Field Trip: Why Design Now?

Last Sunday, I spent the afternoon beating the 90+ degree heat immersed in what is believed is the best of design thought now.

‘Why Design Now?’ the 2010 triennial survey of all things design at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum covers the past three years and like any good survey is both in the moment and in the future.  Global in scope, sustainability was the ‘in the moment’ theme–both in many of the pieces but also in the installation itself.  Backlash against technology was a future theme with handmade and one of a kind pieces that showed a clear direction away from global computer driven design  and towards a celebration of localization of resources, design and culture.

This dichotomy of thought -high tech vs. low tech – wasn’t totally driven by economics, but the two most extreme examples of each were.  Masdar City currently being built in Abu Dhabi aims to be the first totally sustainable, zero carbon footprint city in the world.  The scope of the project is incredible and a testament to what piles of money can do.

Masdar City

In the same gallery was the most low tech design.  The Pearl Millet thresher.  This simple machine greatly reduces the time it takes to separate  Pearl Millet grains from the stem.  The materials are available locally and the thresher is simple to build and operate.

With the exception of urban farming projects, I was disappointed in the lack of landscape design represented in the show.  In 2006 Cao|Perot, Field Operations and Ken Smith were well represented and in this go around, most of the design ideas involving landscape were collaborative so you had to dig (no pun intended) to find them.  A notable exception was a post Katrina community garden project that will have even more resonance in the wake of the BP gulf oil disaster.  Viet Village Urban Farm is not only an incredible project, but the graphics used to show it in the gallery were low-tech and innovative at the same time.  Not allowed to take pictures, you’ll have to trust me when I say the that the collaged, cut and paste from strips of photographs farm plan was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.

With that said, there were so many ideas in  that it’s impossible to process them all in one visit.  Here are just a few of them–some suitable for landscape and garden…some just because they were great design.

Sole solar roof tiles

I love the idea of solar energy, but hate the panels.  Here’s an elegant solution…Sole power roof tiles.  Now to figure out a style that’s not based on Spanish architecture…

Invisible Street light

Korean designer, Jongoh Lee designed this light which uses a ‘host’ tree, stores energy during the day and does it’s work after dark.  Brilliant.

Chair by Jetske de Groot

In my opinion, much of the most interesting design in the show was Dutch.  Jetske de Groot builds furniture from disparate parts–and then celebrates the process via colored epoxy joints.  On her website is an excellent re-purposed resin lawn chair back.

SolPix wall

I just want this, but imagine the technology smaller on a back garden wall.  GreenPix Zero Energy media wall.

I could add more, more, more, but the most surprising of all doesn’t have an image–again because photos weren’t allowed in the gallery.  My face, via my Twitter avatar was front and center on the live Twitter feed because I had used 140 to say I was going and include the hashtag #triennial.  That will probably be the closest I get to being in the triennial…

In my reader…Nude and blushing

This is the first in a series about what I read and how it influences my design work.  Posts will likely be link rich, so feel free to explore much of the same material and see if it inspires you too.  I post regularly on Monday and Wednesday (with sporadic bursts in between) so for the foreseeable future Friday will be in the mix.  Isn’t summer the time to catch up on your reading anyway?

Back in May the Huffington Post published an article ‘NUDE: Fashion’s Most Debated Color’.  Then about a week ago, Pantone (@pantonetrends) tweeted this color palette. (Yup, I’m connecting the dots again…)

Since then it’s been lingering in the back of my mind as possible inspiration for a garden–not one for harsh light either.  These colors would disappear in clear bright light.

Since I’m hands on, I went to two of my go to websites–Colourlovers and Image Spark–to explore the possibilities for myself.  Both are fast and intuitive–the entire process was less than an hour combined.  I’ve discussed both before, but since this is about inspiration I think they deserve a second look.

Ultimately this exercise strayed away from ‘nude’ and morphed into something I called Blush.  Here’s a color palette that I fooled around with on Colourlovers.


and an inspiration I played with board on Image Spark.


Every now and again it’s good to stretch and PLAY with something just because.

An A+ Planting Combination

I’ve become enamored for the second time with Astrantia major.  Over the years I’ve included it in more than one planting plan always hoping it will be deer resistant…it’s not.  This year more than any previous, the deer have devoured plants they have previously ignored–or at least left alone until later in the season.  I’m going to have to spray the three Astrantias I recently acquired for my shade garden.

Astrantia major and Astilbe sp.

My inspiration for a planting combo that I didn’t think up is this one of Astrantia major and one of the mid-height pink Astilbe.  As soon as the heat wave is over I’m putting these two ‘A’s in the garden for an A+ combo.

In My Reader…

For those of you have been reading Miss R for a while, you know how I am constantly on the hunt for inspiration for my garden and landscape design work. You also probably have figured out that I am a lifelong voracious reader of everything–newspapers, blogs, books, cereal boxes–even Miss R is named after a heroine in a book.  I read serious tomes not as often as I probably should, but also magazines of every sort,  trashy novels, gardening books, biographies and even The Star in the grocery aisle.  I am curious about many things except vampires.

So starting this Friday for a while,  with In My Reader I’m going to share exactly that…what I’m reading and looking at (sometimes it’s all about the pictures). New and old favorites, blogs, websites and other on-line resources along side books, articles and other printed (yes printed on paper) materials that I use and find in this process.  As a warning though…it might take a while to connect the dots…I have a busy mind and a sometimes a short attention span.  Please stop by and let me know what you think…

As a preview of things to come…today at 1 pm EST pick up links from the Garden Designers Roundtable.  I am a contributing member, but I’m not posting on this month’s topic ‘Small Spaces’.

