Service of Hope: Art and Flowers

August 17th, 2015

Categories: Art, Gardening, Government, Hope


Creatures left these perennials alone this year.

Creatures left these perennials alone this year.

I was full of righteous indignation when I first read Sonja Sharp’s Wall Street Journal article, “‘Summer Streets’ Art Swiped Again.” As the title hints at, for the second year, people stole art that was made into signs. The project was commissioned by the Department of Transportation [DOT]. 

Not a blossom in sight.

Not a blossom in sight.

A similar thing happens to me though the perpetrators are animal, not human. I returned to our house on Friday night to discover barren sticks where zinnias and dahlias once thrived. Where were the flowers that I’d patiently deadheaded, fed with Milorganite that has a smell repellant to deer [and me], and watered? Answer: In some wild creature’s stomach. Something like this happens every year. More later.

Sharp wrote about what she described as “A series of cheeky street signs bolted high above Manhattan intersections” commissioned by the DOT to enhance areas of the city throughout August. Starting with 30, some installed seven feet high, she reported that there were only a handful a week after they were installed. “’It’s the nature of signs in public,’ artist Stephen Powers said upon learning that his vinyl-on-aluminum ’emotional wayfinding’ series had apparently been dismantled by sticky-fingered fans. ‘They print a lot of ‘Stop’ signs and they print a lot of ‘One Way’ signs because they tend to walk.’”

Summer Streets 2015Reading about the stolen signs my kneejerk reaction was, “With so much that needs attention, what the dickens is the DOT doing spending resources and staff time on a project involving cool signs that just scream to be taken and always are?” And “Why hang some so high that few would notice them in the first place?”

Adding insult to injury, the first sentence in DOT’s “About” section reads: “DOT’s mission is to provide for the safe, efficient, and environmentally responsible movement of people and goods in the City of New York and to maintain and enhance the transportation infrastructure crucial to the economic vitality and quality of life of our primary customers, City residents.”

Sharp quoted a DOT press release: “These signs will surprise and delight passersby offering them clever food for thought.” So what does this have to do with the mission?

Later she added about the artistic street signs: “’The miracle of it is they’ll live forever on Instagram,’ Mr. Powers said of his work, adding, ‘That’s kind of where art lives now.’”

So what about my flowers? I have a perennial garden that survived relatively unscathed this year [photo at top] so I’m lucky. Once a pond dweller rodent broke every stem and had the nerve not to eat the blossoms of black eyed Susan’s, Echinacea, St. John’s Wort and other flowers I look forward to seeing and picking. Other summers, deer decapitated every colorful top leaving a lozenge-shaped garden of tall green leaves and beaver felled a precious cherry tree we’d planted and nurtured for years.  Like the DOT, I have a list of repairs to which I should direct money and time yet I spend it on flowers.

My husband is blessedly understanding and calm about the annual financial and floral devastation. About the latter, he says, “It’s nature.”  Isn’t the DOT working with similar trust and anticipation?

Do you also think these instances are analogous? Do you repeatedly toss money at hopeless causes?


A day after I took this photo the orange zinnias, like the dahlias in the middle, were also gone.

A day after I took this photo the orange zinnias, like the dahlias in the middle, were also gone.

Tags: ,

12 Responses to “Service of Hope: Art and Flowers”

  1. ASK Said:

    Big difference? You are spending your money on your flowers…DOT is, perhaps in a round-about way, spending ours…

  2. bdl Said:

    It may not be what you intended your readers to do, but I focused on the issue of NYC, with the highest taxes in the country, spending money on “street art.” The Dep’t of Transportation (DOT) has been a disaster in recent years, snarling up steadily worsening traffic with everything from bicycle lanes to weird and inexplicable no turn signs. The mindless building boom is pouring new residents into the City in an ever expanding volume, meanwhile nothing what-so-ever is being done to ensure that Gotham’s overburdened infrastructure can support the multitudes now needing to rely upon it. The DOT would be far better off if it focused on moving people instead of silly signs. It will find little sympathy here.

    Your flowers are a different matter. The world can always do with more flowers. Your stick-to-it-ness in your battles with nature is marvelous. Keep up the good work!

  3. Martha Takayama Said:

    I am not sure that these instances are truly or completely analogous. The artistic endeavors of the signs are reminiscent, in a modest way, of the enormously innovative and successful WAP program President Roosevelt created. It sustained many artists and families and many participants and went on to greater glory in the following years and decades. The country, our architecture, our public environments and public spaces were enhanced and beautified in many cases with museum quality art as a result of this program. Much of this artistic production is now part of our national heritage. There is protest and often dismay when buildings such as post offices filled with handsome murals are candidates for closing or even dismantling. However, I really don’t recall hearing historically or recently about pilferage of that art.

