Night Light

jan7a-017The late fall, winter, and early spring in my zone occupies a solid 6 months of every year. For gardeners, this amounts to being occupied by an army of unfriendly conditions. The cold, the quiet, the somber color of the landscape, the desertion of the birds, the leafless trees, the snow, and the sunless skies that preside over the dormant garden are enough to make any gardener black out. There are a few bright and light spots. The late November and December holidays are a celebration any and all can enjoy. There is nothing like a celebration to banish the winter blues. It is not surprising that the holidays have roots in an ancient late season festival of lights. The quality and duration of light is a major consideration in the planning of a garden or landscape. It is equally important to a warm winter garden.

holiday-17We have sunny skies and 60 degrees forecast for this week, but the beginning of winter is but 5 weeks away. Nature in particularly stingy in the light department given the arrival of that moment. The shortest day of the year, also known as the winter solstice, will be the 21st day of December this year. On that day, my city will have 9 hours and 32 minutes of daylight, and 14 hours and 28 minutes of nighttime. At that moment, the north pole will be tilted away from the sun the furthest distance it will be all year. I rue that day. The gray days and the long black nights that attend our winter are tough to take.  I will not be paying so much attention to the beginning of the dark in late December. I have holidays to celebrate. But January, February and March can be dark. A plan in advance to light the winter night just makes sense.

dec-20-2012-038It is a given in my household that all of my containers will be dressed for the winter season. They may have fresh cut twigs, or stems from my garden, fresh cut greens, or holiday picks-but no matter how I choose to handle the decor part, all of them will provide some light. Empty containers over the winter is a lost opportunity. Winter containers without lighting is much the same. Dressing containers for the winter to come is a form of antibiotic that can help make the insult of the winter easier. This rectangular pot which I plant for summer lights the way down the stairs from the deck to the yard. This is a great idea for 2 aging corgis, and my aging self going down those stairs. Incandescent garland light strings have the lights very closely spaced.  There are 300 lights per strand.  This pots has two strands tucked into the greens. I can see this pot from my bedroom window.  This light is the last thing I see before I go to sleep. Sweet.

dec-20-2011-034I go to work, and come home from work in the dark now. The dark days are ascending. This picture of winter container arrangements that were lighted that Rob made for me several years ago at the end of my driveway meant that I had light in my garden, early and late in the day. The morning light was as beautiful as it was cheery. Fiery expressions in the winter-how I appreciate them.

dec-20-2011-007On those winter nights when I was out late, I could see my way to the door, courtesy of these lighted winter pots. I was happy to have my way to the garage door at 8pm easy to navigate. Great lighting not only illuminates the winter landscape, it makes the winter easier to bear. I do have landscape lighting, which I rarely use in the summer months. The summer daylight goes fashionably late in my zone. But come winter, I appreciate my landscape lighting. And a little supplementary lighting in my winter containers makes that just past 4 in the afternoon and at 7am a dose of light that I appreciate. Your containers stuffed with natural materials for the winter, and glowingly lighted, may prove to be an effective antidote to the gray days and the very long dark nights to come.
jan7a-020I do believe that landscape lighting is an integral part of a great landscape design. I routinely plan for my lighting designer, Kevin McMahon from Moonlit Lighting, to propose a lighting scheme. Those lighting schemes are tailored individually to each client. Landscape lighting is not my forte. I take Kevin’s lead.  But lighting containers is a specialty. That specialty evolved from Rob’s interest in lighting, and his passion for lighting up the winter night.

dsc06326We have for many years incorporated his light strands into our winter containers.  Like everything on the planet, lighting has evolved. Though for years we stocked all manner of incandescent light strands for containers, the LED light revolution has changed all of that. Finally LED light strings are available with lights that exude a warm glow. Their initial harsh blue light was unattractive to both the landscape and people. No doubt they are more expensive than the 100 count incandescent light strings that were reliable for one season only. The Dutch manufactured lights that Detroit Garden Works carries now are good for 10 years and 50,000 hours. They draw very little power. The investment up front is greater, but the rewards are better than greater. Lighting your garden in the winter has never been easier. Your electric bill will be small.

dong-2011-020This pot of twigs that Rob designed and installed last year with C-6 incandecent light strings at the base have the fire power that only incandescent lights can deliver. These lights come with a price from DTE energy. The good news is that any gardener seeking to banish the dark has a lot of choices.

nov-25-2012-012The front of the shop in December from some years ago would have been dark indeed without the lighting.  My advice? Dress your pots for the winter season. Do not forget to light them. Light up your night.

