Archives for June 2009

Dinner in the Garden

table1Its my idea to eat outdoors for 120 days of the year at the very least.  I like summer food- grilled burgers, fresh corn and tomatoes, big salads with chicken.  I am at my most vulnerable for good potato chips, and ice cream, as well.  I am impatient for this first day of the outdoor dining season, and so sorry to see it end.  In Michigan we have a lengthy dose of “lets go inside” weather.  For this reason I will still be having dinner outdoors in October, with my blanket around me.  Just get me outside, under any and every circumstance.  Dinner in the garden is my idea of fine entertainment. This 22 foot long pine and steel table can handle lots of dinner guests with ease.  Pine is a very traditional material for American garden furniture;  it just requires upkeep.  Its traditional material aside, it has a decidedly sleek and modern silhouette.  It interests me how overscaled furniture has such strong visual interest.  This long  table suggests a lot of people, close together, having fun. table2

This old French faux bois table for two makes a different suggestion.  The old concrete is beautiful on this vintage slate terrace. It is the organizing element for a private and intimate garden space.  Ornament in a garden can create a mood, and set the stage-for what, we can only imagine.


I so love white dining furniture.  It has a clean and crisp look.  What china, flowers and food would not look great on this table? Wood dining furniture finished in high gloss weather resistant paint dresses up dinner in the garden. This dining table is placed in a garden room defined by a white wood pergola.


This English made wirework dining furniture is so beautiful for how it graces  the landscape in a soft and quiet way.  Even with no guests at the dinner hour, it enriches the landscape.  Sometimes the suggestion that dinner might be had in the garden is as important as actually having it.  Ideally, every design issue is answered in such a way that piques the imagination.   What can be imagined changes, and evolves-thus providing no end of interest. Landscape spaces that invite interaction are successful spaces.


I have many clients for whom contemporary design is a big love.  This very contemporary dining suite is perfectly placed on a bluestone terrace dating back some 90 years.  Who would think this stately old terrace would be so right for this steel and glass furniture?  My client, whose imagination and sense of beauty is all her own.  Everything about her, as well as her garden,  can surprise me, and make me think differently. dining1

I design outdoor dining areas for clients regularly.  Sometimes I design tables;  this table is 10 feet long, with a white oak base, and top of Valders stone from Wisconsin, with white oak spacers.   It will handle company, just fine. It will weather, over the years, just fine.  Many an event will be experienced,  remembered, and cherished, over this table.   Some say that everything that really matters happens at the dinner table. If this is true, what possibilities suggest themselves,  given dinner in the garden?

A Place to Sit

sit91If you are a like me, you do not sit much in your garden.  I can always find a weed to pull or something to stake, trim, or otherwise fuss with.  But as I subscribe to the notion that a landscape is a place to be, a place to sit seems like a very good idea.  A place to take a break, to contemplate your future, to watch the birds, to have a glass of tea-excellent.

sit10We make this scrolled steel furniture, galvanize it, and acid wash it.  It has the look of lead, that blue grey with a white bloom.  This furniture is amazingly comfortable for being made of steel. I think it is very good looking and  appropriate in either a traditional or contemporary setting.  But most of all I like that it looks like garden furniture-and not the furniture I have in my living room.  

sit11In the past few years I have seen plenty of garden furniture, made from weatherproof materials, that looks like indoor furniture; this does not appeal to me.  I like everything in the garden, to look like it belongs there.   Thus I prefer my sofa in my living room, and not on my terrace.  I very much like these 18th century Coalbrookdale chairs, in the nasturtium pattern.  They look like they were made for a garden.

sit13This is an early 20th century French faux bois bench.  Literally translated, faux bois means false wood.  The bench is concrete over a steel armature, that was carved to look like wood.  I doubt it is a place you would want to sit for long,  but it most definitely is a lovely place to sit and enjoy a garden moment. It is just as lovely as a garden ornament. 

sit1Pool furniture almosts asks for cushions.  Hot steel and bare legs is not such a good combination.  Be sure if you buy of have cushions made for your garden furniture, that they are constructed using exterior foam, which drains quickly and dries out.  Hauling cushions inside when there is a threat of rain is a nuisance.  The technology of new  fabrics rated for exterior use is considerable.  These fabrics are sunfast, and mildew resistant.  This suite of furniture looks like a cool spot to sit on a hot day.

sit2Not so fancy, but plenty charming are vintage American garden chairs.  I like everything about them-the shapes, the old paint, and the rust and how they rock.  They are easy to find a spot for, and they are easy to move to another spot, should you have a mind to.

sit3This very fine iron furniture comes from a small company in England.  The black and white checked fabric on the cushions is very smart looking, and elegant.

