Miss Dirtiness

planting1My crew hates when I come to the job.  I get dirt all over the furniture, at best, and at worst I am tinkering with the design when they want to get on with business. But when I am home, I can be the Miss Dirtiness I have always been. 

planting2I cannot abide gloves of any description.  Even if I could stand to have them on, I invariably loose them, or pitch them out with the trash.  Diana never plants for me without gloves-everyone has their own way of doing, which makes for an interesting gardening world. I like to plant with my hands whenever possible.  As you can see, I have no fear of dirt. I have no fear of it in my wine, down my socks,. or in my hair.  I have on occasion fallen into bed, dirty.  After all, the table can be cleaned, and the sheets washed.   

planting3I like everything I am working with right there in front of me.  Buck was horrified the first time he saw me put dirt on the dinner table, but he is mostly over that.  Its a good thing people cannot see the organisms on every surface, and in the air.  It would make the Alfred Hitchcock movie The Birds seem boring.   Most organisms are friendly, even necessary-that’s the scientist in me.   I like giant tropical bugs, worms, and toads. However,  I could never bring myself to eat a snail; I can barely look at Buck when he eats them.  Go figure.

planting4In spite of his tolerance for my habits with plants and dirt, he is always relieved to get to the cleanup part.   Pretty soon, we will be over the dirtiness phase.

Working the Earth II

scan0005I did the project pictured many years ago in central Indiana.   My client built this house in the middle of 80 acres of farmland.  He and his wife tithed the use of this land, to grow corn, to their church. The landscape became a farm, and the farm was a landscape.   All of the woody material was planted in rows, as if they were crops.  I designed a pattern of the planting of the corn perpendicular to the woody planting of the landscape, so as to connect this very large house to a large piece of ground. This many years before I ever learned about crop circles.  Crop Circles…

scan0007I was especially happy with this landscape, as I was able to persuade my client to commit to a big idea, and use smaller material, so as to keep within their  budget.  Big houses need big ideas as much as small houses do.  I have never been back to see the project, but I hope that it is all still there, sturdy and strong.


Working the Earth

scan0003OK, I have spent days detailing my childhood exposure and love of dirt-how does this pertain to you? Sculpting ground-this is a fancy definition for “grading”.  Grading dirt, simply stated, it is the process of moving dirt around, so water drains, there are flat places to be, and the sculpture of the ground which will become your landscape, looks interesting, and beautiful.   We can lower the dirt here; we can raise the dirt here. We can feather that area into this one.  How the house sits on the land is a big issue for new homes-thus many cities require grading plans. The project pictured tried to address a specific landscape issue.  A giant bumpy lawn on a considerable slope was not hospitable to either my client, or her guests.  The space needed some flat ground, and a sense of some intimacy.  The lawn was greatly over scaled for people.  Nor was the shape of the lawn beautiful.  With an earthmover, and rakes, the ground became sculptural and beautiful-but also useable.  I call this a grass amphitheater.earth1

When I design, I never assume the lay of the land is a given.  I can sculpt dirt.  I can sink it down.  Conversely, I can make a mountain, with a beautiful contour.  I can dig in; I can create a perch. I can swirl to the east, and stop abruptly in the west.  As a child, I moved dirt with a spoon-sometimes an incredibly lot of spoonfuls.  As an adult, I move dirt with a front end loader, my orange Dooney and Burke purse, with the rubber bottom, in tow.

scan0004 As I have said before, I have loved moving dirt my whole life.   How this helps you is as follows.  You have a life you are dealt, and a life you make.  Look at what you were dealt, and imagine it better; imagine it beautiful, then move some dirt around.


Dirt Part III


Later I would discover there were other kinds of dirt besides my home dirt.  A visit to a beach was a marvel. This gritty, non-stick dirt, wholly unlike my home dirt, was restricted to two colors-wet and dry, and bore little resemblance to my home hardpan with its various greasy shades of brown, rust and blue.


The farmyard dirt at the children’s zoo was pungent, fumy.  The spongy dirt of a cedar forest floor gave way underfoot; the prints left behind gleaming with water brought to the surface.


The dirt in a vineyard seemed not at all like dirt, but like little rocks, and rocks smaller yet.
Later than this, I would make the connection between dirt and life, that healthy soil was full of worms and other living creatures. My erroneous assumption that the grass around my ranch house in suburban Detroit was a blanket to keep the dirt out of the house was actually a medium supporting life- a mildly shocking discovery. More shocking was the discovery that there are people who feel at home with dirt, and others who assiduously avoid it.  There were gardeners, and non-gardeners.  Now that I am much older, I realize that even those people who do not garden, who do not love dirt as I do, can love, appreciate and respect the beauty of a garden.  We get along fine.dirt-pt3