A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats

pool and landscapeI don’t recall the topic under discussion, but at one point Buck said to me, “Well you know, a rising tide lifts all boats”.  That got my attention, as I had never head this expression before. From Wikipedia, ” The aphorism “a rising tide lifts all boats” is associated with the idea that improvements in the general economy will benefit all participants in that economy.”  Though this saying is usually associated with economic theory, I do not see why it could not be applied to a variety of other topics – like the landscape design process. It seems almost too obvious to say, but I will say it anyway. To my mind, the most striking change in perception and knowledge about the landscape over the past 20 or more years has been fueled by the availability of information – both of the written and visual sort. Thirty years ago, even the most well travelled clients were not necessarily aware of the history or current practice of landscape design. Or what materials and plants were available. Their focus was on their lives. They had me, as my focus was on their landscape. Of course there is no substitute for personal experience, but it requires almost no effort to see pictures and read about landscapes both historic and contemporary, in other parts of our own country, and in other countries. Information and pictures are readily available. It is just as easy to research materials and ornament for the landscape. We completed the landscape pictured above early in 2013. We still work there, doing the seasonal plantings. A few months ago she gave me a photograph she had seen in a magazine of a landscape feature predicated on a pair of parallel hedges of arborvitae, and asked how I felt about a similar feature at the far end of her pool. I thought it was a great idea. We left the space behind the chaises open, in case there were ever a reason to tent the space for a party. After living with the landscape for 3 years, my client was interested in a more finished gesture, and she had a way to explain to me how she would like to see it finished.

arborvitae Emerald Green (7)Is it unusual for a client to suggest a change or addition to a landscape? It may have been so years ago, but not now. A client who is interested in a shade tree, an arbor, a bird feeder, a swimming pool, terrace furniture, a vegetable garden, a fountain, a hedge, a certain architectural style or a perennial garden has most likely done some research on the topic. A picture or article that explains or illustrates what appeals to them gets their idea across clearly. No one installs a landscape hoping it will satisfy. Everyone wants to feel some measure of confidence that they will like the results of a landscape project. I might do research of my own for images that illustrate a landscape concept I am trying to explain to a client.

arborvitae Emerald Green (3)The 2 parallel hedges are set 7 feet apart.  The opening in the front hedge is 10 feet wide. After seeing this, my client decided she wanted the opening a little smaller.  We will add two more Emerald Green arborvitae in the front row.

arborvitae Emerald Green (4)The planting of these 23 arborvitae will provide structure to a space. It will take several years for the plants to grow together, and act like walls.  I am quite sure we will trim the tops parallel to the horizon. What comes next will be determined when this part is finished. Whether there is a large planter, or benches or a fountain-I have no idea, nor do I need to know right now. For sure there are no end of options for consideration. The rising tide of available information means that any project can be lifted up. More personal.  better.

arborvitae Emerald Green (6)A recent landscape consultation involved a discussion of a fountain which would be a focal point in the landscape.  My client wanted me to tell her what options were available. I could easily provide scores of fountain options that would be properly proportioned to the space, and amiable to the architecture. But having only met her once, I might not be able to find that one fountain that would greatly appeal to her. I told her she needed to put her boat in the water. I gave her a list of possible search phrases, to which she could add her own. Once she could show me pictures of fountains, or fountain shapes or styles that appealed to her, I would be better able to help her select one.

arborvitae Emerald GreenFor those clients who have looked at too many pictures, or read too many articles, a designer can be useful as an editor. Too many choices can be paralyzing, and just as bad a situation as having no choice.  I like to advise, to a point. Any client who is instrumental in making decisions about their landscape takes ownership of it more readily. This is why I think designers (myself included) have such a hard time making decisions about their own landscapes. Too much exposure to too many options can bring a decision making process to a standstill. If you only have room for one tree, and there are 20 that could be beautiful, how do you make a choice? What do you need most from the tree? shade? flowers and fruit? screening?  That should narrow your list of 20. Most places have state parks, arboretums, botanic gardens and public gardens of one sort or another where anyone can see trees in person. Or you could look at each tree on google images, and compare.  On the Missouri Botanic Garden website, go to   the Plant finder

arborvitae Emerald Green (2)We’ll see what comes next.

