Design Elements Matter


Those of you following this blog on garden design may be crossing your eyes and feeling like blacking out this past few weeks.  I have gone on about the elements of design-maybe too long. I try the best I can to illustrate, and not instruct.  My ability to peel off into a snow bank, or winter weary meadow, is a little compromised right now, so I have been photographing close to home and on solid ground.  When I am done apologizing, I am still left with the conviction that a clear understanding of the elements of design applies to any 4 square feet on your planet-your dining room, your kitchen, your garden, your driveway. No kidding.  I hope to illustrate and not instruct- via this very small property I landscaped some years ago.  Though the front door is massive, the property square footage is very small. No need to put the landscape under a microscope-the house came with an intensely small space. Every move counts.   

This landscape relies much on a configuration of evergreens that stand fast every month of the year. Whatever the weather. My original client sold this house some time ago-my new clients are grade A stewards-any beautiful old landscape is a direct result of the intensive care of the present, and not age-this idea via the essays of Henry Mitchell. The yew hedge fence, and its black stained posts and rusted finials, echo the rusted obelisk placed front and center.  A pair of pots on pedestals placed side to side, and planted for each season-who knew a pair of pots could rule a garden like these do.  

It cannot be 20 feet from the street to the front door.  I persuaded my clients to install a wood sidewalk-each length of pressure treated lumber was routed to resemble bricks-after one year of weathering, I stained them black.  There was a time when roads were made of wood-that history is not especially pertinent to this design. What is pertinent is what one sees.  A look needs to stand on its own, no matter any history or explanation.   A short walk needs a distinguising feature-a new thought.  Any gesture, no matter how short,  can illustrate a love of the out of doors without instructing. A wood sidewalk-different.  Still looking great after all these years-this I love. 

The rear yard-a patch of ground that would comfortably accomodate 12.  The simple solution-gravel the entire area.  Plant four lindens at the four corners, to provide some natural shade corner to corner.  The steps to the back door-I did not switch materials.  Simple in a small space means the repetition of one material amounts to the impact of many hands to the same end.  These corten steel risers retain the gravel surface steps.  On the floor, everywhere else, gravel.    

When winter comes, leaves are shed. Shrubs of great volume are but a shadow of their summer self.  The evergreens keep on going on- but what is remarkable here, given it is mid-January?  Those two pots on pedestals, stuffed with materials for the winter, carry the day.  The design elements in play here are many.  No need to know the words, if you can see.  

No matter the late lame snow, the design elements of this garden are strong; grown in. There is a living presence, and pattern, that pleases the eye.  Their garden ornament takes on a bigger role in the half year we know as winter.  I like my front garden and landscape to be eye-ready, no matter the season.    

Once spring comes, we change out those pots.  Their idea of spring brings the neighborhood to life -many houses on this street do much the same.  Designing thoughtfully to the betterment of all -what a great idea.  Those elements that make a difference-take some time to look, and make them work for you.    


Dec 18c 043Were I to ask you which of three wallpaper patterns appealed to you the most, or which person you have most patterned your life after, you would have no problem understanding and answering the questions. A  written definition of pattern is not this easy.  A paisley is a shape that is readily recognizable; a series of paisley shapes, that repeat in a certain order, that the eye can recognize, forms a pattern. My steel grate plant table tops, dusted with snow, bring the pattern of the extruded metal into focus. 

Dec 18c 047Many patterns exist in nature; early winter may be the best time to study them. The oval shaped dried flower heads of these hydrangeas make a visual pattern that repeats. They remind me of the old boxwoods at Dunbarton oaks that are pruned to resemble clouds. Cloud pruning is a gardening term gardeners recognize; the particular shaping and direction taken by an individual gardener makes a pattern.   A distinctive pattern.   

DSC_0029Milo has a ball decorated with raised dots in an all over pattern.  An all over pattern reads the same regularly, no matter what direction your view should take.  There is no left or right, no up or down. The pattern of this light snow is very subtle; every diaphanous flake randomly covers the gravel in the drive. Nonetheless, the individual flakes make a pattern-a pattern I did not really pay attention to, until I saw the imprint of the ball dots-so regular and clear.  The relationship of what came from the sky, with the pattern evidenced by that manufactured ball of his-on my mind today. 

snow patterns

Individual lengths of grapevine make random patterns. Woven into a wreath shape, the circular pattern comes to the visual fore. It is on my mind today that natural random patterns in the landscape are subtle, graceful, rhythmic-you understand-natural. There is reward to taking the time to see nature’s patterns.  How people pattern things is more hands on- orderly, more clear, sometimes too self conscious.  Which is more beautiful-the grapevine run wild on my fence, or this gorgeous wreath?  The answer has everything to do with a point of view, and nothing to do with the truth.  What moves you?

Dec 22aa 009This wreath is comprised of small flower shapes constructed from wood shavings, twig stubs, and dried bay leaves.  The pattern, to my eye, is all about the circle, repeating.  A wreath is an ornament; the arrangement of organized shapes makes for a pattern.  When I see pattern, I am at my most focused.

iron grate

The regular repetition of a shape makes a pattern that pleases my eye.  This gridded metal table has a cleanly contemporary pattern. Horizontal and vertical lines meeting make for stable shapes, and strikingly clean patterns. A classic X pattern trellis is a much more traditional look.  Certain patterns have much history attached to them.  Creating pattern that throws off history, definition, and any resulting cursory nod from an audience-designers of gardens, landscapes, fabrics, music, interiors, buildings, cars, ornament-anyone who designs spends time here.

dgw _0043Early winter is the perfect time to think about pattern.  The snow, the cold, and the low light, the absence of  leaves and flowers that blur the patterns, presents me with a landscape graphically black and white. Now is the best time to see patterns.  RobB  just forwarded me a post from A Way to Garden ( doodle by Andre.  His idea-to send a card to his garden.  Thank you for all you have done for me, beloved garden.  That post, and his card has been on my mind all day.  My garden gives me so much; this quiet time gives me plenty of time to think about this.  Though some years ago I was certain my gardening ended with the first killing frost-now I know different.  These first early snows come with lively lessons, debate, original source material; I know to pay attention.  Who knew there was so much to see, and think about in late December?  I am looking, and listening. December-I welcome it.  No kidding.