A Schematic Plan

Some landscapes not only require drawings, they require multiple drawings. My initial meeting with these clients was in March of this past year. They had had a mind to renovate or remake every inch of their home and landscape. My initial visit revealed little in the way of landscape, beyond a random collection of neglected and weedy looking trees, and an equally patchy lawn. They assured me that the landscape portion of the project would be their favorite. There are those clients for whom the first choice of a place to be is a place outdoors. This is a very large property. The distance from the river to the road is 680 feet; the footage on the river is 150 feet –  2 and 1/3 acres in all. Based on our discussions, I would draw what I call a schematic plan.

A schematic plan details and addresses the location and shapes of  various spaces and places with a fair minimum of detail. It does address specific needs. In this section of the plan which includes the the road, a request for privacy at the road is addressed with a gate and gate piers, inset 40 feet from the road to meet local code. A hedge of double wide arborvitae stands in lieu of a fence. Groupings of large evergreens finish and cap the ends of the arborvitae fence. Low but broad plantings will soften the arborvitae wall. Just inside the gate are graveled areas for parking both to the north and south to accommodate guest parking. A picture of a mariner’s compass is a placeholder for a medallion to be determined in the drive.These parking areas will be screened with parallel hedges of limelight hydrangeas. Due east of the parking areas is a landscape feature which is bisected by the driveway. Successively smaller radiused beds will be planted with columnar Norway spruce to the outside, flowering trees or Himalayan white barked birch to the inside, and a pair of curving pergolas planted with roses and vines. As the plan does not call for any gardens in the front yard, large pots are planned in regular intervals along side the drive. What these pots will look like, and what will be planted in them is a decision to come.

My clients have added a second garage with apartments upstairs for their extended families and guests. A large drive court will permit parking and a space for events. The center fountain was a specific request. grass areas bordering the west side of the drive court will provide a place to put snow. To the north, that lawn area will permit the passage of a golf cart from the garage to the dock.

The rear yard drops sharply from the grade of the house to the river. The upper level landscape was designed with an infinity edge swimming pool on 3 sides.  Water would drop over a 5.5′ tall stone retaining wall to a lower pool. The pool landscape would be built on flat ground, courtesy of several adjacent stone walls.  Dual stone staircases would provide access to the rear yard. A formal landscape of boxes planted in geometric shapes would be punctuated with 3 garden areas, and low shrub beds along the stone wall.

This drawing is a schematic plan for the pool. The pool is on axis with the rear porch, and features a spa facing the river, and an in pool seating ledge at the infinity edge. The pool fence would be screened on the north and south side with landscape. Subsequent to this drawing, it was decided that the fence between the pool deck and river will be glass, with a mechanically operated sliding glass gate which will cover both the staircases to the lower level. Once the client had approved this scheme, it would be the job of the pool and stone contractor to produce more detailed drawings in order to actually fabricate what this schematic plan suggests. It would be my job to present options for materials for the walls and pool deck. A drawing is a series of lines and shapes on a piece of paper.  Dealing with the reality of the land would be another issue altogether. I favor initial schematic master plans.  It gives the client the opportunity to commit to or change the big picture first, without being visually burdened by countless details. I have seen landscape plans that are so detailed in the initial phase that it is impossible for a client to see the underlying structure upon which all the details will be built.

To follow are a series of photographs detailing the first phase of the landscape installation –  the construction and installation of the pool, retaining walls and stairs. This picture, taken last March, makes clear how little flat ground existed near the house, and the steepness of the drop to the river.

the original swimming pool under demolition.

forms being built for the new pool

pool construction

pool and spa walls poured

spa insulation layer

the shell of the pool and lower pool

working with the general contractor on the step location, based on the pool, as built.

stone for the spa exterior

The construction of a negative edge such as this is very complex, and requires an expert installation. The pool coping is constructed in 2 parallel rows. The row adjacent to the interior pool set at a slight downward angle, and will always have a slight amount of water over it.  When the pool is full, a series of pumps pushes the water over the slot between the 2 rows of coping.That water is then recirculated back into the pool. This keeps the top layer of water at the same grade as the outer, dry pool coping. This fine detail came after the determination of the size and location of the pool.

