breaking down as I relived that day–that impossible day–of less than a year before. I just wanted a little bit of time in a perfectly peaceful spot. Not the beach, but the parking lot. That was all I wanted. No people. No buildings. No noise. No nothing. Just music, empty space, air, sky and the incredibly beautiful horizon.
I remember sitting in the driver’s seat and just listening to Springsteen’s words. I thought he captured everything about 9/11–at least all of my thoughts and feelings about it–perfectly. So perfectly that the tears came and remained through a second play of the album. Even now, every single time I hear “The Rising”, the tears well up in my eyes and roll down my cheeks, and I feel that they will never stop.
But today, 15 years after listening to “The Rising” for the first time in the Cisco parking lot, I got out of the Defender. I was alone on the beach. I was never alone on that beach. There were always people around, whether they were the stray one or two surfers or entire families enjoying the sand and surf. But today, I was alone. Sitting on the sand, I looked up at the sky. And, as it has been almost every year since 2001, it was “still that unbelievable blue” that Springsteen described in “The Nothing Man”. But it was also a sky of “blessed light”, just like the light that he wrote about in “The Rising”. It was a peaceful sky that seemed to implore me to live with the living while never forgetting those who had passed. I took several minutes and thought about all of those who lost their lives on 9/11 and their families. I thought about two gentlemen, in particular, who lost their lives in the attack. One of them I had known in life and the other I met in death through his widow and his beautiful baby daughter. Both of these men died while helping others. My friend and law firm colleague was a volunteer firefighter who evacuated our office and then went over to help in the Towers because that was the kind of person he was. Always helpful, always optimistic, always kind. He was found with his medical bag beside him. The other was a firefighter who answered the call. Both were true American heroes. Both walked “into the fire”, and I think that both answered Springsteen’s pleas (“Into the Fire”) for strength, faith, hope and love. And today, on 9/11/17, we are seeing more heroes. More people who are, metaphorically, walking “into the fire” and working dangerous rescue and recovery missions on the Islands, in Florida and in South Carolina. To witness such heroic efforts (and to have witnessed them for weeks, beginning in Texas) on this, the anniversary of a day of horror and a day of strength, faith, hope and love, is incredibly powerful. To the first responders and to the volunteers who are working so hard to help their fellow citizens in distress, I will once again turn to Springsteen…”May your strength give us strength, may your faith give us faith, may your hope give us hope, may your love bring us love”. You are walking into the fire, and you are doing the work of heroes.
Photo: NY District Attorney’s Office to Library of Congress. Photographer unknown. Public Domain.
Betsy Roberson Gibson
Betsy Roberson Gibson
Nonprofit Fundraising and Development Consultant
The Nantucket Garden Club’s Community Green Thumb Flower Show has wrapped for the year! It was a beautiful success in every sense of the word.
Held at the Sconset Casino, the village’s gathering spot since its opening in 1900, there was plenty of room to accommodate all of the entries and to move from arrangement to arrangement or from hort entry to hort entry with ease. The latticework inside the Casino, which I have always loved for its simplicity, elegance and understated “tell” of sophistication, was a fitting backdrop to the gorgeous plants and flowers on display. The Casino looked simply gorgeous! Now….where shall I begin??
UPDATE TO BELOW POST COMING SOON! (ERG 7/21/17)
Just a quick note…
If you are on Nantucket today (7/20), and if you happen to have time to make your way to Sconset, you might be interested in checking out the NGC’s Flower Show. As a former member of the Nantucket Garden Club, I know how much work goes into every event the NGC puts on. (I resigned during my Provisional year, as work had decided to heat up, robbing me of the time that I’d always had in years prior to help with NGC activities. I’m probably the only person in the history of the NGC to do more work as a non-member– before I became a member and then since having resigned–than I was ever able to do as a member!) In fact, I was over at the Casino yesterday helping to set up for the judges’ luncheon. While I didn’t see any Provisionals, I saw many of the lovely and dedicated long term members of the Club working away to make sure that things were categorized properly, displayed beautifully and ready for public view. I took lots of pictures and hope that you will enjoy them with my later post. I don’t want to post any here quite yet, as the show opens at 10AM TODAY (!!), and I wouldn’t want to spoil anything for those of you who are interested in attending. Admission is free, but donations are always welcome. Oh! And there is also a fabulous boutique–I was the first customer yesterday. I got my third copy of a great book about Nantucket wildflowers; the most amazing candle I’ve ever smelled (I am NOT a candle person, but this candle would be snapped up in a flash if I were to have hesitated); some beautiful notecards; and a darling little porcelain box for my daughter. Basically, this is a GO TO event! You’ll see fascinating arrangements, beautiful horticulture entries and breathtaking photography entries. It’s at the Casino–10 New Street in Sconset. 10AM-4PM today! Photographs for those who missed it will be posted as soon as I can get them up!! Xo betsy
I received a message the other day from one of my Instagram friends about a photo I’d posted earlier that day of the scores of hydrangeas wrapping around our front porch on Nantucket. She (teasingly? I’ll have to ask her!) asked me whether I knew the secret to cutting hydrangeas. I was about to write back to her on Instagram, but I thought that it might not be a bad idea to draft a little post about this very temperamental bloom and how to cut it, hydrate it and keep it going for at least a couple of days, either alone or in an arrangement. For purposes of this post, I will focus on French hydrangeas (the hydrangeas people generally think about when they hear the word “hydrangea”). I will not get into planting the shrubs; explaining how to change their colors; when and how to prune….or anything else having to do with “gardening”. I will discuss the way that I cut, prep, condition, arrange and enjoy hydrangeas. I’m stepping out of my realm (I’m a “flower market flowers” kind of girl, and the “gardening” I do these days is restricted to urns and window boxes…). So I am not an expert in hydrangea cut and care, but the following tips have always worked for me…
Wow!! It has been a very busy few weeks! Now that things have settled down a tiny bit, I am thrilled to report that we had a terrific turnout for Mass Hort’s Second Annual Garden Party (about which I wrote in my last post). A crowd of close to 300 enjoyed wonderful food and music and were also fortunate to have had Kathleen Fahey, Curator of the Wellesley Historical Society, speak about the history of the Cheney-Baltzell Manor House, a Carrère and Hastings design, and about the Olmsted Brothers’ incredible Italianate Garden.
