Thinking Forward

This past  year was one of upheaval and profound change.  People, ideas and places were passed by, passed through, passed over and passed around.  New ways of thinking and doing emerged and evolved while some old ones became immediately antiquated and still others proved their mettle.

back and forth

We have all fretted about the economy just as we looked for new ways to continue our landscape design practices with fewer and newly frugal clients.  Independent designers in all disciplines have struggled to survive while reinforcing and sometimes reinventing their value  in the wake of the so called ‘new economy’.  I hope that in the coming year  more people–designers and clients alike–will more  fully understand that the designed environment adds positive substance daily to their lives.

The days of  over-the-top backyard resorts have all but become extinct, and to survive  that extinction we have to find more imaginative ways to draw people outside and give them meaningful places to gather.  In 2010 we will still have to continue to prove to our clients that  thoughtful and creative design gives back to them directly as well as to the world at large.  Landscape designers are at the forefront of creating a more sustainable planet by making changes great and small, yard by yard, garden by garden.  We must also demonstrate to ourselves and our clients that we can do more with less and that innovative and forward thinking design at any budget will help heal the earth and add to their well being.

We, as designers, will have to become more adept at communicating that message on multiple platforms to reach out and  promote ourselves and our message to our clients.  We need to communicate our value so clearly and understandably that potential clients will see beyond the picture perfect images of published design that seem so financially unattainable.  We have to help our clients to understand what we already know–great design gives back long after the check is cashed–it’s an investment in quality of life for them directly as well as the world at large.

Making Glad the Heart of Childhood

This was my father’s favorite, first published in the New York Sun in 1897.  Christmas was his favorite holiday and he made it magic year after year after year.  Merry Christmas, all!


DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.  Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.   Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’  Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?


VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.


Each year when the clock artificially falls back an hour my countdown to the winter solstice begins.

The Kwakwakawakwn Moon by Stan Hunt
The Kwakwakawakwn Moon by Stan Hunt c.1979

After this, the shortest day of the year, each day will get imperceptibly longer (by about a minute) until it’s no longer dark when I wake up or when I start fixing dinner.  Now that, is something to celebrate.

A possible Win-Win…

I have my hand out here.

Once again I’ve been asked to create a garden for ‘Mansions in May’,  a local designer show house that will benefit Morristown Memorial Hospital, specifically the Emergency Services Unit.

I want to give back in as many ways as I can so I  put my own spin on the process this year by creating an organic producing vegetable garden, depicted in the plan.  The produce harvested in the 1/4 acre garden and orchard will be donated to a local soup kitchen.

The Orchard
The Orchard

I have already taken on several partners who are donating goods and services including a landscape contractor, a master carpenter, a nursery, a  lumber supplier and a stone yard who will be announced if we are able to build the garden.  With all of the donated labor and materials we are still coming up 5-6K short.   The garden will have high local visibility and will be promoted via the Mansion staff and my own.  It is a wonderful opportunity to give back to the community.  If you know of someone–corporate or otherwise who would be willing to help make this project happen please contact me using the contact tab above.

A Great Read…

French Dirt High Res.previewYesterday was a really crappy day, weather wise.  Grey, cold and pouring.  It was the perfect opportunity to sit down with a good book.  For a single afternoon inside the warmth of my own small house in New Jersey I was transported to the south of France with it’s impossibly clear light, stone buildings and centuries old traditions.  French Dirt, Richard Goodman’s memoir about making a garden that would exist for only one season is a wonderful read.  Short,  just over 200 pages, it paints a vivid picture of people, a place and the birth and death of a garden.  I am not a literary critic, so I simply say–read it.

Normally I don’t read gardening books just for pleasure–they’re work–but this one came highly recommended by Debra Lee Baldwin via the wonderful blog Gardening Gone Wild so I ordered it–thank you Debra, your tip gave me an afternoon somewhere else in the hot sun in a  distant village and a garden when I was really in the rainy winter in New Jersey.

Honest Scrap or Junkyard?

My friend Helen Yoest either has a wicked sense of humor or a need to know more…but  an Honest Scrap award–I’ve got enough baggage and randomness to fill a junkyard.  I’ll play because I’m a good sport and I was asked to…not that I think anything revealed below is going to give anyone else any real insight into who I am or why I do what I do.  Time spent over tidbits will tell that particular tale.

This image was stolen from Helen's blog
This image was stolen from Helen's blog link honest is that!

The award has two components. You have to first list 10 honest things about yourself (and make them interesting), and second is to present the award to seven other bloggers.  I tried to pick people who always make me want to know more when they comment or Tweet–even though I suspect some won’t play–their links are below.  So, if you care about such things related to me–and Helen was curious enough to ask, here are 10 possibly (possibly not) interesting and titillating tidbits…

10 Bits of Honest Scrap about You Know Who…

  1. I am a visual inspiration junkie.  I am constantly observing everything around me as possible visual fodder for something else.
  2. I am a mass of design contradictions.  For example, I love clean lined modern design but my own environment leans towards eclectic, layered and definitely garage sale chic.
  3. I often wonder who is really reading my blog…and why aren’t there more of you dammit.
  4. I am the only one who likes my dog.   Harry is a true Parsons Russell terrier with all of the enthusiasm and idiosyncrasies included…but then I’ve always been attracted to bad boys…
  5. Most wouldn’t even suspect at how sentimental I really am.
  6. My favorite time of day is early, early morning before the noise of humans clutters up my life and the airwaves.
  7. The big paradox of my life it that I am ambitious yet not competitive.
  8. I have a long, long, long fuse….then KAPOW!
  9. Travel to anywhere I haven’t been feeds my soul.
  10. I want to live in the South of France…in the Languedoc-Roussillon specifically.

