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Michael Spencer
Naples, Florida
After 30 years' private practice…
Interests: gardening, writing, public outreach
Recent Activity
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Note: Each year I prepare a New Years' message for my Naples Daily News column. This year, my own complicity in racism is on my mind. It is my own story. After decades of struggle, many say that America remains a racist country. Disagreeing, other thoughtful people point to national efforts like the Great Society, the War on Poverty, Affirmative Action, and school bussing as evidence that racism has been left behind. They point out that a black family lives in the White House. I know from personal experience that racism has little to do with these worthwhile efforts, important... Continue reading
Posted Jan 15, 2016 at Design Is Not Opinion
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According to the latest figures released by the Chamber of Commerce 50,000 visitors flock to the Naples area each spring to experience our annual Bucida Blaze Event. Camera-toting tourists are stunned watching thousands of Black Olive trees become huge red lollipops with color so bright that night becomes day. These forty foot high tropical wonders leap into color as if on fire, all in perfect synchronicity. Did you miss the event? OK. Reality check: Black olive produces an abundance of flowers but they are light green and so nearly invisible. What if these flowers were red? A new genetic tool... Continue reading
Posted Jan 15, 2016 at Design Is Not Opinion
Thank you for the letters and phone calls. I'm back to normal. Much appreciated. And I can say that kidney stones are just awful. Is there a better word? Possibly. But how do you describe ungodly pain attacks lasting 45 minutes or more that occur every 4 to 6 hours- for 11 days? Leaves me speechless, too. (The CRISPR piece follows; note also I'm showing the page break earlier than I have been doing, as an experiment). Continue reading
Posted Jan 15, 2016 at Design Is Not Opinion
Folks: Ever had a kidney stone? Your Design Pundit has been rasslin' those critters since December 2 with several trips to the hospital. I''l post the longer article covering CRISPR soon. Thanks. Continue reading
Posted Dec 18, 2015 at Design Is Not Opinion
Did you ever look at a beautiful canopy tree just ten feet from a building and wonder what idiot planted so close? Your Design Pundit knows the answer to that uncomfortable question, but explaining exactly why a tree is planted in a dicey spot is a longer story. And the issue is far from trivial. Thirty years ago only 87,000 souls populated Collier County, Florida, a place that is now home to 337,000 people. Planned communities accommodated much of this growth, new living places where landscape architects and developers imagined a leafy future of streets lined with shaded homes. According... Continue reading
Posted Oct 10, 2015 at Design Is Not Opinion
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Last week’s visit to the bone-dry west coast is still on my mind. Southern California has an ideal mediterranean climate; winters are wet, summers are dry. Mild year-round temperatures created a huge population boom in an environment with insufficient water. Some feel that southern California is finally forced to live within the means offered by a very low natural water budget, rightly pointing to the extensive environmental damage resulting from decades of ‘stealing’ water from more northern parts of the state. At the same time, the country and the world is discovering a planet broadly damaged by policies based in... Continue reading
Posted Oct 3, 2015 at Design Is Not Opinion
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Note: This piece is a re-print from my weekly column in the Naples Daily News. Your Design Pundit is in Los Angeles this week, enjoying the sights, the stunning museums, and the California vibe. Together with Mrs. Pundit, we’ve experienced the Frank Gehry exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, spent the day at The Getty Center, and of course found the unique beaches. I visited my high school, now nearly fifty years on, and visited Huntington Gardens. Image: Damon Winter/The New York Times The Big Elephant But the elephant in the room is the persistent and debilitating... Continue reading
Posted Sep 25, 2015 at Design Is Not Opinion
Your Design Pundit is feeling a bit crabby. If you were of age when computers were coming available, you will recall that they were supposed to save so much time that we would be wondering what to do with madly-accumulating leisure time. Indeed, the flurry of idle time was seen as a sociological time bomb. Seriously. A 1978 Time Magazine cover story asserted that “The computer revolution may make us wiser, healthier and even happier”. I remember well the consternation over surplus leisure time that was sure to overwhelm us, bringing with it massive social upheaval as we searched for... Continue reading
Posted Sep 14, 2015 at Design Is Not Opinion
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Using and Wasting There is a lot of talk about saving water these days. And while this is important, it is also important to realize that landscape irrigation utilizes a minuscule amount of the total water withdrawn from Florida aquifers each year. So, if you water your garden with a well, I can make the case that your effect on water availability isn’t even measurable. On the other hand, it is also true that nearly half of all potable water is used for landscape irrigation. And that is just plain wrong. In either case, though, wasting the gifts of mother... Continue reading
