In Praise of Craftsmanship

As a landscape designer who runs a design only practice, I am dependent on those who build my work to realize my vision.  I have, over many years, through trial and error, found several contractors and artisans who embrace excellent craftsmanship and practice what they preach, but they are getting harder and harder to find.

Dry stacked locally sourced pudding stone
Dry stacked locally sourced pudding stone

Cheap materials and quick building techniques afforded by interlocking wall systems and concrete pavers are not part of my design vocabulary.  On all of the projects I have done over the years, I have only specified them once–and that was on the deal breaking insistence of a client.  I would not take that project today.  I believe in using local, natural materials but even those can be used in a slipshod and slap dash manner.

Which wall below do you think will stand the test of time?

Below are some photographs of the now three year old project shown in the video.  We  replaced ancient and crumbling concrete steps and walks with a terraced front yard built of native pudding stone and locally plentiful bluestone walks and steps.  Dan Lupino, dry stone wall builder, really made the project sing with his attention to detail and incredible artisanship. The old lawn area was reduced by fifty percent and is maintained organically by the homeowner.

Terraced Entrance
Terraced Entrance
Dry stacked lower terrace pier, steps and wall
Dry stacked lower terrace pier, steps and wall
Upper terrace piers with lamps
Upper terrace piers with lamps

Late to the Party

It’s been a while since I wrote about a plant.  I tend to leave that to other, better horticulturists.

Spotted, driving down a country road, Hamamelis virginiana’s yellow puffs tell me it’s time to turn on the heat and hunker down for winter.  Unlike other witch hazels that bloom in late winter or very early spring,  H. virginiana is one of the last plants to bloom in my region, waiting all season, until late October or early November to strut its subtle stuff.

Hamamelis virginiana
Hamamelis virginiana

Hamamelis virginiana is an eastern American native and is much less showy than its hybrid cousin Hamamelis  x intermedia or the midwestern native Hamamelis vernalis.  It is hardy to zone 4,  can reach 30′ tall and I don’t know of any commercial selections.

Most people opt for the early spring blooming witch hazels, but I treasure the last of the fall blooms that H. virginiana provides.

Shift in Perception

I had occasion this past weekend to visit the center of the country–no not New York or Los Angeles, but Iowa.  Being a hardcore, jaded metropolitan New York area resident, I had preconceived ideas of what I would see and experience there.  I expected small town America–the hayseed variety.  I was wrong and am happy to report that by my barometer, Iowa City, Iowa was sophisticated and charming.

Eastern Iowa as I expected--flat farmland
Eastern Iowa as I expected--flat farmland

I was there for APLD board meetings and didn’t get as much chance to explore as I would have liked.  I missed a planned trip to a prairie restoration project due to airport delays.  I did get to walk a bit each day, passing shops filled with beautiful displays, handmade objects and restaurants.  I also got to stay at a cool hotel and eat at a local restaurant, the Motley Cow,  that specialized in using local ingredients.  I had hoped to sneak away to the Prairie Lights bookstore–but that didn’t happen.

Side street Iowa City
Side street Iowa City
Pedestrian overpass
Pedestrian overpass

A shift in perception and an appreciation for places beyond my immediate geography is a welcome thing.  My creative output requires that my sometimes preconceived ideas are challenged and that I have new ways to think about, view and interpret the world.

National Design Week

Did you know that this week is National Design Week?  The 10th in fact.

ndw-loop

Did you also know that there is a national design awards program that coincides with this celebration of design?  If not, it’s not too late to check out this year’s winners–just click on the image to go directly to the awards page.

National Design Awards

On Tuesday evening, the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum presented a round table discussion between this year’s award recipients about the state of design today.  As a way of taking notes, I Twittered participants’ comments throughout the lively and far ranging 90+ minute discussion.  Here are some of them–I apologize for not recording who said what, or all of what was said, but they were going way too fast–kind of like most designers’  minds.

Walter Hood, of Hood Design, the landscape design winner was the panel moderator and started the discussion off with the loaded question:

Is Design a luxury or a necessity? Without beauty, what are we? / Design translates intention into effect.

