Botany in the Big City With Naturally, Danny Seo
Watch Botany in the Big City now!
January 19, 2019 was the premiere of episode 309 of Naturally, Danny Seo on NBC stations nationwide. I’m super excited to have worked with the show this summer to create a segment called “Botany in the Big City” right here in Minneapolis. A rebroadcast is scheduled for March 30, 2019. The show will also be available on https://www.nbc.com/naturally-danny-seo. Here’s my how-to guide for the DIY screenprinting project.
Welcome, Danny Seo fans!
I never dreamed I would have a national platform to say what I feel most passionately, that it’s possible to Notice Nature Everywhere. I fell in love with the plant world volunteering at an environmental education program in high school. I studied and received a B.S. in Botany at University of Washington with a stint in the bogs of Ireland along the way. I’ve worked in and traveled to botanical gardens, national parks and old growth forests that have filled my senses. But those days have given way to a life focused on my home in Minneapolis, my daughter JoJo and my community. I have fewer opportunities for big adventures outdoors than I would once did, and more time along city streets and in parking lots! Here’s a little background on how I came to do what I do.
Starting Rectangle Designs, Botanically Inspired Fashion
My concern about the changing climate and what I could or should be doing about it weighed on me as I made tried to reduce my carbon footprint and work a corporate job in the early 2000’s. I left that job in 2004 to start Rectangle Designs, a line of botanically inspired fashion that I designed, screen printed and sold to boutiques nationwide through 2012. Environmental education through fashion, why not? I had a ton of fun selling my bright botanical screenprints to people who were learning the plants I featured in my designs for the first time. The tags told the story of Queen Anne’s lace, the affinity of baby’s breath for calcium rich soils, and all about the unique places I took the photographs used for the motifs. At some point, a friend invited me to teach a group of teen artists how to I designed and made my botanical screenprints and share about my art practice. That was the first I’d thought of myself as an artist, believe it or not!
Connecting science and art with the Urban Forest Project
Working with teens reminded me of my time at Outdoor School, and I was eager to get back into teaching some more. After reading Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv, I realized I had a real responsibility to pass on my enthusiasm for the natural world to the next generation. So, I created a three-week K-12 residency that brings together the worlds of science and art and deeply connects students to their school’s trees. I called it the Urban Forest Project, and eagerly set out to help some high school students learn to identify every tree on the school campus. The first day, I realized that was a far too lofty goal! Many of these kids had little experience in nature and had never thought to even look at a tree with interest before. I needed to step back to the idea that nature was all around us, wherever we are, not just in some far off wilderness. The short time I had with students meant we had no choice but to work with the campus shrubbery and parking lot trees. But that was plenty of material as it turned out. I’ve taught The Urban Forest Project across Minnesota and in Wisconsin, and even got a front page story in The Albert Lea Tribune!
Observe, Record, Share: Community Engaged Public Art
Minnesota voters’ support for the arts and environment made it possible for me to become an artist. A community grant allowed me to develop The Other Green Line, a public art project to bring the Urban Forest Project concept to a bigger audience. The new train line traced a streetcar line that had opened back in 1890, and I wondered how the landscape had been transformed with development over 100+ years. What signs might be hidden in plain sight of the ecosystems that had been paved over? I devised eight forays to explore natural history using train stations as trailheads, made The Other Green Line Field Book available free at local businesses along the route, and led tours of the forays over the summer. I loved bringing what I had developed for the classroom to the broader public: how easy it is for anyone to become an artist or scientist for a moment by simply engaging the five senses to Observe, Record and Share with others what they notice in nature. What We Grow and other community engaged public art projects followed.
Naturally, Danny Seo: sharing my message with the world
I’m excited to share my message about noticing nature everywhere with a national audience. Though I love the nitty-gritty of botany, identifying and classifying plants to the minute detail, there are many ways to know nature that are more intuitive. We can all use encouragement to stay in the habit of knowing nature, in whatever capacity suits us best. I encourage you to take a moment on your next neighborhood walk to truly get excited about a small detail on a leaf, flower, acorn or whatever. See if you can observe your item with all five senses (within reason, do not taste it unless you know what it is!). Different trees make different sounds — like the sound of the birches Danny and I listen to on the show. And smells, shapes, textures and colors vary from tree to tree and even on the same tree. How many things can you notice? Try making a quick note of these things in a little notebook. Trace a leaf! Make a descriptive word list. And find someone to share your observations with. Sharing what you’ve noticed is a great way to affirm that nature is still the source of wonder and beauty it has always been, even if we hear more about natural disasters than natural beauty on the news. It is our positive connections to nature that will help us find ways to care for it better, and encourage future generations to be as fascinated with it as humans have been since the beginning.
Naturally, Danny Seo: behind the scenes!
I can thank my mom for her regular phone reports on her favorite early morning tv show (“Have you seen Danny Seo this week? His ideas are right up your alley…”) for making me aware of this Emmy-award winning eco-lifestyle in the first place. I knew right away when I got the call what an exciting opportunity this would be.
It was a whirlwind from the beginning as I helped scout locations, develop a storyline and content for my segment, and then actually film the segment with Danny in just a few short weeks. It was a hot July 10th in downtown Minneapolis when we filmed the main segment, so I’m grateful for the bulletproof hair and makeup the talented Shannon Darsow did for me. My good friends and designers Annabella Sardelis of Indigo & Snow and Tia Keobounpheng of Silvercocoon styled me with a natural indigo top and bright earrings. I loved working with the production and film crews, who made me feel so comfortable doing something brand new to me.