 

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Part 2: The Drive Court

rainy-day-2016-7My last post about this project centered around a winding and and most beautifully curvy driveway, and the landscape views proposed by that drive. The major portion of the landscape, including this driveway, was designed with an informal and park like atmosphere in mind. It  features a collection of specimen trees, each one placed individually. It is a property with long views. The placement of the trees involved a lot of walking, and seeing.  The result, to my eye, is a landscape that is natural, and subtly polished. The following pictures are about the landscape immediately adjacent to the house. This part of the landscape dramatically contrasts to the rest of the property. It is as much formal as it is contemporary, in design.

rainy-day-2016-8Formal landscapes are predicated on a series of geometric shapes generated by horizontal and vertical axes. Formal landscapes are usually symmetrical, as in equally representing on both sides of an axis. You may only see the axis as an imaginary line, a construction line drawn on a plan.  Contemporary landscapes can be quite formal, in a geometric sense.  They are not necessarily symmetrical. Both formal and contemporary gardens are more about spacial concepts, ideas or visual tension than they are about individual plants. Contemporary gardens are edited. The less said, the better. Some contemporary landscapes are so minimal that they make my mouth go dry. This landscape is not stark. The shapes of the plants, and the texture they create in numbers is lush.

rainy-day-2016-1 This landscape needed to quietly describe the plane of ground in question, and cleanly describe the geometry of the drive court, and the shapes described by the house.The walk from the garage to the drive court is formally outlined in brick pavers set on end.  The stepping stones are square, and set in grass. This walk is set down in a mass of 18″ Green Gem boxwood on both sides. It is not part of the presentation of the landscape entering the drive court. A secondary walk calls for a secondary and circumspect placement.

the-drive-court-11The widest portion of the east side of the drive court is but 6 feet from the property line. The neighbor graciously agreed to let us encroach on her property just enough to screen the houses from each other, and reiterate the very strong circular shape of the drive court. The boxwood facing down the Joe Burke flexible pines are set on a slight slope. That slope speaks to the rhythm established by the curve of the drive.

rainy-day-2016-4The old spruce in the background of this picture belong to the neighboring property. We did borrow this view. A small and solitary columnar ginkgo to the center left will provide a considerable and beautiful vertical element at the entry to the drive court, once it settles in, and grows.

the-drive-court-10Every green gesture is in service of the long and low architecture of this contemporary home. The horizontal plane dominates the architecture, and the landscape.

the-drive-court-8I believe the landscape respects the strong and compelling geometry of the house. Mind you, this is the first season of the landscape. I am pleased to say all of the plants seem to be making themselves at home. I am happy about that. The strength of the architecture greatly influenced my design, as it should.

the-drive-court-9A custom made planter set in the corner between the house proper and the garage is planted with an incredibly beautiful Japanese maple. Yes, we will try to over winter this maple in the pot. The location is quite protected; this north side niche is stone on three sides, and is partially protected by a generous roof overhang.

the-drive-court-4The view from the opening of the circular drive court reveals a formal and contemporary landscape that quietly celebrates a beautiful example of contemporary architecture.

the-drive-court-5I persuaded the tallest member of my landscape crew to take this picture from inside our dump truck. I wanted to look down on the landscape, and have a view of the house skirted in a simple and low profile landscape.  I knew from the moment that I saw this house, that the landscape would not be able to ignore the architecture. I am fine with the outcome.

dsc_9437The trip back down the driveway on this mid October day, a year after the initial landscape installation, was a good trip indeed.

 

 

 

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Up And Down The Driveway

december-5-2015-062In November of last year, I wrote about the challenges posed by refurbishing a landscape while a new driveway was under construction. GP Enterprises managed to plant a number of big trees, including European green beech, tricolor beech, Norway spruce, fastigiate hornbeam and sweet gum, with a digger truck – as the old driveway was being torn out. This collection of specimen trees were placed mindful of the views established by the placement of the driveway. The property had previously been densely planted with Norway spruce on the east and west lot lines, for privacy.  The client was more interested in a more park like landscape which would make the trip up and down the driveway an interesting trip. Needless to say, they like trees. The rounded tree a little left of center in the above picture is a 10″ caliper tricolor beech. Behind and to the right of the beech is a very old, previously existing, weeping Norway spruce.  As the lower branches had lost needles with age, a semicircular wrap of American arborvitae was planted behind it.

december-2015-3The arborvitae added a lot of green weight to the old Norway, and to this entry view. On the right, a columnar sweet gum.  In the distance, to the left, a big beech. The new driveway was an enormous undertaking, and is quite wide.  Part of the beauty of it is a curb that defines the shape and direction of the drive. The adjacent ground was regraded so it rolls gracefully down to that curb.

