Archives for August 2012

At A Glance: Repeat After Me

container planting design

container planting with repeating elements

repetition in the landscape

planting in rows

limelight hydrangeas

Limelight hydrangeas and boltonia

boxwood in pots

repeating container planting

hellebores as groundcover

mass of picea mucrunulatum and hellebores

variegated hosta Krossa Regal

variegated Krossa Regal hosta

massing yews

drivecourt enclosed by yews

boxwood hedges

drive edged in yews and boxwood

massing boxwood

boxwood planted repeatedly

verbena bonariensis

panicum virgatum and verbena bonariensis

columnar Bradford pears


baltic ivy
brick, boxwood, baltic ivy-and chanticleer pears

Breaking Some Eggs

An old client with a new house-it happens on occasion. As I have lived in the same house for going on 18 years, I did not envy them this change. The old house and the new house are quite similar in size-not so the property.  They exchanged a very large, expansive, and private property for a city sized lot.  The back yard was very small; most of the space was taken up by a lap pool.  I knew we would have to break a few eggs before this landscape would pass muster.    


A really beautiful and old multitrunked magnolia was moved to the front yard.  We ditched a number of spireas, and a group of old and diseased evergreens.  The iron fence between the drive and the yard was removed, and stored.  At this point, the proximity of their house to others in the neighborhood became painfully obvious.  How could we arrange some privacy?  Privacy in an urban neighborhood is a relative thing.  Buck and I were privy to the music played graduation party given by our neighbors for their daughter.  We enjoyed that, but we also treasure our visual privacy.  

The lap pool was dug out; the hole was back filled.  We planted spruce along the back lot line, as we were able to secure trees with considerable height. Given that there was no room to maneuver a full sized tree spade, each tree was dug with a spade, balled and burlapped, then driven in and planted with the help of an excavator.

Those trees did a lot to screen the neighboring houses from view.  There was precious little space left over with which to design, but the walkway from the detached garage to the house would be a well used thoroughfare.  The walkway to the far library porch-equally important.   

The stonework took a lot of time.  The walkway to the sunken library terrace bumped out midway across the rear of the house.  This radiused terrace would provide a stopping point should there be a party or event.  No matter how small a yard, good and graceful circulation is important.

It seemed just about forever that this project was on hold, awaiting the completion of the stonework.   

Once the stonework was complete, we created a landscape bed in exactly the same radius as the leading edge of the terrace.  We planted a hedge of limelight hydrangeas-a favorite of this client.  A housewarming gift of 500 white tulips got planted in a space which would eventually be a collection of white flowering perennials. 

Great care was taken by the architect on this project to design a pergola which would connect the garage with the main house.  The main function of that pergola-to provide cover in that walk from the garage to the house in inclement weather.  My input-a clear polycarbonate roof.  No need for them to feel they were walking through a tunnel.  The pergola design got worked out.   DeGroot Spire arborvitae were planted as a green wall between the driveway, and the back yard.  They will tolerate the small space given to them, and will eventually be able to be pruned formally across the top. 

The original iron fence and gates have been reinstalled.  Today, there is no hint of what it took to transform this space.   

Small spaces are very hard to design, as every square foot counts.  There is no room for an unresolved issue or tentative solution.  Every element has to work, with every other element.  What you see here is the result of a client, an architect, the excavator who removed the pool, a stone mason, an electrician, a pergola construction company, the large tree moving and planting company, the air conditioning and generator people, the painters, and our landscape company-working together to produce a credible landscape project.     

There is no hint now of any broken eggs.  All of the discussions, revisions, and re-revisions are in the past.   

Of course there will be ongoing issues.  But there will also be ongoing pleasures.   

This brick wall to the west-my client had no love for the look of it.  She likes green.  Happily we were able to plant ivy grown on galvanized steel screens.  They are taking hold, and will cover this brick wall in no time. 


I am very pleased that this landscape renovation, which started late in 2010, is finally finished.  Big changes in a landscape take lots of time.  Change lives on a diet of time and more time.  I try to remember this.


Unless we are talking about compost, brown in the summer landscape is usually a sign of trouble.  Brown grass is grass in need of rain.  That cinnamon orange color means the yew is stone cold dead.  Burnt brown leaves on a shade tree can mean a lot of things-none of them good.  Brown blotches on the maple tree leaves and roses-a fungus at work.  But there are some brown foliaged plants that are quite handsome.  Having planted my pots at home with color loud enough to make some people wince, I decided maybe a quieter year was in order.    

Pairing the brown vine with silvery grey green seemed like a moody choice.  At first, it even seemed crabby.  But it did not take long for me to fall for it.  This is the best part of gardening with containers-the opportunity to try something new.  I have has these Italian terra cotta urns a long time.  That goat man is a feature of this pot; the blue sedum in front will never obscure that face.  The silver dichondra grows long.  By the end of the summer, it will reach the ground.  The leaves are amazingly shiny.  That surface is a good textural contrast to the felted leaves of the dusty miller.     

The potato vine references the color of the Italian clay. A variety of grey foliaged plants, including Victorian rosemary, sage, variegated licorice, and variegated thyme are talking quietly amongst themselves about texture and form.