Posted Jul 24, 2015 at Design Is Not Opinion
This post appeared in the Naples Daily News 4.25.2015 Buy a lot, build a house. Simple, right? But what if you fall in love with a lot only to discover that a beautiful shade tree just happens to occupy the very space you imagined for the big screen television? “Mommy! I can’t see the TV! The tree is in the way!” Trees Make a Neighborhood “What’s the problem?”, you might wonder. “Builders accommodate trees all the time!” And you would be right, to a point, although accommodating trees is often with unseen compromise. “Call a landscape architect! They know what... Continue reading
Posted May 8, 2015 at Design Is Not Opinion
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Test Post New software called Desk, which is getting rage reviews; but I’m having trouble with it: pictures don’t upload, copy/paste text is wonky, updates to published posts appearing as new posts, and tags that get uploaded are spotty, too. I do need a better/ easier way to post new stuff here, and Desk appears promising. From the reviews and awards looks like my issues are isolated. The developer is responsive and I’ve posted to his community forum, so let’s see what’s what. Continue reading
Posted Feb 25, 2015 at Design Is Not Opinion
Design and opinion are entirely different critters. What you ‘like’ and what is ‘good’ are not necessarily the same thing. You might not like French garden design, but Versailles is a heck of a site, n’est-ce pas? So today, let’s take another pass at the nuts and bolts of recognizing good design. A musical analogy: I appreciate many musical styles, preferring blues, and rock and roll. But I simply cannot listen to bluegrass. I know that Alison Kraus is redefining the genre. And I recognize excellent picking, like Steve Martin. I just don’t like it. When I hear Earl Scruggs,... Continue reading
Posted Feb 6, 2015 at Design Is Not Opinion
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Your Design Pundit is enraged. I have been a botany-geek my entire life. Plants excite a passion. I want know everything about them. And my career choice has given me the opportunity to study growing conditions, peculiarities, nativity, flowers, and other characteristics of thousands of plants. Learning everything is gloriously impossible Thirty years’ practice, though, has widened my view as my passion for plants and design morphed into a passion for advocacy. In 2007, knowing I was going in that direction, a blog provided a suitable platform. In 2008 my blog morphed into this lovely weekly column. Since then column... Continue reading
Posted Oct 9, 2014 at Design Is Not Opinion
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This week, your Design Pundit shares another story of south Louisiana: this week, love and loss. He had a reason to get back to Lake Charles He used to talk about it He always said Louisiana Was where he felt at home Did you run about as far as you could go Down the Louisiana highway Now your soul is in Lake Charles – Lucinda Williams, "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road" (1998) She wasn't moving, watching me that day, so cold. I walked around my 1964 lime green Ford F-150, checking the load, avoiding the eyes I longed to... Continue reading
Posted Jul 4, 2014 at Design Is Not Opinion
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Orange Flame (Justicia spicigera) Do you have trouble choosing plants? Of course you do. Professionals struggle with this part of the design process, and with good reason: it’s complicated. (See photos of these great plants here). Clients expect exceptional plants and exceptional planting design. Plant combinations should really sing. Choosing these materials is tortuous and it is always time-consuming. It’s not that there’s not an easy way to do planting design. Of course there are short cuts; just look around. Imagine this medical analogy: Tetracycline treats a broad range of symptoms: it works and it’s cheap. On the other hand,... Continue reading
Posted Jun 8, 2014 at Design Is Not Opinion
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This piece was published in the Naples Daily News; PDF versions are available via email. Gate Entry In Honolulu This week, the first of two parts about design and art. It’s one of my favorite subjects, covered in dozens of columns. I want my readers to come away with a different, wider view of design and design process. What is design the relationship between art and design? When I began the graduate program at LSU in 1974, I did not know how to design. In fact I didn’t even know what it is. Not a clue. And now I stand... Continue reading
Posted Apr 28, 2014 at Design Is Not Opinion
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This week, a few really unusual plants drawn from your Design Pundit’s palette. First, though: While I really appreciate seeing unusual plants, opportunities are–well, limited. Here is one way to think about it. Brunfelsia grandiflora | Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow An Interesting Garden What makes a garden really interesting? Use ordinary plants in unusual ways, creating surprise with a few special or unusual species. Depending on commonly used material has many advantages, including experienced maintenance personal as well as availability and low cost. Commonly seen material is tried, true, and dependable, characteristics important as you form your garden structure. Using... Continue reading
