Archives for June 2011

Before And After

Some of my before and after projects are about such fine tuning, that you have to be there to see it.  This landscape is so dramatically rearranged, you will have no problem sorting it out.  This mid 1960’s modern ranch, belonging to a young couple with small children, had been gutted, remodelled, and added on to in the early 2000’s with the help of architect Michael Willoughby.  The landscape had been renovated, but without much regard for the striking architecture.  From the street, a small bed anchored by a beautiful chamaecyparis, an amelanchier, a few boxwood, and an assorrtment of perennials had suburban landscape written all over it.  A big hedge of globe arborvitae on the right side obstructed any street view of what was planted behind it.  There were boxwood on the left side of the front door, but no answer on the right side.  The left side landscape trailed off in the winter-nothing evergreen going on there.  All of the plant material was good-I just needed to transplant-and transplant lots. 

This picture I took today shows the globe arborvitaes moved to the center of the yard on the street side of the drive; they now enclose a perennial garden that can be seen driving up to the front door.  The small marooned bed on the left side of the drive was removed; that space was sodded over.  The chamaecyparis, and the perennials were moved to the right side of the drive.  The fabulous collection of mature Sum and Sunstance hostas are now visible from the street, given the globe arb move.  I am liking the long low slung look of the architecture-punctuated by a few well placed vertical elements. 

The driveway was the primary element of the front yard. But for 2 small and disconnected beds, the majority of the front yard was home to a single large tree, and lawn.  The majority of the landscape was confined to the house side of the driveway. Beds on one side of the drive-grass on the other.  A drive that appears to intersect a large bed makes the landscape more important visually.  Anyone who drives to the front door now has a landscape all around them.  This is very friendly and welcoming to company.

Homes of this vintage-my clients wanted to get rid of the gutters in favor of a cleaner more modern look.  Rain chains would be installed where absolutely necessary.  However, heavy rains pour off this roof.  A barked bed of hydrangeas struggling in the shade, and ornamental grasses do not  make a good winter presentation.  The spring look-not so swell either.  There is a lot of wall here-a wall that seemed to be asking for something evergreen.   

I know we have not gotten to the back yard yet, but the yews in the back yard were suffering in poorly drained soil.  We dug them up, and moved them up front-to higher ground.  Yews respond almost instantly if the unwelcome water gets drained away-this group of yews are looking great.   The grass patch in front of them-a raincatcher.  At some later date, another solution might present itself. In two days, I moved most every shrub on this property to different locations.  My quick idea here-get rid of a barked surface in a place that would get pounded by a heavy rain.    

The best part of this redo-a substantial evergreen presence on the left side of the front door.  All of the rest of the existing plant material was beautiful, and very well cared for.  The challenge of this project-designing a renovation that would take full advantage of all of the existing plants.   

The rear yard was dominated by tall ornamental grasses, and limelight hydrangeas.  I am all for both of those plants-in the right place.  My clients have 2 acres of property.  Their view out to that property was completely obscured from their terrace by plants that grew too tall. 

A beautifully long and low slung house from the seventies asks for a landscape that respects the gestures made by the architecture.  The hydrangeas were a strongly vertical mass in a spot that asked for a view out.  The yews were suffering in the watery soil.   

I moved all of the yews to the front yard.  I realigned the beds off of the terrace. The limelight hydrangeas off the terrace I moved to stage left, to in front of the bedroom wall.  The short All Summer Beauty hydrangeas planted in front of the left bedroom wall, I moved to the center.  I recut the three boxwood beds so the lined up with one another, , and rearranged the boxwood in a symmetrical way. A grass panel between the beds permits a great view of the dogwood on the terrace level from the yard.   My idea?  A crisp and clean landscape.  And a great long view from the terrace to the far landscape.  

Minus the yews and limelight hydrangeas, there was space for a fountain cistern.  We placed and installed it today.  I hear tell there will be water next Tuesday. The scale of the landscape here is better in keeping with the terrace.

Last summer, my clients had a view out of of the sides of a big block of limelight hydrangeas.  Today, they have a a great view of their yard from their terrace, outdoor kitchen, and a pergola.  A great pair of modern dining tables and chairs are just asking for friends and family; everyone has something to look at now.  The fountain cistern is a mid-ground focal point; the sound of water will be lovely. I could not be more pleased about the great views they now have of of their property.  All of the effort that has gone into the far landscape can be seen now.  A good bit of their shrubby plant material found homes where they could better be appreciated.

Love That Lime


A client who saw the Princeton Gold maples-all 14 of them-in my yard, decided he had to have them.  Bravo, I said.  Mind you, they are not a tree for the faint of heart.  Their lime green leaves are visible for blocks.  Love that lime, or grab your sunglasses and wince-these maples make a statement.  A big statement.  It is one thing to have some lime green coleus, or a few creeping jenny.  These maples say lime green on a big scale.     

OK, I went ahead and planted 12 Princeton Gold maples down his lot line.  Each tree had multiple trunks; each one is a gorgeous tree in its own right.  The trees got planted in an open curve.  My infatuation with lime green dates back to 1967.  My junior prom.  Against my Mom’s advice, I bought a lime green dress-I went so far as to wear it.  Against a sea of pale blue, peach, and pink prom dresses, I stood out.  Oh yes, lime green stands out.  I do not remember much about that night but my interest in lime green has persisted.         

The twelve maples in the ground needed some finishing.  66 flats of baltic ivy made these trees seem part of the existing landscape. Ancient spruce on the lot line had declined.  The tops were green; the bottoms-skeletal.  Some landscape renovations simply ask for a planting to face down an old and declining planting.  Maples do so well in shade; a climax forest in Michigan is beech and maple.  I have better luck establishing this tree when it has some protection from afternoon sun.  The heads of these maples add some green back to the landscape view at eye level.    

