A New Landscape In Detroit

Our garden cruise July 17 raised $14,470.00 for the Greening of Detroit. Nine years of tours means we have raised $107,500.00 in support of their mission; I could not be more pleased about that. One of the landscapes and gardens on tour this year is a project we have been working on for several years. It was finished just days before this year’s tour. My clients support and identify with The Greening-who has had their eye on the reforestation of Detroit, sponsorship of urban farms, and education regarding the environment since the mid eighties. I should preface my remarks about their landscape design with a few more words about my clients. They purchased this house built in the 1920’s with their eyes wide open about what would be required to restore the house and the grounds. It has taken some time, but they stuck with it start to finish. I admire this about them. They are young people, with loads of energy, and a commitment to the city of Detroit.  Their neighborhood, known as Palmer Woods, is on the north side of the city. A raft of old homes built in the early part of the century are now owned, prized, and looked after by a diverse group of people who love the old homes and graciously sized properties. They are a group of people whom I greatly respect.

DSC_7533I did post about the installation of their driveway some time ago. Should you be interested in that earlier post, type  A New Gravel Driveway  into the search line. It was difficult to convince them to install a drive court in front of the house.  They were concerned it would take up too much room. That it would be the beginning and the end of the front yard landscape. I was not concerned about this, but explaining to a landscape client what drives your design is part of the process.  It is a long way to walk from the street to the front door. The driveway to the the rear is narrow, and is only useful as a way to get to the garage. My clients have lots of friends, and entertain regularly. The front yard was large enough to take a house side parking area.  I know they like it now, as they and their guests are using it. The landscape from the street side does a great job of screening that drive court from the road, without obstructing the view to their beautiful home.  The shape of the bed mimics the shape of the parking area, which features a long shallow curve in the middle. The curve is planted with dwarf red barberry on the street side, and allium “Millenium” on the inside. This is my first time ever specifying dwarf red barberry. The color perfectly responds to the color of the brick on the house. At a maximum height of 24″, they endow the view of the front of the house. That barberry atropurpurea nana traverses the front yard from the north drive to the south drive. The lawn area on the street side is just that-lots of lawn, punctuated by a pair of katsura trees.

DSC_7624The interior of the drive court reveals what the street view conceals.  There is ample space for parking to the left. To the right, a driveway that makes it possible to to drop off guests or packages at the front door, or continue on to the right, and through the port cochere, to the garage.

RR the finish 2016 (3)The front facade of the house is anything but symmetrical. The oversized front walk centers the view on the front door. At the out skirts of that walk, a quartet of Jackie boxes made by the Branch Studio further emphasize the entrance. The treatment of the front door organizes the space. The red and lime color scheme-a request from my clients.

RR the finish 2016 (2)The landscape near the house is largely handled by big blocks of boxwood, and an outside frame of Nova yews. The dwarf and feathery Allium senescens is planted on the front edge of a pair of gorgeous classically styled concrete benches, while blocks of allium Millenium frame them on either side. Allium Millenium is a carefree perennial with gorgeous foliage all season long that deserves a spot in any perennial garden. The massive planter in the side yard is planted with an equally massive banana. That banana is all the more striking, in textural contrast to the hedge of DeGroot Spire arborvitae planted behind it on the north side lot line.

RR the finish 2016 (4)The gravel driveway that goes under the port cochere to the garage switches to concrete aggregate, in the back of the house.  Going in and out of a garage, and the walk from the garage to the house asks for a material that can withstand lots of backing up, and moving forward, traffic, and snow removal. Concrete aggregate is a favorite material used in concert with contemporary homes, but it is equally friendly with homes of great age. It has the look of gravel, with the serviceability of concrete.

RR the finish 2016 (5)A new brick wall separates the garage, and the coming and goings of several vehicles, from the back yard. Any landscape design needs to address the need, while treasuring the look. This is not always so easy. It is important that the landscape be just as functional as it is beautiful. The back yard is screened from the garage and pavement by a substantial brick wall. That brick wall was original to the house, and in great disrepair when my clients signed their purchase agreement.  Given that the wall would have to be rebuilt, we changed its contours to fit the new landscape.

RR the finish 2016 (6)My client was about to install a small rectangular terrace off the back of the house.  I asked that they consider another idea. I suggested that they go big and wide with the rear terrace-a substantial terrace that would not only include the entrance and exit from the kitchen, but also a way to access the screened porch. I am happy that they went wide. A generous gesture in the landscape always gets noticed, and appreciated.

