In my Reader…The Sketchbook Project

I am going to participate in The Sketchbook Project. Artists from around the world all interpret the same small sketchbook.  Anyone can participate.  For $25 you are sent a small Moleskin sketchbook to fill according to a theme you choose and return it by the deadline. All are then cataloged and become part of a traveling exhibit.  The idea is too cool for me not to participate in.  I’ve been thinking about working on a non-garden related sketchbook and looking for a reason to start it…kismet!

On the website they show examples of previous sketchbooks.  Here are my two favorites.


Stoned…as in patios and walls

As a designer, I need to know a vast number of resources to enable me to solve a any number of  design problems, so last Saturday I spent the morning in the company of other  landscape and garden designers at what is arguably New Jersey’s best stone yard–Wicki Stone.  We gathered as members of APLDNJ to learn about stone–its possible uses beyond this area’s ubiquitous ashlar patterned bluestone patios.

Wicki has a huge selection of newly quarried and recycled local stone.  From the top of the yard’s hill you can get an idea of just how big it is, but the area just below where the big boulders are isn’t in this photo–so it’s even bigger!

A partial view of the main yard

I have a love of stone and use it often.  This project was built with their stone by Dan Lupino  from my design.

Terraced Front Yard
Detail of piers and lamps

I try to think beyond what is usual and have been a Wicki customer for many years since the quality and selection is greater than what anyone else has.  Here’s some stone I really haven’t used before, either because it wasn’t available or because I didn’t think about it as an option.

Cleaned, recycled stone from a demolished church
Hand carved, recycled lintels and pediments

This stone would give an ‘instant’ sense of place to a project.  The local red stone is rarely used anymore, but for several hundred years was the building stone of choice in northern New Jersey because it’s indigenous to the area.  I’d like to use it in a project

Bluestone slab treds w/uncut face

Big chunky pieces of bluestone for garden steps. For some reason, I’ve just never used these.   The blond stone just beyond the group is from an area about 30 miles southeast of the yard–I haven’t used it either since the color and project have to be exactly right for it to work.   There is a huge difference in color between each of the stone varieties local to our area.

Oversized bluestone slabs

The oversized random slabs would take some care to use since breakage in transport could be an issue, and setting them on site requires care.  I want to find a place to use them.   If you look at the Adirondack chairs in the photo you get an idea of their size – some are almost 6′ long.

Moss rock

Lastly, I think this is the most miss used rock in local landscapes–and also one of the most beautiful.  I see it most often as a lone feature in a front yard.  Moss rock belongs in the woodland, as an outcropping with ferns and Aquilegia growing out of its many crevices.  I’ve been known to ask for single pieces to be on their own pallet and have wrapped them in protective covering before they get shipped.  Yes, people think I’m a little nuts sometimes, but who would want to ruin what nature so beautifully provided by manhandling it?

So I walked away with a pebble in my pocket and too many ideas to process easily.  It was a great morning.

In My Reader…Dailies

There’s a new fun Twitter tool that deserves a look.  It allows you to keep up without actually Tweeting.  The Daily papers are created by virtually trawling a list, a hashtag or a single Twitter stream and putting links all in one place.  They all look similar, but the content is different.  There can be seemingly unrelated content also since it’s an automated process.  Just like a regular newspaper you can pick and choose what you want to read or not!

Here are a few I read…

APLD Members


Urban Gardens

Interior-Outdoor Design

My New Jersey…not Reality TV

Well I finally, by mistake, saw five minutes of the MTV hit Jersey Shore.

For much of my life, in three separate stints, I have lived in the Garden State by choice.  I am not of Italian descent, don’t call anyone by a stereotypical slur and definitely have more than two brain cells to rub together…even when drunk.

Go ahead, believe what you see on TV.  Sure the Sopranos also live here…and their ancestors in Atlantic City too. By all means believe.  There are too many people here anyway.

Let me show you a little secret though…get off  the highway and travel west, all over the state you will see this…

Protected open farmland

But don’t believe me, believe the Jersey Shore, because TV tells the truth–after all isn’t it reality?

Searching for water

I have been struggling with the topic of water.  It’s something I take for granted.  The turn of a tap or the push of a lever and there it is, clean, safe and refreshing. I have to admit that I have never thought much about where the water I use so easily comes from or even how much there is.   So, if nothing else, Blog Action Day 2010 has made me aware of my own ignorance.

As a landscape designer I am familiar with water shortages to keep our gardens alive, but I never considered that the water we use for that and so many other things is potable so I decided to find out about drinking water.   My search for drinking water became the story… here’s how that happened and what I learned along the way.

