There are times when color is the most important element of a landscape design. This building, circa 1880, had become home to a well known and cutting edge advertising firm-Harris Marketing. Any commercial client in the design business is keen that the landscape reflect as much attention to design as possible. What you see outside is a visual reflection of what goes on inside. In this case, the architecture and materials of the building itself made the color issue a very important design issue.
Though the building was large, and several stories high, there was very little land on which to landscape. The building facade was comprised of brick of an astonishingly bright orange color, and stone. In addition, the right of way space was paved in orange brick. Any successful landscape design would need to address that color in a thoughtful way, and then create visual interest in a very tight space. My first decision was to choose one plant element that would represent that brick color-a Crimson Sentry maple. Since the right of way locusts were planted at regular intervals, and framed in brick, I planted a row of these columnar red/orange/brown leaved maples in the spaces between the locusts-this visually added the right of way trees, and the land in which they were planted, to my landscape design.
I rarely plant dark foliaged trees, as the color can be hard to work with, and muddy at any distance. This siting places these maples close to the viewers eye, backed up by that bright orange brick; the color of those leaves worked well. Large bottomless planter boxes made from corten steel served a dual purpose. The eventual orange brown of the steel would make my color references stronger. They also permitted me to make a grade change in a small space. They made a 3-D representation of the brick borders around the locust trees. This unexpected element catches the eye.
I planned to plant hydrangeas in the boxes, and Sum and Substance hostas in the ground. The greenish white flowers of the hydrangeas, and the lime green foliage of the hostas would contrast with those orange brown leaves in a sparkly way. We lined the planter boxes with sheet insulation; once the ground would freeze in the boxes, I wanted it to stay frozen. Too much freezing and thawing might hinder my chances for success with hydrangeas, whose roots would be above grade.
Making this long run in several boxes dramatically reduced the fabrication cost, and made transport much easier. The boxes and hydrangeas would also screen the basement level windows, and window air conditioners from view. Old buildings like this one a very difficult to adapt to modern air conditioning. This fact did not need to be part of the public presentation of the building.
A stripe of PJM rhododendron unexpectedly repeats the maple leaf color. I think it is a good idea to be clear in executing what you are trying to achieve. There would be no opportunity to explain to passersby what I meant. If I need to explain the intent of a design, I need to rethink the design.
It would take some time for that corten steel to orange up. Corten steel only rusts to a certain point, and then becomes stable. Once the hydrangeas matured, they completely screened the lower floor windows. Though I would not ordinarily block light to the interior of a building, there were security issues that my client decided were more important.
The finished landscape has a beat. A lively rhythm, and attention to the color relationships established by the building and environment attracts attention-any business hopes for this. I would have been happier for more evergreens given our climate, but my client reasoned that few people would be walking by in the winter. The orangy brown boxes would make a statement to people driving by. Any strong geometric statement would attract the kind of attention they were looking for.
When this project was finished, I realized the white Annabelle flowers would make much of the white trim around the windows. I have yet to have a project that did not speak back to me when it was finished about something I had not considered. I like this about what I do.