Is Design a global language? Global is limiting, it communicates our times. / Visualization via the computer is making the awareness of design more pervasive /Here, in US design is viewed as a service and marginalized

There was discussion after this specifically about the Japanese appreciation and integration of design into all aspects of their lives.  It was too interesting and I forgot note taking for a bit.  There was also a side discussion on the importance of balancing ego with practicality and necessity, with the telling comment from one of the panelists:  Every morning I look in the mirror and wonder what monster I’m seeing today…

Then the discussion focused on process, the state of design now and the future of design (including teaching).  Here are some less organized but no less thought provoking comments.

Designers have become alienated from spaces and products they are designing bcause they are computer driven. Design is experiential-not a screen / There is a weakening of respect for ‘craft’ / No one has taken the initiative to use available research to proove that design is as important as math and science. /Next great revolution in design is biomimicry /The most exciting thing about design is not knowing where you’re going

Inspiration and Influence: What I Like Now

As a designer, I am constantly exploring  in search of  new ideas and inspiration.  It’s part of my job life.  I spend a chunk of time each day on what I call ‘input’.  Without it, my output gets stale.  In addition to all of  my offline activities, I read blogs and explore links shared via Twitter and other social media sites.  Throughout my day I may search for any number of things on the web from plant requirements to furniture to stone patterns to other landscape designer’s websites.  I still prefer to see things firsthand whenever possible because sometimes looking at something on the web feels as if there’s a scrim between me and it.  It’s not tactile.

I share a truncated version of what I am currently interested in to the right in the ‘What I like now’ column.  There aren’t any photos in this post because they’re in those links if you take a look.   These sites rotate in and out on an irregular basis since my interests vary within the context of what I’m working on at a given moment–so it’s not a who’s who or a list of who’s in the club.  Sometimes a site will disappear for a while only to reappear later.  There are a couple of those now.  It is not a traditional blog roll nor is it all about gardens–it’s my own eclectic list of what I like now and it could change again tomorrow.

Climate Change | Plan, Plant + Protect | Trees

I am not a scientist. I am a landscape designer.  I thought I wasn’t an active environmentalist until I started to think about participating in this year’s Blog Action Day on Climate Change.  Sure I talk about it, but if  intent + action = activism then, I am an activist.

How do I as a landscape designer address climate change?   I plan, plant and protect trees on a regular basis.  I even write about trees here to hopefully spur readers to appreciate them, plant them, grow more of them and protect them.

Tree shading, cooling
Tree shading, cooling

How do trees affect climate change?  Don’t take my word for it, according to American Forests:

Trees absorb carbon dioxide (CO2), the primary gas causing global climate change. Trees retain the carbon (C) from the CO2 molecule and release oxygen (O2) into the atmosphere. The carbon makes up half the dry weight of a tree.

Forests are the world’s second largest carbon reservoirs (oceans are the largest). Unlike oceans, however, we can grow new forests. Planting new trees remains one of the cheapest, most effective means of drawing excess CO2 from the atmosphere. One acre of forestland will sequester between 150 – 200 tons of CO2 in its first 40 years.

PLAN

You don’t need a group, or a demonstration or anything other than yourself taking action.   Plan to include trees in your garden.  Even a small ornamental tree is great.  Shade isn’t an impediment to gardening–it’s an opportunity, over 40% of garden plants prefer shade.   Just plan on including some trees when you’re dreaming about what plants to add to your landscape.  Trees are a good investment also, they add to your home’s value–smaller plants, no matter how rare, don’t do that.

PLANT

Plant a tree in your garden–even better yet, plant a forest of them and help cool things down.  Give trees the things they need–room to grow, plenty of water and lots of organic matter. When considering where to plant a tree make sure you know how tall and wide the tree will get before you decide where to plant it. Trees are plants for the long haul.  How big will that little tree be in 5 years? 10?  Will it grow fast or slow?   Too many trees are cut down because they are too close to structures or their root systems make it difficult to plant anything else.  Choose trees for the type of space you have and you will be rewarded for years to come.

