Archives for August 2009

Lush Life

This quiet and well tended landscape was sputtering along on too few cylinders; it seemed to be needing a big dose of what I call lush life. The retail store of the same name in Atlanta Georgia wedges great gifts, ideas, objects for home and garden,  floral design, books, antiques and much more into what once was a small home and property.  Everywhere you look, the space lives up to its name. Lush Life is a striking visual lesson in how to create beautiful spaces, and views; shopping this store is even better.

 Lush life-I knew those words would appeal to my client.  In her typically direct fashion, she said she wanted me to design a landscape that would persuade her to get involved.
Her lawn service had installed this giant pool of egg rock right off her terrace, thinking to drain water from a low spot that was impossible to mow. I guess this is one way of handling it.  When I see things like this, I know the most important job will be getting to client to reclaim ownership.  Persuade me, she said. 

sills-consult-12The drive and walk were functional.  Though well maintained, it was indeed enough to put you to sleep.  Every space was in full view of every other space.  The parking area got top billing, driving in. The landscape telegraphed all of its visual moves such you could see it all, driving by.  As the only landscapes I love driving by are Lady Bird Johnson’s blubonnet meadows on the Texas highways in late March, Lake Michigan from a perch on the Mackinac Bridge, and other big open places of the same ilk, I knew she needed not just places to be, but lushly living places where she could live too. 

sills-consult-14Even a good looking lawn is not enough, if the shape of the lawn is not beautiful.  All the elements of a landscape need to help each other look better.  The white Victorian period iron furniture was not good with the red Japanese maple, which was struggling in the shade of one of the most beautiful big European beech I had ever seen. 


The white furniture is now dark.  The terrace is twice the original size.  A fountain made of a concrete pot in the classical Italian style sits over top a giant underground French drain. Some big pots lush with life warm up the terrace. The terrace garden is green and gaining visual weight.

aug-27a-026The big beech is underplanted with an even bigger sweep of myrtle.   Two Princeton Gold maples mark an entrance from the immediate terrace garden, to the far gardens.  There are enough curves and swoops to keep the eye moving around the space.

aug-27a-025The lush carpet of myrtle is home to an old cast iron sculpture, and an aging wood bench.  There are views to this from several vantage points-all the views are different.  The masses of chartreuse hosta soften and lighten the space.  The backdrop of mixed evergreens is growing in.

aug-27a-027Parked cars are no longer part of the landscape.  The view to the drive is anchored by a big splash of variegated miscanthus grass, snugged up to a hydrangea Tardiva.  This is an casual landscape, with strong impact.


By no means should casual mean sleepy.  There is a very interesting thing going on with color here-a cohesive statement consistent from back to front.

Lush life. She likes it.

The Luria Garden

aug-26-025I do have clients who are hands on; Dr. Luria is one of those.  I designed his landscape, and gardens, and I have planted a few of the bigger evergreens for him-but by and large, he has done this work himself. I can relate to that gardener that really does like the dirt. The perennial garden sits on top of a low elliptical wall, which strongly borders the space while the garden is dormant.   

aug-26-024lI tried very hard to dissuade him from having a perennial garden in his front yard, but working against me was  how the house sits on the property.  This neighborhood has large common areas that all the homeowners share.  Thus most of his property, and almost all of his sun is in the front yard.  I need not have worried.  This garden is better than well looked after.  It is the jewel of the neighborhood.

A dwarf conifer garden lines the walk to the front door from the drive.  These evergreens in different shapes and textures and colors  have grown in beautifully over the years. Along with the douglas fir in the lawn, and the yews near the front door, the dwarf conifers see to providing visual interest during the winter months. A pair of dwarf magnolias are a welcome shift of texture from the evergreen needles.  The side yard is dominated by groups of Limelight hydrangeas, fringed in boxwood.  The white flowers read strongly from the street; they look inviting.   

aug-26-011In the back yard, The woodland common property is faced down with a mix of shade perennials. This greatly helps to expand the visual space of the rear yard. I suspect he takes care of the woodlot as well.  A round terrace/deck is notable for its beautiful iron railings.  What I dislike about decks the most is what I see underneath them;  I rarely see a surface treatment I find attractive.  The undersides of decks also tend to accumulate tools, hoses, toys and the like. This deck has the illusion of being solid to the ground; the vertical wood planks add so much color and texture to this small garden.  The stairs hug the deck radius,  and spill out onto a second terrace,  finished simply in gravel contained by black aluminum edger strip.  The blue furniture looks great.

aug-26-0221I so enjoy the gardens my clients make for themselves.  Never would it occur to me to plant a cactus garden in an iron birdbath.  Does this not look swell?  I like everything about this small spot in his garden-the color, the textures-and most of all, the presence and personality of the head gardener.

luria12Dr. Luria has been making things grow his whole life, and it shows.  The plants are robustly happy and lush; how they look says everything about how much time he spends here. Though I am sure there are days he wonders what he took on here, the state of the garden gives no hint of that. Well grown plants are so much a part of what makes a garden beautiful.

luria30He also does a beautiful job of adding annuals to his perennial mix.  Any day you go by, something interesting is going on.  In any given year, the annuals he fancies can change the complexion of the entire garden.  It looks new and fresh every year.  He may consult with me about this or that, but he makes the decisions.

