#5–Scheduling the Masses–Mansion in May

Yesterday I met with the primary contractor for the showhouse project, Frank Scheppe. Frank has been building projects with me for the past two years. His work is flawless and we’ve been able to complete some very complex projects together. We did the show house in Rumson together last spring and it was a great experience. The space ended up being a permanent addition to an already beautiful property. There’s an image of the brick and turf steps and garden that we built below.

So back to the schedule. We had to figure out who, what and when, working back loosely from the end date of April 24th. Since the spring weather is so iffy and all of us are super busy in April we decided to start next week. Frank’s delievering his excavator today so calls had to be made about that so we can start moving stone and cleaning up the piles next week. Large stones that will be stood on end will be selected, stones for the arch will be set aside and the central area will begin to be moved. Both Frank and I are concerned about what might be living in the burrows so I have to call local animal control to see what we can do to relocate any possible critters before the fact.

I called Dan Lupino, dry stone waller, to let him know that he can start building his arch the weekend of March 8. That will take him a few weekends I think and I want him to be able to work on his section undisturbed. I also had a conversation with Mike Deo who is designing the passive solar system that will power the lighting and gave him a heads up. I have to figure out how to hide the 12V battery and charging regulator within the rocks. I don’t want to add another material to the mix.

I’m thinking about removing the existing turf areas around the garden and seeding with a no mow meadow mix. I’m on the fence about that one.

#4–Plants and Problems

I’ve done a quick CAD color rendering to try and approximate the quantities of plants that I will need to order in the next few weeks. It’s difficult since I really have no idea what lies beneath the surface stones, how many stones there are, or how many plants I’ll be able to squeeze in between the finished placements. Below is one thing I’m sure of–some long dead tree trunks. If you look closely at the base you’ll see that a lame attempt was made at one time to cut that baby down.
I’m sure we’ll find other under the debris. I also don’t really know how far down the boulders go, this thing’s been around for 100+ years at least and the area is known for the unusual large boulders that bygone masons used throughout the property. So, long story short, I can only guess at what I’ll need plant wise. Below is an image of how I’m figuring it out.
The area is deer ridden, chipmunk infested and sunbaked. Add to that the May bloom time, the wow factor and my commitment to sustainability and you get the picture.

  • Here’s a short list of contenders so far. The trees are decided and I’m going out to a tree farm in Stockton (about an hour from here) to tag them as soon as it thaws abit.
  • These are high up on the list–Euphorbia polychroma, Dianths g. either ‘Bath’s Pink’ or ‘Firewitch’, Sedum reflexum ‘Angelina’ and ‘Blue Spruce’, Phlox subulata ‘Emerald Cushion Blue’, Teucrium hyranicom ‘Purple Tails’, Eregrostis spectabilis, Carex morowii ‘Ice Dance’, Thymus praecox, Salvia nemerosa ‘May Night’, Sempervivum sp.
  • A little lower down on the list–Santolina sp., Yucca filamentosa (not sure which one), some kind of low growing conifer, some of the other sedums.

As you can see I still have some work to do. I don’t want to use any annuals because they won’t be able to be re-used after the show is over, so I guess that’s another qualification for plants–I have to be able to find new homes for them later in the season.

Why Green? An Opinionated Viewpoint

This time last year I was getting ready to attend the 2007 Association of Professional Landscape Designers annual conference. Held in Southern California, the 10 day visit began a transformation about the way I think about landscape design–although it has been difficult to put that burgeoning philosophy into practice all of the time.

Even though in my twenties I had lived for several years in Los Angeles, coming from my Z6 mid-Atlantic base, the conference’s garden visits were a trip to an exuberant, exotic locale. Gardens and landscapes in the subtropical climate that is 21st century Southern California have a completely different point of view than those ‘back east’. The ‘New American Garden’ aside, east coast gardening is rooted in the English traditions of lawn and border. Most of the gardens in Los Angeles challenged my idea of what a garden is and can be.
From what I saw, designers in California are taking a leadership position in environmental restoration and preservation. Sustainability was the focus of the conference and many of the gardens we visited incorporated that concept by utilizing recycled materials, native plants and xeriscaping. The idea of sustainable landscape practices through the use of creative design solutions was evident. The gardens presented a paradigm of design trends that respond to California’s climate of long dry summers and mild wet winters, outdoor lifestyle and a clear commitment to the restoration of indigenous plant communities.

I was initially shocked by what I saw through eyes used to lush summer landscapes green with irrigation—whether natural or man made. Early in the conference, I realized I couldn’t identify but a handful of plants, many were native to California or other Mediterranean climates and not suited to the climatic swings in other areas of the country. This lack of plant knowledge allowed me to focus on the big picture rather than the plant groupings. At first I thought, where is the GREEN, where is the lush, where is something familiar? From my perspective, agaves, echiverias, and aeoniums exist in the greenhouse or in pots on a patio—not in a front yard, yet there they were and they looked right. They looked as if they belonged. It was my viewpoint as a designer that didn’t belong.