Monday 21 | A Year of Mondays

Summer.  Typically this is the time I get to work in my garden.  Spring is for clients.  Right now it is an overgrown weedy mess desperate for rain.  I don’t water unless there hasn’t been rain in a month and we’re going on a few weeks without anything significant in my part of the world.

I have a hypertufa container left over from a show house garden done years ago.  It migrates from windowsill in winter to table in spring to garden in summer and then back again.  Why?  I don’t really know but it’s become a ritual of the seasons…much like summer weeding.  On this 1st day of summer I confess a bit of  tardiness.  It’s still on the table…

No. 21

Sunny | Solstice | Yellow

The solstice is on Sunday so  I’m celebrating with inspiration for sun colored gardens. Last year I honored it with images of the sun.

Palette created on

I find yellow to be the most difficult color to use outside of plants–there are some really great yellow blooming and yellow foliage plants btw.  Yellow never fades into the background unless it’s with other yellows or in a cacophony of brights–and that’s the challenge.

Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’
Gold Finch
Field of mustard
Echinacea x ‘Big Sky Sunrise’
Cercis canadensis ‘Hearts of Gold’
Adirondack Chair
Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’
All Stars

Enjoy the sun, it will be December before you know it!  If it rains, just grab your yellow slicker and be your own sun…

Sources and credits top to bottom:  Parasol, Bouquet (unknown found on, HakonechloaGold Finch, Mustard Field, Echinacea, Yellow Door, Cercis (unknown), Adirondack chair, Coreopsis, All Stars

‘Art in the Garden’ at Reeves-Reed Arboretum

Every summer the Reeves-Reed Arboretum in Summit, NJ mounts an outdoor art exhibit,  ‘Art in the Garden’.  This year’s show,  titled ‘Missing Trees’,  with work by local artist Pat Brentano, is a disappointment.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for environmental awareness/activism and art being bedfellows, but this was just a snore.  What could have been a dynamic statement about trees (which you all know I love and hug regularly) and their importance to the planet and ourselves, is a passive, albeit sometimes pretty installation.

A series of white rectangular panels, some hinged, some free standing are installed throughout the arboretum.  Each panel has a cut out silhouette of a specific species of tree found in the arboretum.  I suppose these panels are intended to spark a dialog between the negative space and the living space, but for me they missed the mark completely.  There is no relationship between the land, the trees and the art and because the panels are bright white they each become the dominant focal point no matter where they are installed on the property.   If I dig down really deep I suppose I could make a connection between the virginal white and the rape of our forests…

There is so much dynamic and thought provoking work being done right now that comments on environmentalism, nature and our relationship with it.  I think the Arboretum could have found something much more challenging than ‘Missing Trees’  to show us.

Monday 20 | A Year of Mondays

It seems incredible that there have been so many grey Mondays, but this morning it is yet again.  Yesterday’s thunderstorms and today’s soft mist have left almost everything soggy and weeping downward.  Bought on a whim years ago–this Thalictrum rochrunianum, standing up in it’s jewelry of droplets is the beauty of the garden this morning.  It’s a survivor of deer, drought,  and neglect –in bloom it is tall enough for me to see outside my kitchen window in good years.

No. 20

I am learning that each small detail in its own way is just as important as the big picture…and I am a big picture kind of person.  These Mondays are making me pause and see the significance of those details.

Artiface and Artifacts

Last Saturday, fellow designer Jane Derickson and I headed to the rolling hills of  western New Jersey to visit gardens.   Over the years I have visited many, many gardens and it’s rare that one sticks with me because its vision and individuality.

Entrance to the greenhouse gardens

It was the first of several gardens we visited and it made the others pale in comparison.  Perhaps, for me, it was because it was a design oriented garden rather than a plant centric garden.  Yes, there were interesting plants used in compelling ways, but more than that there was a cohesive designer’s vision.

View from the kitchen

Andrea Fillipone and William Welch, who together make up Tendenze Design, have created something remarkable on 10 acres in Pottersville.  Theirs is a garden laced with so many historic and geographic stylistic references that with a more heavy hand it would not hold together on its own.  Everything, down to the placement of the smallest pamphlet on a side table seems considered.

Side entrance to the main house

Not only is it a fully realized visual statement, but the totality of the space both inside and out has a dreamlike quality that continually evokes a different time and place–but not anywhere specific.  Each garden area has its own identity and its own look within the formal context.  Vignettes abound since Tendenze is also the location of the owners antiques business.

Pair of chairs in the greenhouse 'emporium'
In the main house

Color is used in bold swaths and often in shades of blue or buff.  Blue fences and plants are juxtaposed with tan gravel and stone–even the farm truck (one that I covet) is  blue.  Periodically,  this soothing palette is punctuated with acid yellow.

Blue and tan
Alchemilla and Nepeta

The gardens themselves are formally laid out with some axis’ skewed so that the central axial point isn’t revealed until you reach it while others allow a long view.  Structures are geometric and add gravity to an already very serious vision.

Garden Shed

If there was something the garden lacked, it was a sense of play and whimsy.  If there is such a thing as being too serious–this garden borders on being too serious–but in this case, serious is a great thing.

Grand axis through the potager to the greenhouses
The potager

Oh! Kay…

Don’t get used to it–that is two plant postings in a row– but May brings bloom, and I fall in and out of plant lust every minute.   I have often said that plants are the last thing on a designer’s list when fleshing out a landscape plan, but without the knowledge of them…well that’s a whole other discussion.

My favorite magnolia  is M. grandiflora ‘Kay Parris’.  It  has large creamy almost prehistoric looking blooms that are wonderfully fragrant.  The tree itself is upright instead of broad and its  foliage is shiny green on top with fuzzy cinnamon undersides.  Hardy to zone 6 it’s appropriate for smaller gardens.  I have used it in client’s gardens for years and it never fails to delight.

Kay Parris