Archives for January 2010

Sunday Opinion: What Are You Planning?

Today is January 31st-if you are not thinking about what you have in store for your garden, and what your garden has in store for you come May, you are unavoidably sidetracked, or sideswiped.  Either scenario-you have my sincere sympathies; this happens to me every year too.  I think I have all the time in the world to dream until the date finally registers with me.  The winter months can fly by faster than you think, in spite of all the endlessly daily grey.  I am corresponding with a grower out west about his large scale espaliers, putting together a list of 12 inch annual basket combinations for Bogie Lake Greenhouse to grow, sketching every possible permutation of a shape for a swimming pool that will gracefully accomodate both a lap swimmer and family recreation in a very tight buildable space, and going over and over in my mind a design for a house only 6 feet from the road, whose flat back yard space is minimal-the rest dropping off precipitously. The shop is completely torn apart for cleaning, painting and rearranging; spring shipments are beginning to arrive. No doubt the best thing about January 31st is that I will not have to live through it again for another year. But it also means I only have 6 weeks to be ready for plenty. 

 What you are planning, and planning now, is of utmost importance. The garden waits for no one.  Gardeners are tinkerers-they have to be. In my zone there is some winter time to choose this over that, make changes, establish an order of events.  The seed loving people have been hard at work for weeks already.  You can’t grow every available string bean or cosmos-or can you?   I could not live in a climate without a winter season; I not only need reverie time, but I like it. I am set in my ecosystem, for good or for ill.  California gardeners-how I admire them. They have something every day progressing or declining-no neutral.  No time out or off. Of course this is my idea of what it is like to garden in California-unsullied by any experience. Where am I going with this?  The planning for a garden informs the work.  Though nature can wreck my plans in a capricious blink of her eye, an investment in some planning time is like a little insurance.  That baby blue spruce that would look so good next to the walk will become a big Mama spruce sooner than you think-how will it look in that spot, 25 feet tall and 10 feet wide?  It takes the same time, sweaty effort and money to plant something in the wrong place as the right one.  This is an obvious example of what is a good idea to think through before you act.  Other design issues are not so clear, and just take time to get the good and beautiful solution.  When I do not have any ideas that to my mind seem worth lifting a hand for, I say so, and take the time to come back. It is possible that one’s first pass at something is the best pass.  Its equally as likely that the 4th pass will be better than the 5th.  You won’t know this unless you take the time.      

  It seems to me that very good design is a significant part of every good product, novel, music, art or cuisine that comes my way.  And that some form of reflection plays a big part in the making.  Beautiful and thoughtful are good together in the same sentence, and on the same project.  It is true that time I give to my garden or yours means that something else does not get time. It could be the most expensive thing about a garden is the time it demands.  Making the decision to devote the time is the hardest part. I meet people all the time capable of imaginative and intriguing ideas.  Committing the time to giving form to those ideas is another thing altogether.  So should you be stuck indoors, or just stuck, play along with my plan if you choose. 

I am never more focused on design than I am right now, on the verge of February first. So that process what I will be talking about.  As this weather leaves me cold, the first thing I do is turn my eyes towards my interior landscapes.  The gardens of my dreams.  Inspiration is everywhere, provided you take the time to let it work you over.  (Yes, my garden works me over.)  I am thinking that if I take the time to look at my process more critically, it will make my gardens better.  It’s a place to start.

At A Glance: Luminous

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Villa d’Este

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Landscapes such as Villa D’Este, grand in scale and of epic proportion, are a visual delight.  I affectionately call them OPG’s-or “other people’s gardens”. The other person in this case-Cardinal Ippolito d’Este, a Catholic prelate whose work on his villa and garden took place on and off between 1550 and 1572.  According to Judith Chatfield in her book “A Tour of Italian Gardens”, “… the garden was famed throughout Europe before its completion.”  No surprise there.  This grand garden is a symphony-an opera if you will- to the beauty of water in a landscape.  The first of its kind in Italy, it is a national treasure, open to the public. 

Europe 2006_09 101 I have only visited this utterly romantic garden via these photographs of Rob’s.  I can only imagine, for plenty of reasons, what it must be like to be there.  My native topography is flat, and more flat. Only occasionally will a project come along with an unexpected change of grade as a central feature.  With the possible exception of Tahquamanon Falls, water like this is not part of my experience.  But that does not mean what I see here cannot be part of my vocabulary.      

Europe 2006_09 095Other people’s gardens can instruct, provoke, and influence the way one thinks about a garden.  The idea of fern and moss covered rock can be readily incorporated into any landscape, provided the conditions are right. Proper scale is a relative thing-but I try to err on the side of overscaled.  As a friend and mentor once said, who wants to get to the end of their gardenmaking and think they were never bold enough.  It’s a good thing in a landscape, to be driven by being bold enough.        

Europe 2006_09 099Lots of people own homes several stories high. I have likewise seen more than a few homes with two-story entrances.  Then what?  A landscape needs to address these features, and views. The beauty of the composition above lies in how it describes and emphasizes great depth, and space.  In the foreground is a strong sculpture whose scale I suspect is much over life size.  When my eyes go to what the figure in the sculpture must be looking at-the mid-ground fountain pool-its jet seems much smaller than the figure.  Smaller in the midground is another way of saying further away.  The terrace whose wet surface catches the eye next narrows to a walk.  The wide entrance to the walk is clearly marked by tall walls; when the walk disappears from view, it appears much narrower. The end of the walk thus seems very far away.  Where the walk leads-a mystery, from this perspective.  This photograph is a rectangular flat object-but what it pictures appears to have great depth. 