As for me, it was an honor and a tremendous privilege to have created all of the floral arrangements for the party–not only for the interior of the beautiful Carrère and Hastings designed Manor House that sits so elegantly on the property at Elm Bank, but also for each and every one of the garden tables in the Olmsted Brothers’ designed Italianate Garden. For someone who loves historic houses, classical architecture and bespoke gardens, designing and executing over 30 arrangements for this event was exhilarating, challenging (in a good way!) and more fun than “work” should ever be. In the end, I calculated that I had created the indoor and outdoor arrangements from over 70 different kinds of flowers, plants and trees, most of which were taken from the gardens on the property–plus the wonderful daisies that we found on top of a compost pile, of course. I don’t think I’ve ever worked with so many different kinds of flowers at one time, but it was so much fun, and I’d gladly do it again. (And never fear, the compost pile was only an hour or two old and contained nothing but flowers and weeds that were getting ready to make their way over to the *real* compost pile!)
Almost two weeks after the fact, I am still enjoying the thrill of having created the floral arrangements that brought life and joy back to the Manor House, even if only for one night. I hope that Alice and William (and, of course, Carrère and Hastings and the Olmsted Brothers) would have approved. I like to think that they would have. After all, it is so important to preserve our past that we should all do whatever we can to take care of the glorious treasures left to us. But in addition to all of that, if we get involved with the work necessary to preserve the beauty created by others in the past, we
may also find that we make new friends. An added bonus to helping to preserve our rich cultural heritage. I made several new friends with whom I really enjoyed working, and I’m thrilled that we share so many common interests–in flowers, gardens, architecture and historic preservation. You know who you are, ladies! I had a great time with all of you.
**I’d also like to take some time to thank two ladies in particular for their “over and above” help: Penni: On what was perhaps the hottest day of the summer to date, and in a workroom with no air conditioning, Penni helped me with the arrangements that had been added at the last minute and kept me company with her good humor, excellent advice and numerous attempts to teach me that what I have always viewed as “Thistle” is, in fact, not Thistle. It’s something else, but I’ve already forgotten what. Thank you, Penni! Hannah: As the Senior Horticulturalist at Elm Bank, Hannah is incredibly knowledgeable, extremely funny and immensely patient. She showed me around all of the gardens one day, answering all of my questions and backtracking several times when I decided that I should probably look at an area again…and then one more time. Can you imagine? She then graciously allowed me to sit in the golf cart the next day while she did all of the cutting of the plants and flowers I had chosen for my arrangements. But there’s more! In an admission that gave her SuperHero status in my eyes, I learned that she is not plagued with the same horrible phobia of ticks that seems to consume me once the weather starts to warm up here in New England. Her bravery in walking right into high grasses and through the depths of several plantings to get just the right cutting for me was astounding. Thank you, Hannah. And thank you also for all of the additional buckets of gorgeous flowers that you brought to the workroom so that Penni and I could finish up with those extra table arrangements. You are a Horticultural Rock Star!
If you can’t tell, I had a ball working on this wonderful party for Mass Hort, and I think you should join us next year to see what all the fuss has been about! But you should be sure to get your tickets early, because we reached capacity fairly soon after offering the tickets for sale. In fact, maybe you should get them now directly from Mass Hort…just to be safe. We’ve already set next year’s date!!
©Mass Hort Bressingham Garden. North side of the garden, featuring Eryngium ‘Big Blue’, Geranium ‘Rozanne’ and Coreopsis verticillata ‘Moonbeam’.
How would you like to step back in time and take a sneak peek into a stunningly beautiful Carrère & Hastings-designed manor house (open to the public for only the second time since the 1982 Decorators’ Show House) while being surrounded by award winning Olmsted Brothers-designed gardens and enjoying beautiful food, drinks and music on a warm June evening? I know that I certainly would! And I hope that you will join me in supporting the Massachusetts Horticultural Society (Mass Hort) as it offers a rare opportunity to visit the Cheney-Baltzell Manor House at Elm Bank in style.
I’m so glad to be back!! I have missed this happy space….!
I had my “next” blog post all written, and I was looking forward to posting it after Historic Garden Week in Virginia had wrapped. I had the post after that one written, too. I was ahead of schedule and moving at a rapid clip (for me). But then my world stopped short, and I stopped with it for a few beats. In my case, the unexpected and tragic loss of a brilliant mind and a gentle soul, the loss of someone who had been such an important part of my life as a young adult, hit me hard. Those first few days were governed by shock. I could not speak, I could not think and I certainly could not write. But soon the days grew brighter, acceptance set in, and I realized that I was ready to move forward with happiness and gratitude. I also noticed something that I hadn’t paid much attention to as a younger adult….