    The sign art is not totally dissimilar in generating employment and beautifying. It makes for a more positive environment and can even draw tourism

    The saddest comment about the theft of the sign art is how it reflects on our society. Besides being vandalism and theft, this behavior is the ultimate in egocentricity. Why can’t public property remain public? Must it be totally tasteless and artistically worthless to remain in place? Can’t that which is meant for all be shared?

    Now I think we have to be more understanding of the animals who dash our botanical dreams by eating them. Most gardeners know the risks of their labor ending up as feasts for various animals who have ever less wild environment to feed on. There is no matter of planned theft and malice in animals doing or eating what comes naturally. The fun, toil and expense of tending a non-commercial garden is a choice that brings with it the possibility of a brief existence. The gardener can decide if the risk of disappointment is worth it or not. The animals are not vandals or criminals, even though they may leave destruction behind. They are actually victims of mankind encroaching on their natural habitat.

    Lastly, your husband sounds both terribly wise and graciously indulgent!.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    True. I think that the art program may have had sponsors but even so, there’s staff time to organize, administrate and implement the project and more time installing the signs.

    What’s similar is the hope that never seems to go away.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Your reaction was what I first thought except I, too, am at fault and thought of the scripture about casting the first stone.

    I love what you wrote about flowers. When they blossom they make me so happy. I figure I’ve contributed to the fulfillment and joy of a creature who didn’t know enough to leave a few buds for me to enjoy. The people who felt free to steal the art signs, however, know better.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I liked the project for the support it gives to artists as you pointed out. I trust that the committee responsible for selecting the art selected second or third tier artists and not those already known.

    As for the theft, it’s sad that the thieves weren’t caught and punished. I was tempted to pick flowers when visiting gardens as a child. My mother would tell me that if everyone did that, there would be none for other visitors to enjoy. These vandals’ caregivers didn’t share similar advice.

    Clearly the hope of having a pretty garden is stronger than the memory of the disappointment of seeing a scruffy looking place.

    Thank you for your insightful and lovely comment about my husband. True and true.

  7. JBS Said:

    It’s a gorgeous picture, however, and at least your flowers bloomed. We just have pots, and our son managed to kill the flowers in them!

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    After laughing at your comment, I must admit that because of the hopeless situation I, too, have plenty of pots filled with posies, many of which thrive and others not so much. I didn’t use the photo of the potted large zinnias that were devastated last week, necks broken and the best blossoms picked.

    An office colleague’s basil does better than mine in a pot in the country outside our dining room. The fact that I must depend on rain to water mine in the heat during the week has something to do with it but it’s pretty sad when the filthy city air and polluted sun through a city window provides a more welcoming environment to basil than a bucolic courtyard.

  9. Lucrezia Said:

    Stealing signs is a popular pastime, so it’s surprising that they vanish so easily, unless security cameras aren’t strategically placed. As for flowers, it may pay to ask a reputable nursery to recommend protective measures, and act accordingly. Nature may be tweaked in minor matters if one learns how.

    Do I toss money at lost causes? What money?

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    If “Stop” and “One Way” signs walk, which they do according to one of the artists, and the DOT hasn’t figured out how to “save” them, they aren’t going to work too hard to protect art signs that are to enhance the city for only one month.

    As for protecting the flowers the most effective way is to do what most of our neighbors do: They don’t have any or they only have those that aren’t attractive to rural floral predators. Impatiens seem to do well but they prefer shady places. Geraniums have been fine and this year, begonia are flourishing but I hope I’m not jinxing myself.

    An 8-foot fence around the perennial garden–a measure taken by some–would look horrible in our yard which has a wild look to it. Cutting down a wonderful apple tree that shades the house, sheds when we aren’t there and attracts all sorts of critters, isn’t viable. A local nursery staffer told me about the Milorganite which didn’t do the trick this year. Have you checked out the cost of deer, rabbit and rodent repellant? A 2.5 gallon container of rabbit repellant costs $220. One gardener spent six figures + to surround her property with 10 foot high fences and installed a cattle grid on the driveway to keep out deer. It’s cheaper to take my chances on the flowers. For years we enjoyed zinnias—a favorite. This is the first time they attracted goodness knows what that decimated a large pot of them that had been untouched for several weeks in addition to a lineup of them atop a stone wall.

    The DOT also can’t afford to protect the art, Stop or One Way signs from people intent on stealing them.

  11. BG Said:

    Do what I do. I use a deer repellent once a week in a spray container from Agway. It’s around $14.00. Milorganite does not work.

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Thanks BG. You have a magnificent garden. Until this year, Milorganite worked pretty well for me and it comes in a giant bag and doesn’t cost much and fertilizes as it used to protect. I guess the deer get used to something and it doesn’t bother them anymore. The $14 you quote is a great deal.

Leave a Reply

Clicky Web Analytics