Deborah Silver And Company Landscape DesignThe drive up, and the drive back down does a great job of telling the landscape story. These pictures were taken very early on a cold morning in December, just after the project was finished. Seeing a landscape just after dawn permits the eye to focus on the composition and shapes, rather than color or texture.

december-2015-7The architect did such a great job of setting this contemporary house low, on the crest of a property that rises steadily from the road, and falls steeply to to a lake on the far side. The right fork in the drive goes to the garage, the left fork to the front door.  The low dome of ground that separates the two helps sink the driveway down, and delays the visual presentation of the house to the final approach of the drive. Whomever designed the location of the drive, and the grading adjacent to the house did a great job.

december-5-2015-044The landscape near the house is low, and simple, and entirely evergreen. If you live in a cold climate you know how important it is to have an evergreen presence in the landscape. The circular drive court was redone first. All of the landscape material for this area was delivered all at once, and staged on tarps on this drive court. Once the plants arrived, the old driveway disappeared. We could no longer drive trucks to this area. The planting was slow going until we have enough plants in the ground to relieve some of the congestion.  In the foreground are masses Green Gem boxwood, 12-15″ tall.  My landscape superintendent Dan, pictured above, did a beautiful job directing the installation.

december-2015-9This circular bed of taxus capitata spreader yews features 24″ tall plants at the center, and 36″ tall plants at the outside edge.

december-2015-17The pinus flexilis “Joe Burke” that screen the neighboring property to the left are faced down by the same “Green Gem” that are planted elsewhere.

december-5-2015-028An existing hedge of upright yews was transplanted just outside the drive court, and is accompanied by a fastigiate mugho pine, and more of the Green Gem boxwood. An existing Katsura on the left has company in a fastigiate gingko on the right.

december-2015-1A path from the garage drive to the drive court was set inset in the ground cover boxwood, and is not visible from the drive until you reach this point.  Against the foundation is a hedge of the spreading cap yews. Separating the cap yews and boxwood is a ribbon of gravel.  This provides space for the plants to grow, and it provides access for maintenance.  All of these evergreens are on drip irrigation. Once the path was fionished, grass would be planted between the stepping stones.

december-2015-2The view out from the house is equally as circumspect as the view up to the house. The beautiful shape of the land here, and a trio of spruce are the feature of the mid ground space. The rows of boxwood provide contrast to the informal landscape in the background.

Deborah Siver and CDompany landscape design The grade of the return view down the drive is quite different than the approach views. On the left, a group of columnar Serbian spruce.  In the mid ground, a large green beech, and the blue needled abies candicans. In the distance, the semi-circle of American arborvitae.

december-2015-5Another beech was planted on the far side of the drive, and is the centerpiece of this view. To the right, a group of white pine. Behind the American arborvitae, a massive and old weeping Norway spruce.

december-2015-8We finished the last bit of the work in mid December 0f 2015. I drove up and down the drive more than just a few times. It was a quiet summer for this phase of the landscape.  Every tree was busy moving in to their new homes, and putting down roots.

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All About The Boxwood

a-contemporary-landscape-13My clients own a contemporary home situated on a compact property in an urban neighborhood. The house (not visible in this picture) sits a good three feet above the sidewalk.  Though I had helped with the landscape design in immediate proximity to the front door, an L-shaped planting of yews mirroring the sidewalks of their corner property predated my work with them. The above picture shows part of a collection of yews planted on that slope, that had suffered from years of too much irrigation water, and poor pruning. Too much water can be deadly to evergreens – especially yews. The massed planting meant that I did not have a clear picture of the grade or the dimensions of the area to be landscaped. I told my clients that I would have to remove all of the yews prior to having a redesign of this part of their landscape. They agreed to the removal, with no clear idea of where we would go next. They indicated that they had trust in my eye, and that I should go ahead.

