The Drawing Board

I miss hand drawing.  If I didn’t feel like I had to keep up and work faster (and I’m pretty quick with a pencil), I would go back.  But that’s not the case for at least three months a year in the spring when I’m at my virtual ‘drawing board’ for many hours each day creating landscape design plans for clients.  During this time, time is truly money.  It’s when a large percentage of my projects are conceptualized, drawn and sent out into the world to become reality.  I know that many people, some of my designer friends among them, still prefer to ‘think’ with a pencil.  I do too, often sketching conceptual ideas for details and preliminary plan layouts on paper with a proper pencil,  but with computer drafting programs I can change my mind, import collaborator’s drawings and never have to redraw an entire section of  drawing over and over and over again.  If I need it–I just click and paste.  It is a time saver, but I still miss hand drawing.

If I didn’t have to collaborate and work with architects, engineers and interior designers, I would still be working by hand.  It bothers me somehow that something so tactile, rhythmic and intuitive as drawing has been flung aside in favor of yet a another thing I compute.  I miss hand drawing.

Garden Designers Roundtable: Color Conversations

I love color and write about it frequently both here and at Designers on Design. I’ve explored single hues for inspiration such as grey, turquoise and even white, but color in the garden should actually be more of a complex conversation than a single statement.

In my mind there are two common mistakes when using color in gardens–first we let the bloom be the talkers and relegate other elements to the background and second we don’t consider the how the color of  an inanimate object of is going to affect the whole.  For my purposes today I’m ignoring the bloom issues.  Planting design is another topic entirely.

One of the great modern masters of color, the artist Josef Albers, spent much of his career exploring and teaching how colors ‘talk’ to each other in context. If you look at the paintings below, you will see that each carefully considered hue stands on its own yet also works as part of the whole.  These hues are like wonderful conversationalists at a dinner party–each speaks eloquently on its own but listens to the one next to it.

Atuned, 1958 - Josef Albers

This first example has no green in it so it might be difficult to imagine it as a garden.  So look at the next.

Untitled, 1969 - Josef Albers

Now visualize this painting as a simple garden design.  (Actually it could be a really cool contemporary garden design…but back to the idea of color conversations.)  Most people will think in the context of plants–perhaps hedging on the outside and other plants in each nested square.  What happens when other garden elements are added to the plants?  All too often that’s when the trouble starts and we start to loose the thread of the conversation.  It’s like being distracted in a group when a new member arrives, some side conversations start,  and when the introductions are done the subject has completely changed from what it was before.

Nested Squares

In the garden above by James Doyle Design Associates, color has been as carefully considered as the geometry and the scale.  Each element is an equal player in the whole composition.  It is formal, traditional and deceiving in its simplicity–just like Albers’ squares inside of squares.

Blue Wall

Now consider this more challenging garden by Topher Delaney.  The blue wall is the only color in a sea of neutrals.  There are almost no plants.  Even though there is a huge contrast in the colors used, there is a unified statement with each carefully chosen and placed element working together creating a single visual statement–a conversation between equals if you will.

Unless you are trying to make an exclamatory statement, the trick is to think about the whole instead of each individual part when trying to start a color conversation in the garden.  Next time you come home from the garden center with that lemon yellow or vivid orange pot –  if it screams its name then take it back or create a visual conversation around it–let it talk to its neighbors.

See what the other Roundtable designers are saying in their conversations about color by clicking on any of the links below.

Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA »
Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA »
Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN »
Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA »
Ivette Soler : The Germinatrix : Los Angeles, CA »
Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO »
Rebecca Sweet : Gossip in the Garden : Los Altos, CA »
Rochelle Greayer : Studio “G” : Boston, MA »
Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT »

Ladies’ Choice

I don’t usually post the same things here as I do on my Facebook fan page and Twitter. Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak at a symposium sponsored by the local and exceptional arboretum-Frelinghuysen.  I am also not an easily agitated public speaker, but I was the lone designer in the company of  two other women, both of whom are experts in their respective fields-a nursery woman and a garden writer. It was to a sold out crowd of avid home gardeners, nursery people and other designers.  I don’t know why this gave me pause.  I have in my career spoken to large crowds on big stages about lots of things with narry a thought.

