Archives for July 2009



Strictly speaking, walkways are about transportation. The washing machine that needs to get to the laundery room, the guests for a dinner party, hauling soil in a wheelbarrow to a bed in the garden-all kinds of activities rely on the walkway.


This does not mean that the utilitarian route shouldn’t be scenic.  This generously sized slate walk has some beautiful curves; a curved walk invites lingering and looking.  The walk is plenty wide enough at the drive to swing the car doors open, and drop off multiple guests.


This is one of my favorite walkways. I managed to persuade my clients to install a wood walk; they were dubious both about its serviceability, and its longevity. However, it used to be that all roads were made out of wood; they fell for this.  4″ by 4″ pressure treated lumber, in 8′ lengths, were routed to look like bricks.  The boards were laid over a 8″ deep gravel base.  After 6 months exposure to the weather, I was able to stain it black.  It has been in place a good many years now.  The new owners of the house re-stain it every few years. The ends of the taxus hedges have fence posts of the same material, capped in rusty steel ball finials.


Not all walkways need to be a hard surface; grass makes a beautiful walk.  These gravel troughs signal the change from the lawn, to a lawn walk.  The length of the gravel trough gives visitors plenty of time to contemplate the massive door, and what might lie behind it.


Some walkways belong to a terrace, or a series of terraces. The identical material and pattern gives visual weight and grace to this walk between terraces.   The aged cut limestone tiles, punctuated with limestone dots, is a striking way to get from here to there.


Some walkways are more about defining a view, than transportation.  I can attest to the fact that having pushed a wheelbarrow along this path countless times, I would much rather look at it, than use it. The simple stepping stones describe a view without intruding on it.


Some are fortunate to own homes where the old or original materials still exist.  This house built in the 1920’s was graced with with a walk of old granite setts.  As they had heaved about with the frost, and were a little dicey to walk on in the winter, the entire walk was taken up and reset. This was a bit of maintenance that counted for much;  this old walk softens the newness of the new landscape.

This steel and concrete walk is sharply contemporary.  The softly trimmed hedges of blue arctic willow are a great contrast.  There are so many good ways to get somewhere, are there not?

In my opinion, the walkway to the pearly gates looks pretty much like this.

The Proverbial Deck

As much as I try to have great enthusiasm for everything in a garden, decks leave me cold.  It isn’t the wood; I like wood outdoors.  Its wood in the air, and those heavy wood railings that seem so standoffish and separate from the landscape.  This deck was barely above ground, yet it had heavy looking wood railings that intruded on every view.   Its construction was more about not wanting to level the ground, than creating a garden surface to live on. 

My biggest design concern for a terrace surface is what you see, when you are seated.  In this case, what you see are bars.  This makes the terrace a jail, not an integral part the landscape.  Though I realize that some terraces are so high up that it would be against code and just plain dangerous not to have railings, there are other ways of handling those rails. In this case, no rails were really needed.

There is a beautiful view here that is blocked.   I was able to persuade this client to ditch the deck, as a side note to designing and installing a swimming pool.  One thing leads to another; I count on that sometimes.


The property had considerable elevation and pitch, but the house was sited on the end of the property with the smallest space.  I designed an L-shaped infinity edge pool, for which we still needed a variance to obtain a permit.  We were too close to the lot line in one area; we would eventually install a hedge of arborvitae to completely screen the pool from the neighbors.

Pool construction is a dirty and lengthy business.  The corner of the dreaded deck seen at the lower left edge of this photo explains the extent of the grading work necessary.
Pools usually have tile set in the space between the grade of the water, and the grade of the top of the pool. Just like a bathtub, pools get rings that need to be readily cleanable.  The pool wall below water gets cleaned mechanically by whatever filtration system a client chooses.  We chose small pale blue glass tile, as my client wanted a light colored pool interior, that would look blue.
 102 I like dark surfaced pools that reflect whatever is in the sky.  However, some people do not like jumping into water where the bottom is not visible.  Its a matter of personal preference.  This pool thus has a white pebbletec surface.
Full of water, this pool is azure blue; it was just what she wanted. Once the pool was finished, we built the stairs, and poured 3′ by 3′ concrete tiles with a terrazzo like surface for the pool deck.  Then it was time to deal with that original deck.�
Happily she agreed to tear it out, and start over.  We built a deck from cypress, with mini-decks that cascade to the pool deck surface. A pool cabana with a mini kitchen and bathroom keeps all the pool activity outdoors.  It is a clean simple look.

The pool area has plenty of pots that she takes care of herself. The deck is competely integrated into the pool garden.   Its a lively space perfect for entertaining.  The  simple landscape is is part of the space.  There is a beautiful view to the pond now.  She says she feels like she is on vacation every day-which is exactly what she told me she wanted. 