Adding the finish stone to the water wall. Gillette Brothers Pool and Spa fabricated and installed the swimming pool, water wall, and lower pool.

the water wall

pouring the concrete base for the pool deck

spa stone and coping

Valders stone pool deck

3″ blue stone dots were installed in the inside corners of every other group of four tiles. Each square tile had to have a corner cut off to accommodate the blue stone dot. This pool deck, as well as the retaining walls and stone staircases were installed by Mike Newman, who owns Mountain Paver Construction. The installation is incredibly beautiful and precise. What you see in the above picture are the finished cut outs, prior to installing the dots.

Once the blue stone squares were installed, the entire stone surface was sanded and sandblasted to insure that water would drain away from the pool.

finished pool and pool deck

rainy day

Next up in my discussion of plans, the retaining walls and staircases to the lower yard.

This aerial photograph was taken by my client, after the basic installation of the pool, and during the construction of the stone retaining walls last winter. The retaining wall to the north you see in the top left of this picture was tented, and heated so the stone work could progress over the winter. I am so very pleased to be a part of this project.

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Drawing Landscape Plans

You may surmise from my last month’s worth of posts that all I do is plant containers. Ha! Nothing could be further from the truth. I do make a specialty of container plantings in late May, June and early July, but first and foremost I am a landscape and garden designer. That work occupies the majority of my time, effort and interest. Landscape design work involves making drawings, all of which I do by hand. I have never had much interest in learning how to do computer assisted design. I cannot really explain this, but the hand drawing process is crucial to my design process. I design as I draw. Or doodle. Of course, an eraser is as essential to my process as my pencil. I do not often take on a design client who has an installation company of long standing in the wings. I usually give design precedence to clients who have the idea that I will design, and install. But this client interested me. Her front yard landscape was not to her liking. She was incredibly articulate about what she did not like, and equally as articulate about what she did like. She made the process interesting. I did the design and drawing for her, over the top of a previous and existing landscape plan. The drawing is not particularly detailed, but it is enough for she and her contractor to work with.              This client has a complicated agenda.  He bought a very traditional house in a school district that he chose specifically for his children. However, he has a a great love of contemporary design. This was not a home he would have chosen for himself. A great neighborhood and great schools for his kids came first. Our design relationship came second. The both of us have forged a relationship over those secondary issues.  We have had a good many meetings about how to transform the exterior of the house and the landscape in a more contemporary direction. The driveway needed replacing. This was an obvious place to start. The design of his new driveway did involve a schematic plan for a new landscape. I did explain to him that the landscape design that was drawn to accompany a new driveway was conceptual, and subject to revision once the driveway was complete. There would be time to address the landscape in more detail, later.

The elliptical drive court and walkway to the front door in concrete aggregate is done now. The driveway approaches were finished just a few days ago. Next up is the regrading of all areas adjacent to the new drive, an irrigation update, and a new lawn. This drive court sets the stage for what is to come. It is functional, in that it provides much needed guest parking. The house is a considerable distance from the road. It also serves as an organizing metaphor for the tone and tenor of the exterior renovations and landscape to come. A more contemporary take is a direction sought by my client. I am happy to oblige.

A good client built a new house on lake property they have owned for some time in Charlevoix this past year. The original house was kept, and re – purposed as a guest house. I tried my best to get them to seek design advise from a local firm, as I would not be able to install a landscape this far from home. Drost Landscape does terrific work in that area. Nevertheless, they wanted my take. So I did make revisions to the drawings done by Drost. I was interested that the concrete walkways be very sculptural and contemporary in shape, and that they would appear to float above the surrounding landscape. And that the planting needed to be done in blocks and  geometric shapes, rather than in more traditional rows and layers. There would be a restricted palette of plants.  The outer perimeter landscape would be natural and casual, and blend in with the existing natural landscape.  The landscape needed to address the architecture of the new house, and gracefully tie in with the old. The landscape also needed to be very low maintenance, as it is not a primary or year round residence.

