A Small Property

landscapes for small propertiesA small property is uniquely suited for the creation of  a landscape that can be fully charged with an atmosphere and aura all its own. In a small space, every gesture is deliberate, apparent, and personal. Nothing escapes a keen eye. The scale of a small space is a scale a single person can easily become part of.  The experience of a beautiful small landscape is compelling, as every element is geared towards interaction. A small space can be readily absorbed and savored.  This landscape is about the relationships between shapes, both green and not.  How the color of the roof, the window boxes, the blue stone walkway, and seasonal plantings is a cohesive visual discussion of color. The mix of materials is interesting, no matter the season.  It could be seen in a matter of minutes, but many visitors told me they lingered there an hour or better, enthralled by the experience of it. Four gingkos, under planted with boxwood, frame the view to the window boxes, and gently guide visitors towards the front door, which is hidden from the street.

July 16 2014 (9)Large landscapes and parks can be awe inspiring. Even overwhelming.  Large landscapes can be exhilarating. If poorly done, they can be pushy, boring, or tiring.   Some large landscapes are designed such that only one area is experienced at a time.  This in recognition that overscaled landscapes can be as easily off putting and impersonal as they are grand.  A  beautiful small landscape is an opportunity to intimately become part of, and experience the garden.  Small spaces can be difficult to design edge to edge, and floor to ceiling, but the rewards are great.  In this front yard landscape, the change of levels creates a three dimensional sculptural quality which can be enjoyed in every season. The low wall that traverses the width of the property is a visually friendly way of differentiating public part of the landscape from the  front door.  The unusual placement of this front door on an angle from the street makes the front door garden more private, in a very modest way. The boxwood hedges which terminate in yew spheres is a transition space, an exterior foyer for the front door, if you will. The natural growing multi stemmed dogwood and gingkos contrast with the precisely trimmed arborvitae and boxwood.

July 16 2014 (2)In the summer, a very beautiful low stone wall is obscured by a seasonal in ground planting.  This planting of blue chalky fingers succulents, helichrysum icicles and cirrus dusty miller is my most favorite choice ever. The cool color is crisp, and echoes the color of the stone and the steel of the window boxes.  In the winter, that wall is an architectural feature that is friendly to the style and period of the house. The upper level features a vintage wood bench at one end, and a modern bistro table and stainless steel chairs at the opposite end. I like the nod to the period of the house, and the corresponding nod to my client’s more modern taste. In a small space, there is the opportunity to create an interesting tension which comes from the juxtaposition of one aesthetic, and another.

July 16 2014 (1)The window box is a combination of plants whose forms and color are not the usual.  To my eye, the planting is both sophisticated and unusual.  This has everything to do with the taste of my clients.  I have worked for them for years, and the relationship which has come out of that association shows.

July 16 2014 (26)The blue gray annual border is equally unusual, and striking. It is in concert with the boxwood hedge, and such in contrast to the loose habit of the Annabelle hydrangeas.

July 16 2014 (10)The driveway garden is home to a number of terra pots planted with vegetables and herbs-all appropriately placed close to the kitchen door.  The stepped evergreen screening limits the view of the garage from the street.

July 16 2014 (12)A low granite wall capped in limestone separates the driveway area from the rear yard proper.  A higher wall of the same material and design at the far side is a beautiful feature of this yard.  The planting of columnar red maples in front of this wall is purposeful.  The narrow gray trunks do not obscure the wall from view.  The canopy of the maples adds another, taller layer of screening from the neighboring garage.

July 16 2014 (14)Though the rear yard is a rectangle, the landscape is a celebration of the square established by a square fountain in the center, a square picture frame of lawn, and a square arrangement of Winter Gem boxwood. In order to maintain that square, a double row of boxwood was planted on the north and south side, and a single row of boxwood on the east and west side.  Behind the boxwood to the south, a pair of pear espaliers are under planted with a white variegated hosta.  The pears provide fruit, and screening of the service area between the wall and the garage.  Each boxwood is individually pruned into a spherical shape, courtesy of Melissa and her crew from M and M Flowers. Those round shapes, and the round shapes of the Irish moss compliment and contrast with the dominant square geometry.  The dirt space between the fountain boxwood and the Irish moss is deliberate.  Every element of that fountain centerpiece has room to breathe.

