The Landscape Finish

I have written a number of posts about this very special project that has taken better than a year to complete. I have saved the landscape finish for last, as that part had to wait for the walls, terraces, stairs, driveway and pergolas to at least be underway before we could begin. A close friend suggested that I post before and after pictures. When designing a landscape for a period home such as this, the outcome needs to be convincingly tuned in to the aura created by the architecture. Meaning it should be tough to differentiate between what was, and what is new. So before and after pictures can help illustrate that process. My client discovered a stack of old photographs in the basement after she purchased the home. The above picture she dates around 1925.

My first visit to her new house revealed a stately old home with an aging landscape. The driveway was very close to the front door. A limited planting space in front of the house years after planting produced a hedge of yews well over the bottom of the ground floor windows.

A brick wall between the sidewalk and the drive was covered with euonymus sarcoxie. Planted between the driveway and the walk, an ailing maple whose girdling roots had heaved itself and the sidewalk out of level.

A new drive positioned a more generous distance from the front door enabled room for planter boxes under the windows, and some breathing room for landscape and lawn. The house has become the focal point of the landscape, and there is sun at the front door given the removal of the maple. A lovely and existing multi stemmed serviceberry at the corner was preserved, and integrated into the new landscape.

The view into the side yard was typical of an old landscape. More than likely some plants had died over the years, and not been replaced. As the trees grew, the advancing shade proved difficult for plants in their vicinity to thrive. The ground sloped dramatically away from the house.

The finished front yard landscape renovation features that serviceberry tree. And a reconfigured grade. The replacement of the existing driveway meant its location could be changed, and the abrupt change of grade from the house to the property line could be softened. The boxwood planted across the front of the house was extended all the way across to the lot line. That placement visually extends the front yard landscape. In the center, a large break in the boxwood signaled the entry into the side garden. That side garden would become its own room with a view from a restored terrace off the sun porch. It would also serve as a transition space from the front to the back yard. The house sits on a corner, which present both problems and opportunities.

The idea was to respect the period, age and architecture of the house in such a way that it also reflected my client’s somewhat more modern aesthetic. A restricted palette of plants, and a massed planting can be both both classical and contemporary in feeling.

The side yard finish reveals the concession made to the original grade at the house.  A flagstone retaining wall 20″ high allowed for a flat surface on which to walk. I do not know how many yards of sand and soil were added to create the flat lawn areas you see in the above picture, but it was a huge number.

restored version of original side yard terrace off the sun porch

This side yard photo from my first visit dramatically illustrates the sloping grade.

detail  of that area 2017

This recent picture of the side garden was taken just after the installation of the fence and gates.The curved sections of fencing repeat the circular shape of the lawn panel, and then proceed straight to a terminus at the house, and the brick wall on the property line.

2019

2019

2017

lawn panel rear yard, 2019

This photo illustrates how the original terrace on the right side of this picture was enlarged to encompass all three sides of the sun porch. A wide flight of limestone stairs down to the fountain garden and cloister deals with the abrupt change of grade in a graceful way.  The seat height brick walls with limestone caps repeats and mirrors the exterior details of the house. This new part of the landscape looks as though it had always been there.

The cloister style pergola has been planted with John Davis and Jeanne LeJoie roses, and Guernsey Cream clematis.

2017

2019

2019

2017

2019

rose garden arbor, fence and gates at the end of the driveway.

2017

2019

2019

2019

After I had made my presentation to my client about a plan for her landscape, she shared several photographs with me. In the 1920’s, the landscape off the rear yard sun porch featured a fountain with a pergola overhead. I was shocked to see that the original landscape in 1920 was a close and original version of the landscape I proposed to my client. That shock gave way to a thought on my part that the design properly respected the history of this property.

2017 sun porch landscape

the view to the house, 2017

the view into the house, 2019.

2019

the view out and away from the house, 1920.

the view out, 2019

the reflecting pool

I am so pleased with the outcome of this project, and even more grateful for that once in a blue moon client that was on board for each and every detail.

