Archives for September 2011

The End Of An Era

People make changes in their landscapes for lots of reasons.  For some, it may be the end of the trampoline era.  Kids need space to play, and entertain friends.  This need can be the organizing metaphor of a landscape.  I have lots of clients with mini-soccer fields, trampolines, play sets, tree houses, picnic tables, basketball hoops, bike racks, mud rooms, shed sized doll houses, badminton nets, ice rinks-you get the idea.  This client had just accompanied her youngest child to her college orientation.  It was time for a change in the landscape.  She thought a firepit would be a good substitute feature for the trampoline-that part was easy to visualize.   

The rear yard was very shallow and long, and dominated by grass.  Even the bed of euonymus under this aging Japanese maple had a big flat spot in its curve out into the yard. She did not want to intrude on any flat grassy space.  This is child friendly.  Old arborvitae hedges screened most of the rear lot line.  Every landscape move was immediately apparent-from one end to the other. 

Small perennial borders were planted on top of a series of dry stack stone walls, laid at the grade of a big bluestone terrace.  This places the shasta daisies out of range of the soccer ball, and rightly so.  Lawn ran right up to those walls. A large upper level bluestone terrace set at the grade of the floor of the house provided a place to have guests, and large table, and a built in barbeque.  On this terrace,  a small fountain and fountain pool, set on top of the bluestone.  

The fountain dominated a fairly large space on the terrace, and proved difficult to integrate into a seating area.  A group seated here would be looking into the pedestal of a fountain.  After a resolution of the trampoline issue, where would the fountain look best? This space would be great for a couch, coffee table and chairs-for adult events.  An adult experience of the garden and landscape meant the fountain would need a new home. 

Directly opposite the terrace, a small hedge of boxwood faced down some large and open growing white pines belonging to a neighbor.  Though the stairs did not come off the terrace centered on this space, that was the least of the troubles.  The problem here-a view to no where.  A way too good of a view to a neighboring house.

We planted 11 12 foot thuja nigra-these are a match for the existing arborvitaes.  This screened the neighbor’s house from view.  These evergreens were planted in a shallow arc-what need would there be to continue the long straight line of cedars down the lot line?  The idea here-create a space, shelter,  for that fountain.   

The existing boxwood were dug out, and replanted in front of the arbs.  This gives a very crisp green edge to the cedars.  The fountain and its basin were relocated into the grass.  The gap between the first arb on the arc, and the first arb on the lot line-we filled that with an existing hydrangea.  This landscape is starting to look much more interesting. The fountain looks much stronger, given this placement. 

The dry stack stone wall whose function for many years was to keep the kids, dogs, and footballs out of the upper level perennial garden and terrace-we cut curving beds in front of them.  My idea was to link the upper level terrace with the lower level landscape.  This meant I needed to move the very tall, and visually blocking, perennials on the top level, to the ground plane.  This will give my client much more space for her herbs on the top level.  And an integrating view of the lower level landscape.  A clear view to the lower landscape, softened by roses, phlox, coneflower and daylilies would make the lower landscape part of the experience of entertaining on the terrace.

Moving perennials-right now is the perfect time.  The nights are cool, the rains are regular.  We did move some roses-with giant rootballs. Four of us handled the digging, lifting, and resetting of each rose. This will work, or it won’t. If it doesn’t, a new rose is easy to plant.  The other perennials will move easily.  This is the right time.    

I am sorry for the state of the grass-we have had so much rain.  Even though we put down plywood to travel across the lawn, it has taken a terrible beating.  It will be back thriving within a week or so.  This is an entirely different landscape look.  The lawn has become a generously curving path from one part of the yard to another.  There are distinctly different spaces; rooms, if you will.  The curving beds are a great contrast to the rectilinear overall space.  

This picture is not the best, but it should be clear that the bluestone terrace has become a big part of the greater landscape. 

As for the trampoline-it is gone.  In its place, a firepit surrounded by a decomposed granite terrace.  There are some very good looking curves going on here.  Any landscape can be transformed with a few fresh ideas.  These fresh ideas-straight from my client.  Her request?   A new era, please.

