Archives for November 2010


 Our season is changing quickly now.  28 degrees overnight made for a fine fog this morning.  We finally had that first hard frost that I dread.  It is suddenly too cold to be outside-unless you are working.  Buck has drained the pool. I have chopped back every perennial on the property.  The roses look ridiculous without their perennial friends; they are such awkward and gangly growing things. The garden has an air of resignation about it.  At least the tulips are planted.  I am as busy planting pots with bulbs as I am redoing the shop for the holidays. Having one foot in winter and another in the spring to come is a way of coping with the winter that is surely on its way here.  I have occasionally planted left over tulips in crates for the spring, but this year I planned ahead.  The shop will have lots of pots of all manner of bulbs come spring.  I bought tulip mixes, grape hyacinth mixes, white daffodil mixes-even trout lilies. Some pots I will layer-my first time trying that.  Fortunately the garage here is of considerable size, so all the pots will have an unheated but indoor space for the winter.    

My Tuscan kale pots rank up there as one of my most favorite annual plantings.  Mandevillea does just fine left to its own devices.  Plectranthus and kale are stiff and solid growers; the swirling vines lightened that heavy look. They grew such that the pots looked small-this I liked.

Plectranthus has no tolerance for frost whatsoever-as you can see. It is dramatically unhappy with the turn of events. Even that cold tolerant kale looks defeated.  Overnight the thick stems and felted leaves have turned to mush. My once handsome pots look like a compost pile. I looked at this for a few days before emptying the pots.  Buck asked me if I was hoping they would perk up-this made me laugh.  Maybe I was. 

If a leaf is chilled below the dew point of the surrounding air, and that surface is colder than freezing, frost will form. Frost-scientists call this spicules of ice that grow out from that surface. Sounds bad, doesn’t it?  If there is a wind, frost arrows might form.  Hoarfrost refers to those white ice crystals you see deposited here on this kale.  Heat loss from these leaves makes their surface colder than the surrounding air; the water in the air condenses, and freezes. 

Air hoar, surface hoar, crevasse hoar, depth hoar, advection or wind frost, frost flowers, rime-of course there is plenty of scientific discourse on the subject.  Plectranthus, like tomatoes, is killed by frost.  Hardy perennials shed their leaves, go dormant, and survive freezing.  Evergreens shrug off the freeze and stay green throughout the winter.  The needle like foliage helps to conserve moisture during that time when the roots cannot take up water. The survival mechanisms of hardy plants are amazing.

Trees can be damaged over the winter from frost.  Very cold air temperatures on a very sunny day can result in frost crack to the bark.  When the grapes on the pergola here at the shop were young, we wrapped the bark in white tree wrap.  This helped to reflect the heat of the sun on a cold January day.  Now that they are better than 10 years old, the vines seem to withstand our winter weather without injury.

The walk across the lawn this morning-crunch, crunch.

More On The Warm-Up

Forty years after the fact, some of the landscape attending this fabulous home designed by Irv Tobocman is perilously overgrown.  Every gardener knows this-no garden, no landscape pays any mind to the pause button. Everything in the landscape is either moving forward, or declining.  A lower level terrace opens up a garden below grade-the natural slope of the property is retained by yet another brick wall. The brick wall is barely visible any more.  Most of the material here-I relocated.      I restored the view of the ground plane, and a view of the brick retaining wall. The Limelight hydrangeas, and the columnar gingko trees were planted above the wall-on the street side.  This brick wall is set invisibly into a natural slope; the view out the lower level of the house-beautiful. 

The gingkos trees underplanted with Limelight hydrangeas make for a substantial statement from the street.  The brick and gravel garden outside the lower level of the house-a completely private garden.   

A mini dog run for a mini dog named Pookie, and two mature crabapples are viewed prominently from the grilling terrace.  This space needed some tending to.  Areas like this I call a can opener.  Everyone has owned a can opener that works poorly-but for some reason, it doesn’t get replaced until it is about to fall apart.  Only then you realize what an aggravation it was to wrestle with, and how much better it is to have a tool that works.  The landscape here-not working so well.  Making this space look better- a breeze.  

Boxwood would enclose and remove most of the the dog run from view.  A thicket of hosta sieboldiana elegans will completely carpet the ground below the crabapples-this update aims for lush. 

The small space between the pool deck and the tall brick wall asks for a green and year round softening.  I am looking at an embarrassment of riches in hard surfaces here.  Modern can mean austere-but I like my austere a little more elegant than this.  My clients have no need to view the pool filtration pipes.  The intersection of concrete aggregate pool deck and brick wall will benefit from something living. 

I stuffed that small space with boxwood, and planted Boston Ivy on the wall.  It will make for a vibrantly green enclosure for the pool in no time. Pools generally have giant paved spaces around them-for obvious reasons.  But this does not mean they have to be cold.    