Anyway, we were each given a set 20+ of statements such as:  Childhood Favorites, My Kind of Red or My BFF-Foliage that were to form our presentations. The three of us had very, very different points of view.

Heidi Hesselin, who along with her husband Richard own Pleasant Run Nursery, spoke eloquently about plants.  She is one of the most knowledgeable plants people I know and I have been buying from her incredible wholesale nursery for many years.  If I have a question about a specific plant, Heidi is one of the few people I call for an accurate answer.  Valerie Sudol has been the garden columnist- penning the Garden Diary for New Jersey’s largest newspaper, The Star Ledger, for years.  Her presentation was also very plant focused.   My presentation was different since I came at it from a designer’s point of view.  I tried to include as much design information within the context of the questions as possible.

I went first and the visuals from my presentation are below.  Except for the plant list, I told stories about each image.

Overall the day was a success–with one exception…I was in a darkened auditorium when for the first time in months it was sunny and 60 outside and would have rather been in my garden!

Monday 8 | A Year of Mondays Project

Three days of incessant rain, wind and gloom.  This morning in the garden there were the usual early spring suspects – a bumper crop of wild onions that need prompt removal, nubs of sedums pushing through the soggy ground, and the scent of blooming Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’.  What surprised and delighted me most was on my way out of the garden.  There it was, something that I’d walked past on my way through the iron arbor in search of whatever today would reveal–a sure sign that spring was here–the tender new growth on a Spiraea thunbergii ‘Mt. Fuji’.  Soon it will burst into glorious white bloom.

A Garden Gives Back: Crops

A Garden Gives Back showhouse project has taken on a life of its own.  Originally, because it’s the way I think, I just thought it would be a good thing to donate the produce to those who most needed it.  That way the garden would benefit not only its host charity, Morristown Memorial Hospital at the front end, but at the back end it would also benefit the community at large via the Interfaith Food Pantry.

I started talking it up locally as well as in the various places I post online.  Like a spring tree bursting into bloom it exploded into something so much larger than what it started off to be.  Now, also because it’s the way I think, that’s a great thing.

Morris County, NJ is one of the richest counties in the United States–always in the top 10 and yet there are 10,000 people who live here at food risk.  I think that’s shameful.

This will be the first of a series of posts about the garden and those donating their time and products to make it a resounding success.  The first order of business beyond the plan and some general meetings was to decide on the crops.  Since the garden is temporary and will really only be in existence for 6-10 weeks of early spring, our choices were limited to cool weather vegetables with short  times to maturity.  Odd and esoteric veggies were excluded. Those selected not only had to do the work in a short time,  but they had to have visual impact–this is after all a display garden.  A few things will be started indoors this week and the rest sowed directly in early April in succession.

Here’s what we decided on:

Sugar Snap Peas

Ruby Red Swiss Chard

Green Curled Kale ‘Ripbor’

Lettuces:  ‘Rouge D’Hiver’, ‘Red Sails’, ‘Jericho’ and a Mesculin mix

Tatsoi (Asian Greens)

Sylvetta (Arugula)

Radishes ‘Pink Beauty’

Beets ‘Chioggia Guardsmark’

Rite of Spring

The Philadelphia Flower Show is a rite of spring.  It is a unique blend of garden high and low, an elite event with mass appeal.  Designers (both floral and landscape), schools, garden associations/clubs and individuals create gardens or vignettes or enter into many categories or plant classes ensuring that there’s something for everyone. It is always packed (making photographs difficult) and sometimes the lines waiting to see the large display gardens are long, long, long as they were on Friday when I went.

This year’s theme ‘Passport to the World’ gave garden creators a wide berth for interpretation.  Some didn’t (yawn) go much past the back yard, a few were whimsical (yawn, again) interpretations of foreign places, but the really, really interesting ones juxtaposed the idea of the natural world colliding with the industrial world and challenged the idea of what is traditionally beautiful in a garden.

Gambion screen filled w/natural materials
Flowers suspended in beakers
Calla lillies in 'ice'

Two gardens in particular took the idea of rust belt industrialism juxtaposed with naturalism and made it into something new and beautiful.

