Archives for August 2009

Finishing Touches

aug_7aa_007You may remember my post from July 21, Renovation Part II, a discussion of what finishing touches were yet to come in this project.   If you missed that, I will recap.  This beautiful Mediterranean house was in need of a landscape renovation; the new owner is a designer herself, and what she had, she knew would not do.
I did like the U-shape of brick here, although it seemed too small, and had been installed without attending to the grade issues first. That idea was the one thing worth saving.

dsc_0003We removed all the plants, and brick, and graded out to the edge of the house; it is too awkward to step down in the middle of a terrace.  In other words, we started over.

july2_020The new and larger granite and brick terrace stepped down into the lawn; a new stucco wall made for extra seating for guests, and made the suggestion of enclosure.

may_10_006The new rear yard landscape made much of the repaired and repainted stucco wall .  A grove of trees in the lawn, a formal arrangement of trees mulched in granite, and grass.  Simple and striking.

may_10_012But what else did this landscape need in the way of finishing touches?  Inspired by the Spanish flavor of the architecture, I thought some ironwork might be in order.july21_064

One iron pergola would have been a little overpowering.  Two smaller matching iron pergolas, which would eventually support grape vines, seemed like a great way to warm up the space, and give that terrace a more room-like feeling.

july22_025I especially like how the terrace will have two shady cool areas, with a sunny space in between them.   

aug_6a_002Finishing touches like this can make all the difference in the world; this space looks inviting and comfortable.  A place to have dinner, a place to read in the shade, a place to entertain-all good things to plan for.

aug_6a_008The last touch – a self-contained fountain jar.  The reservoir to recirculate the water was installed underground.  My client opted for a water jet barely visible. Lighting was unobtrusively installed in the pergola roof, illuminating the fountain at night.   I can imagine how it will look and sound once there are grapes overhead. 

aug_6a_004A new umbrella is on the way. Maybe there will be holiday lights this winter.  Maybe next summer there will be some pots.  The finishing touches phase transforms the designed landscape into a landscape for living.

Grooming for the Long Haul

I hear too often from people that their pots peter out in August. There is no need for that, barring your dog unearthing them, or a hailstorm. I usually take my pots apart in November, as I am just plain tired of taking care of them. But here’s my formula for longevity through August and beyond. First off, water, and water properly-which can mean, water even when you don’t feel like it. This means soak your pots, and then let them get dryish before you water again. Secondly, deadhead regularly; do not let you annual flowers go to seed.

Here’s the biology behind the scenes. Annual plants by definition are plants that grow, flower, and set seed in one season. An annual which has successfully set seed has no biological reason to continue to flower. For those of you who think annuals bloom so the world will be a more beautiful place, here here. These plants flower for the purpose of reproduction-to insure the continuation of the species. If you prevent an annual from setting seed, it will continue to flower. There are plenty of flowers which are sterile, and do not set seed; they are popular for exactly this reason. Trailing verbena, on the other hand, will go out of flower quickly, if it is not deadheaded.

july_31aaa_001Plants grow in, and the room can get crowded. If the giant leaves of this nicotiana are allowed to shade the petunia, said petunia will pout, and finally give up. Removing leaves, or branches so everyone has a sunny spot, is good group management. A pot or window box is no place for a bully running amok. No one will like the result-  least of all, you.

july_31aaa_011Try not to overwater. Put your finger down into the dirt. If the dirt sticks to you, there is probably enough moisture. Rotting leaves are unsightly. Worse yet, an environment that is too wet is an invitation to every fungus floating by, looking for a good home. Licorice likes dry conditions. Should you have been so bold to plant it next to an annual that loves water and more water, you’ve engineered a situation where individual plants in a community pot have to be watered on different schedules.  This is not tough, just time-consuming.

july_31aaa_015Annuals need pruning, just like shrubs and trees. Pruning the flowers from your coleus plants result in densely growing coleus. Pruning plants at different heights gives everyone breathing room. Once a group of plants are put together in one pot, or one area, they take on a collective life. Sun, water and space have to be shared. And whatever the individual plants, you want an overall shape that looks great. july_31aaa_017
Plants that are healthy resist disease. Healthy means properly watered, fed, pruned and managed. If you do get a fungus, remove the diseased portions as soon as you can. Remove lower leaves in the interiors of your pots to promote good air circulation. Prevention is a lot easier that treatment. Sometimes weather conditions foster disease; I will spray with a fungicide if I have to. Safer’s soap will get rid of some insect pests-the trick is to apply 3 rounds, not one. Spider mites are notoriously difficult to get rid of. I avoid certain types of mandevilleas as they are so prone to them.