July 16 2014 (16)On the west side, a hedge of arborvitae screen the property behind, the phone pole, and the electric lines.  Limelight hydrangeas are planted as a hedge between the arborvitae and the boxwood.  The limelights are limbed up to just below the height of the boxwood.  The foliage of the Limelights do not interfere with the growth and health of the boxwood.  A hedge of topiary form hydrangeas helps keep both the hydrangeas and the boxwood happy – in a small space.  Underplanting arborvitae is always a good idea.  With age, they thin out at the bottom. An old crabapple visible at the far left of this picture is kept trimmed up to permit a view through from the house.

July 16 2014 (15)A rear terrace with furniture and container plantings, and a screened porch –  both of which has been in place many years –  are places to relax, and be part of the landscape.

July 16 2014 (18)A wild garden on the north side of the back yard is full of hellebores, snakeroot, hosta, solomon’s seal, european ginger and ferns, among other things – this a much more relaxed ode to shade. This garden was on our recent garden tour to benefit the Greening of Detroit.  I was pleased about how many people truly enjoyed it.  The best part of this landscape-all of the care my clients lavish upon it. Every detail is of concern.  Small properties help make a lavish hand possible, and visible.

At A Glance: Pots And Plantings

June 24 2012 012To follow are some pictures of pots and their plantings that, to my eye, work well together.  See what you think. This basket has geraniums, trailing verbena and mini-petunias.

Oct 2 2012 082Silver foliaged plants-the names I do not remember.

May 16 pots 009bird’s nest fern and lime selaginella-club moss.  Hosta and baby tears

Sept 29 001nicotiana mutabilis, purple dahlia, nicotiana alata lime, petunias

Sept 22 2012 005cirrus dusty miller, chocolate potato vine, sedum, silver falls dichondra

Annuals 2006_09_19 (11)cassia and hens and chicks

O'Reilly 005petunia, trailing verbena, gold marjoram

Detroit Garden Works Aug 3 022datura, double white petunias, euphorbia diamond frost, silver dichondra

SummerOvercast 003red spike and pink pentas

silver pileavariegated dracaena and silver pilea

Sept 15, 2013 (57)coleus and solenia begonias

boxwood on standardboxwood topiary, inky fingers coleus, lime licorice

Aug 21 2012 110millet, coleus, yellow petunias

aug 7 024The pots and their plantings-they feel for one another.

A String Of Cold And Rainy Days

May 13 2014 (41)We have had quite a string of rainy days.  Rainy and cold, every day.  Thunderstorms and the downpours to go with. It is plainly too wet to plow.  The only gardening we are doing is in containers.  Water logged soil can have every last bit oxygen squeezed out of it by foot traffic.  Or a wheel barrow wheel. My advice?  Stay off of soggy soil.  Wait. Some weather conditions are perfect for working the garden. Cool and dry is great.  Warm and barely moist is friendly.  Hot and dry is no gardeners idea of an ideal working situation, but it beats cold and soggy. The winter was long and vile, and the spring has been chilly and off putting.

May 13 2014 (49)We have had a few hours of dry periods between storms.  It is clear that the cold tolerant annuals are are not the least bit fazed by any of the unsettled weather. Thank heavens for spring plants. May is never a summer month.  But a moderate May makes for a spring  cool and dry enough to work.  Cool night temperatures mean the spring flowers persist.  The difference between 2 weeks of magnolia flowers and two days has everything to do with temperature.  The chilly rain has been great for all the plants, but unfriendly to gardeners who only want to get outside and stay there.

May 13 2014 (15)There are those plants that handle the chill and the rain without complaint.  The parsley I put outdoors in April never fusses.  The pansies and violas bow their heads in the rain, but they spring right back.  Interested in some spring spunk for containers-try parsley, osteos, pansies, violas, stock, nemesia, godetia, lavender, rosemary, lettuce, nemesia, ornamental cabbage, bok choy, spring flowering bulbs, early season perennials – gardeners have a long list of plants that thrive in a chilly and rainy spring season. The tulips at the shop are glorious, as are the grape hyacinths and hellebores in my garden.

May 13 2014 (11)As for what is planted in the ground in my rose garden, I tread lightly.  The roses have been devastated by the winter. 5 of them are dead, the other 15 or so died back to within 8 inches of the ground.  The new growth is so vigorous that I haven’t the heart to take them out. I don’t have the heart to post a picture of the carnage either. They did after all survive the winter, but it’s not so swell looking right now.  The asparagus is four feet tall already.  I have not been able to walk in there to cut it.  The anemone Honorine Jobert, brunnera and boltonia are growing.  The canes of all of the climbers on the wall are dead.  New shoots are coming from the ground.  The sopping wet ground and wet foliage says keep out.