After several days of garden visits, we went to a beautiful and imaginative garden that looked, with some exceptions made for plants, as if it had been transplanted from the East coast. This garden was heavily irrigated, lush and green. It was not sustainable, it didn’t have that sense of place that many of the other gardens had. When I thought about many of the other more ‘alien’ gardens I had seen, this verdant Anglo-Mediterranean space seemed out of touch with the California design sensibility I had been seeing elsewhere. I realized I was beginning to see the point.

The California designers’ mindset of celebrating their geography, climate and native plant communities hasn’t really take hold here. New Jersey, where I practice, despite its moniker as ‘The Garden State’ is the most densely populated state with a long history of industrial and environmental transgressions. Like many other areas in the country, we are just beginning to safeguard open space, protect what used to be old growth forest and save and restore native wetlands and riparian buffers.

Garden visits can challenge and delight. They can also expand the possibilities of design to the open minded viewer. After the initial shock, my visits in California did exactly that. I came away from the conference wondering how I could translate and put to use what I had seen and heard. There were some impractical ideas—I can’t imagine listing plants slated for removal on Craig’s List and having strangers come to any of my very private client’s properties as one left coast speaker suggested—they’d be appalled at the suggestion. It would be next to impossible to convince my conservative and traditional clientel to have a wall built of repurposed concrete—what was cheerfully nicknamed ‘urbanite’ in California. In the east, we have an abundance of beautiful and relatively inexpensive local stone. I can also promote the use of recycled brick, which locally is in abundance and costs about one third of the cost of new brick.

I can investigate and use more native and locally grown plants that will require less water and use fewer fossil fuels needed for long distance shipping. I can make sure stormwater is kept on the property and used as passive irrigation. I can make sure that the organic materials we remove from a site go to the proper recyclers to be composted for future use. I can also make sure that inorganic debris is sorted and recycled instead of dumped.

I also realized that in other ways, I have already started. I try as often as possible to reduce areas of turf grass in a design, just on the basis of water useage, chemical fertilization practices and air and noise pollution created by the mow/blow/go crews. We also offer organic garden maintenance without the use of power tools to our clients, promoting it as Estate Gardening and charge accordingly for it. My show house garden is an opportunity to demonstrate these ideas to a large group of people looking for inspiration.

So I figure if I design with sensitivity to the genus loci and keep sustainable practices in mind, the gardens I build will be to their time and place, what many of the new California gardens we saw are to theirs.

#2–Conceptual Plan

I’ve shown a conceptual plan of the Rockery below. It doesn’t show all of the detail since many of the decisions have to be made on site. Basically, the 60 x 30 pile will be bisected with boulders removed from the middle used to make a third garden. The central area has two tree stumps and some pretty extensive animal burrows. We’ll relocate any furry friends to another area of if they’re still inhabited.

My friend, Dan Lupino, a dry stone waller extraordinaire, will be building a sculptural stone arch on top of the largest garden. I’ve also included an illustration (above) of that arch which will also be used on the garden page of the show house journal.


The planting plan and other details are being decided on this week. Another associate, Michael Deo of NatureScape Lighting will be designing and installing a solar powered LED lighting scheme and 12V pond pump. You can see the solar panel in the top right garden–although its position and sized have been modified since this plan was completed.

#1–Showhouse Season

For the past month, in between winter design work, I’ve been preparing a show house garden. This biennial charity event, The Mansion in May, is a big deal in my neck of the woods and interior designers and landscape designers/architects are invited to compete for spaces. Why compete? First to support the charity–this year the recipient is the Valerie Center for Children with cancer and blood disorders–a cause close to my heart. Second, it’s great exposure to both the 20,000+ people who visit during the month of May.

In January, we were invited to choose a space from a master plan and submit our ideas to the selection committee. Like most sites, there were several sweet spots–not what I was interested in though. Away from the house was ruined rockery that I was immediately drawn to.


I was able to look at some historic photos of the property and found one of two very Edwardian ladies sitting in front of a wildly planted rock garden. Upon closer inspection, the pile revealed some secrets–animal burrows and two parts of a Japanese granite planter. The base is shown below.


I re-imagined the ruined rockery to create a sustainable garden for the 21st century. Lush native and ecologically appropriate non-natives with low water and maintenace requirements, stone sculpture and renewable energy sources are key elements of the overall design. I also wanted to honor the property’s past gardeners, collectors and dreamers, so the ultimate design is a fusion of Japanese, Mediteranean and Edwardian influences.

My next post will show the plan and planting scheme.