Archives for October 2012

Monday Opinion: The Editors In Chief

Editing is a very important element of design.  Given a manuscript for a book, an editor may make suggestions about how to distill the message by editing the text.  An idea which takes too many loose and wandering paragraphs to fully explain will only appeal to the most devoted and hard working of audiences. Ideas that are simple and well crafted get attention.    

All of those distracting visual and written elements need to be swept off the page.  Clear, direct, concise, organized and distilled makes for a strong presentation. Distillation makes grappa, moonshine, and port much more potent.  Potent can refer to a taste, a smell, an idea or a vision.  A fully staged production of a ballet, a string quartet,  an opera, or play-visually potent.  One small painting by Lucien Freud could fire up, light up, an entire museum gallery.   

The written word can be especially potent.  A novel that is convincing and believable is a world unto itself, quite unlike any other world.  I am sure those sentences crafted by great writers have undergone numerous revisions.  When I read a novel, I am enchanted by the world that unfolds.  I am not privy to the editing.  While that process is interesting, I like a composition that at least makes reference to a finish. The visual word can be just as compelling.  A landscape that seems scattered and tentative might benefit from editing.  Getting rid of this, or grouping these with those, can help make a clearer and stronger statement.  Of course I have a point of view here.  I am drawn to landscapes that are simple, yet manage to aspire to the mysterious, the romantic, or the austere.  A critical eye put to every aspect of a plan from the grading to the plants to the planting gets rid of every element that is not essential to the design narrative. 

Who edits for me?  Clients, of course.  Clients have busy lives, and very real concerns.  They are the most important part of the design process.  Friends and children have an uncanny ability to spot a weak moment.Colleagues on whom I depend can spot trouble.  Close to nothing gets by my landscape superintendent.   They encourage me to edit my plan, for the sake of a clear and clean installation.  I can depend upon them to edit.  And then there is the editing from nature.  That is the toughest exam any design will ever face.

At A Glance: Fiery









100 Boxwood

 Concerning my schematic plan from yesterday-my clients one comment was that I needed to add 100 boxwood.  All of said 100 boxwood will be in pots.  The placement and configuration of 100 pots of boxwood every spring will be the first work of their gardening season.  They will haul them out of storage on a huge dolly (which they have already purchased), and discuss and decide where to place them.  Boxwood in all different sizes, some of which are topiary plants with distinctive forms,  in a collection of gorgeous pots.  They are both adamant, and thrilled about the idea of 100 boxwood in pots.  Far be it for me to deter their enthusiasm.   I did amend the schematic plan with a lot of green dots-although I think all of my dots only add up to 72.  I have no doubt they will be able to place their 100 pots-and have a good bit of fun doing it.

topiary boxwood

They already own a pair of these handmade French terra cotta pots planted with these boxwood.  The boxwood-buxus microphylla-was 52 inches in diameter when they acquired them.  They have been in these pots for 5 years.  I am not sure how many other boxwood they own, but they do have a substantial collection of plain handmade Italian terra cotta pots.

topiary boxwood

I will admit to a love for boxwood.  This plant speaks to no end of beautifully designed landscapes world wide.  This broadleafed evergreen graces landscapes all over this planet.  I love them pruned, wild, hedged, and in pots.  In my zone, they provide great shape, form, and color-year round.   

Growers all across the US grow boxwood in every form imaginable.  They are available 12 inches tall.  They are available 36 inches tall.  They are grown by some growers as a uniform crop.  Other growers grow them on, and trim them into spectacularly beautiful shapes. 

Clients who indicate they need to have 100 boxwood planted in  pots are clients of an unusual sort.  These are clients for whom the garden is all about romance.  What does their request mean to me?  A really good day. And a lot of thought about what a garden means.  Long after the end of the business day today, I am considering planting all of my pots next year with boxwood. Though I am unlikely to follow suit, their committment to such an extraordinary level of  romance has me thinking.  The story of a landscape dramatically colored by romance-love this.         



The Schematic Plan

What I call a schematic plan is another way of saying master plan.  A guide for the development of a landscape.  Clients who have an interest in a plan that they can work towards and implement over time always interest me.  A landscape of note implies a long term committment-gardeners willing to go that route will not only enjoy the process, but will find so much satisfaction in watching something grow.  It takes lots of time to regrade a property, reimagine the space, plant, and arrange for care.  This timeline does not even include the plants that die, and the changes that result from experience, or a change in taste.  Anyone who buys a ticket for the long term process that a really good landscape requires I admire.    