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A New Gravel Driveway

landscape under construction (8)I admire people who buy old homes, and sign up for all that it will take to renovate them. That is a huge commitment in every regard. An undertaking such as this demands lots of time and even more patience. I cannot imagine the expense. This gorgeous English Tudor style home is 95 years old. Very old homes like this one are remarkably sturdy and well built. I own a house built in 1930, and I can attest to how rock solid it is. I can barely drill a hole in my steel mesh reinforced plaster to hang a picture. That plaster and brick set over concrete block walls means that my house is incredibly quiet and structurally sound. This home features a virtually indestructible brick fired from a clay body featuring a big mineral content – manufactured with the idea of longevity and service in mind.  A good bit of the trim is hand carved limestone, all of which is excellent condition. The new roof is slate; slate roofs last just about forever. But great age exacts a toll on the working parts of an old house. Every house is a small city. It needs electricity, heat, air conditioning, weather tight windows, plumbing – this is a short and not comprehensive list. What got updated here is just about everything, and took a year and a half to accomplish. A kitchen and bathrooms that worked well in 1920 were reworked from the ground up. The interior renovation of this house is finished, and is finished beautifully.

a new driveway (1)My client’s interior designers introduced me to them and their property.  Eventually they would turn their efforts towards the landscape. Last year’s landscape efforts were concentrated on a pool, terracing, a spa, and an astonishing pergola built and installed by the Branch Studio. Screening trees, and a large collection of small spring flowering bulbs got planted late in the fall. This year, we hope to plant the front, side, and rear yard landscape. The property had been neglected for decades. The gravel driveway, all but invisible under a thatch of compost and weeds, was lined in concrete curbing that went 24 inches below grade.  A number of trees grew up, and spent decades thriving. Many of those trees were now were in serious decline.  Disease and fierce weather had taken their toll. The roots had grown over the curb, reducing the width of the drive to just over 8 feet.  A new driveway design and installation would need be the first part of the installation of the landscape.

a new driveway (13)Once the front yard landscape was agreed upon, there was a lot of work to do. Once the dying and diseased trees came down, the stumps were loaded into a 30 yard dumpster – almost 12 tons worth. That is a staggering number, and it explains why so many large machines are parked in the front yard. Taking apart an old landscape and driveway is a shocking experience, but bare dirt that is asking to be regraded is a big breath of fresh air. It is never an easy thing to abandon what was, and go on.

a new driveway (12)Once the drive curbs and the trees were removed, the ground had to be graded.  In this case, there was quite a bit of what I call balancing to do.  The land which was high on one side was lowered, and the low side needed to come up.  From the street, the land would look balanced, left to right.

a new driveway (4)The grade of the driveway would determine the final grade of all of the land surrounding it. A large motor court some 56′ feet wide by 32′ deep would be a dominant feature of the landscape. This would permit off street parking for clients who entertain regularly. But most importantly, a gravel drive and motor court seems appropriate for a house of this age and architecture. It interests me that many very old homes with motor courts were built before the advent of motor traffic. It can be a beautiful feature in and of itself. The accompanying landscape would in a simple way feature the house and gravel court.

a new driveway (2)In many respects a gravel drive is simpler and somewhat less expensive to install than concrete, asphalt, or stone.  One of the biggest expenses is the cost of the edging. The gravel must be contained.  A hard boundary is what keeps the gravel in place.  Gravel that has crept away from its intended location can look great in a very informal setting. It would look messy and untended in a house of this architectural formality.

a new driveway (3)
Both the drive and motor court are edged in 1/4″ thick steel.  That steel edges is secured by steel stakes that are driven into the ground through steel loops welded to the back of the edging. The steel has to be this thick to withstand repeated vehicular traffic, and stay in place.