I don’t really know how these random facts paint a richer picture of who I am or am not, they are just facts without the history to go with them.  The nuances and personal experiences of a life well lived is what makes these bits and pieces important…so if it’s more tidbits you want, convince the next 7 (chosen via my own curiosity) to share theirs…

Laura from Punk Rock Gardens

Carolyn from A Yard and a Half

Phillip from How it Grows

James from Federal Twist

Patty from Join Me on the Path

Kari from Karibaskets

Jayme from Nest in Style

This doesn’t mean I’m not curious about everyone else…it just means that in following the rules I must only list 7…

Flowers for Myself

Sometime around Thanksgiving I bought two bunches of tulips for my winter work table – my other work table is in the unheated studio.  I splurge on fresh flowers for myself in the winter when none are available to cut from the garden – they help hold the grey weather at bay.  I’m not sure why, but these particular tulips held me completely in their thrall.  Their subtle changes day to day fascinated me.   They lasted for more than a week.

tulips 1

tulips 2

tulips 3

tulips 4

tulips 5

Etiquette + Pirates

I have always believed that good manners allow you to go anywhere.   Have you ever been to a party where one person has to dominate the conversation and no matter what the prior subject the new subject of the conversation is them?  I always thought they needed some manners.  It’s one thing to add to the overall conversation with salient points or even an opposing point of view and quite another to turn the conversation into an ego fest of self promotion.

pirate rock

Good manners dictate that just about the rudest thing one can do is to point out someone else’s rudeness in public so I won’t be wagging my finger in anyone’s virtual face here, however, there are some in my small part of the design community who turn their comments on blogs and Facebook fan pages into forums for their own overt self promotion.  Here’s a great link to 5 simple rules for blogging from Blogging Basics 101 — pay particular attention to rule No. 4.

Social media, including blogging, offers everyone a voice in the larger conversation–and it is a two way conversation.  When I first started learning about how to create a social media presence everyone I communicated with offered these basic rules:

  1. Be authentic
  2. Share information freely and be a giving part of the community
  3. Participate in online conversations via comments and ask questions
  4. Offer your expertise in a way that will enhance the conversation
  5. If you are promoting a product or yourself – do so within the context of everything else above – promotion via social media is more organic and viral rather than traditional in your face advertising and marketing

For the past year, I have worked very hard to follow those rules and I have had wonderful experiences and have gained opportunities that I might not have been given elsewhere.  For my own part, I try to answer blog comments here and to participate elsewhere adding to to and enriching the conversations in ways that stay on or add to a topic. One of the main components of a successful blog or Facebook fan page or even Twitter stream are the readers/fans and their comments. But…

Apparently there are those, who looking from the outside in believe that they can ride along without putting the work in…they hijack conversations, blog comments, and Facebook posts like pirates capturing a ship.  They use others’ carefully developed and considered ideas as platforms to overtly gain a larger presence for themselves.   How sad that they feel that their own on topic contributions have so little value that they have to scream their accomplishments from someone else’s crow’s nest.

With that said, there will be some here who will say I am making much ado about nothing or that what I am objecting to is actually part of the social media process.  What I say is yes,  your comments and opinions are welcome–keep them coming!  Add your voice whereever and whenever you please…just realize that you are indeed promoting yourself subtly every time you comment unless you are commenting  anonymously.  It just isn’t cool when someone has  the poor manners to believe that it is okay to hijack comments and ideas for their own self promotion using someone else’s platform–that’s just rude.

Do what I say…not what I do!l

As a landscape and garden designer, I only have one hard and fast rule:  create a space that compels people to venture out to use it.  Whether it’s a path, a patio, or just a comfortable place to sit and read a book, I want to get people outside to reconnect with their land.

For my clients I always create a place to explore, gather, pause, or linger.

That could mean adding a small a patio that overlooks a community  pond where before there was nothing but an eroded hill…

DiTrolio Pond

It could also mean a creating path to beckon you from one place to another easily…

Best path

Or it could mean building a place to toast marshmallows after chasing fireflies on a summer evening.

McSweeny Firepit

Outdoor spaces that invite interaction are a part of every design I create but…my home garden has none of that.

I have a path…but no place to linger.

I have a patio, but no comfortable place to sit,  a firepit…well that’s just not a part of ammenities around here.

My work is built outside to coax people into using it and enabling them to reconnect with the natural world around them yet here I am day after day drafting designs for others on paper or via my laptop.  I guess I need to hire myself so I can lure myself  outside!

Thank you to Susan Morrison who suggested the idea for this post. Three other APLD landscape designers on both coasts are fessing up today also. Take a minute to visit their blogs (links below) and see if they also need to hire themselves to get outside!

Susan Morrison –  Rebecca SweetScott Hokunson