The Home Stretch

I have not kept up as well as I would like with my spring plantings, but I am happy to report that this planting has prospered, and seems to be handling the fall well. I have not been here since late June, so I know this planting has been looked after.  I had the chance to stop by, given a landscape call in the area.  None of the purple dahlias in this mixed annual bed have succumbed to the mildew I have seen everywhere.  I expected nothing less; my client is an afficianado and expert grower of dahlias.  I have no other client that I would saddle with the time and trouble in a planting this extensive with lots of dahlias.  I did lend him a hand; the dahlias are companion planted with silver licorice, cirrus dusty miller, grey plectanthus and silver dichondra.  This supporting cast can hide trouble.     

The windowbox cardoons have grown considerably.  This box was planted with green and silver plants, punctuated by a few flowering plants.  It still represents that intent, going on 4 months later.

The rear yard fountain cistern is surrounded by boxwood-this will be a good look over our long winter.  For the summer, a mix of Euphorbia diamond frost, and white polka dot plant has grown in around that boxwood like a warm stole.  Both of these plants are so airy growing, they do not impact in any way the health of the boxwood.  This is a place that a permanent fixture in this landscape has an interpretation particular to a given season.  Next year, who knows what will take its place.  Given that it is mid September, I am pleased with this healthy and billowy look.  

The rear terrace with a view to that fountain has lots of pots.  The shade is fairly dense.  I usually plant these pots with a green and white scheme.  This year, a little dash of black/purple.  A coleus, a black calocasia, and some wine purple spikes provide a little out of the ordinary interest.  

This was my favorite planting of the season.  I knew this the second I finished it.  The wine spikes usually tapped for the centerpiece of a planting-I planted them on the edge.  The green and white caladiums I knew would round out.  Between the black spikes-a spiky tropical button fern.  It looked great today, with the morning sun filtering through the caladium leaves.  In my opinion, this is a very good looking pot.  The plants did all the work, you know.     

A grouping of pots with individual plantings have for all intents and purposes become a single entity.  The entire group seems to be coexisting peaceably.  I really like how the plants in wild places sort out their differences, and grow in to one another.  The conical boxwood sandwiched in between an explosion of lime coleus and a black calocasia underplanted with inky fingers coleus-this is a good scene.  There is a natural feeling here that contrasts with the stark lines and color of the vintage chaise.    

This intimate grouping of mid-century modern chairs designed by Richard Schultz has leafy company.  I could live here. 

This post needs to acknowledge my client’s passion for dahlias.  He winters over the tubers.  He does not plant them out until late June.  Every year I shrug, sure that they will never come to anything.  Every year, in the late summer, they come roaring skyward.  This very modest patch in a small garden is entirely devoted to dahlias. 

I will confess I buy giant dahlias for him when I see them looking good.  As much as he loves growing them, I can’t resist bringing one home for him.

He grew this gift of a white dinnerplate dahlia to perfection.  He knows what these showgirls require, and he delivers.  The best part-how much he nurtures, respects, and enjoys his garden.  Every inch of his property is taken care of.  He has tomatoes and eggplants on the driveway-thriving in pots.  He has rosemary plants-we winter them for him.  He loves his European ginger, his snakeroot, his hydrangeas, and his hellebores.   He is plain and simple-a gardener.      

Green and white with a dash of purple-this years planting scheme.  Does this mean the dahlia patch has only purple and white dahlias-absolutely not. The dahlia patch is not about a color scheme-it is about a love for dahlias.  Mid September, that patch is thriving.  Every place on his small urban property-thriving.  What does this say to me?  Gardener in residence.

Monday Opinion: The Drawing

No matter how well I communicate an idea about a landscape to a client, I need a drawing.  The drawing is a bird’s eye view of a property which in no way communicates the sculptural volumes that might bring an idea to life in a dimensional way, but it formalizes my thinking.  It helps me explain my idea, and all of the details of that idea.  For me, the drawing and the creating happen at the same time. Some clients take the drawing of the design, and install it themselves, or contract with someone else to do the work.  All of this is fine with me. I could make models, but I have too many design projects at any given time to make that idea practical. And truth be told, most clients want to feel comfortable that what they are getting has value, beauty, sensibility, and inspiration.  They want this much more than a drawing.    