 

Cultivating Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas of varying types have to be the most widely grown summer flowering shrubs of all. How so? The numbers of cultivars bred from the species serrata, macrophylla, paniculata, arborescens, anomala (climbing hydrangea) and quercifolia (oakleaf hydrangea) surely number in the hundreds. The numbers of those hybrids and cultivars commonly available for sale are staggering. And it seems that every year new cultivars are offered for sale. Should you be interested in hydrangeas for your garden, there are many from which to choose. I am by no means complaining. A warm sunny late July day in my zone featuring a blue sky and the hydrangeas in bloom is one definition of a Michigan summer garden. The spring in Michigan is breathtaking for the sheer number and diversity of plants that break dormancy, come on, and bloom. And of course the June garden features the peonies, roses and delphiniums, and countless other perennials. The July and August garden is ruled by the hydrangeas, much to my delight. I do love these robust growing shrubs that grow and bloom profusely. My hydrangeas make me look like an accomplished gardener, and ask for little in return.       That said, I am fairly selective in what varieties I plant. The short version is that I avoid any hydrangea that blooms on the previous year’s growth. Michigan winters can and will kill the latent flower buds. Pink and blue hydrangeas may do well for you, but they are underwhelming for me. I tend to stick with just a few of the available white blooming cultivars. Hydrangea paniculata, notably Limelight, and its compact relative Bobo, is hardy as can be. These cultivars are overwhelmingly generous with their flowers. They are solidly hardy in my zone. My Limelight hydrangeas in my front yard have been there over 20 years, and endured every one of my pruning experiments. I try to dust them with Hollytone in the spring – but if I forget, they grow and bloom anyway. If I am late with the water, the wilted leaves let you know to get out the hose and use it. Should I cut the blooms, they are gorgeous in a vase. The aftermath of a vase full of hydrangeas is a vase full of dry hydrangeas.

I have a number of clients with Limelight hydrangeas on standard in containers. A number of them choose to overwinter them in their pots, against my advice. I am not a fan of overwintering any plants in pots in my zone. Very few plants can tolerate their roots being above ground during our winter. My worries were unfounded. All of those hydrangeas spending the winter in pots came on without skipping a beat. Our past winter dealt a lot of damage to woody plants. I lost the entire top of a picea mucrunata – shocking, this. Four boxwood burned and died near my front walk. It was a sleeper tough winter. I was shocked at the extent of the winter damage this spring. But the hydrangeas in pots did not skip a beat. One pair has been in pots for 8 years now. Really? That is what I call the willingness to be. I decided to try them myself, both at the shop, and at home. Our grower prunes them after they flower, in July, and again early the following spring.  This routine keeps the heads compact and dense.

Cultivating hydrangeas is not that difficult. Site them with more sun than not-meaning 6 hours a day of good sun. . They do like that sun to bloom well. Hydrangeas can be quite shade tolerant, but those in a lot of shade have weak stems and sparse flowering. Have a lot of shade? Try the oak leaf hydrangea. All of the cultivars of Hydrangea quercifolia are very tolerant of low light. The oak leafs are reputed to do very well in southern US locations. They are easy going about the soil composition, but soil that is enriched with organic matter is optimal.  Being large shrubs with a full complement of large leaves, they need a regular supply of water. Don’t be fooled by their wilting leaves on a very hot day. Those big leaves are thin, and they wilt from heat. If they perk up once the sun goes down, and the weather cools, leave the watering for another time. Hydrangeas of one kind or another in my zone have been blooming or are about to bloom for several weeks. Annabelle hydrangeas typically bloom in June here. A very cold spring set the bloom date back a bit, but all of the rain attending that chill resulted in luxuriant growth. The cultivars known as Bobo (a dwarf relative of Limelight) and Incrediball (a more upright and strong stemmed version of Annabelle). The Little Lime hydrangeas are budding up, and will be in bloom soon. As much as my clients might want pink or blue hydrangeas, I discourage planting hydrangeas in my zone that bloom on old wood. Our winters can be breathtakingly cold and hard. The shrubs will survive. The flowers not so much. The Bobo hydrangeas pictured above bloom profusely. The white florets have a decidedly greenish cast. The color of the creeping jenny on these stone stairs echoes that green.