The original lake house

the new and the old

the new house

Brushed concrete walkways will be friendly to bare feet.

A simple terrace outside the original house/new guest house affords some visual weight to that structure. In the foreground is a newly planted columnar gingko. The landscape installation comes next. The drawings back and forth enabled a discussion between the three of us to what I think will be a good result.

Then there are those projects that proceed without any drawings.  I have been doing landscape work for this client for better than 10 years.  An initial project involved planting boxwood as an intermediary between the pool deck and a wall. That space had previously been occupied by a collection of perennials. The bloom time was short, and and the off season look was bleak. As my clients were not particularly enamored of the wall, we planted Boston ivy behind the boxwood.

A few years later, we planted a loose hedge of Princeton Gold maples on the lot line. The hedge would come up the hill, and terminate just inside the level plane presented by the pool. The last of the trees would replace a few scraggly forsythia that were languishing in the shade.A few years later, the boxwood and ivy had filled in, and provided an attractive green backdrop to the pool.  The Princeton gold maples were thriving. But a close look at the top of this picture reveals that trouble was dead ahead.  A mature stand of Austrian pines were beginning to fail. It would take another 4 years, but this year, it became apparent that those trees had to be removed. The sight of those all but dead trees made it easy for my clients to take them down.

The exposure of a view to the house next door was the unfortunate result of the loss of those old evergreens.  It did not take a drawing to see that the continuation of the Princeton Gold maple trees would be a logical and simple solution to their loss of privacy.

Though their landscape is quite contemporary, another layer of planting would restore their privacy. Fortunately, their property extends quite a ways beyond the pool wall.

These maples are not large. They were grown in 25 gallon pots, but had fairly substantial canopies. We staked each tree, and installed a soaker hose that winds around the root ball of each tree. Once these trees are established, they will not require much additional water than what comes from the sky. We are set to install a hedge of viburnum behind the trees –  to fill in the area above the wall, and below the canopy of the trees. A planting of deciduous trees with a shrub layer in between is an effective way to screen an untoward view that is large or tall.

The boxwood has been in long enough to warrant a good pruning. My clients were kind enough to agree to put their landscape on our tour for the Greening of Detroit a second time, as the changes in the landscape since 2009 are significant.

A landscape design drawing is one thing. It can be a very useful document. There are times that ask for one. The evolution of a landscape is another. The benefit of an evolving landscape is that there is time to reflect upon what is, and respond. I think this landscape is looking and doing well, despite the lack of a drawing. A lack of a drawing in no way implies the lack of a design.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The 11th Garden Cruise Club

Our tenth garden cruise to benefit the Greening of Detroit was this past Sunday. As usual, I spent the day at home. My garden is on tour every year as I so enjoy meeting and talking to everyone who stops by. And I enjoy talking to those people who have taken our tour year after year, now a decade old. It is satisfying that people who have toured for years do not tire of visiting my garden. This year my garden had a few surprises. A new pair of arbors, a new fence, and 72 linear feet of planter boxes across the front, planted with summer blooming annuals. For someone who likes to plant containers as much as I do, that 72 feet worth of planting space is a treat. What fun it was to plant those! The weather forecast was perfect – 72 degrees and partly cloudy skies with a slight chance of a brief shower.  Hovering over the event was my decision that this would be our last tour.

Ten years ago, encouraged and sponsored by board member and noted architect Michael Willoughby, I joined the board of the Greening of Detroit. I went to one board meeting. It would be my last; I was completely out of my depth. While I was familiar with their mission, I did not understand the issues the board had before them well enough to have anything to contribute. The next day I decided that the best contribution I could make to them would be an effort to raise money on their behalf. Putting together a tour of landscapes of my design or influenced by our group, and a dinner reception, was a commitment we were ready to make. We charged more than most tours for tickets, and all of that ticket money would go to the Greening. I do truly believe in the work done by the Greening of Detroit, so I persisted. We have kept the tour going a long time.