He likes plants, and he likes color, but how he mixes and matches works.  The garden is graceful, relaxed, and profuse.  I know how much work it is to keep that wild look just this side of chaos.  He clearly does not fear the work of it.  In fact, the entire gardens looks like he enjoys it. 

This garden is truly lovely; he is the driving force behind all you’ve seen here.  He should be very proud of it, should he not?

Belgian Hurdle Fencing

aug-13-097Wattle, or hurdle fencing is a traditional garden or livestock enclosure made from either willow or hazelwood. Last week we took delivery of a forty foot long container of Belgian made fencing. Though I am making a point of shopping my own country, I am especially attracted to Belgian garden ornament.   Rob says the Belgian climate and topography is a lot like the Midwest.  My most favorite landscape photographer Lynn Geesamon has photographed all over the world.  Her images of Belgium so strongly resonate with me, as I do think they remind me of my native landscape. Some of her images can be seen at

aug-13-095A garden ornament does need to look like it belongs to the garden in which it is placed. It takes some doing to bring these twig structures from their place to mine, but it is worth it.  They are heavy, chunky and sturdy-and beautifully constructed.  Each five by six foot panel weighs 100 pounds-substantial.  We buy peeled cedar fence poles from a company in the upper peninsula of Michigan.  This material has a very local feel.

These panels are made of hazelwood branches with the bark intact.  This makes  a very long-lived and weather resistant panel.  This natural material is friendly to climbing plants.  There are plenty of places vines to get a foothold.  They are such a great backdrop to any green living thing.  The twig brown color compliments any planting scheme.

aug-13-0771The woven branches have a great texture, and cast good shadows. The surface is lively and warm.  Burt told Rob he sold Italian shoes for 25 years, before opening his twig panel business. It is easy for me to see why he would do this; it must give him great satisfaction to be making objects that celebrate the beauty of the natural world.   Rhododendron root furniture, log furniture, twig trellissing-all of these things have a primeval appeal.

They are dense enough to provide great screening.  Some places that require screening do not have room for plants;  these panels have a very slight profile .  I imagine they would look great installed between a pair, or a run of trees. 


The twig boxes they make are down to earth charming.  I usually line them with a galvanized sheet metal liner for longevity.  They would dress down an ivy topiary, or dress up a planting of geraniums and strawberries.

aug-22-031Positioned with the twigs in the vertical, the panels have a different quality about them-more sculptural and sinuous. I had a client tell me she loves the beauty of ordinary materials. Things people make of ordinary materials can be anything but ordinary.  A material like this is just waiting for an inspired placement. 


The little panels would make great edging for an herb garden.  Four panels lashed together would make a box fit for  a giant rosemary, or 4 eggplants.  They would be great for keeping my corgis out of a treasured planting. This work reminds me that there are so many natural materials around me that could be put to use or ornament in my garden.  I have only to see them.  Seeing the beauty in ordinary things-I am thinking about this today.

A Celebration

I am hard pressed to remember the last time it was my pleasure to live through such a benign August, but I have no plans to look this gift horse in the mouth.  Tomorrow is Buck’s birthday; this terrace will my contribution to the celebration.  They have to be the best they have ever been-although Buck says I tell him this every year.

aug-22-056I like the fireworks going-on feeling of my terrace pots this year.  Most of that has to do with how they have grown.  I picked the colors and plants yes, but nature has proved unusually cooperative.  We have had cool temperatures all summer, and now, regular rain. The usual bugs and disease must be at someone else’s house.

aug-22-0601The Mital terra cotta gargoyle pots on their pedestals have never looked so rowdy and profuse.  I grow nicotiana mutabilis every year for exactly the reason you see here. The showy oregano in this pot gave up and died, but I hardly notice.  Besides, this pair of pots started out mismatched-I like that they will end up mismatched.

Variegated licorice has thick felty leaves and stiff stems, but it will dance through a pot in a lively way. It is a welcome contrast to the mounds of begonias and purple oxalis.  Plant habit can be as important a part of design as color and shape.

aug-22-071These two licorice plants have made a flared skirt of themselves.  The shape is especially attractive with the garland pattern on the pot.  Did I plan this part-absolutely not.  Anyone who gardens gets to enjoy the unexpected.

aug-22-081The New Guinea impatiens this year are unbelievably gaudy-what fun.  Even my million bells, which usually sulk as I have very alkaline water, are cooperating.   My dahlias do not have mites or mildew.  The cool weather has slowed the flower production on the cannas, but the foliage alone is well worth having.


Thriving and saucy-this is how I would describe my pots.  As Buck  has to cook his own birthday dinner, I am glad these pots look how they do.  It is a whomping lot of work to look after all this every day, but every day I am glad to get home and see what’s doing.  I like being ready for a party, every day.


This Fourth of July feeling suits me just fine.