PLANT FAMILY is an iterative essay-project that assembles fragments of collective California cultural histories with threads of personal narrative. Meditations on my mother's recent death sit alongside historic images of Bay Area flower growers. Instruction on the care of miniature roses segues into the story of the Grateful Dead's reunion tour.

I'm trying to understand the contemporary reality of my birthplace of San Francisco by constructing an index of its vernacular past.

My mom was a florist. She made Christmas wreaths and wedding bouquets. She sold poinsettias and mini roses and bare-root blueberry plants. My family heirlooms are old leather gloves and left-handed pruners. I knew to cut flower stems at an angle under cold running water before I knew how to read.

PLANT FAMILY VOL.1 was a performative lecture given at the California College of the Arts in December 2015.

PLANT FAMILY VOL.2 is a book, edition of 1, printed on various colors of 8.5x11 paper and perfect-bound by the copy shop.

PLANT FAMILY VOL.3 was a interpretive plant walk across the city of San Francisco, from Bernal Heights to Ocean Beach, in February 2016.

PLANT FAMILY VOL.4 is an installation of plants common to San Francisco's homemade container gardens, a disappearing vernacular form in the new clean-edges version of this place. The thriving, living, green things are the manifestation of my labor of grief.

I was born on California Street in San Francisco. Out near the beach and the park is where I learned what the sky was, what roses smell like, and what it means to be a sister. Daylight has a bright, diffused quality. Succulents survive outside with only the salty humidity in the ocean air. Dirt is mostly made of sand, and it's important to learn some words in Russian.

PLANT FAMILY VOL.5 is a narrative that weaves together the distant and recent past, stopping in the present, speculating on the future. It rests at the places where storylines overlap, flowing stream-of-consciousness-style between private and public, and now and then. If the work is a "string-of-pearls" essay, then the pearls are things like flowers, memories, landmarks, real estate listings, and the weight of grief. It is a video, and one time I performed it live INSIDE THE INSTALLATION with an accompanying slideshow and my friend Pete singing his original San Francisco folk songs.

Performance of PLANT FAMILY VOL.5 on April 3, 2016 with Pete Fields of Slow Motion Cowboys

Boxwood, juniper, holly hedge, and birds of paradise.

There's a blooming yucca, there's a cypress hedge, there are dahlias, and zinnias, and marigolds to keep the bugs away from the tomatoes.

Roses, eucalyptus, wax flower, lilies, rosemary, euphorbia, dusty miller. Green chrysanthemum, purple anemones, yellow oncidium orchid, flowers from an acacia tree.

There's a dead avocado tree that was choked by those palms. Geranium, jasmine, aloe vera, jade plant, salty air ice plant.

Rhododendron, Shasta daisy envelope, hellebora, dead oaks, birch tree cracked in the ice storm.

Rubber plant, spider plant, money plant. Ikea palm, funeral palm, variegated ficus, dragon's blood tree.

Sword fern, silver dollar eucalyptus, black mondo grass, dried willow stems.

This garden is a memorial, and this story is a eulogy.


Nicole Lavelle, PLANT FAMILY, a thesis project I made to acquire a Master of Fine Arts in Social Practice from the California College of the Arts.

VOL.4 and VOL.5 installed at Fused Space in San Francisco,
part of "CCA MFA Show Part 3" in March and April, 2016

Documentation by Philip Maisel, Miles Mattison, and Jenny Edwards
Thank you to my mom, who talked with me about flowers til the very end. Thank you to Dad, Rebecca, and Rose. Thank you Edward and Amy. Thank you Charlie and Charlie and Miles and Thea. Thank you to my big family of family and friends, this was a long slow ride for everyone around me.