Princeton Gold maples stand out from the crowd of greens.  This brilliant spring color does fade some when summer arrives. In open areas the top leaves may scorch when the weather gets very hot.  They mature at a fairly small size-25-30 feet tall.  This makes them an ideal shade tree for a small property.  

Lime green in the landscape-I have a soft spot for this.  It is especially effective at brightening up shady places. It makes every other color look better and brighter.

The dracaena Janet Craig is all about that lime.  This Belgian oak box is stuffed full.  What makes this planting especially dramatic is the architecture.  The porch is very deep, and covered with a roof, but for a skylight right in front of the door. 

The light from this skylight really brings that lime to life.  This dracaena will do well in this very low light environment.  Like the maples, these leaves will scorch if exposed to too much sun.  These pots have a very fresh and contemporary look, courtesy of a little lime green.

Mad For Orange

Though the annual planting at the shop this year was inspired by a client’s planting of Orange Punch cannas, I owe part of my infatuation with orange this year to Margaret Roach.  She published a picture of this potunia “Papaya” on her blog- ; it did indeed look delicious. I knew if anyone was growing it, Telly’s would.  George sent me up to his growing farm for 8 cases of 4″ plants.  This petunia is planted along the shop driveway, along with Freckles coleus, lime licorice, and red violet petunias.    

An all out, all orange annual garden seemed like it might be difficult to achieve, since the color orange in plants varies so widely.  One small strip of Sonic orange New Guinea impatiens at home is as loud as a brass band.  I decided a mix of all of those colors that look great with orange would be better.  Yellow, lime, and red violet seemed like a more visually interesting way to go.  The rain has been tough on the petunias.  I quickly realized that the petunia “Terra Cotta” is not the performer that other petunias are.  One of the best reasons to have a mix of plants-the weather.  One never knows what a season will be, but for sure some things will do poorly, and others will do well.    

The red pigment in this banana leaf reads orangy-brown to my eye.  I have never grown “Siam Ruby” before.  I have it placed at a sunny corner of the shop building; this is a very sunny and very hot spot.  There is plenty of room, should it grow large and tall.      

I have underplanted it with that Sonic Scarlet New Guinea impatiens, which is as orange as orange can be.  I think they will appreciate a little shade from the banana leaves-we’ll see.

This rhizomatous begonia is called “Madame Queen”; it is perfectly named.  The large crested olive green leaves are a fiery red/orange on the obverse.  I underplanted it with Ruby Red spikemoss, or clubmoss- a red foliaged selaginella.  The combination is one of my favorites in my series of containers featuring orange. 

The Bullseye series of seed geraniums is a great performer for containers and window boxes-I have better luck growing these than I do with zonal geraniums.  The tricolor geranium right next to it is just as easy to grow.  Sometimes known as Skies of Italy, the variegated leaves of green, orange brown and cream yellow look great with lots of other plants.  The orange flowers are not so showy, but they are obligingly bright orange.   

I have had plenty to say about the Solenia series of begonias.  They are tolerant of lots of sun, and relatively easy to care for.  I just make sure to be sure they are in need of water before I add some.  When I do kill them, it is almost always from rot.  Their thick juicy stems are very watery-I wait until the soil seems tgo be just about dried out before I water.      

My annual garden is well on its way-a little dry warm and sunny weather will help bring on the orange.  The freshly trimmed boxwood and arborvitae provide some cooly elegant structure for what will soon become riotous color.  This is a substantial change from last year’s green and white scheme-this I like.  For those of you who would rather visit an Orange Punch garden than have one, we will be ready for company in short order.

At A Glance: Pruning The Boxwood

Mindy from M and M Flowers sends a crew every year in late June to prune the boxwood garden in front of the shop.  Pruning day is a really big deal; I make sure the spring growth is totally flushed out before I ask her to prune. This is a big job that takes a lot of planning and thought.  If you prune your boxwood too early, you may be faced with the prospect of pruning it again.    

I like the spring flush of boxwood growth to be done, and hardening off-prior to the music of the shears.  I so have patience for this part of my landscape maintenance. Once a year-the pruning of the boxwood. The boxwood cue me-I do not cue them.  The steel poles driven into the ground, and the carefully drawn level lines are a sure sign of a formal pruning event to come. 

Mindy’s crew prunes my boxwood with hand shears.  Corona is by no means a designer tool company.  They make reasonally priced and well engineered tools.  My point here?  Pruning boxwood is not about a tool.  It is about an experienced eye, and a willing and patient pair of hands.  Gorgeous pruning has everything to do with that individual who is willing to clip clip clip-with a sharp tool, for hours on end.

Techny arborvitae grow so so slow-it should have been named  Arborvitae The Snail. My short pair of techny arborvitae hedges enclosing the shop property-every bit of 13 years old.  They are just now coming into their own.       

The face of those Technys need a snip snip here or there-or everywhere. They need a top swipe, level with the horizon.   A tool that makes pruning way up in the air possible-an aluminum tripod ladder.   

Three men pruned from 8:30 this Sunday morning, until 3:30 this Sunday afternoon.  This means 7 hours, for each of three people.  My boxwood, pruned properly, takes 21 hours.     

As the pruning of the boxwood begins to take shape-I am so pleased.   

The boxwood in the front of the shop suffered terribly, given several winters with incredibly heavy snow loads.  We are on year two of a treatment for a rare fungal infection  from hell. The boxwood are being trimmed a shade looser this year.  Every move in a landscape asks for some thought.  Some spot on, current and relevant thought can make for a great garden.

By the end of the day today, I breathed a big breath.  The landscape at the shop looks beautiful to me.