These Bobos are planted in full sun. Do not try this at home unless you have the patience and dedication to monitor the water closely. The flowers will burn and go brown if the plant lacks for water. Some afternoon shade is a good idea. If you have the room, massing hydrangeas can be an especially dramatic look. Their are no hard and fast rules about the spacing. The mature size of a Bobo is 3′-5′, so spacing them at 4′ apart will result in a billowy and undulating hedge. Spacing them at 36″-42″ inches on center refers to the distance from the center of one plant to the center of the next. This spacing will produce a denser hedge or mass. There are pros and cons to every spacing decision. But it is worthwhile to note that hydrangeas grow very fast.

A hydrangea of decent size in a nursery pot means the plants are most likely root bound. This means they will need to be watered faithfully, maybe daily, until they settle in. That water needs to be applied directly to the root ball. A newly planted hydrangea that goes dry can react with singed leaves and flowers.

Enough sun and water and some moisture retentive soil is all they ask for.

A mass of Bobo hydrangea

Even the north sides of these south facing hydrangeas bloom well.

mass of hydrangea Incrediball

On my driveway, a Limelight hydrangea on standard is getting ready to bloom.

Pruning The Boxwood

boxwood hedgesThe day that Melissa and her crew comes to prune my boxwood is my favorite day of the gardening year. First and foremost, their pruning is extraordinarily true and square. So precise. It takes a while to set up all of the level lines that will serve at a cutting guide. But beyond the string lines is a skill that is astonishing to watch. The coordination between the eye, and a heavy pair of shears held either horizontally or vertically takes strength, patience, experience, and talent. Loads of talent. I so admire their skill, concentration and resolve. Pruning my boxwood takes the better part of a day.

Secondly, that pruning is a natural extension of the intent of the design. The pleasure I derive from my primarily evergreen landscape is a simple one. I like what weather does to the landscape. Weather acting on the landscape changes the look and experience of it, day after day. The sunny days create shadows that highlight the forms. Overcast days emphasize the contrast of the leaf texture with the volume and mass of the shapes. The random leaves falling from the trees in October provide as much fresh interest as a dusting of new snow. Rain makes all of the evergreen surfaces sparkle.

The boxwood is the most formal element of the landscape, as both the placement and pruning is formal. That hand pruning makes all of the forms clear. That snip snip snip goes on all day long. The sound is regular, and musical. The painstakingly trimmed boxwood is a beautiful contrast to the big wild growing hydrangeas. Boxwood left to its own devices has a beautiful and gently shaggy appearance. That look can work well in a variety of circumstances. But I favor a look that is orderly and defined. I find that clean crisp look relaxing. It is the feeling I want, when I am in the garden.

Melissa and her crew take what I have taken great pains to grow, and prune them into distinct shapes. It is amazing how much they grow out in a year’s time. The pruning timing can be tricky.  I do not like to prune before the spring flush is finished. Pruning too early means it will take another round later on to keep them neat. So later in June, in my zone. I also like to prune before the weather gets too hot.  Pruning on a 90 degree day will insure that the tender growth underneath that has been completely shaded will burn in the blazing hot sun. Pruning is a call to grow, so I try not to prune later in the season.  Evergreen plants should begin the shutting down process in August, so when the winter comes, they are completely dormant.

Most of these boxwood are better than 20 years old. Clearly they cheerfully tolerate this type of pruning. Not all evergreens like this.  Yews especially can die out on the interior if they are pruned into densely formal shapes.  They need some air and light to penetrate to the interior.  All of the spreading yews on my property have a natural look to them, for exactly that reason. A healthy plant is a beautiful plant. If I am looking for a hedging yew with a formal shape, I choose a cultivar that grows that way, naturally. Taxus media “Mooni” is a formal grower, and rarely needs much pruning to keep it in shape.

At days end, I still like the composition decades old. And I know that, as Henry Mitchell once wrote, great gardens are the result of the intensive care of the present. The care my landscape gets might easily be more important than the design. Well cared for is always a good look. Mow the grass, pull the weeds, and prune the shrubs.

