Archives for July 2009

At A Glance: Freedom of Expression









Garden Party

party1Sometimes there is a call for a party in the garden.  in this case, the Texas-born gentleman’s 60th birthday.  He invited 60 friends to celebrate with him; getting the garden ready for this many guests was my job.  As he particularly likes yellow, as in yellow cars, clothes and cowboy boots, and anything else, as long as it is yellow, yellow flowers it was.  A late August date meant sunflowers were available at our farmer’s market; yellow gerbera daisies in the centers of these arrangements suggested a little fireworks-appropriate for such an occasion.  The yellow food coloring in the water was pure fun.

party2The black and white cowhide patterned tablecloths on the buffet celebrated the beloved home state, and were a dramatic foil to all those yellow flowers. An overscaled buffet says welcome, Texas-style.  

party3A landscape should be designed to accomodate those once in a great while events-as those events can be so important in the scheme of things.  Even a small garden can be outfitted to comfortably seat unusual numbers of guests.  For this reason, I am fond of walls at seat height in gardens.  They do a great job of providing a place to sit for numbers of guests when needed, in addition to providing beautiful structure to a landscape.   

party5The fountain, holding forth with its own refreshing rendition of fireworks,  welcomes guests on a hot August night.   A giant pot filled with Miscanthus “Zebrinus” adds to the festivity.  Yes, that was planned in advance.  Advance notice I do not always get, but when I do get it, there’s time for touches like this.

party4As guests arrive, and start out to the garden, one can’t help but think of all the things a beautiful landscape and garden can be.  A setting for birthday celebration is one of many.  As good lighting can set and sustain a mood, special party lighting was in order.  

party6A garden designed for good traffic flow, and different places to visit, encourages people to sit for a while, and then move around.  The small tables encourage people of like mind and interests to congregate as they please.

part7Though we battled wind, votives in glass are such an inexpensive and festive way to light a party. the more, the better.  It is an easy way to mark steps, as the natural light wanes. Garden torches are not the most elegant garden accessory, but they are a great party accessory.

part8Good friends and family, big water, a little fire, a breeze, a garden – all the makings of a great party.

partylastDoes Milo not look like he is having a grand time?

The Last You Knew

1stThe last you knew, we were in the thick of building this vegetable garden with raised beds-doing drainage, leveling ground, adding soil, and building boxes, working out the irrigation. We did get this garden finished and planted; it is starting to come on.

2ndThe tomatoes are growing furiously inside the steel obelisks.  We planted three apples trees, pruned into a columnar shape, with rhubarb and strawberries as an underplanting.  The twin beech trees, trained into an arbor, will connect this garden, with garden II-which is planned for next spring.  The acid washed steel plant theatre centered in the garden holds pots of lettuce, herbs, and flowers. �

The beech arbor is underplanted with asparagus-it will take a while for them to represent. Vegetable gardens are not ordinarily so formal; raised wood boxes are not necessarily so formal.  There is some talk of planting boxwood in front of the wood next year, but I like the idea of a simple working garden.  I think formal spaces are fine, along side working spaces. Villandry, in France, is a very formal garden, but there is something about how the vegetables are grown  that just suggests the farm.  I sometimes have conversations with clients who cannot decide if they want a greenhouse addition-or a glass living room.  These two spaces are very much different in tone and execution. A client interested in growing orchids under glass is a very different client than the one who wants a sunny space to read the Sunday newspaper.


My favorite part of this garden is that my client had name tags made for each box, with the names of his children.  I truly admire that he is trying to impart to his kids his love of the garden, and an understanding of what is involved in growing food.  This is a skill that’s very important to pass on.
My client has a a big love for formal gardens, and flowers. This garden is all about a working garden conceived and built, mindful of what manner of execution he likes best. This garden represents this-at stage one.  I know we will make changes, as he has a chance to look at it. But in the meantime,  each of his kids have to water, and look after their own box. It sounds to me like they have taken to the challenge.


The look of it is one thing, but how it works is another thing entirely.  I very much admire and respect what he is doing here-its a lot more than growing a few tomatoes.  Its about teaching what’s involved in growing tomatoes to his own children.  It helps me to sleep better, knowing children are being taught how to garden.  I feel sure that all over this country young people are learning how to farm, and how to garden.  How swell is that?

Under Renovation

This charming and architecturally distinctive house was in search of a landscape; this much my client knew.  A member of the design community herself, she had spent a lot of time renovating the interior. She was ready to renovate the outdoor spaces.   A designer always needs to pay careful attention to the architecture; this is a given.  But this house had certain unique and compelling features.


The Spanish style of this house came with a beautiful and intact tile roof, and old concrete stucco painted white. The brick terrace was in considerable disrepair, but the brick itself was old and good.  The remains of a previous landscape seemed neither here nor there. Some poorly performing rhododendrons and azaleas struggled in the blazing sun and no doubt highly alkaline soil.   Add to this a noticeable slope from the house to the center of the rear yard, and more importantly, my client’s interest in strong clean modern lines; I had plenty to think about.  Small urban properties make their own demands.  Not the least of these is that every gesture needs to be right.  Small spaces are unforgiving of mistakes, or leftover unresolved areas.  The mistakes made in small spaces seem to be so much larger than those made in big spaces.  No room for error, as they say.

So we piled up the good brick, and ripped out all the ailing plants.  In the meantime I was looking for a graceful expression that also felt strong and simple.  I had my answer in the wall.


I was completely enamored of the white stucco wall that completely enclosed the rear yard. Completely overrun with trumpet vine, and various other weedy plants, that wall was still so architecturally strong and interesting I could not help but make it central to the design. My client carefully and completely repaired all the shaling stucco, and repainted it-the transformation to the entire space was striking.

This old wall was certainly deserving of attention.  Infilled in 2 spots with old iron grilles, it was completely unique and unusual in its design.  Surely the hand of a particular person, I have never seen a wall designed like this.  While walls make beautiful landscape features, whatever their height or material; I had considerable excitement about this wall.  Though quite old, it had strong and unusual lines that could be interpreted in a number of ways.

Cleaning out a space takes plenty of time, as does proper grading.  I planned to enlarge the existing terrace to fill the entire space off the rear door and French doors.  As the original U-shaped brick terrace had a unfriendly slope to it,  I decided to create a step off, into the yard.  The best move: a new stucco wall, built at seat height, to set the terrace apart from the rear yard space, that could also provide casual seating for guests. This new wall would integrate the new landscape into the old; it seemed  natural to repeat that stucco feature.


The happy result are two distinct and level spaces.  The terrace and a rectangular grass space friendly to the dogs, and in distinct contrast to the terrace surfaces.


To come, a U-shape of columnar carpinus, mulched in gravel, which would answer the brick shape on the terrace; the center of the terrace we did in gravel.

A terrace entirely of brick would have overwhelmed the space.  Sometimes switching materials can make a big space read read in a more friendly way.  No home needs a parking lot for a terrace, even though a big terrace is great for furniture, dining and entertaining. We are at a good stage here.  Two rectangles at right angles to each other are ready for the finishing touches.