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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At A Glance: More On The News From Branch

The Stuart garden dining table was so many years in the making. To see that table in production is a dream come true. I am a designer, first and foremost. To see a design come together and get built is what keeps me designing.

I am very lucky to have a steady stream of clients asking for landscape design. Everyone who approaches me for design is individual-and different. I appreciate that. My landscape design firm is very busy. But the years I have spent designing this garden dining table came from a different part of my design heart. So happy that Branch is ready to ship.

Ipe foot detail on the Stuart garden table

Stuart table top detail

Stuart table base detail

Stuart tables

Buck’s first bar edge rendition of the Stuart table, 2005

First 21 foot long Stuart table in place, 2006

The Barry tapers

The interior of the barry tapers

The square Barry tapers

The leg and flange detail on the square Barry tapers

The rim detail on the round Barry and square Barry tapers

the metro pots

the metro pot interior top rim helps keep the steel sides straight during the galvanizing process.

the interior of the metro pot.  The holes in the corners are required by the galvanizing plant, so zinc does not get trapped under this rim.

the basin (58″ top diameter)  and bowl (40″ top diameter)

exterior detail on the bowl

bowl interior

the square Hudson tapersthe square tapered Hudson pot bottom is comprised of 2 loose plates that sit on a rim. This helps the molten zinc to drain off the pot quickly. And it helps to insure that water drains away just as quickly.

The Dean pots

The Dean elliptical fountain

the brake form fountain

custom table and benches

Buck designed and fabricated these lattice strap steel spheres from an idea he had-no drawing. He tried to explain to me what a classic lattice pattern would look like in 3 dimensions – to no avail. Now I see. They have been a mainstay of our collection for a good many years. I am pleased to see these spheres have some contemporary style company. We are installing a pair of custom made and very contemporary planter boxes from Branch this morning-more on that later.

 

 

 

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The Stuart Garden Dining Table

Though I have not posted in a good while about the Branch Studio, their work has been newsworthy. Every week they are shipping out stock and custom made steel ornament for the garden. It has been an incredibly busy season so far for them. Stock? Branch manufactures a stock line of garden boxes, pergolas, and fountains in a variety of sizes. Should you be interested to see what the Branch Studio makes and tries to keep in stock, Branch has its own section on the Detroit Garden Works website: The Branch Studio  The design of most of our garden boxes, pergolas and fountains represents our modern version of classic European garden ornament. I am pleased to say that I think that my small midwestern factory is producing some of the most gorgeous and beautifully made planter boxes, pergolas and fountains for the garden being made and available for sale in our country. Just my opinion!  I spent a good year researching garden boxes, many of which were fabricated from cast iron, wood, and lead. I spent another year building boxes and revising the sizes and proportions.  Buck took the lead engineering the most efficient weather and wear proof construction. What Branch fabricates is the result of a lot of what is commonly known as research and development. Even now, it amazes me how much time and effort gets swallowed up by that phase. Branch is about to release a product line featuring more contemporary containers, and the Stuart dining table.  The initial idea for this table was generated over 20 years ago. Don Taylor, an old school artisan/craftsman, was hard at work redoing my kitchen. I wanted a long, thin, and tall island table – on wood wheels, just for fun. My only request was an under structure for that table that would look like an arch bridge, or aqueduct. He was happy to oblige. That pine table on wood wheels has been in my kitchen, and in the back of my mind for better than 20 years.

When Branch first opened, our primary fabrication was concrete faux bois. Faux bois, translated from the French as “false wood”, is an ancient art in which garden ornament and pots are fabricated from concrete formed and carved to look like wood. Troy made this faux bois birch sideboard at Branch 7 years ago. I sketched the design for him which included a bridge arch underneath. Though we eventually gave up fabricating in concrete for steel, I still treasure this early Branch piece. I could be my favorite detail is how Troy made the log legs look like they had been whittled down at the ends. That graceful detail would resurface in the Stuart table.  Buck made early incarnations of the Stuart table by special order. And he built a prototype for our deck. His very important contribution to the design is what he calls a bar edge. The frame of the top of the Stuart table angles down. That angle is really friendly to elbows. This detail creates a profile that is thin, spare, and elegant. My interest in designing a contemporary dining table for the garden was a product of my research into what was available. Traditional tables are available in lots of sizes and configurations.  But what if you have an interest in a contemporary outdoor dining table?

Both the Stuart table top and feet are fabricated from Ipe. Ipe, commonly known as ironwood or Brazilian walnut, is four times denser than teak. It is so dense, it sinks in water. It has the same fire rating as concrete and steel. It is just about too is too dense to catch fire. That density makes this wood very hard to mill, plane or cut. But it makes it just about the most indestructible and desirable wood to use outdoors. Ipe decking has been available for a number of years. But we thought to use this incredibly hard and rot resistant wood in our handmade garden dining tables.  Pictured above, our contemporary version of the whittled birch log legs at the bottom of a faux bois piece we fabricated 10 years ago. The upper portion of the foot would be inserted into to each table leg.

During the prototype fabrication phase, Buck brought this steel Stuart table leg with an Ipe foot home for me to see. Oh yes. I really liked it. I had a specific request that that the top boards have spaces in between them, so rain water would drain off quickly.

The Stuart table is named after Buck – his middle name, that is. His bar edge is a beautiful feature of this table, is it not? He stuck by me throughout the conversation and noise that marked the design phase. And he went on to engineer the construction of the table. The base is more than adequate to support the considerable weight of the Ipe top. Best of all, this table is able to withstand anything the weather might dish out, both summer and winter.

Every Stuart table manufactured at Branch is hand made.

Stuart table top under construction

table bases

The steel and ipe leg assembly is handsome and sturdy.

We make the table in 3 stock sizes – 7′, 8′, and 10′ long. It took 4 men and a front end loader to stack them up for this photograph. The three tables together weigh just shy of 1000 pounds. Rugged, I’d say.

Left to its own devices outdoors, the wood will weather to a gorgeous silvery gray.

Another special feature of this table is the generous overhang at the ends. The persons sitting at each end will have plenty enough room for their legs and feet. Branch is able to make custom versions of this table.  Last week we finished a 9′ table with accommodation in the center and a specially constructed base for a garden umbrella. Finished yesterday was a version in which the slanted bar edge was flipped up side down, adding more flat space to the table surface. Another client placed this table on her enclosed porch.

Interested in the particulars?     The Stuart garden dining table

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