I started to work on this lovely property in 1998. Set in a forest of old trees, the house and landscape had that quiet woodland up-north feeling. Everything I designed for this client I kept in keeping with that feeling; few properties come with an aura as strong as this one did. A case in point; this driveway was laid out with the house in the 1920’s-and was no longer wide enough for modern vehicles. My solution? Edge the drive in small round native to Michigan granite rocks, and let the moss go to work on them. Anyone over the edge with their SUV-no harm. Do no harm-this was my organizing metaphor.
I like formal spaces in front yards, as I like a public presentation that looks good every day. All of us are very busy people-I like a landscape that can wait. But boxwood or taxus hedging seemed alien to the feel of this space. The golden vacary privet-an old plant not much in fashion since its hey day in the 50’s, seemed perfect. The chartreuse color would light up the shade. This very informal material used in a formal way, was a nod to the period and feeling of the vintage house, and its landscape.
This picture is taken from the road. Old weeping Norway spruce were planted very close and gracefully to the foundation of the house. I repeated this woodland feeling at the road-with a break, a view. A brief view.
The gold vicary described the shape of a circular sunken garden. What I love the most about the native Michigan woods are how quiet they are; no noise which is technological in origin. No radio, no cars, no jet skis, no boats-just quiet. The sound of birds, wind, footsteps-these sounds are native, natural, and good. Sinking a garden even a little intensifies the quiet. Two simple steps of grass with round rock risers-a casual, northern Michigan detail.
And the ferns? Everywhere. Ostrich ferns as a groundcover-this is a beautiful look. The texture, scale and informality is easy on the eyes, and pleasing. Drifts of ferns really interest me as a designer. They are bold and sculptural in big masses. But they speak directly to the primeval forest; the look of a stand of ferns wrings all the tension out of me.
No doubt this was a shady, mossy, quiet, not perfect, natural, woodland landscape. A grouping of funky containers and sculptures, set in groundcover on the far east perimeter, was a nod to the point of view of the client. I love a collection of objects that band together to make a sculpture. I wrote last Sunday in my weekly opinion post that a ride by this treasured project of mine revealed that the client has ripped most everything out, and installed a new landscape. I felt the shock that anyone feels when they come face to face with something so totally unexpected that blacking out seems an appropriate response. It took me two days to recover, but recover I did.
My clients have their own lives, and their own idea of beauty. They hire me-I am not a favorite aunt, or a Mom, or a daughter. Their lives change-I am not privy to most of that. I may be close beyond close for the duration of the project, but I am usually their fifth business. At my age, I know who I am. I appreciate that the lives of my clients are not subject to my review. I furthermore understand that my ownership of a project is while I am making it. What happens after-I am not responsible, nor am I honored. This is as it should be.
It is not my idea to critique the new landscape-that is not the point of this post. I am not interested in being a critic. I am interested in writing about my life as a designer. It is very tough to see years of work erased-no one cozies up to this. Least of all me. I am interested in history, and continuity. But I do not always get my way.
No matter how this landscape looks now, I am not unhappy about how I approached it. I have no second thoughts. I will sleep sound tonight.