Posted Apr 20, 2014 at Design Is Not Opinion
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Readers: This piece appeared in the February 21, 2014 edition of the Naples Daily News. Send me an email for a PDF version. In September 2008 monthly office billings from developers dropped dramatically. The same was true all over the country. The old days were gone. A bleak future, as it turned out, held some significant surprises. Back to the Future The firm was 20 years old in 2008, 20 years focused on design- and diversification. Developers dominated our Allamanda cathartica | Brown Bud Alamanda assignments, but we cultivated relationships with the residential communities. I enjoy community work, and my... Continue reading
Posted Feb 23, 2014 at Design Is Not Opinion
Readers: This piece appeared in the February 14, 2014 edition of the Naples Daily News. Send me an email for a PDF version. As construction boomed in the summer of 2004, my design office began a fortuitous expansion, adding many more planting design projects. Until then, a typical client would be Vice President for Acquisition, a corporate VP looking for quick, accurate yield assessments as he considered possible projects and sites. I really loved that work, have a certain propensity and reputation, even though wearing long pants and socks to meetings was required. The corporate client is respectful too, probably... Continue reading
Posted Feb 23, 2014 at Design Is Not Opinion
Readers: This piece appeared in the February 7, 2014 edition of the Naples Daily News. Send me an email for a PDF version. In 2008 I was walking down an unpaved and dusty road at O’Donnell Nursery in Estero. Wandering through the plants, stopping here and there, Al O’Donnell pointed out a newly acquired or interesting specimen. We were talking about plants, about design problems, and about the completion of a major improvement project at Spring Run in Estero that we were doing together. Six years later, we would be knee-deep in plant material research, working on a project with... Continue reading
Posted Feb 14, 2014 at Design Is Not Opinion
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Land planning and planting design are as different as asphalt and Gardenias. So how is it that landscape architects are sought for expertise in planting design- and are solicited as land planners by developers as well? Usually, I use this space to talk about plant material, horticulture, and planting design. A new planning project arrived in the office this week, reminding me that the design process exposes similarities among projects at all scales. This week, let’s talk about the universality of design. Tools Start with the design tools. The language we use in both cases is the same: focal points,... Continue reading
Posted Jan 28, 2014 at Design Is Not Opinion
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Your Design Pundit is enraged. I have been a botany-geek my entire life. Plants excite a passion. I want know everything about them. And my career choice has given me the opportunity to study growing conditions, peculiarities, nativity, flowers, and other characteristics of thousands of plants. Learning everything is gloriously impossible Thirty years’ practice, though, has widened my view as my passion for plants and design morphed into a passion for advocacy. In 2007, knowing I was going in that direction, a blog provided a suitable platform. In 2008 my blog morphed into this lovely weekly column. Since then column... Continue reading
Posted Jan 19, 2014 at Design Is Not Opinion
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Readers: This piece appeared in the August 15, 2009 edition of the Naples Daily News. I am posting it here on the website because I've mentioned it in my column that will be published January 17, 2014. You can download a PDF version as it appeared in the newspaper here. A lovely garden by Tianjin Qiaoyuan Park by Turenscape Landscape Architecture How to Hire a Landscape Architect Here’s a simple way to find the right Landscape Architect for your project. First, some background. And don’t skip to the end. How does one hire an attorney? Or a doctor? More than... Continue reading
Posted Jan 13, 2014 at Design Is Not Opinion
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An expanded version of this discussion will appear in the Naples Daily News in January appeared January 17, 2013. The piece had an excruciated provenance: it was submitted twice for print but not used due to space limitations and an editor error. The original piece is below, but the expanded (and better) piece is above as 'Hiring an LA: Botany First'. Confused? I was, too. Your Design Pundit worries about the course of his profession. In 2009 I was invited to submit a Proposal for a small Mediterra community. I noted that the level of site improvements was not appropriate... Continue reading
Posted Jan 5, 2014 at Design Is Not Opinion
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Download a PDF of this article as it appeared in the Naples Daily News here. …let us go on and win glory for ourselves…Illiad XII.322-328 Florida was enchanting to a young landscape architect fresh from LSU’s graduate school in 1979. One end of a magnet, and I the other, Florida drew me. The people and culture of southern Louisiana would be missed. New Orleans Jazz Festivals, and Mardi Gras were fine, but the soul of Louisiana lies in the hearts of in Bayou Lafourche and by Vacherie and Dulac; in Bayou Gauche, Ponchatoula, Thibodaux, and Tangipahoa where generations of families... Continue reading
Posted Dec 30, 2013 at Design Is Not Opinion