Detroit Garden Works and Deborah Silver and Company put their weight behind this tour. The shop rearranges and cleans. Rob designs the reception party. The Detroit Garden Works staff sets up tables and chairs and the bar, spanning the entire length of our driveway. They gracefully handle request for tour tickets for weeks before, and that Sunday morning beginning at 8am. They design tours for people who only have a few hours to attend.  They put on a dinner reception with live music that is a perfect summer evening for those who have toured. Rob obligingly mixes up his latest version of the classic gin and tonic, and also mixes an array of unusual summer drinks. The line at his station is always long. Christine has long retired from the shop, but she does work the cruise. She handles the wine bar, as she has for the past 10 years.

Deborah Silver and Company weeds and rakes the shop out for company. All the gardens and pots get groomed and watered. They also lend a hand to every garden on tour the week before. We weed, haul away debris and brush, water, attend to a fountain which is not working right, or any other issue that needs to be righted in time for the cruise. They prune and fluff- so every landscape and garden looks its very best. A beautiful landscape and garden is a pleasure for those who make them, and for those who experience them. The Greening of Detroit does important work –  making and sustaining landscapes in our city, and teaching people how to make plants grow.

Tour day this year was a very emotional experience for me. My original goal in 2008 was to raise 100,000 for the Greening. We went over that mark on our 9th tour, but so many friends of ours and the Greening asked if I would do a 10th tour, I said yes. The tenth year and tour would be the last. Why our last? I had done for the Greening what I had set out to do. I did not want to overstay my welcome. All things run their course, do they not? I did not want to risk people losing enthusiasm. I was not expecting what was to come.

All day long, people attending the tour came up to me, and talked to me about how much the tour meant to them. About how much they learned from a conversation and exchange of ideas with garden owners. One person in particular articulated how she was able to take what she saw in other people’s gardens that she liked, and express them in her own garden. So many made a point to tell me they regretted that this would be the last tour. Many asked if I would consider continuing the tour. Some said it was the best tour of all, and they were sure next year’s tour would even be better.  I was not expecting such an impassioned response.

Would I consider continuing the tour?  Sunne has always thrown her entire weight behind this tour. Everyone who shops at Detroit Garden Works knows her.  She turned out to be the founder of the 11th Garden Cruise Club. She made a point of explaining that this was the last tour, and anyone who was not happy with that should let me know. I got to the tour reception about 5:15. The first person I saw was Jennifer T, who had flown in from Seattle with her daughter to take the tour. She is a long time reader and supporter of this blog. How incredible that she took the time and handled the expense to come out for our event. Though I have read and responded to many comments she has made on these pages, it was such a treat to meet her in person. How charming that her daughter was all on board to take that trip with her Mom. Though we were only face to face for two days, I will never forget her. This tour made possible a meeting with a passionate gardener halfway across the country from me. Grateful does not express how happy I was to meet her.

More than 125 people attended our reception.  Between our companies and the Greening, we sold 385 tickets.  We raised 15,650.00 for the Greening. Garden Design Magazine had some 40 new subscriptions, from which they would donate 12.00 from each to the Greening. The new President of the Greening, Lionel Bradford, attended our reception, and gave a short and heartfelt speech about his appreciation for what the tour has done for his organization. For me, a basket full of things to eat and drink-made in Detroit. Touching, this.

That moment was a moment I will not soon forget. Sunne has the idea that tour was just hitting its stride, and I was considering the possibility.

Michael on tour. For those of you too far away to have toured, to follow are more pictures of my landscape and garden from that day.

tour morning

the deck

Milo and Howard were both home for the tour this year.

pots planted for summer

a little one on tour

upper deck

planters

planter detail

deck pots

fountain landscape

fountain

front yard

landscape

the opposite view

new planter boxes and original cast iron pots

new planter boxes in the other direction

tour landscape

Bringing the tour to an end is tougher now, considering all of what we heard that day. Yesterday I heard from Monica Tabares at the Greening that a donor who took the tour for the first time this year regretted this was our tenth and final tour. In a meeting with her, they pledged that if I would continue the tour for 5 more years, they would match the funds we raise every one of those five years. That offer gives me great pause. It could be that what we thought was the end is not quite the end yet.