a new driveway (6)The gravel motor court will be bordered in concrete paver brick, three bricks deep.  The border will help to visually reduce the size of the gravel area. It will also recall the brick on the house. This brick will be dry laid between parallel bands of steel edging.  Concrete brick can better withstand compression weight of a vehicle. Pictured above is a base layer of compacted road gravel.  The finished crushed stone will be added at the very last, at the height you see indicated by the top of the steel edging.
a new driveway (5)A large new blue stone front walk will make beautifully clear the location of the front door. The house is not symmetrical in its footprint.  The walk which is large enough to feel like a terrace is a centering gesture. There is plenty of room for containers out away from the front door. This exterior entry way echoes the scale of the spacious foyer just inside.

a new driveway (9)An important element of designing any driveway is to check if it is driveable.  My clients drove it a number of times when the scheme was painted on the ground. One little but significant change was made to help anyone backing down the drive stay in the lane. A driveway that doesn’t work well always shows where that pinch point is. Curves and changes of direction need to be gradual and sweeping.

gravel drivewayThe drive at the back will be installed as concrete aggregate, rather than compacted gravel. This will make it easy to shovel a path from the detached garage to the back door. The forms are being set for this portion of the drive. An iron fence and gate appropriate to the architecture is to come soon.

a new gravel driveway (3)The bed lines near the gate to the back yard were specifically set to allow my clients to back out of the garage, and turn around.

a new gravel driveway (2)As of late yesterday, the finish gravel has been put down in the motor court. The concrete brick is due to come in today.

a new gravel driveway (1)At the last of the day, a pair of 25 foot multitrunked katsura trees were added to frame the view of the house from the road. The landscape will be underway shortly.

 

Part 2: The Landscape

October 31 2015 022The previous owners of this property had done some work on the landscape. Notable were the evergreens planted one after another, in zig zag rows, on the long sides of the lot. I understand the need to create privacy, but that can be accomplished in a number of ways, not all of which involve a wall. The problem with rows of screening trees on a narrow lot is that they can make the property feel boxed in. There is no opportunity to borrow beautiful views from the landscapes beyond that evergreen wall. This landscape would have to generate a sense of depth from these arbitrary edges in. A design beginning with the perimeter trees that would move in varying degrees towards the center of the property seemed appropriate. That center was the driveway, which curves multiple times before it reaches the house. The distance from the road to the house was considerable. I wanted to offer any guest a chance to slow down and enjoy the view. My client was interested in a park like landscape that would feature a group of unusual or specimen trees. We were in agreement about a landscape concept. We began by transplanting a group of maples that had been dotted along the drive to the street side of the property.

October 9, 2015 047From the driveway, this massed group of red maples will define the eastern front edge of the property in a non linear way.  The maple in the left  foreground of this picture was eventually moved into that grouping.  It will be replaced by one of a pair of large caliper London Plane trees to be planted this spring that will flank the driveway.  The stakes in the pachysandra indicate homes for three new Norway spruce.

November 21 2015 025The long driveway culminates in a drive court immediately adjacent to the house. I did opt for a more formal and contemporary landscape here. This is a very contemporary house that I felt would benefit from masses and architectural shapes created by just a few species of plants. I did detail in a post last fall the planting of 15 pinus flexilis “Vanderwolf’s” and 18 pinus flexilis “Joe Burke”. The flexible pines we planted to screen a large generator, and provide screening to a lot line that came within 6′ of the drive court. All of the large evergreens in this picture are on a neighboring property. Our plantings are all under 12 feet tall.  Generous numbers of boxwood “Green Gem, the columnar taxus “Nova”, and taxus cuspidata spreaders would fill out the landscape.

November 21 2015 019 The round center island was planted in spreading taxus capitata, 24″, 30″ and 36″ tall.  The tall yews were planted on the perimeter, and the shortest group in the center. The whirling rhythm of all of those descending taxus branches was all about sculpture. Standing on the porch, there is a view to the distant landscape.