Europe 2006_09 100Every gardener knows any move gains importance when it is repeated.  Though probably not accurately, I count 42 pots in this photograph.  They make much of those rectangles of water, as do the yews in repetition.  The shapes of those yews and lawn echo the shapes of the water.  Far in the distance at ground level, a glimpse of that shade of blue that best says “I am far away”.  That blue dwarf spruce you are thinking of might be at its visual best as far from your view as possible-rather than close up.

Europe 2006_09 112The scale and the height of this fountain jet is right, given the height and scale of the villa.  My fountain jets at home will go fifteen feet in the air, should I feel like some big waterworks are in order.  Given the size of my house and garden, that fifteen feet reads on the same order as this fountain, just at a different scale.  

Europe 2006_09 085Everything in the architecture, the surfaces and the plantings are in support of this cascading water.  There is no visual confusion aboout what exactly is the star of the show.  Though elaborate in execution, it is very simple in design.  I am quite sure the natural land forms influenced the design as much as any other element.  A semi-circular wall of espaliers might make a similar statement on a property with little elevation change.

Europe 2006_09 107Looking back at the villa and its fountains from ground level, the pools seem immense, as they are close to your eye.  The trees and sky are bigger than the villa; they keep it company, naturally. This property is in fact very large.  It might be difficult to mask that, but it is a tribute to the designer here, Pirro Ligorio, that every aspect of his composition reinforces the depth and breadth of the space.  Villa d’Este aside, it is possible to design such that no matter the size, any property can be visually spatial. 

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It is no wonder to me that gardeners seem to greatly enjoy a garden tour.  Other people’s gardens-who knows how or what they might inspire.

Water In Your Garden

Antique Cast Iron French FountainI am sure I own the most fabulous French antique fountain on American soil-take a look; do you not agree?  I detailed some time ago the process by which this incredibly beautiful piece came to me-but it is not the subject of this post.  As beautiful as it is, a fountain, any fountain, is a means by which to introduce and integrate water as a decorative element in the landscape.  I do such injustice to use the word decorative; what water does for a landscape is give and sustain life.  What water does for a gardener borders on the sublime.

Fisher Garden Con (16)In my early years designing, I never went near any suggestion of a fountain, pond, pool, or lotus pot.  I did believe anything of any importance in a garden sprang from the earth, and grew. Arranging for delightful water for a client was just over my head, and beyond my capability.  It is the sorry truth that a lot of things I thought early on about landscape design proved to be provincial, ill-informed, and shallow. Thank heavens the normal course of events is to grow up into something.  My age and history is a good thing. At some point I figured out that fountains were not the sole province of public parks and libraries; any home garden is all the better for water in some form.  This English iron fountain I placed a few years ago-I never tire of the look of this water in motion, the peaceful sound of it.    

Nemer 151This very regal cast iron fountain is of American manufacture, mid 19th century. This part alone enchants me.  Placing an American garden ornament of historical significance in an American garden was a good moment.  It looks even better when the water is moving over its surface.  Note the planting of creeping jenny around-water splash comes with the territory when water drops a long way.  Plan for plants that like this regular shower when water is being pumped to great height. 

dgwspring_0004No matter any history, or construction issues, water beautifully representing in the air is available to any gardener. This small English iron version of a classical tiered fountain has a lead basin just 5 feet in diameter. This fountain is installation friendly; take it home, set it up, and plug it in.  Three things are at issue in putting together a fountain.  You need a means by which the water gets airborn.  This could be a decorative piece like this one, any pot or sculpture which can be modified to convey water. A copper spout works fine. You need a pump of sufficient power, and the electricity to run that pump.

DSC_0025These gorgeous glazed ceramic jars have been outfitted by the manufacturer brilliantly-meaning, thoughtfully.  The  jar, a water reservoir , and a pump make it possible to take this complete water feature home, place it in a great spot, plug it in, and learn firsthand about what water in the air can do for a garden. The water moves so slowly that it cannot break the surface tension of the jar surface.  No splash means you might consider bringing it indoors for the winter.

June 22 006My 26 foot long by 4 foot wide fountain-a gift from my Mom.  It so irritated her that I never took any time off work-she made an issue of this, when she was alive.  What she left me enabled me to build this fountain.  I hear the sound of it when I get out of my car at the end of the day.  I get in it, to cool off, and scale back. I go and sit in its company every day.   I am on vacation-at home. Some days I just look at all that watery motion from the deck.  I can hear it when I get in bed.  The action of the water in my garden-better than very good. 

Aug 15 003Water once meant no more than a good drink for my plants.  From the looks of this, it should be easy to see how fountain water can make a garden a better place to be.  

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No matter the size, shape, scale or material, a fountain has great appeal.  It can organize a garden space that invites visitors. It also recalls those hot summer days when standing under the hose meant really living.      

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Water, anyone?