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Ornament In The Winter Landscape

Though a landscape that is striking in all of the seasons largely depends on the confluence of a great design, interesting hard scape and thoughtful choices of plant material, I would venture to say that ornament in the landscape plays an especially vital role in our winter. The plants are welcome to be the star of the show every season of the year, as they should be. The walkways, driveways, and terraces facilitate flow, and provide places for people to be a part of it all. The 4th season in northern landscapes have a regional set of challenges. All the deciduous plants sulk in the advancing cold, shed their leaves, and go dormant for the winter. The trees stand firm and skeletal in the winter; the trunks and branches are indeed very sculptural. The branchy remains of shrubs and perennials rattle in the wind. This seasonal plant sculpture is not by choice. A gardener might say there is no meat in this scene. The evergreens are indeed green, but they can have a stiff and stoic look in their glazed over and embattled winter state, quite unlike their lively spring to fall life. The walks, terraces and driveways meant to welcome people into the landscape disappear under scarcely an inch of snow. The ground plane is at best obscured, and at worst, buried in our winters. Winter in Michigan is not so easy a season for gardeners. Long suffering is a phrase that applies. But there are ways to help mitigate that grief. Garden ornament?  By this I mean any object with a distinct profile that has a year round home in a landscape. Any object placed in the landscape that is marked by shape, mass, personality, memory, and persistence endows the winter landscape.  I am talking about those garden ornaments that have both a physical and emotional presence that cannot be snowed in, or grayed out. They are all the better for a coating of ice, or a hat of snow.   Pots, fencing, arbors, statuary, furniture, sculptures, fountains, architectural fragments, fire pits, bird baths, armillary spheres – all of these garden ornaments have a surprisingly lively and welcome life in the winter.

Those of you who put your garden furniture in the basement for the winter might consider this. The heat and relentless sun common in the summer season is much harder on garden furniture than anything the winter season might dish out. I leave my garden furniture out all winter. Though it is unlikely I will sit out in the winter, garden furniture is ornamental in the winter. That furniture can organize a view, even though the terrace upon which it sits is snowed under. The memory of the summer season warms the winter landscape. It may be that how I visually react to my summer furniture out in the winter landscape is stronger than my summer view.  In the summer, my terrace furniture is about its use.  In the winter, that furniture is a sculpture that speaks to the future.

This pergola with a wood roof and stone pillars was built to shrug off off anything the Michigan winter has to deliver. It is successful in that regard. The winter pots dusted with snow are landscape ornaments set at eye level that warm both that pergola, and this landscape. They counter the winter with the evidence of the gardening hand. An ornament selected for a garden or landscape is first and foremost a personal choice. Though I dressed these pots for winter for a client, it is her aura that enlivens this winter landscape.

To follow are a group of pictures of what I call ornament in the winter landscape. They that tell a story far better than I ever could. I rarely have cause to visit a client’s landscape in the winter. But when I go, I am struck by how garden ornament can improve, organize and energize the look of a landscape gone dormant.

A container, and an arrangement to go with for winter, can provide a focal point for the landscape that might be more welcome and more striking than that same container planted for summer. The winter season can be a good gardening season. It just asks for more. I would not want to be gardening in any other place than where I am gardening. Even in the winter.

Window boxes mounted outside a sun room, and dressed for winter.

a  terrace in winter

a Branch fountain in winter

a bench and pots in the winter season

birdbath in winter

sculpture in the winter landscape

urn dressed for winter

bench with snow pillow

winter containers loaded with snow

pots dressed for winter with a dusting of snow

Ornament in the winter landscape can be supremely satisfying. I was right behind Milo this winter day. We both liked what was there to see.

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