Michael Petrie, of Handmade Gardens, created a garden (one of two) for show sponsor PNC out of cast off junk that was both whimsical and a road map for recycling industrial cast offs.  The use of recycled materials defined the idea of a vertical ‘green’ wall–in every possible way.

One person's junk is another's garden
'Green' wall detail
Water Feature
Planting detail

Moda Botanica stacked rusted, graffiti covered shipping containers on top of one another to create an other worldly environment.  The garden was incredibly crowded.

Stacked containers- each with a different theme
Planter
Graffiti
Glamour and garbage

There are those who deride flower shows as awful fakes with plants blooming completely out of sequence with no regard to how they would be in the real world.  Get over it!  When its good, it’s experimental theater at its best and at it’s worst it’s still pretty.   For me, as someone who designs gardens for a living, it’s a place to look for ideas and inspiration–to seek possible directions that are only possible when creativity is allowed out of the bounds of design reality.

They Give Great Shop

On my recent trip  to the San Francisco Bay area I visited  a quartet of garden shops.  Having worked in the fashion industry, I understand the power of  visual merchandising and have a healthy respect for the best of it as an art form–something sorely lacking in most garden retailers.  More than one Bay Area resident I spoke to referred to these shops as being well ‘curated’. Since when did merchandising become the same thing as curating? Stuff for sale isn’t art–maybe it’s a California thing.

The Gardener – Fourth Street – Berkeley, CA

For over 26 years The Gardener has blurred the boundaries between inside and outside  in true California fashion.  Half of the store was given over to scents and other smelly things–the other to a tasteful blend of interior and exterior furniture and accessories.  They are curated merchandised side by side in a way that makes it difficult to tell what the product’s original destination was–inside or out–and that’s the point–albeit a somewhat predictable one in 2010.

Inside out and outside in
Cast concrete stool -- at home inside or out
A clearly delinated 'outside' area

Artefact – Cornerstone Gardens – Sonoma, CA

Artefact Design and Salvage is a destination shop.  Brilliantly merchandised curated and lit, it is high drama retail at its best.  Someone else’s cast offs never looked so good.  New and antique, natural and manufactured, naive and sophisticated all at the same time, this is a place to slow down and look and to be inspired. The pictures speak for themselves–yet only tell part of the story since the scale of each piece and the ones next to it are very important to the look and feel of the store.  It is also, of the four destinations here, the only one that deserves to be called ‘curated’.

White and bright
Natural and artificial
Naive and sophisticated

Flora Grubb Gardens – Jerrold Avenue – San Francisco, CA

Located in an industrial part of the city, much has been written about Flora Grubb’s unique point of view.   Yes, I did see the framed as if they were curated art succulent displays and the funky planted junk car and bike.  I also saw the free hanging two sided Wooly Pocket (although it could have been a different brand) ‘wall’ pictured below.  The rest of the gardens were, well a garden center that was really well curated presented merchandised.  Fermob cafe tables and chairs were hung on a wall and contemporary garden accessories were freely mixed in with vintage ones.  Plants were showcased in vignettes with pots and accessories.  This is sophisticated shopping at its best, different from most garden centers’ approach but not unique to high end retail.

Planted Junker
Cafe tables and chairs as wall art
Free hanging and abundant

Annie’s Annuals – Market Street – Richmond, CA

In a league of its own, Annie’s Annuals was the most fun of all of the places I visited.  Definitely not curated, this retail/wholesale/mail order nursery backs up an incredible, hand picked and horticulturally diverse selection of plants with a sense of humor and delight.  Hand written plant descriptions and creative and funky signage (some with KidRobot ancestry) make this an oasis in the middle of industrial (and crime plagued) Richmond.  Annie and Elaine–our hostesses with the mostesses,  freely shared their time and stories as well as giving me a tour of the propagation areas and as Elaine described ‘the crazy science experiment’ area.  Annie’s doesn’t pretend to be something that it’s not and because of that it was refreshing and original.  A big Bravo!

Hmmm. Adam and Eve..or maybe not?
1000's of plants
Is this a nursery or Kid Robot?