 A master plan is a schematic drawing noted for its broad strokes-not its details.  The vegetable garden will be there.  Friends will park here.  Parties could be staged in this garden.  Great views of the landscape from inside could be described by this, or that.  The rear yard will feature a particular shape-the particular plants are to be determined.  How does the landscape address movement?  The driveway needs to be this width, and accomodate this turning radius,  and needs to gracefully address vehicular traffic.   A big scheme is just that-a big fluid wish list with an attempt made to broadly define use and beauty.  There will be places to sit, garden spaces-spaces to view from afar. This master plan features a wide swath of decomposed granite all around a 19th century stone farmhouse.  There are plans for a conservatory style kitchen across the back of the house.  My clients are indicating they want to move ahead with the landscape.  This masterplan gives wide berth to additions that are planned for the house.  The additions will take vastly less time than the landscape.  I advised them that given the length of time it will take to create a landscape, the best time for them to begin construction is right now.         

columnar trees

My clients purchased a very large farm- a property that features 2 barns, 2 outbuildings, and a granary.  A granary?  A beautiful wood structure whose purpose was to store grain is a feature. My plan is to move that granary, currently set above ground on concrete blocks, directly and squarely opposite the rear of  their home.  The broad gesture?  This old stone farmhouse came with the outbuildings that make for a working farm.  Though it is unlikely that they will ever grow grain, and have a need to store it, the granary is a great place to stage a summer dinner party.  The house and the granary will become substantial bookends for a simple fountain garden.   

On either side of that fountain, there is a plan for an allee of columnar hornbeams, underplanted with European ginger and hellebores.  It would be a great spot for snowdrops and white crocus-or white Spanish bluebells.  This list may change, or be added to, or completely rethought- over time. The hornbeams will be planted equidistant from each other in this garden.  Once the allee crosses the gravel drive, the spacing between the trees gets wider, less regular.  Though they will be planted in a much less formal area, they will still maintain the site line established by the formal allee.

My clients have a particular interest in music and theatre.  They like nothing better than a summer concert staged outdoors.  The shape of the gardens adjacent to this round grass space that I call the music room make reference to their neeed for a space for such events.  The grasses are an informal material used in a more formal way.  The heights of the plants specified will provide some enclosure and privacy.  Viewed from the fountain pool, the northern sea oats will provide a contrasting and shimmering backdrop to the more formal and static hornbeam garden.  Viewed from the vegetable garden, it will look like a field of grain.  A reference to the agricultural history of the property will make those beds more visually believable, given that the setting is rural.  But those beds could be a collection of shrubs or small growing evergreens.  They could be a perennial mix that peaks during the summer months. They could be planted with roses.  A scheme needs to come first.  The details can come later.

I have labelled the vegetable garden a potager, as one of my clients is French.  The details of this garden will be provded by him.  I feel certain it will have a distinctly French feeling.  The garden footprint is exactly the size and location of a very old barn original to the farm, which needs to come down.  It is deteriorated such that to restore it would take resources my clients prefer to put elsewhere.  Hopefully someone will be interested in the salvage of all of the old beams and timbers.  The lower portion of the barn walls will be left standing, providing a fence for the garden.  Their property is host to lots of wild beings.  The floor of the barn has always been dirt.  With some work and lots of compost, it will be a great place to grow vegetables.

The other barn is in excellent condition.  It holds tools, and soil.  In the winter, the boxwoods in pots are stored here.  The barn gardens are actually quite beautiful and well developed.  There is no need to replace them.  The major changes will be about the perimeter shapes of those gardens. A hedge of arborvitae on the lot line will screen the house next door from view. A fenced cutting garden on the dog leg part of the property will be framed by a pair of pumpkin growing gardens. Two gardens devboted to growing pumpkins-how I envy them this.

The gravel driveway design is fairly close to what is existing now.  A major change will involve the addition of a drive which goes to the front door. On either side of that drive, a meadow planted with a grove of Venus dogwoods.  This meadow is a grass meadow.  A low growing low maintenance grass seed will be sown, and cut but once a year.  We have had very good luck with this particular seed mix, on unirrigated shady slopes, and in sunnier but relatively infertile ground.  The movement of all of the grasses will be a considerable contrast to the primary formality of the landscape.  

In the front, the distance between the hedge of Moonii yews and the road is 35 feet, but that footage is a steep slope, culminating in a drainage ditch.  The center of this slope will be the same short growing grass as the meadow.  This will permit a long view out, to the state lands across the road, from the front porch.  Shrubs will be planted into the slope where needed-lilacs, old fashioned spirea, viburnum, sumac, beauty bush-whatever seems right for a free for all mix.  Lucky the gardener that has enough land for a free for all. 

Of course the first step is to lay out the schematic plan, and see how it looks on the ground, full sized.  A lot of the preliminary tree work has already been done.  My clients seem to think the schem suits their property, their taste, and the history of the farm.  I am so pleased that this project is underway.