The New Luxury

A few words stenciled on a shop window got me thinking about this…the very last lure after organic spa treatments were the enticing words  ‘eco-luxury‘.  I would think that eco-luxury would be one ‘green’ term that garden and landscape designers would have already latched on to.   Its marketability as a lifestyle concept has been embraced by interior designers, spas and resorts, and architects–yet I haven’t seen it used as a concept by landscape designers.

Think about it–guiltless, sustainable, ecologically sound design, installation and management practices that appeals to clients who want to lead a pampered, opulent  lifestyle without any earthburger connotations. The possibilities boggle the mind.  The fact is, that many clients do not even  realize that they can have a beautiful and luxurious outdoor environment that is  also eco-conscious.   Pictured below is Bardessono,  a resort/spa in Napa Valley that markets itself as the ‘greenest’ luxury hotel in America.  Seeking a LEED platinum certification, it is sleek, modern and definitely luxurious and it’s part of a larger and fast growing trend in many segments of the design industries.

Bardessono Resort, Napa Valley w/vertical walls by Flora Grubb via the New York Times
Bardessono Resort, Napa Valley w/vertical walls by Flora Grubb via the New York Times

What exactly is eco-luxury in landscape and garden design?  It’s creating the highest level of design, aesthetics, and quality while  maintaining an ecologically sustainable and balanced environment that doesn’t tax natural resources in its creation or its ongoing  maintenance.  What client wouldn’t want a project that met that criteria?  Local sourcing and planned resource use for their garden’s creation and maintenance will save them money in the long run.  Eco-luxury does not have add to the cost of  a project if it’s designed that way from the onset.

For me, as a landscape designer, it  means that  I have to continue to use locally sourced materials and building techniques, create a balanced use of natural resources such as water, establish a recycling plan for the entire lifecycle of the project,  and create opportunities for using renewable energy sources during the creation and life of the built landscape.   I realize that I have been a proponent of the eco-luxury movement for a while now, I just haven’t thought of it that way.  So now it  also means that I can market my design services being environmentally sensitive without sacrificing the ‘bling’.

Photo credit:  The New York Times


The Tale of Two Garden Photos

Clients often present me, as their  landscape designer, with carefully collected files of garden photographs culled from magazines and books that they want to share as inspiration for the design of their gardens.  I welcome their ideas since I believe in client+designer collaboration.  The problems begin when clients expect their gardens to ALWAYS look like the photographs they’ve collected.  There is a disconnect between these primped, coiffed and dressed glamazons and real gardens.

A garden photograph in a portfolio, book or magazine is often carefully staged, framed and cropped to depict a moment in time when that garden is at its magical best.   Time is fluid and so are gardens.  I have witnessed many a bloom added or deleted via PhotoShop to aid in creating an image of the perfect border in full and glorious bloom.  Anyone who has lived with a garden–even if they are not gardeners–knows that gardens have as many moments of perfection as they do ‘bad hair’ days.

Unless there’s a single distant or a  360 degree view to be captured, garden photographs also ignore everything that surrounds the perfect garden–it exists in a  bubble.  An extreme example of this would be the hundreds of pictures I have seen of urban gardens where the surrounding buildings are never included in the image. The shot of a rooftop terrace might show a glorious glimpse of skyline that can only be seen from high up on the ladder the photographer was standing on.  It’s as if that garden exists in some kind of bucolic time warp.   Here’s a simplified example of how a photograph can skew perception.

An exhuberant cottage garden
An exuberant cottage garden

Highly personal, this garden stops traffic.  It’s way over the top, totally appropriate to the house and a statement about the owner’s commitment to his/her garden. It exists in its own time and place.

Carefully controlled annual planting
Manicured and controlled annual planting

This garden is also a personal statement.  Red begonias and geraniums in pots make a bold summer statement that hints at the owner’s desire for order and simplicity in his/her garden.  Order reigns in this carefully controlled environment.

The full view not seen in the photos above
The full view not seen in the photos above

These two disparate gardens actually exist side by side.  I wonder if they’re good neighbors.

In the Garden with DigIt! Revisited

Remember when I spent the afternoon in the garden with Mary Jasch, the publisher and editor of DigIt! ?  Well, Mary, thank you.