A drawing is a series of lines put to a piece of paper.  A definition of a drawing includes the signature on a check, a couture designer’s gestural record of shape, a graph tracking any number of trends, the doodling most people do while on the phone.  It can be utterly simple, or amazingly complicated. Architectural drawings are incredibly detailed.  They are a map which details how a structure should be built.  Topological surveys, mortgage surveys, drainage plans, installation details-these are all highly technical drawings from which an idea can come to life.  There are drawing made by Picasso whose lines can be counted on one hand.  There are drawings by Albrecht Durer that involve thousands of intersecting and overlapping lines.

These drawings are not technical in nature.  They are emotionally generated, and emotionally charged.  A pencil, a charcoal or pastel stick-some line drawings are not so much about the shapes the lines describe, as the pressure placed on the medium.  My drawings are a skeletal and dispassionate version of a sculpture which I passionately believe will live and breathe.  Not art.  They are a means by which I can better express an idea.

I do all of my drawings by hand.  I find the time I spend creating the drawing influences the design.  There are times when in the process of constructing an angle or a space-I have a different idea.  I value an idea, no matter what time it appears. These hand drawn plans may not be as perfectly crisp or accurate as a drawing assisted by a computer,  but my hand made gestures speak volumes to a client.  There is a person governing that hand. 

I am very stubborn about taking the time for a plan to develop.  I like to see homes or buildings out of the ground before I commit myself to a plan.  Most of the the time I spend designing happens in my mind, in the course of the day.  Just before I wake up.  Monica has learned to distinguish those times when I am looking at her, but actually somewhere else.  I rarely put a pencil to a piece of paper before I have reviewed and determined a point of view in the abstract. 

Ideas that help to design a garden can come from lots of places.  A picture in a magazine.  A comment from a friend.  A favorite color.  I subscribe to lots of design magazines.  I read them twice, then I rip out any page that still appeals to me.  I don’t need to know what I like about anything I see at that moment.  The time will come when that picture will inspire a particular design.  But nothing helps my creative process so much as the drawing.  It does not need to be finished or fancy.  It needs to have rhythm.  I cannot explain this very well, but what you are thinking needs to come out of the end of your pencil as a drawing.  No gardener plants ideas.  They plant living things appropriate to or in celebration of an idea. 

None of my clients like to draw for me.  Sometimes I insist.  I learn more about how a client feels about a space by seeing their drawing of it, than I do talking to them about it.  Their drawings are about clearly expressing spaces and shapes; this is an art of a different sort.  In just a few lines, they express to me what they hope for, what they need, what they expect.

People’s signatures interest me.  They are usually highly individual, and beautifully gestural.  A signature is a drawing that has been developed and practiced over a long period of time.  Most signatures are very confident, and sculptural.  Your garden bears your signature-so does mine.  I might not really be aware of what my signature is-who thinks throught the process of signing a check or document?  I do what I do-you do what you do. That expression-it is a drawing you could do at a moment’s notice.  A design for a landscape should have that same immediacy and confidence.  My advice-do not second guess your signature.  Just sign, and build.

My drawings sign-sorry- assign spaces, places, accessibility, movement, rhythm.  They are simple maps, detailing what I hope will be a good journey.  That line drawing at some point will become something else entirely.  A place to live.  A place to grow food.  A place to cut flowers. A place to be.  A place to entertain friends and family.  A mini-soccer field.  A place to relax and read.  

My advice?  Blow up your mortgage survey to a scale you can easily study.  Draw the beds and spaces you have, the best you can.  Draw your ideas and dreams over top of what is existing.  Look at the picture this makes.  Make lots of marks with your pencil.  Draw lots of lines before you ever put your shovel to the dirt.  Your drawing may turn out to matter more than you ever thought possible.

At A Glance: A Certain Dahlia

Michael and Mattias came Saturday for the presentation of their landscape master plan.  There was very intense conversation for two hours.  But they thanked me in advance; the meeting was preceded with a half dozen white eggplant, and a half dozen red peppers from their garden.  Ant the most amazing dahlia bloom is has ever been my pleasure to meet.  The color, the structure, the size, the luminosity-well, see for yourself.