I drive Milo and I here every day after work. For several years now, I have parked in front, and ushered my dogs up the front steps. Howard needed help going up even a single step. This was the easiest way in for him. I could lift him over the two sets of two steps. He passed away in late May, but Milo and I still enjoy coming home, and walking up to the front door. How this looks after the trim makes me happy to come home.

I do have a secondary entrance to the side garden. Trimmed boxwood hugs the grass ramp up. The design here makes much of the foreground boxwood, the midground hydrangeas, and the far ground container in the side yard. In the background is a glimpse of the Princeton Gold maple trees. This is a good summer look, but it looks good no matter the season. And no matter the weather.

The side yard boxwood is accompanied by an old hedge of thuja nigra, and a stand of Princeton Gold maple trees to the east on the lower level. I like all of the green. From the trees down to the grass. Peaceful, this.

These side yard boxwoods are at least 20 years old. All trimmed up, they do my head, heart and eye a world of good.  The edger strip enclosing the gravel at their base has been in long enough to go wobbly. But the boxwood is as level straight and true as can be.

See what I mean?

Buck, Milo and I come up here every night to talk over the news of the day. This years news? The boxwood has grown out enough to be flush with the raised steel edger strip. It has taken many years to get to this point, but I am loving the look. The big idea? Those simple pleasures in a landscape can mean so much. Simple is good for the three of us. Well maintained makes every garden maker feel better.

As a designer, I take a good bit of time trying to find out what clients want from their landscapes. That is key to providing them a good design. This client has some big boxwood in her future.

 

The 2019 Garden Cruise

On Sunday July 21, Detroit Garden Works will host its 12th Garden Cruise to benefit the Greening of Detroit.  If you have never taken or heard of our tour, it began in 2009 when I became a member of their board of governors. Not being one to happily participate in meetings and such, I decided to put my effort into raising money for them. Since 2009, the tour of gardens and landscapes of my design or influence has raised close to 156,000.00. I could not be happier about this. Both Detroit Garden Works and Deborah Silver and Co pitch in to make the cruise and reception a reality. 100% of the proceeds of the ticket sales goes to the Greening. We pick up all of the expenses. And the project pictured above? It has been under construction since July of 2018, and yes, it will be on this year’s tour.

Nothing helps to to bring a landscape project to a close faster than a deadline.  I like deadlines, actually. They provide a framework around which to work. All of the contractors involved, myself included, have a personal interest in seeing this particular project come together. The client has everything to do with that. GP Enterprises handled the planting of all of the large trees, and an extensive drainage system and grading project. Ian Edmunds Irrigation is responsible for a very thoughtful watering system largely based on a network of drip zones. Mountain Pavers Construction, owned and operated by Mike Newman, built all of the terraces, retaining walls and steps and steppers, and a beautiful exposed aggregate driveway. The Branch Studio built a number of structures, containers, fencing and rails especially designed by me for this project. The landscape design was the first in, and the close of the installation of that landscape will be the last out.

We are in the process of sodding all of the grass areas.  That dirt you see in the above picture has a drain field and irrigation system underneath it. Countless yards of soil were added to make the grade flat. All of the landscaped portions of the yard are enclosed with aluminum edger strip. Over the course of several very hot days, all of the annual weeds have been scraped off, and the ground raked. My crew comes in at 7am when we lay sod. As much as can be done before the heat of the day sets in means the work of it is a little easier. I would think it would take every bit of the next three days to finish laying in all of the grass.  We will have it down in enough time for it to root in before the tour.

Much of the landscape was installed late last summer, and throughout the fall.  A collection of roses was custom grown for this project at Wiegand’s Nursery farm, and delivered 6 months before the installation date. A rose arbor from the Branch Studio will provide support for four Canadian Explorer roses known as John Cabot.  This very long lived and heavy blooming climber will give this arbor a run for its money. All of these other roses are fairly large growing shrub roses, thus the double wide border of Green Gem boxwood. Green Gem is incredible hardy in my zone. It will eventually be box pruned in a traditional and formal shape.

A quartet of steel boxes from Branch will hold flowers for cutting. That plant palette may change every year, depending on my client. This year’s plants were my choice. A new tall angelonia cultivar called Steel Blue is accompanied by the bicolor angelface angelonia and perfume white nicotiana.