She’s written a really flattering article that shows both gardens to advantage.  One was an large, extensive project and the other was a small space project on a budget.  Click on the right hand sidebar to enlarge the photos.  So?  Do you Dig It!?

My Garden State: Jersey Fresh

Other than a few herbs tucked into containers I don’t grow food.  Many of my gardening peers probably consider me a vegetable gardening heretic.  I  lament that the small family farms and roadside vegetable stands of my childhood have given way to subdivisions filled with houses too big for their lots and way too many people in too small a land mass.  Growing up in a suburban New Jersey town, I could play (read steal apples) in the orchard up the street which is now a swanky private golf course or walk a half a mile or so to a small sheep farm.  My mother had milk delivered from a dairy farm across town that actually had cows–and the requisite summer produce stand.

My father, a great cook, made gazpacho from fresh produce and my mother would often send us on a walk to the local farm stand to buy tomatoes, corn and cucumbers for summer dinners.  In August,  the entire family pitched in to help my grandmother peel bushels of local peaches for preserves.  My father and brother had a backyard vegetable patch known around the neighborhood for its enormous yet tasteless zucchinis.  They chose the best spot in our yard.  In my opinion, even then,  their unruly mess of  tomato supports, zucchini vines and peppers (this was not a romantic potager) spoiled the view from the house to the pond and the woods and stone walls beyond it.

For a short while in the early 90s, local, fresh vegetables were impossible to find.  Forget about organic, it just didn’t exist.  Then a small miracle happened–Jersey Fresh and Jersey Grown programs took off and weekly farmer’s markets began to pop up in parking lots and railroad stations in towns and urban neighborhoods all over the state.

Cherry Grove Organic Farm, Sunday Market in Summit
Cherry Grove Organic Farm, Sunday Market in Summit

Now, on Thursday evenings, Saturday and Sunday mornings I head out to the local markets–some within walking distance and none further than 3-4 miles from my house–to buy produce from  New Jersey’s small family farms.

All the makings of a summer salad
All the makings of a summer salad

The organic produce, honey, cut flowers and even fresh roasted coffee and artisanal cheeses make their way to my kitchen and the summer feast ensues.  I’d rather grow flowers on my small plot of rented land and support the remaining farmers in my garden state.

Sunflowers at a local market
Sunflowers at a local market

Portland | Contained

While standing in the gardens at Sakura Ridge last week, Vanessa Nagel, asked me if I could Twitter one thing about my Portland experience, what would it be?  Not needing any thought, I replied, “The diversity of  ideas.”  I think she was pleased with that assessment.

There were so many ideas, in fact, that it will take me time to absorb them and even longer to write about them.  Although I am not a shutterbug, during design conferences I take hundreds of pictures for future reference.  Some will influence my work and some won’t, but it’s too soon to see how what I brought back from the 2009 APLD International Design Conference will work their way through my creative funnel.

The easiest way for me to begin to think about all of the garden elements, landscape design, and general creative gusto I found and recorded in and around Portland is to put them into broad based themes that I can reference later.  One of the conference speakers, Cairene MacDonald, from Third Hand Works, spoke eloquently about creating systems that work specifically for the individual.  So in that spirit, I’ve decided to continue my organization of groundplane and paving details as Portland  Underfoot ( a title of a previous blog post) and of pots and contained plantings as Portland Contained.

Here are some highlights of Portland Contained…

Photo credits/links:  Top row 1-3: 1- Dig Garden Shop; 2-3 Schultz-Goodman residence, Michael Schultz.  Middle Row 4-6: 4- Shultz-Goodman residence, Michael Schultz; 5-10th @ Hoyt, KLA Landscape Architecture; 6-Susan LaTourette, Creativescaping.  Bottom row 7-9: 7-Cistus Nursery; 8-Schultz-Goodman residence, Michael Schultz; 9-Center for Architecture, designer unknown.

Portland | First Impressions

Portland outside of Powell's BooksI visited the Pearl District twice this week.  Once by accident and once intentionally.  I need some time to digest everything I’m seeing and experiencing.  Later I will write a series of posts on gardens and inspiration, but for now this image seems to sum up the unusual urbanism I’ve experienced so far. Although it’s not a typical picture of Portland, this image says it all for me.   I would describe Portland as determined, tolerant, activist, whimsical, young, handmade and self propelled.