December 5 2015 062 - CopyVery late this past December, I drove over to take a look. Standing at the gate, a sizable tricolor beech is central to the view.  The old and thinning Norway spruce to the right-I could not bring myself to take this old tree down. Big and old, and of considerable scale is beautiful. Plants with age so greatly endow any landscape. A landscape with old trees is weighted, and can anchor new plantings. I planted a row of tall and massive American arborvitae in a large curve behind that old spruce. This adds a lot of green weight to the old spruce at the ground level. While the driveway angles sharply to the right, this simple collection of plants holds the eye. The leading edge of another old Norway spruce in the right foreground of this picture directs the eye into the composition.

December 5 2015 063The view from inside the gate pleases me. The new drive swoops right, and then left.  From the gate, the presentation of the house is all about a suggestion posited by the roof lines. The house sits down in the landscape.To the right of the drive, a single large columnar sweet gum answers the more substantial planting on the opposite side. Visually successful driveways appear as though the garden came first, and the driveway second.

December 5 2015 060The American arborvitae were planted rather high, and the ground in front was graded down to a drain. This view to the house is circumspect. This grouping of trees provides interest in the mid ground space, and partially screens the upper portion of the property from the road.

mud and guts (25)Three of the big beech we planted are seen in this view. 2 on the right of the drive, and one on the left. The spruce in the center back of this picture were existing, as were the evergreens planted near the lot lines on both sides of the drive. Bringing the landscape closer to the drive in select spots creates visual interest.  The rolling of the ground down to the drive is equally as interesting.

mud and guts (24)Halfway up the drive, the house is still only partially within view.  The roof lines are low and wide. I greatly admire how the house was sited. This was an architect who gave as much thought to how the house would sit, as its architectural quality.

 

mud and guts (6)Near the house, the driveway forks.  Right, for service.  Left, for company. The large evergreens to the left in this picture belong to the neighbor.  Here, we are borrowing views from an adjacent property. The low dome of grass in the middle of this picture, and grass sloping gently to the center on either side, sets the stage for the drive court garden. A large European green beech was planted in from of a group of three spruce.

December 5 2015 059 - CopyOn the right side of the driveway, we added a fastigiate hornbeam, a large multi-trunked kousa dogwood, several columnar Norway spruce, and a columnar Colorado blue spruce. Barely visible behind the beech is a gingko. I rarely plant blue needled evergreens in the landscape, unless there is an opportunity for them to be viewed at a distance. Blue needles up close can be a little jarring. But there was plenty of blue, suggested by the drive, and the flexible pines.

December 5 2015 050 - CopyAt the top of the drive, we added 3 large Serbian spruce. In the middle, a blue needled columnar Colorado spruce.  At the far right in this picture, the bluest of the blue needled evergreens, a Canadian white concolor fir – abies concolor “candicans”. There is a second white fir, on the opposite side of the drive.

mud and guts (21)The view from the front door is all evergreen. This is Michigan.  We have as many winter months as we have growing months. The idea was to install a landscape that would look good every month of the year, and be relatively low maintenance.

mud and guts (22)the taxus capitata spreader vortex, in a frosty winter state

December 2015 278The walk from the garage to the drive court.

mud and guts (2)The masses of boxwood on either side of this walk from the drive court to the garage sink the walk down. It is not visible at all, coming up the drive. As this is a service walk, I preferred that it not be prominent in the landscape.

December 5 2015 043 - Copyview from the service walk towards the road

 

December 5 2015 028The hedge of Hicks yews were moved here from the front of the house. At the left end, a columnar mugho pine. The deciduous trees are katsura, and gingko.

December 5 2015 031the drive court

December 5 2015 025looking across the service drive

mud and guts (4)view from the service drive

mud and guts (7)The landscape views going down the drive are so much different than what is seen on the way up. Only one columnar sweet gum is part of the view going up.  Going down, it is possible to spot the other one on the right side of the drive. There was plenty to see, despite the winter.