What is my superintendent Dan S. doing here? He is digging over a drain line so he can cover it with landscape fabric, so the drain never clogs up with soil, and quits working. A landscape plan that includes a long range plan for watering and maintenance is a good plan. I always give my clients the option to prepare today for the future of the landscape. I know from my own experience that it will not get easier to tinker with my landscape as I get older. Planning for its care means I will always be able to enjoy it.

This mass of flowers will thrive in these raised beds. What gets cut for a vase in the house will hardly be noticed. The 5′ by 5′ boxes were set in a graveled spot to make cutting the grass around them a breeze.

The first round of grass transforms the look all of the work we have done on this landscape since last August.  This curving grass swath is a very wide path from the driveway, through the rose arbor, and over to the cloister pergola fabricated by the Branch Studio. Anyone who is interested in what the studio is capable of should take the tour, and see for themselves. This very large and complex structure is an incredibly beautiful anchor to the landscape.

The circle is a dominant theme in the landscape. The major landscape bed lines in the rear yard are portions of circles.  Those three radiused curves contrast and complement the rectilinear shapes of the cloister and raised planters. The center curve ends in spherical Green Gem boxwood of considerable size. A boxwood dot. Behind the boxwood? Limelight hydrangeas on the side curves, and Oakleaf hydrangeas in the center curve. The rear yard landscape is in large part evergreen, with a nod to a summer garden. Roses, hydrangeas, and more roses. The shadier parts of the garden feature perennials, dwarf shrubs and groundcover. Fragrance played a prime role in the selection of all of the plants. Roses, Peonies and phlox will perfume the garden. Even the pink snakeroot has a distinct fragrance, as does the sweet woodruff.  Dwarf button bush, lilacs, Viburnum Juddii and mock orange will add scent to the air one season after another.

That wood structure in the middle of the cloister? A fountain pool lies at the center of the cloister. The wood structure is overlaid with a tarp when there is a threat of rain. My client brought photographs of this house for me to see, after I designed the pergola and fountain. The original house had a reflecting pool, and wooden arbor in this location. In 1920. What a pleasure to see that what was on my mind had been expressed on this property close to 100 years ago.

This area was a grassed ditch when I first saw the property. The ground sloped down sharply from the foundation of the house and garage. This area now has two levels, both of which are flat and usable. Though I have previously posted about the fabrication and installation of the cloister,this picture provides a glimpse of how that structure will be integrated into the overall landscape. It also illustrates how the double walled structure with a roof overhead with create shade on the perimeter. Though the structure is comprised of many tons of steel anchored to 32 individual footings, and shadows cast are delicate and airy.

The fountain is tiled in its entirety.  The walls, steps, the bench, and the floor. The color variations are reminiscent of fountain tile of this era. The top 3 courses of tile have a strong geometric raised profile. I could not imagine this fountain coated on the interior with pebble tec, a common to swimming pools. This tile respects the architecture and era of the house. Gillette Pools has done an incredible job of installing a state of the art fountain/spa with the craftsmanship required to echo a previous era. My client and I fussed and fumed over the tile selection. What I see here seems just right.

The John Davis climbing roses are small yet, but they obligingly bloomed.  Each John Davis has a Guernsey Cream clematis to go with.

Yes, the tour is less than a month away, but this new project will be ready. I think the newness of it will enchant visitors in much the same way as I am enchanted. The beauty of the moment, and the hope for the future-every gardener knows about this. This is by far one one of the most exciting and rewarding landscape projects it has ever been my privilege to design and install. Thank you, H.

French pots on the upper terrace planted with braided ficus and white New Guinea impatiens

side yard curving landscape

Branch Studio planter boxes on a terrace

the front door

garden cruise 2019My photographs of this project do not do it justice. It will look very different on the 21st.  As in finished and ready for company. If you are interested and intrigued, buy a ticket, and see it for yourself in person. It will be worth the effort, and the Greening of Detroit will appreciate your support. The 2019 Garden Cruise has 5 other really terrific landscapes and gardens to visit as well. Hope to see you on the 21st.