Travel Plans

I love to travel and next week I’m getting the opportunity to go some place I’ve never been–Oregon.  I’ll be traveling to the APLD International Landscape Design Conference in Portland and the Hood River Valley and I’m very excited about it.

Downtown Portland photo via

These conferences are an important part of my professional life.  They give me access to people and places that I might not otherwise have, they introduce me to new (to me) ideas and they give me a chance to get my finger on the pulse of what my peers are doing.  Hopefully I will find the time to blog about what I see–I always take hundreds of garden photos, many of which I share here.

So it’s time to pack (actually do the laundry first), print out my e-tickets, and set off on an adventure.  Yippee!

Small | Modern | Fire

I love clean lined modern gardens and don’t  get  the opportunity to design one very often.  I was going to make a mood board of what I thought I’d like to use in a new client’s contemporary garden design, but  I went off on a detour.  Frequently, I start down one road and end up completely sidetracked by another.  I try to allow this open ended exploration as much as possible since it leads me to places I might not get to otherwise.

Maybe because it’s been cool at night, but I began thinking about one of the most basic and traditional elements of outdoor use–fire.  I  wanted these stylish versions of a campfire to be intimate, suitable for a patio or suburban garden. I’ve had the opportunity to incorporate a few fire elements for my clients, but many people don’t want to make a large investment in an outdoor fireplace yet want the warmth and comfort of fire on cool evening.  I found, that for a small modern garden, there’s some really great options.

Photo credits/links:  Top row–Wittus; Solus; Harrie Leenders.  Second row–Ore Containers; Modern Metal Work; John T. Unger Studio; Third row–1st & 2nd images Extremis; Eichler Homes. Bottom row–Bodie and Fou; Blomus; Columbo Construction Company

Pilgrim’s Progress

As I’ve noted before, my garden is neglected.  This shouldn’t be surprising because in the spring, as a landscape designer, I’m busy running around creating gardens for others.  The gardens do get the occasional power weeding, but I don’t have much time or energy for my own gardens early in the growing season.  When summer kicks in around the 4th of July and things slow down, I begin my gardening season.  I know this is not optimal, but it’s all I’ve got.

Before Pruning
Before Pruning

I start with the biggest tasks interspersed with manic spurts of weeding.  This year, my new neighbors have let their garden go.  Their  Halls honeysuckle, multiflora roses, wild raspberries and poison ivy are over on my side of the fence.  The honeysuckle was climbing up my small tree so this morning chop, chop, off I went with Felcos, lopers, pruning saw, telescope pruners and a ladder.

After hacking back the jungle
After hacking back the jungle

My goal, since I still have to support myself is to garden for an hour every morning in the shade.  I start with the overhead plane since I’m not fond of working on a ladder and I want to get that out of the way.  I’ll work my way down to the ground plane.  With this course of action and limiting the time to small intervals it doesn’t get overwhelming and is still enjoyable for me despite the heat and humidity.

Robins Egg Blue

Robin's Egg
Robin's Egg

Every year, without fail, I find some small part of a robin’s egg.  I always pick it up and admire its unique blue-green hue.  This year, when I found a tiny piece of shell,  it got me thinking about using the color in gardens. When I was working in fashion, we would obsess over the EXACT shade of  blue-green and then we would then obsess some more over what exactly to name the color. Robin’s Egg Blue, Turquoise, Sky Blue, Teal (how 80s!), or Seafoam (how 90s!)–no matter what it’s called–in the garden it can be a happy and unexpected addition.  I have a new landscape design client who will love this color, so here’s some of the images I’ve been looking at for inspiration for her garden.

Blue doof
A Tiffany Box
Designer's Guild Shop in London
Bauer Olive Jar
Olive Jar
Indigo Bunting
Indigo Bunting
Lap Pool
Lap Pool

Photo credits top to bottom: Robin’s Egg/; Door/; Box/Tiffany & Co; Wall/KarinErisson; Violas/; Courtyard/Josh Massey, Olive Jar/Bauer Pottery; Indigo Bunting/AllHart via Flickr; Lap Pool/S. Cohan