july_31aaa_012My beloved boxwood hedge was attacked this spring by a fungus called Volutella-I was beside myself over the damage. I had to get an expert to identify it for me; I have never seen this on boxwood before. We cleaned out, and raked up every dead leaf, and pruned out every infected branch with shears that were disinfected after each cut. Next spring I will spray for it. Imagine being a greenhouse grower-where plant illnesses and insects can threaten a livlihood. Most growers that I know practice close inspection of their plants, so they catch problems early. They also feed their plants; strong plants resist trouble. Once every seven to ten days I make sure my pots are thoroughly watered, then I liquid- feed them with a water soluble fertilizer with a big middle number (15-30-15) to encourage good flower production. This acts like a shot of vitamin B-12. Then I hold off watering as long as I can, so the plants take up the nutrients, before they get flushed out by the next round of watering.

There will be those times when no amount of good growing practices and cultures will result in a good plant. Don’t be afraid to yank something that is clearly beyond rescue. Perfection applies only to diamonds and moments, remember?

The Steps

0033This very old, very lovely, wide flight of stairs was once buried in soil and debris; only the center four feet  was still visible and useable.   I discovered it by accident, while trying to plant trees and groundcover on either side.   Once I explained to my client that another twelve feet of staircase still existed just below the surface, she had me uncover it entirely.  We planted the risers with myrtle. This staircase is much  more about ornament and architecture, than about going from one level to another.  As the lower garden is viewed primarily from the house above, the beauty of these steps is more important than the issue of how to get from here to there.

5The change of level in a landscape can create interest, announce a new garden room-change things up.  This previously sloped garden space was excavated and walled with the stone that had been used to edge the original beds.  The steps now necessary to descend to the lower level signal the transition.  The treads are shallow, so as not to intrude on the rectangle of grass below. A good height for a step is 7 inches; 8 inches will work, but is just slightly on the steep side.  Every step in a flight of stairs needs to be the same height; people instinctively assume this.  Note how the gravel in front of the wall, dying into the lower step, makes the maintenance of the lawn plane simple.

31Some changes of level are dramatic, and require a flight of steps, and railings.  Any stairs need to be designed first and foremost to allow for safe passage.  Each of these steps is marked with its own pot of flowers.  The iron railing is as sturdy as it is beautiful.  Iron rails allow a garden to remain open to view while providing some security.

07-073Splitting up steps  can be even more friendly to guests.  It is far easier to negotiate one or two steps at a time, with a landing in place prior to the next set of steps.  These stairs are wider that the door and side windows; this makes for a generous and welcoming approach.

08-074This winding staircase seems to spill out of the confluence of two walls designed and built on the bias.  The variation in stair width creates a sense of motion and rhythm which is very pleasing.  The wall enclosure makes it possible to climb these stairs with confidence.

3Stairs can vary in their depth.  The first stair out of this front door functions as a landing-a comfortable space for greetings, and goodbys. The brick piers and pots are a succesful alternative to railings, which would have seemed so heavy handed here.

60Natural stone frequently has a uneven surface. Planning for a safe ascent and descent is doubly important. The iron fence walls inset from the stairs provide an emergency handhold for anyone loosing their footing.   

051These wood stairs to the upper terrace are very spacious in every dimension.  Steps with greater depth are easier to negotiate.  Steps to a rear terrace are frequently used while carrying food and drink; it is better to err on the side of too deep, than too shallow.   The pots announce the change of level for anyone concentrating more on keeping their tray of food where it belongs, , than watching where they step.

Thinking through what you need from your steps is just as important a part of the design as how they look.  Will guests take them in stride?   Will they be easy to rid of snow?  After those questions are answered, then figure out how all your concerns can be all wrapped up  in a good looking package.

Paradis Express

Last winter, upon deciding that I was interested in writing a blog about garden design, I made a point of reading as many as I could find.   Some garden blogs I read regularly;  Paradis Express is one of them. Though I have to read the French in translation, the images of landscape,  gardens, sculpture, art, that she selects speak strongly-no translation necessary.  I was also pleased to find that she had posted about my manufacture of ornament for the garden quite some time ago.  I emailed her, telling her I was quite pleased to have had some work of mine acknowledged by her. We corresponded back and forth some; what fun that was.   If you have a mind for some exposure to a very individual point of view on gardens and landscape, check her out;   Paradis Express   Her images are interesting, evocative-and provocative.  Sometimes she startles me; this I like.   I had no idea when I first started writing how much satisfaction there would be to make contact with other people keen about gardens from other places, other countries, and other cultures.  This I have always done via my library-a much more sleepy exchange.  She was kind enough to post about me again last week;  Read Article…  Thanks, Delphine.