Stone has been used as  a material in the construction of buildings and gardens for centuries.  The Midwest has large deposits of limestone; when quarried, it is commonly referred to as Indiana limestone.  It is soft enough to machine , cut or carve.  It is an ancient material , of the earth.  It is not surprising to see it in many forms in the garden. Old stone or new, what does it matter?  Natural stone is a living material.
Ornamental stone vastly predates the modern and sophisticated machinery we have now; many old garden pots and urns were handcarved. I planted this delightful old French stone urn with one 4″ plant of sagina subulata; it would be equally as beautiful unplanted. The stone is darkened with age; the object has history, in a visible form.
15 Montreal has many stone buildings.  It seems sensible that a City build in such a fierce climate would be made of stone, for permanence.  This feeling of permanence  gives garden objects, made of stone, great cache.  So many things in a garden are ephemeral; the stone by contrast speaks quietly to great age.�

This building in the Old City of Montreal is now the Hotel Galt.  Its modern interior is fashioned of glass, polished concrete, molded urethane, wood, woven steel drapes-very modern materials.  Besides being a fabulous place to stay, it is a striking example of how building materials have evolved. Much of my fascination with English, French, and Italian gardens has to do with their history-their age. Newly placed limestone still holds the promise of history to come.


The limestone step in the foreground here has blackened with age.  Limestone is porous enough to host very slow growing colonies of lichens and other plants. Many old stone pieces show the effects of coal used for energy.  Old ornament from England can be dated before, or after, the Industrial Revolution, by its surface.  Some limestone steps are actually worn down in the middle from many hundreds of years of foot traffic.


This 19th century cistern was carved from a solid block of stone, and was probably used as a watering trough for livestock.  Filled with water, mosses and lichens flourished on its surface.  Placed in a client’s garden as a fountain, the exterior of this cistern now is velvety green with moss.  This centuries old piece is still working.

This old carved limestone seat is supported at either end by large barely shaped pieces of volcanic rock.  Gone now, I hope it went to a shady moist garden that keeps its old plant life alive.  The base of this organic and natural volcanic rock is formally carved; the hand of a person is evident.�

This terrace has a patina only time in a garden, exposed to the weather,  could produce.  Gardens need time; no doubt the best time to start gardening is right now.


These old English limestone benches are more sculpture, than seating.  The giant maple that shares the space with them has heaved them topsy turvy. I have no idea to level them.  This vignette is a side story about stone.  It’s a big story about nature.  It’s a good story.

Cruise Day

I was ready for cruise company by 8 am yesterday. My table centerpiece, a nod to my orange and carmine summer. I thought my red onions, cherries, and orange dahlias from the Pontiac farmer’s market looked plenty sassy.
22I never really worried about the weather; gardening people usually like weather. And I plain have faith that when I need to be in the garden, I will be able to.  But this morning promised perfect weather, and delivered partly sunny; the 74 degrees in the afternoon-perfect for touring. 

32All day long there was a steady stream of keenly interested and thoughtful people.  I so enjoyed being there, hearing what people had to say about my place, and the other 7 gardens on tour.  So many questions; what plant is this?  How do you do this? What is your idea here?  It is such a good way to figure out if your design ideas are being translated into the garden you intend.  Listen to what people say; are you being clear?

44I heard not one cross or disparaging word.  All I heard was energetic appreciation-for the gardens and the people behind those gardens.

53My neighbors, Fred and Jean, brought their Oscar and Beckett for the day they spent as docents; they were right at home.  My corgis would have been low little and long wrecks over all the people; I left them at the store.

64The overcast day made all my color look  intense and rich-just as I intended.  I like this color so much I am already fretting over what I will do next year. 

72Adding people to the garden is always the best part. People we had-over 300.  This hefty increase over last year was unexpected-and so welcome.  We had a party going on.

82Landscape clients, customers of the store, new people, old friends-a great mix made the reception afterwards so much fun.  So much talk about gardens-I could not have had a better time.

92Gardening is bloody blasted hard and frustrating work, but this tour made it all seem so worth it.  My favorite comment came from a woman whom I did not know.  “You don’t use unusual or rare plants particularly-its how you use them, the numbers you use, and the shapes you make that is so interesting”-this was music to my ears. 

101A close second, this woman here from Cleveland for the tour.  She was determined she was taking a variegated Moses in the Cradle she saw in my yard home with her.  “Will you please get me one of those plants before you have a cocktail?”-too funny.  We got her the plant.

111Diana and I both dearly love the Baumgartners.  They have sold their house and garden, and are moving out east to be near their kids. We will so miss them.  I was so glad they put their garden on tour; I have worked for them for almost 25 years. From the looks of this picture,, they enjoyed it every bit as much as I did. 

Rob’s gin and vodka tonics were as big a hit this year as last. He was not the least bit perturbed that we ran out of everything-invoices, change, napkins, glasses, food and wine.  This was just what we hoped for.




From all of us, to all of you who supported the Greening of Detroit Garden Cruise, many, many thanks.  And best regards to you, Michael Willoughby, for giving to me a perfect moment.