600+ Year old White Oak
600+ Year old White Oak

PROTECT

Protect our old large trees from heavy construction–60% of damage to a trees root system comes from the first pass of heavy equipment over them.  In my region, there is a battle going on right now.  A local university wants to cut down the only unprotected swath of  old growth forest in the metropolitan area that is now on its campus for ball fields, parking lots and ‘public benefit’.  It seems to me that the public already benefits more from trees that have shaded and cooled them for more than 200 years, you can join the public outrage and protest here.

Look around you and see the large trees that are slated to be removed–question the cost to us when they are no longer cooling the earth.  Many towns now protect heritage trees and have strict guidelines for tree removal. Fight to protect our trees because they are helping to protect us.

Field Trip: Wave Hill

I didn’t set out to go to Wave Hill on Saturday, but it was a better day for ending up there.  I was surprised that on a glorious fall day there weren’t more people in this remarkable garden.  Each time I visit Wave Hill my experience is different.  I think that’s part of its magic.

In the woodland garden
In the woodland garden

My two hour plus stroll with a friend revealed autumn’s long shadows and their impact on the garden’s classical structure.  The plantings at Wave Hill are just as exuberant and dramatic as the structures and were in their end of season show–remarkable.

Sumacs

Views of the Hudson River are everywhere–some loom large, others peak through from different areas of the garden.

A small view of the Hudson across the dry garden
A small view of the Hudson across the dry garden

I felt myself wanting to look at a plan of the garden’s bones, but not so much that I wanted to go inside and seek one out.  In these October days garden lovers in four season climates feel the warmth slowly seeping away and winter approaching.  We want to enjoy the last of the warmth on our backs and faces, we don’t want to go in, even though we know that much of what we grow needs the cold to be able to give us such joy again next spring.

Greenhouse and agave
The Marco Polo Stufano Conservatory

View from the main pergola back to the lawn
View from the main pergola back to the lawn
The Dry Garden
The Dry Garden
Path
Path
Low late sun
Low late sun

Don’t Mind the Gap

Life Magazine May 17, 1968
Life Magazine May 17, 1968

There’s been a lot bluster going on in garden circles since the Garden Writer’s Association presented a breakout session at their annual symposium entitled ‘Gardening with a Generation Y’.   Kelly Norris, the presenter, who at an accomplished 22, tried his level best to convince his audience (mostly older than him) that his generation, the ‘Y’s’ were different than previous generations…just like when I was 22 and I tried to convince anyone significantly older that my generation was different…just like my parents tried to convince their elders that their generation was different…just like my grandparents and their parents and their parent’s parents did.

The cyclical passage of time doesn’t take away from each generation’s unique qualities, causes and lifestyle choices–each is and has to be influenced by their own time.  It also doesn’t take away from the fact that the world does evolve and change and time marches inevitably on–especially in a garden.  Each new generation must and will find their own way–some will find new paths to follow, others well worn ones.   As for Gen Y gardeners, some already have gardens of their own unique style and some don’t–still others are content with a small pot of violets on a window sill just like the ones their grandmas had.

There will be naysayers and skeptics on both sides–some are afraid of the new, some reject and resent the old.  Neither side is certain and both are still learning what it is to be themselves in this particular space and time.  What is certain though is that each next generation will come of age and as part of the process they will decree that they are different from those who came before them.

Field Trip: Atlock Farm

I’ve known Atlock Farm and its owner Ken Selody for years.  We were comrades in arms at the New Jersey Flower and Garden show for several seasons where each time I created a display garden, I gave Ken the forced plants that I knew wouldn’t overwinter in my garage when the show was over.  What I haven’t done in much of that time is visit the farm.  It’s out of my loop unless I want something that only Ken has, and then I usually send an assistant to pick it up after a phone call.

Last Thursday, I participated in a garden photography workshop run by APLDNJ at Atlock.  Eight landscape designers met with photographer Rich Pomerantz and used the gardens, hoop houses and chickens as subjects for photos.  Here are some of mine.

Still life w/disco ball
Still life w/disco ball
Coleus in a crowd
Coleus Standards
Fall Border
Fall Border
Palais de poulet
Palais de poulet
Succulent
Succulent
Lonley Luytens
Lonely Luytens
Nursery at the end of the season
Season's End
Sentry
Sentry