This bare gravelly space at the base of a U-shaped arrangement of very tall brick walls-stony, barky-neglected.  Though not in immediate view from the pool terrace, the look on the other side of the wall is not a good one.  An out of sight-out of mind spot.       

I planted Limelight hydrangeas here-with the idea that they would form a tall groundcover. Come summer, the flower heads will pop up above this pool wall, and bloom. The wall was necessary; it enabled a flat space large enough to build a pool.  The hydrangeas will obscure the indented portion of the wall from view, and strengthen the view of the flat portion of the wall.  

The far end of the pool deck is home to a sternly utilitarian black iron fence.  This row of hydrangeas will mitigate that jail-like look, and provide the landscape from the street with its third planting of hydrangeas.  The large block, the small block, and the single row will visually describe this large property from one end the other from the outside.  On the inside, they punctuate and soften all the hard surfaces.     

By next summer, there will be much more of a landscape to enjoy.


It was 28 degrees when I drove to work this morning-chilly.  The frost was unmistakable.  Chilly and frosty can apply to other things besides the weather.  Modern architecture can be a testament to everything nature is not-spare to the point of bare, intellectual, rigorously geometric-sometimes chilly.  One client with a modern house observed that it takes a certain kind of person to be able cheerfully set up camp in a sculpture. Thw landscape attending this modern house had gotten a little out of control; the repeating weeping birch were depressingly uneventful.  The untrimmed ivy diluted the impact of the multiple walls and changes of level that intended to make the landscape a compelling extension of the house.

Trimming the ivy made a huge improvement.  This property has little flat ground; Irving Tobocman designed a house for this site that occupies most of the existing level ground.  Those of you who live in my area know the work of Irving Tobocman.  His passion and gift for architecture is a legend well deserved.  My first contact with him was almost 25 years ago-I witnessed him mopping the floor with a fellow landscape designer who dared to insert his own landscape ideas between Irv and his final realization of a project. Suffice it to say it still remember the encounter. But this day that this ivy got pruned up-a happy day for me.  Those massive retaining walls were visually representing what he intended-an interesting conversation about natural and man made spaces .

My clients own a home designed by Irv in the 70’s-it is breathtaking.  Forgive my lame description, but the structure is low, very large and imposing, spot on simple, and modern.  The exterior hard surfaces fan out from the house; they are visually influential in size and scope.  The interior spaces soar and speak-they inspire awe.  I am sure he had a hand in every material and move from the brick cladding to the kitchen layout to the light switch covers. My observation?  Those clients who take on and choose to live in a house drenched in this kind of passionate creativity-they are game, and confident people.

My clients engaged Mr. Tobocman to consult and update when they bought the house-knowing they were asking for a cyclone, a firestorm, and a substantial outpouring of opinion.  They obviously weathered all of this with him-to good end.  But almost every outdoor surface is paved over; the massive front doors are inset, and part of a porch which is really a terrace.  Nothing green intrudes on this view.

I thought this space would benefit from a warm-up; we are trying out a pair of contemporary Belgian teak boxes.  The wood is a good look with the doors, and warmly contrasts with all of the brick.  Planters low enough not to obstruct those astonishingly large windows, but large enough to permit a personal expression-a great mix. The skylight in the roof washed the front door area with light; there will be no problem getting something to grow here.

The three large brick boxes topped in baltic ivy are very stark.  What could be done here that would better enhance the impact of the architecture?

The vertical faces of the walls had aged in a not so attractive way, but the top surfaces of all of these walls are perfect. Facing two of the brick boxes down with boxwood changes the relationship of the mass of the house to the property in a good way. The house seems a little more gracefully integrated into the landscape.

The front door terrace can be accessed by staircases from both the east and west side of the brick box that abuts the driveway.  A collection of contemporary stoneware planters can be arranged in a number of different ways.  My circular arrangement strongly contrasts with the dominant rectilinear shapes.

These pots could be planted, or not.  They could be planted such that the top soil surface would be well below the rim of the pots.  The planting would only be visible at close range. They could be planted all the same, or all different.  The pots could be rearranged to suit a season or occasion.

We scraped off all of the weedy grass in this small space, in preparation for quietly sculpting the lawn plane.  The soil was low; the ground usually soggy. A carefully graded green plane would set off this beautiful view of the house.

I think once the boxwood grows enough to be pruned level,  the landscape will have a deliberately tailored, but warmer look.

Sunday Opinion: Halloween Glee


My personal favorite-the cereal killer.

I had help from Buck and my friend Lynn dispersing 41 pounds of candy to what must have been several hundred trick or treaters.  A Halloween garden party featuring kids in costume, the fruits of the harvest, and chocolate-what could be better?