a-contemporary-landscape-5The yews that still had decent root systems had been pruned within an inch of their lives. The above picture is telling. Pruning spreading yews (taxus densiformis and its associated cultivars)  flat with a power operated pruning tool results in a shallow but dense layer of top growth that denies air, light, and water, to the branches below. Every pruning cut produces a multitude of breaks in any woody plant stem. This yew, like every other one we removed, had an uppermost skin of green supported by a thicket of bare branches. Yews need to be pruned casually, and irregularly. Like a shag haircut. If you are interested in an upright and formally growing yew, choose one that has a naturally formal habit that approximates what you need-as in taxus media “Moonii”. But I digress. Any yew branch, no matter how thick or old, will sprout needles given enough light. These lower branches lost their light a long time ago, and would take many years to re-needle.

a-contemporary-landscape-6 I understood my client’s interest that this slope be planted. Their property is across the street from a busy city park.  They loved overlooking the park, but they wanted some small measure of privacy. Once the yews were removed, I got a good look at the lay of the land.  The grass on the upper level had an irregular edge, and sloped downward to the corner. The slope itself sagged in the middle. The yews that had been planted next to the foundation of the house-we got rid of them. Those Hicks yews obscured the beautiful stone foundation of the house, and had grown up over the bottoms of the windows. Any element in a landscape that is overgrown says untended loud and clear. My clients were ready to redo. We did the best we could to level the upper lawn plane, with a plan to grass up to that stone foundation.

a-contemporary-landscape-16Just prior to my client’s call for a landscape renovation, I had a call from a supplier about a field of 40″ diameter Green Gem boxwood available for sale. I sent pictures to my clients.  They were indeed interested. All three of us could see that these beautiful plants could could go a long way towards a sculptural landscape for this property. I arranged to have the boxwood delivered.

a-contemporary-landscape-8We did a lot of work to restore the upper level surrounding the house to a reasonably flat plane. That took in excess of 20 yards of soil. Many yards of that soil went to that low corner in the center far right of this picture. We laid down a roadway of plywood. We had no idea to damage that upper level grass, but we had heavy plants to move. The first row of these giant boxwood were planted with an eye to celebrating the newly leveled plane up top. Thought these boxwood were remarkably uniform, there were subtle differences. The arrangement of the plants in a row took a little time to get right.

a-contemporary-landscape-7The early view from the street was chaotic. Several iterations of previous sprinkler systems, and a complex drainage field was hidden underground. Rearranging and adding to pipe and drainage stone was a tedious but necessary part of the project.

a-contemporary-landscape-14This first row of boxwood took the longest to set, as it would establish the direction and height for all of the other plants to come.

a-contemporary-landscape-15The boxwood placed on the opposite side were were set very high, to maintain the level established at the top. The root balls of the second row to come would act like a retaining wall that would permit back filling around the plants in the first row. Each of these boxwood has a root ball 28″ in diameter.  Those root balls would act like a wall, and would help prevent soil erosion.

a-contemporary-landscape-10It took the better part of an hour to face and plant each of the boxwood. The weight and the bulk of each plant made them difficult to handle.

a-contemporary-landscape-9The original slope was dishy and rolling.  Prior to planting each row, we regraded the soil so it was dropping down towards the walk at a uniform rate. Each succeeding row of boxwood dropped down a corresponding amount. Or as least as close to a uniformly corresponding as was possible with boxwood of this size.

contemporary-landscapeThe yews on the far south side were not only healthy, they were beautiful. They occupied a very large area on both the upper and the lower level. We kept them.  We would snug the south side of the rows of boxwood up tight to to these existing yews.

a-contemporary-landscape-17Once the first two rows were planted, it was time to set the corner. The flow of the rows depended on establishing the corner plants. My rough sketch to my client is not my usual presentation. In lieu of accurate drawings, we talked.  One row at a time.

a-contemporary-landscape-11Each arm of row three began at the corner, and radiated out. Once we had four rows planted on the west side, and three rows planted on the north, we were ready for edger strip. A drip irrigation system was installed by Ian Edmunds Irrigation to insure that each boxwood would get water directly to the roots. He is the most thoughtful and thorough irrigation contractor it has ever been my pleasure to work with. The edger strip?

a-contemporary-landscape-22This oversized steel edging would allow us to back fill the bottom row of boxwood with soil, and mulch the front row of boxwood with gravel.

a-contemporary-landscape-1The tall steel edger strip solved a multitude of problems that were presented by this steep slope.

a-contemporary-landscape-21The grass to come on this slope would connect visually with the grass in the tree lawn.

contemporary-landscape-1the view from the park

dsc_9634the finished project from the intersection

dsc_9641The north side part of this landscape renovation looks good to me, and my clients. This very sculptural landscape is all about an incredibly beautiful collection of boxwood. Sometimes the plants drive the design.

 

 

 

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