Our 2016 Garden Cruise is today from 9-4:30. The weather looks like it will be perfect. Partly cloudy, and 84. A last minute decision to take the tour is easy to arrange. Call Detroit Garden Works at 248 335 8089. We can take your credit card info, and email you the ticket and map. Just like that.
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.
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.
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.
Several 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
The Fourth of July is one of my favorite holidays. I like the story of how America came to be independent. I like anyone who has a mind to think and act independently. I like even more that I live in a culture that places a premium on freedom. That freedom came and continues to come with a very big price. I so respect any person who contributes to what it takes to let freedom ring. Today I am thinking about those people who valued independence and freedom above all. The 4th of July is a holiday that celebrates the best of what Americans can be. There is always a lot of impassioned discussion about what constitutes the best we can be. I like any idea delivered with passion and conviction. Bring it on-I am listening. What did I do over the celebration of this 4th? I spent a lot of time thinking about how lucky I am to live in America. I went to the shop at 7am to feed the dogs, and check on MCat. Once Rob arrived to water the plants at the shop, I knew I could go home with no worries. I came home. Buck and I had lunch on the deck at noon.. Home with family is good.
I weeded, dead headed, watered, and greatly enjoyed being outdoors at home. I took pictures. I rarely have a chance to be home during the day-I so enjoyed this. The corgis despise the booms from fireworks. I have one hand on them, and the rest of me thinking about how great it is to be home, and to be free.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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 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.