Bringing the Garden Upstairs

I have a few clients that challenge me to be the best I can possibly be-this client is right at the top of that list.  Her design ability-whether it be interiors, or parties and events,  or gardening-is superb. She could have easily founded a  School of Design-had she had any inclination to do so. She and her husband live in a beautifully overscaled modern house with a beautifully high pitched roof, and overscaled high-pitched  dormers. (This is a landscape designers description of architecture; bear with me.)


To drive into the impossibly small front drivecourt, you would think the house was sited on a postage stamp of land.  But in fact, the house is sited on a steep ravine, and hangs out over a rear yard that widens, and goes on to embrace the river. It is a big property, with incredible aerial views.


She loves gardens and flowers.  Flowers and more flowers.  She is a master chef-so any plan for her has to include acres of basil, and the like.  OK-the challenge here-to plant a perennial garden stuffed with roses and other perennials, in a flood plane-courtesy of that river.  The first order of business was a lot of drainage, and rear yard grading. When her son got married, we had to install floors in the tents and stepping stones between them at the last second-which we did.   The perennial garden ramps up to a curvy modern swimming pool.  So far so good.3

I met her when I was young-so I had no problem moving every tree and every shrub within two days of my first work there.   There were trees, shrubs and perennials placed poorly, and too many boulders. But that house was a jewel-perched out over a beautiful piece of property.  The house-a beautifully designed tree house.4

A house sited in the crowns of trees-how beautiful.  But what if you love to cook, and grow flowers, and want to sit with your garden and family  around you?5

The house already had a giant deck all across the back.  Stairs to the lower level had a small landing-perfect for pots. The lower level under this deck-dark, and intimate. My only suggestion-windowboxes.  And lots of pots. 6

We built and hung two giant windowboxes-off the deck, at the railing height.  There is a whole symphony of flowers in those boxes every year-every year a new arrangement. The pots we outfitted with automatic irrigation-there are too many pots for one family and one hose.7

I heard my client tell someone recently  I had brought her garden upstairs for her. I had neither the words, nor the clear conscious intent to do this-but I realized when I heard her that she was exactly right.

8As I said, she is a client that encourages me to be the best I can be.  I am a very lucky designer.


  1. Client's son Richard says

    I love the garden up and down. We come over on Sundays and sit up top surrounded by color. Very serene and comfortable. A couple of years ago Deborah and Cathy planted herbs in the windowboxes right outside of the kitchen.

    The lower levels are worth a walk every time. Just to see them all over again. Last week I said I will be back and took my coffee down the steps to walk around the perennial beds.

    Slice of heaven right in her back yard.


  2. The garden was over the top beautiful. It was the first garden on the first GREENING OF DETROIT and it was well worth the drive. Now I love learning a bit about the client. She has to be serene…plus very happy.

  3. A truly gorgeou landscape! I’m looking, oddly enough though, at the pots on the deck, and your wedding post after this (one with conrete planted with willows). That is similar to what m wife and I are looking for to frame ou large entryway. Can’t find affordable planters of that size anywhere, or that are at least clean if not midly contemporary. I’ve gone on–enjoying the blog.

  4. Deborah Silver says

    Benjamin, the Francesca del Re handmade Italian pots are expensive. But check out we have contemporary pots at reasonable prices. Deborah

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