RR the finish 2016 (7)This is the first round swimming pool I have ever designed. It seemed right for the space. At 20 feet in diameter, it would not overly dominate the landscape. The ground rose naturally from the house to the rear lot line. The yard is formally terraced into two levels by the pool, and stairs on either side. The garden behind the pergola sweeps around to the right, and falls naturally on a gentle slope to the grade set by the house. This past year was all about the design and fabrication of the wall, pool, pergola, spa, and the house and pool terraces. Late last fall, a hedge of American arborvitae were planted on the rear lot line. Buck and his group at Branch fabricated the pergola you see in the distance.

RR the finish 2016 (8)The rear of the pool deck is spacious enough for lounges. The circular center area under the roof is large enough for a table and chairs. The floor of the pergola is gravel. This made it easy to plant clematis on the front poles, and grapes at the back.  The lattice panels on the pergola provide another layer of privacy. My client chose the location for the pair of pots planted with hydrangeas on standard. Next year, the hydrangeas planted in front of the arborvitae, and behind the pergola will make a strong visual relationship to the hydrangeas in pots.  We will plant them in the ground for the winter season.

RR the finish 2016 (14)All of the furniture was chosen by my clients, as was the chandelier.

RR the finish 2016 (9)the view from the screened porch door

RR the finish 2016 (19)raised planters for vegetables and herbs

RR the finish 2016 (16)the view from the pool terrace to the house

RR the finish 2016 (17) dining table and chairs outside the screened porch

RR the finish 2016 (20)sweet autumn clematis on the pergola

RR the finish 2016 (21)The view from shade garden towards the front yard

RR the finish 2016 (1)the view to the street

2016 garden cruise (3)This could be my favorite feature of the landscape.  The stone contractor created this walkway to the back yard from limestone and brick original to the house.  I call it the history walk. Every time I see it, I am reminded of how much my clients did to restore and preserve this historic building, and add themselves to that mix.













A Change Of Grade

GROUND LEVEL (1)Up and down is a concept that seems simple. Understanding what it takes to go uphill or downhill in a landscape is not so obvious, or simple. Rest assured that your instinct that level ground is stable,  usable, and easy to negotiate is correct. Some hilly or steep properties ask for several flat levels, with a transition moment, or steps, that remake and divide a steep slope into several flat levels.  Are you with me? Some steep slopes at the angle of repose can be fine, as long as you have no plan to walk them. Steep slopes that are landscapes are meant to be viewed, not meant as a venue for a party. What is the angle of repose?  That angle at which the soil, and the landscape is stable. Terraces, and other places where people gather are usually designed and set flat with the horizon. My deck is a flat space one step down from the grade set by the floor of my house. When I am standing on my deck, I am looking down on my pots, as my eye level is 5′ 6″ above the floor of the deck.

GROUND LEVEL (11)The experience of the deck is different for Milo. He could not be taller 24 or 30″. Buck made stands for my terra cotta rectangles, so that when we are sitting on the deck, those pots are at eye level. Milo and Howard can walk under these pots-if you look close, you can see that Howard is in his summer house.

GROUND LEVEL (8)All of these pictures of him were taken standing in the back yard, with my IPhone resting on the floor of the deck. He was up. I was down-at eye level with his feet.

The fountain garden level is 7 steps down from my deck. As an average step is 7″ high, that means the deck floor is 49 inches higher that ground level.
a change of gradeSeveral stone walls enclose that deck. The deck is supported by wood posts that are sunk into the ground, and back filled with concrete. The underside of a deck is not all that attractive, nor is it easy to grow anything in a spot that has not natural light whatsoever. My stone walls conceal the under side of the deck, and are not load bearing. A single wall that high would need a 42″ deep footing or foundation underneath it to keep it upright despite upheaval from frost.  Splitting the wall into two, one narrower than the other, means a full foundation is not necessary.

GROUND LEVEL (12)No one could possibly enjoy the high places in my yard better than Milo. He is able to keep track of who is passing by on the street.  He is better able to spot the squirrels in the trees. He can watch me, if I am in the driveway watering. Running up and down the steps is an activity he enjoys. He goes down the stairs to the fountain garden, and up a similar flight of stairs to the side garden. All those changes of grade keep him very busy.