May 13 2014 (35)No gardener likes to stay away.  They like to wade in and sort everything out.  But it isn’t a good idea to wade in just yet.  So the garden news in my zone is about what is stalled, on hold and not yet going on. Hold off as long as you can stand it.

May 13 2014 (22) After the rain

spring-pot.jpgMay 18, I still have a winter fleece on.  I have yet to step into my garden.  The little pleasures? The grass seed in the bare spots in the lawn seemed to sprout overnight.  The variegated lily of the valley is up and blooming.  The delphiniums are 30″ tall already.   I can tell this much from afar. A bucket planted with ferns, hosta and streptocarpus is a pleasure one can enjoy up close.

May 13 2014 (11)Beyond that, I am tapping my foot. I am especially glad we planted pots for spring at the shop.  We are hoping for dryer and warmer weather next week.

May-garden.jpgAny time now, we’ll be gardening again.


A Painterly Mix Of Tulips

tulips.jpgAnyone who gardens has a fascination with what I call living color.  The red of tulip is a much different kind of red than red represented by paint.  Color infused by life and light is a special kind of color. It is no wonder that flowering plants are prized by gardeners.  Given the winter we just endured, the first signs of color are so welcome. And no plant is more about the joy of color in the spring than tulips.   mixed-tulips.jpgI plant a mass of tulips at the shop every year.  It is the perfect opportunity to explore shape and color relationships, as every plant looks just about the same. I A mass of all one color is striking in certain settings, and in small groups.  A mix of color and shapes makes for a more painterly approach.

tulips.jpgA good mix begins with a selection that blooms at slightly different times. A very early and a very late tulip will never keep one another company.  Tulips with related bloom times means that the display of color will evolve over time.  From the moment a bud appears to the time of bloom is about a month. The tulips in the foreground of this picture are behind those in the background for a simple reason.  They are close to some fairly large lindens that shade them in the early part of the day.

tulip-mix.jpgThe next step in choosing a mix has to do with height. A mix all at the same height means that each individual flower is not in view.  A mix of heights puts the color both up, middling, and down. Once a tulip comes in to bloom, the flowers continue to grow.  In a cool spring, the stems will grow to their full height, and stay in bloom quite a while.  In a hot year, the stems will be short and the flowers short-lived. Given our fairly cool temperatures, this should be a good year.

tulips 2014 (6)Choosing the colors is the most difficult part.  No one has the luxury of picking a tulip for its color any other way than via pictures in a catalog. A picture of a tulip is not remotely like the real thing.  Solid red tulips can be orange red, or bluish red.  Or red violet. Or red with streaks of yellow. Many tulips are comprised of several different colors overlaying one another.  The edge of the petals may contrast in color with the body of the petal.  Other tulips may be streaked or spattered with another color.

tulips 2014 (3)Tulips that have multiple color tones are great for creating a visually satisfying and complex display.  This softly colored mix is comprised of tulips with subtle color variations.  Choosing colors that are analogous means they are closely related on a color wheel.  The overall effect from a distance is monochromatic, but up close, there are many variations.  This tulip mix is easy on the eyes, but not sleepy. I like looking at pictures of tulips on the John Sheepers website.  The colors represented are fairly true, and they include a written description of the colors as well.  No catalog records what the inside of a tulip looks like.  That warm and sunny day that mature group of tulips opens their petals wide and flat is a beautiful day indeed.    tulips 2014 (15)I do take pictures of tulips on my own, for reference. We do a different scheme every year-why not.  They are all beautiful.  It is surprisingly easy to put colors together that are jarring and ill suited to one another.  I do see a fair number of red and yellow tulips planted together.  A mix is best with a minimum of 3 colors.  The color rhythm is better, and less choppy.  Red yellow and dark purple-an exciting scheme.  Red yellow and orange, a closely related celebration of hot color.  Red, yellow and pink is a little softer, especially if the pink is a littler paler than the others.  Pale yellow, watermelon red and the palest pink is a completely different look than the aforementioned schemes.  Red, yellow and white is striking by way of contrast.

tulip-mix.jpgA color mix also influenced by the ratio of one color to another.  25% yellow, 25% red, and 50% white may read like polka dots. a 33-33-33 blend is an even blend.  A 50-50 mix with one big patch of another color is energetic and catchy.


As for this yellow tulip with anemone petals-I have no idea what it is called, or where it came from.  But I am glad to have it as part of the mix.