 

 

Picture Taking, Garden Making

Sept 14, 2015 003I have been tinkering some with taking pictures with my new iphone 6. I am not very technically inclined, meaning I have always used a cell phone as a phone, and not much else. But this phone is capable of facilitating communications of all sorts, and in very sophisticated visual ways. The photo feature produces images that are amazingly sharp and detailed. Even at close range, in the hands of an older person.The fact that it is light, and fits in my pocket, means that there is no need to plan ahead. I am almost always ready, for anything that strikes my fancy.  Or that unexpected, interesting, or enchanting moment.

image6 (9)I just learned that I can edit my pictures.  I can change or rearrange the composition.  This means I can set the four edges of the photograph wherever I want. I can crop-as in blow up the image to the edges I have set, to eliminate all of those unnecessary visual details.  This is the heart and soul of editing. Keep what matters the most, feature what brings an idea to life visually in its simplest and most dramatic form, and discard what distracts. This crop feature makes that easy. Even when it is not so easy, this camera is a great tool by which to learn. A photograph is two-dimensional-flat. How the composition of that two dimensional picture is handled can create the illusion of great depth. Think of it.  This phone has a filter feature.  Any photograph can be overlaid with a number of different transparent color overlays-like acetate gels over a lens. This cropped photograph of succulents got overlaid with a color overlay called chroma. That overlay gives the greens in the picture picture a more intense blue/green cast.

image5 (11)This overlay is called noir. Whatever the color of the overlay, it turns the greens in the original photograph to black. Succulents in black and white-a very different point of view. An interesting point of view.

image7 (11)This overlay is called “instant”.  I have no idea what that means.  I chose it for this picture, as it enhanced the natural pale and muddy blue green of the lavender and the flapjack. The red edges of the flapjack are now a muted, muddy and moody terra cotta color. This overlay does not accurately depict the appearance of the plants the moment that I took the picture, but it accurately depicts how I see these plants.

Sept 14, 2015 039Seeing is not only about the optics of vision. How people see things is overlaid by many layers.  History, experience, memory, desire-these are but 4 of 1004 factors that influence how any given person sees.  No one sees optically.  They see emotionally.  That complex organism we know as a person sees like no other.  For any designer, how they see is their most precious asset. Successfully communicating that seeing can forge an artist from a designer.

Sept 14, 2015 034My IPhone recorded this arrangement of flowers on my sunny daytime deck based on numerous scientific calculations about how to handle the exposure in the best and most pleasing way possible.

flowers 2A chroma overlay, with a bright light overlay makes the saturation of the color more intense. This photograph is edited.  I would guess that the editing would not read as well if the picture were printed.  Computers are glorified light boxes.  The light shines through the image, like those Kodak slides from 50 years ago. The intensity of the light is a pleasure to see.

flowers 3This overlay is even more intense, and dramatic.  The photograph begins to have an aura about it.

image15 (2)This sunny overlay saturates the color of my terra cotta pot. These pots are a pale peach, on a day with no overlays.  Here, the color is on fire.  The shadows on my brown chairs are blue. The pink and yellow flowers are brilliantly pink and blue. This edit is a happy edit.  A high  summer edit.

Sept 14, 2015 037This picture is as the camera read it.

Sept 14, 2015 036The same picture, edited, is an expression of how I felt, and what I truly saw, when I took this picture. How do I explain this in words?  Nature is a vast and ultimately a most important stage.  Everything of any consequence goes on there.  I have great respect for the story that is to come when the lights dim. The light is drama in and of itself.  The light and dark in a landscape-that relationship can be very dramatic.

image1 (16)If you are a garden maker, all of the above is of critical importance.  The composition. The editing. The plants arranged in a fresh or unexpected way.  The design that is is subject to a series of overlays that describe the maker. I feel quite sure that if 100 landscape designers were asked to create a design for the same space, every design would be different. Distinctively different. A designer and client that share certain overlays are bound to produce a project of note. A great landscape rings true, and is emotionally sound.

image15As for me, I like landscape designs that are simple, and saturated. Saturated with thoughtful composition.Saturated with shapes, color, textures, memories, events, and moments. I have not explained this very well, but that process by which gardeners create is loaded with mono, tonal, noir, chroma, fade, process, transfer and instant overlays.  A life applied to a landscape design-would that every project I do would have this overlay. Adding some light, dark, and color to this mix we call design- it could be brilliant.