GROUND LEVEL (9)Changes of grade in a landscape can provide a lot of visual interest, in addition to the physical interest. Driving through Iowa, or looking out over the ocean, is a very different experience than driving through the Rockies. Flat properties are easier to navigate; hilly properties involve lots of  transitional steps or slopes. A great landscape design can do a great job of creating different visual levels with plants. Annabelle hydrangeas are great planted on top of a wall.  How they fall over and weep is beautiful against a wall. How they flop in a garden-not so pretty.

GROUND LEVEL (10)This corgi eye view of the landscape does a great job of explaining how the level at which any landscape element is viewed is critical to the design. It is clear my garden was not designed for him.  This also shows how important it is to determine what will be at eye level before planting. Will my view be obstructed, or will my view be private?  Or can a view be the combination of open and closed?

GROUND LEVEL (2)Milo frequently sits on this wall.  He likes being able to see further. A low stone retaining wall like this one can organize a garden by means of its structure, but can also provide a place to sit. This is a way for me to appreciate the lower level of this garden, as well as the standing level.

GROUND LEVEL (4)I have a second level deck that is 4 steps above the main deck. I call it the Romeo and Juliet balcony.  It is the highest place to sit in the yard. It is 10.5 feet above the driveway level, and 7.5 feet above the fountain level. I have to come up 3 sets of steps to get here from the driveway. Multiple levels like this makes my very small garden seem larger.  The view is different from every level, and additionally different if I am standing or sitting on a given level.

GROUND LEVEL (5)There are times when the long view is a good one. Just ask Milo.







Making An Entrance

the front porch (5)There have been times when I was concerned about making an entrance. The opening party for Detroit Garden Works in March of 1996 – I fretted for weeks about my outfit and shoes. Would my choices be good enough for that entry? Momentary or event driven entrances are just that-momentary. I am sure the only person who remembers what I wore to that event is me. Shortly thereafter, Rob and I sped downtown after work to make the opening curtain of La Boheme. I had 40 minutes to trade my jeans and dirty boots for a silk top, skirt, and high heels. Rob drove his heart out-we were downtown in 22 minutes. He made his entrance in his own inimitable style. We fit in with all the other opera goers in floor length gowns and tuxedos. We were just as fine with young people dressed in their innovative and alternative versions of making an entrance. A regular client did not recognize me; I had to introduce my dressed up self. That was great fun-a theater full of people making an entrance.

Creating a proper entrance to a home is both an architectural and landscape event.  This gorgeous Georgian colonial house that belonged to a client of mine has the most amazing brick entrance. All of that generously styled brick work, on multiple levels, makes for a grand entrance. It is a walkway, a set of steps, lighting, and a retaining wall –  all rolled into one. Is this the entrance of everyone’s dreams? No. This entrance is appropriate to the architecture, period, and scale of this particular house, and the representation of the taste of a particular person. What works for your house will be particular to you.

the front porch (3) No matter the architecture, an entrance that celebrates a front door should be wide and generous. Some of the reasons why are utilitarian.  No guest or UPS delivery person should have to guess the location of the front door. A front walk and porch should be able to accommodate two people approaching, side by side. Single file implies the need to be be in line. No guest should ever have to get in line to get to your front door. A porch and walk should be scaled to embrace a front door with room to spare. Other issues are aesthetic.  An ample walkway and wide porch visually celebrates an entrance. A well done entrance feels gracious and welcoming.

the front porch (8)This gorgeous home built in the 1920’s has a beautiful front door, and limestone surround.  The landing repeats the shape of the door, laid down on the ground. The size of the landing helps to make a front door placed in a corner feel more spacious. A pair of cap yews-one planted in the gravel drive court, and the other in a shrub border, frame the view to the door.

the front porch (2)This client has a brick porch too narrow for the entrance.  If you look closely, you can see that we added brick wings on either side.  Those wings are now home to a pair of generously sized pots that celebrate this entrance.

the front porch (12)This entrance was properly wide of the front door, but left a pair of awkward alcoves on either side. The porch and step railings further isolated those alcoves from the presentation of the door.  I specified very tall Belgian wood planter boxes in an effort to make those alcoves feel more a part of the entrance. The boxes filled those awkward spaces with something substantive. The boxes were always difficult to plant, as the only way to get to the back of the box was to jump over the railing.    the front porch (9)When the driveway needed replacing, I advised my clients to extend the porch and steps to the full width available. And I also suggested that they make the steps deeper, which would make it easier to navigate the steps without a railing. They did as I suggested. This new entrance is less complicated and more spacious. Their Halloween party for their young daughter and her classmates was a big hit. We had lots of space at the entrance to express the season.