The red-brown foliaged hibiscus grows tall and wide.  By summer’s end, it will make a wall of its own at the end of the terrace.  The leaves of pink polka dot plant are green, splashed with pink.  From a distance they look brownish.  The blue flapjack kalanchoe in the small pot is not a grey foliaged plant, but the color harmonizes well with grey.  

A variegated lavender and variegated sedum has the same blue green look as the kalanchoe.  The variegated centerpiece whose name I do not know had decidedly brown stems-a subtle feature that pleases me.  The carex frosted curls is as graceful as can be.

My antique Italian olive jar is home to an olive tree Rob bought me at a nursery in Austin Texas.  This is its first summer outdoors-I usually keep it in the shop greenhouse.  It must be happy-it is growing.  The ruff of santolina adds a little substantive transition between the tree and its pot.  I greatly like how these plantings harmonize with the color of the brick, the furniture, and the old decking.  This has been a fairly easy planting to look after, as all of these plants are drought resistant.   

I am growing two of what I call fancy leaved begonias.  The escargot begonia looks brown, or green, or grey, depending on the light and time of day.  The pepperomias on either side are a dark steely grey.  Though I am a fan of pepperomias in general, I have always shied away from this one.  Some plants are of a color that is hard to use.  I am so glad that this pepperomia and this escargot begonia found each other.  The white arrow leaved caladiums make the dark colors read clearly.  A green backdrop would make the colors of the foreground plants look muddy.  The silver leaved begonia has grown considerably in just 2 months.  The underplanting of green tropical ferns disguise those begonia legs.  So far, so good with these.  I am very careful to keep them as dry as possible, which helps avoid rot and fungus. 

In the driveway, the chocolate coleus makes a very strong statement.  I like it better than anything else I have ever planted in front of this wall.  As this garden is primarily viewed from away and above, a little white in the form of mandevillea, petunias, euphorbia Diamond Frost and 3D osteos keeps things lively.  

The colorblaze Velvet mocha coleus I would use again.  It is a very willing grower.  The color is clear and rich, and does not fade.  It makes a very handsome annual hedge.   

I will be interested to see if the 3D osteospermum come back into bloom in the fall.  But for their stubbornly bushy and mostly green state, I am enjoying what is going on here.  These colors look great with the brown of the driveway brick, and the yellow brown stone walls. 

These bits of brown in the garden-I like them.

Monday Opinion: The Dreaded Gaposis

Gaposis?  Though it isn’t a real word, it describes a spot I’ve been in all too many times.  It  is not too tough to figure out what it means.  A gap is an opening, or space.  Does not everyone remember that look, having lost a front baby tooth?  So embarrasing, that gap.  The Cumberland Gap is a naturally existing  passage way through the Cumberland mountains.  This deep sloping ravine, improved upon by pioneering Americans,  was the opening in the southern Appalachian mountains that permitted travel.  A gap can also refer to an interruption in a thought or design, a breach in a wall, a missing verb, or a miscalculation.  A gap is an obvious and conspicuous imbalance.  All this-from an online dictionary. The suffix -osis is usually found at the end of a noun.  Osis refers to a process, or state.  Metamorphosis-the process of changing from one form to another.

My imaginary word gaposis refers to a missing piece, a lack of continuity that results in empty, inexplicable,  unproductive, or unbalanced exchange.  or space.    A gaposis in one’s chain of thought means that a thought not clearly expressed might not be understood.  A gaposis in a design interrupts the intended rhythm.  A dead lavender in a lavender hedge is a gaposis.  It is a clear sign that something is missing.  That gap subtracts from the beauty of the remaining plants. Continuity which is abruptly breached by some unforeseen gap detracts from the overall fluidity effectiveness of an argument, an essay, a landscape plan, a sea wall, an idea;  blips-have you not had them? 

Routinely I have clients ask me questions I cannot answer.  I admit the gaposis in my knowledge, but assure them I will try to find the answer.  Some questions have no answer.  If a client wants me to promise that the Maureen tulips will be in full bloom the day her daughter gets married, I won’t.  But I will tell her I won’t let her go over the cliff and into the gap alone.  There needs to be a plan B in place.  There are gaps in my knowledge of the history of landscape design.  There are gaps in my knowledge of horticulture.  There are gaps all over my landscape.    

It is reasonable for my clients to assume I am educated in regards to good planting practices, horticulture, and design.  Anything and everything I learn about the history of landscape and garden design, the identity and cultivation of plants makes me a better designer.  I buy books, and read them.  I hope everything that I read, and my experience makes for as gaposis free as possible client experience.  Any bill that goes out from my office details the work – start to finish.  The genus and species of every plant we plant-detailed, and spelled right.  No gaps.

In my opinion, the word and the meaning of gaposis needs to be introduced to the popular landscape design vernacular.  Unattended gaps should worry any design professional.  It is as important to see what is missing as it is to edit.  For those of you gardeners who garden on your own, make sure your design has purpose, and logic.  A landscape space that flows is gap free.      

Every gap can be filled with knowledge and experience.  Until the next new gap comes along, that is.