sit5This very old English wood bench has great style; the spindle back and the curved arms are very handsome.  The yews and pots do a great job of highlighting its form.  It is a friendly size .

sit15The chaise lounge is a bed for the garden.  Its scale and size makes it stand out in the landscape; the grouping suggests the company of friends and family.  White fabric in the garden looks as fresh and crisp as white flowers. I cannot imagine using a chaise, but I like looking at them.

sit7Stripes seem especially appropriate for a garden too.  Reminiscent of vintage awnings, they are inviting and pleasing to the eye.  These chairs are great for an extended visit in a garden.

sit14A place to sit in a garden is an essential element of landscape design.  Plan where you will sit in your landscape with as much care as you plan what you will see when you sit there.

Sunday Opinion: Maintenance

It is my opinion that great design really comes to nothing, without great maintenance.  A landscape designer I worked for in the 80’s did no landscaping in the spring until his clients had pruning, fertilizing, and the replacement of plants that did not survive the winter.  After this work was done, he would commence with new work.   He would give seminars in pruning and fertilizing techniques in the spring for clients who liked to do their own work.  Every year I would come in on a Saturday, and Sunday both on a given weekend,   to talk about the maintenance of perennial gardens, roses and the like.  We would bring plants in the greenhouse, and do demonstrations. This weekend was the only in-house event he ever sponsored.  At the time, it seemed like nuisance duty, but now I realize he was dead to right about the importance of maintenance.

Not everything I design gets installed.  I worked on a project with Buck this winter-designing gardens purely from my imagination, that will probably never be built.  What huge  fun that was.  Only because he is building models of those gardens of basswood, infilled with mosses-that are meant to be hung on a wall – they will be built, but in a different way.  Getting projects built is important to me.   He has three of these models  in process now. These will not depend on a client deciding to build them.  I don’t think I ever could have been an architect.  It takes so much time, and so much money to build a building-how many of any given architects designs get built?  I would guess not a big percentage.    My point here is that if I do have a client willing to build a landscape I have designed, or if you decide to install a landscape of your own design, the installation is by no means the end.  Au contraire, it is only the beginning.  I would suggest that keeping up with what you have invested your time, money and heart in is a good idea.

The inspiration for this essay came to me this afternoon-as I was out deadheading my roses.  The roses share a bed with my asparagus, which is better than 8 feet tall, Japanes anemone “Honorine Jobert”, some giant hot pink hibiscus, and boltonia.  I love the big breezy mess.  But what bloody hell it is to walk in there and not crush anything.  My legs and arms are all scratched from the roses, and the asparagus are threatening to go over as its been very windy all day.  Exasperating, to say the least.  But should I throw over the maintenance of these plants, the fresh, wild balance would soon be lost.  This garden looks loose and cottage like-but that by no means indicates that it is not maintained. I have limited areas like this to only 2 in my garden-and what I cannot maintain myself, I hire someone to maintain.  No kidding,   one of the reasons I work is to to be able to afford my garden. 

Early on I posted about the essays of Henry Mitchell. I reread The Essential Earthman every so often.  He remarked that there is no such thing as a beautiful old garden – all beautiful gardens are a result of the intensive care of the present.  I try to hold that thought as I am wading through the roses. Many clients I go to see do not have design issues, nor do they need a new planting.  They need the trees and or shrubs trimmed, the dead cut out of this and that, the perennials divided, a topdressing of compost, a thorough weeding, mulching-or perhaps treatment for borers.  Perhaps a sprinkler head needs additional riser to accomodate plants that have grown since the irrigation was first installed. Perhaps a poorly draining area needs some drainage work.  Maybe a sick tree needs treatment.  A beautifully designed area that is not growing robustly is sometimes the fault of the designer.  Siting plants properly is art and science both; any landscape designer needs an extensive knowledge of plants.  When I take my car to be repaired, I expect that person has extensive knowledge of what it takes to make a vehicle go. My clients rely on me to design for them in a way that moves their garden forward.    But sometimes a poor show is poor maintenance,  plain and simple.  

Maintenance is not always a particularly exciting activity.  But the results can be very exciting.  I can spot from a block away a property that has been lovingly looked after.  I can likewise spot a landscape that has gone to rack and ruin.  Its not the easiest thing to convince a client that they need to invest some time, or some money, or both, to the maintenance of the landscape of which they are a steward.  I do try.

Some physicist whose name I cannot remember  came to the conclusion that everything in the universe tends to dissolution.  Is this concept not obvious to anyone who has a boat, a house, and /or a landscape?

At a Glance: After a Storm