the front porchAnother client had an entrance with a porch of proper dimension, but the landscape obstructed the view.

the front porch (6)We moved all of the tall shrubs away from the porch. This made it possible to see the pots, and the plinths they sit on, from a distance.

the front porch (7)This porch is perfectly wide of this front door. The large rocks were moved to either side. It took a change in the landscape to make the entrance more appealing.

the front porch (11)This client has steps up, and a porch that is very narrow. Imagine a porch that goes wide of the pediment and pillars.  The pots planted with boxwood would be effective placed to the outside of the pillars, and in front of the large area of white siding. Adding a third element to the pairs of windows on either side of the door would draw more visual attention to the entrance. A larger porch and steps would permit the second set of pots to be offset from the boxwood pots, so all 4 pots could be viewed separately. I did discuss this with the client some years ago. Redoing a porch and steps is a major undertaking, and we had just finished a sizeable landscape project for her.  The time was not right. A simpler alternative would be to place the boxwood boxes off the porch, on a pair of pedestals the same height as the boxwood.

the front porch (10)The clients who own this home have completely redone the landscape. Lacking the architectural interest of a porch and steps, the plan included a very large entrance landing.  The size of it permitted the placement of 4 Branch Jackie boxes with red mandevilleas to the outside of the door and light fixtures. Lovely, this.









Early June

June (10)As much as I treasure the spring season, early June is a garden moment like no other.  Every tree and shrub is in full leaf, and growing apace. Just about every perennial is not only growing, they are making plans to bloom. Even my hardy hibiscus show signs of stirring. The garden is action packed. The Princeton Gold maples against a a stormy sky last night-spectacular. Those trees dominate my landscape in June, as you can see. One would never know there are houses just past those trees.  Just this year, the last of the electrical pole in the corner that services 3 other houses besides mine and its overhead wires have disappeared from view.

June (5)My landscape is not one bit fancy, although it is grown up. It is an urban American garden to my liking on a very small parcel of land. It is simple in design, so if it gets neglected when I am busy, order can be restored in a day or two. I like the orderly part of my landscape, as I find that order relaxing. The best part of coming home at the end of a busy day is having nothing to do in the garden.

June (8)What I will plant around the fountain this year is the subject of much internal debate. I can only ask Buck to talk to me about it so many times, and I have already gone over the limit. What is that plant that will like the sun at one end, and tolerate the shade at the other?  It has to suffer the indignity of the dogs wading through it. And the over spray from the fountain jets on a windy day. I solved one chronic problem this spring. I had the irrigation system enlarged to include this area. No more dragging the hose down there from the deck on a 90 degree August day. I tried isotoma fluvialitis, but it was not hardy for me.  I did get 3 years from both herniaria, and scotch moss.

the beginning of June (8)I have yet to do one thing in this garden, and it doesn’t show – but for the dirt around the fountain. The month of June is the busiest of my year. This year is exceptionally busy. Several landscape projects are in process, in addition to the summer plantings. The fact that all I have to do when I get home is look around is a relief.

the beginning of June (10)I have not planted my pots yet, but I have plenty enough going on to keep my eyes occupied. I will try to have them planted by June 15.  Annual and tropical plants going into soil that is thoroughly warmed up will take hold and grow with little in the way of transplant shock. To follow are more pictures of my early June garden, without much commentary. I need to go attend to someone else’s garden right now.

the beginning of June (1)

the beginning of June (2)The Palibin lilacs are beautiful this year.  I have a pair on standard that have to be close to 30 years old.

the spring garden (13)Picea abies

the beginning of June (3)maple leaves and boxwood

June (6)landscape in early June

June (4)The driveway pots are ready to plant. Do I know what I will plant?  No. But deciding what to plant is more than half the fun of it.

June (3)the stairs to the kitchen door

June (2)Sum and Substance hosta under a parrotia.June (7)The pots in front are ready to plant. I will get to the weeds in the gravel sometime soon.

the beginning of June (5)I have a June landscape, not so much a garden garden. I like a vase of cut flowers in my garden in June as often as possible. I don’t want to miss out on anything.