My search…

Here are the cold, hard facts via Good magazine.

And a dose of reality.

A Crying Shame

Despite my swagger, I’m a softy.  I well up in tears when I am moved by something–not usually landscapes or gardens.  In most professional situations, I am able to contain myself.  At Lawrence Halprin’s Heritiage Plaza in Fort Worth I was not…it made me cry.  I felt privileged to be able to visit on a private tour while in Fort Worth with APLD.  There I go again–moist eyes.

That a city with as much wealth as Fort Worth has let this park deteriorate is a travesty.  That the 8 million dollars needed to restore it hasn’t been raised is shameful.  Across town Phillip Johnson and John Burgee’s Water Gardens from the same era (1974) is a vibrant public space despite its stark and hard edged brutalist design.

Unlike the Water Gardens which could be dropped down in any open field, Halprin’s design honors the land it occupies and is/was a living hymn to the city’s past as well as its future.  There is growing grassroots support for its restoration, but make no mistake about it, it’s endangered.  Its future is in question–the necessary funds have not been raised.

Honoring the past and the future

Heritage Plaza was built in 1977.  In an effort to help protect it, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places this year.

The central plaza

Surrounded by chain link fence since 2007, this modernist marvel of design and engineering is in an advanced state of disrepair and closed to the public.  It is a  ghost town. So empty in fact, that the day we visited a grey fox was hunting in the central plaza–climbing the tree in the lower left hand corner of the image above and then disappearing down and empty rill into the wild beyond.

The main pavilion and 'source' for the water works

As it is across town at the Water Gardens, H2O was a central theme here, but instead of being a series of wet monolithic vignettes, its intimate spaces helped to tell the park’s story and humanize its experience.

The first 'drop'

Rills, falls, intricate water courses, ponds and wet walls follow a path throughout the park.  Even without the water, its suggested intent is clear.  To walk the plaza, you would have had  to interact with the water by listening to it, walking over it, along side it and under it.  It guided and followed.

Stepping 'stones' across a rill

Beyond the modernist concrete bones of Halprin’s vision for the space, built on the site of what was once the actual Fort Worth, what’s left now are poor repairs, rills filled with leaves and the overwhelming sense that something magical is missing.  There I go again…moist eyes.

Where's the water?
Poorly patched and empty water course

My photographs only begin to tell the story.  The park needs to be experienced to understand its full impact–even without the water so central to its design.  Halprin’s interlocking and intersecting grids are clear. The presence of the constantly moving water–now missing–would have softened hard edges and added shimmering and reflective qualities not seen without it.  It would have created a sound barrier from the noise of the city beyond its walls.  People and water would have breathed life into the now abandoned space.

Path across a ghost pond
The water wall just above the ghost pond
View from the level above

There is a short history of the park and its decent and the struggle to save it on the Cultural Landscape Foundation’s website.  For now though, the rills are everywhere, below, beside, above and even through the walls….yet they are empty, rotting and sad.  There I go, moist eyes again.

Monday 35 | A Year of Mondays

October is precious.  The finest weather time of the year–cool crisp mornings and warm golden afternoons.  Why am I always surprised when the leaves are suddenly glorious in their fall color?  It sneaks up on me every year.    Autumn seems more fleeting than spring– as if the cold heart of winter is pounding at the church door.

No. 35

In my Reader…Studio Roosegaarde

I’ll admit I’m a bit design obsessed.  Sadly, I don’t have an equal interest in science.  I do, however, admire designers who push the boundaries of technolgy in their work and Dutch designer Daan Roosegarrde and his Studio Rossegaarde is one of those.  Lately it seems as if all the cool kids are Dutch.

Studio Rossegaarde might at first seem to have nothing to do with garden design until you read their mission…to create interactive artworks which explore the dynamic relation between space, people and technology. To me, add plants, and that’s the same mission I have in my landscape and garden designs.

Here is a short video of one of the projects profiled on the studio website in action.

On the job…a garden renovation project

I have been working on a garden renovation with a wonderful client who lives part-time in London and part-time here for the past year.  Her home here was finished more than 12 years ago and the gardens laid out, but never planted.  What was planted didn’t survive the herd of deer that lives in her woods.

There are some quirky aspects to the mostly formal layout of the front courtyard scheme that I had to solve.  I knew from the beginning of the project that I wanted to use a mix of plants–some formal and others very informal.  New bedlines were created that would tie the adjacent areas together as a cohesive whole.

The Conceptual Plan

I wanted to use some native plants within the overall very simple and rigid structure.  A deer resistant plant palette for a home that is uninhabited for much of the year is a challenge–these plants have to be tried and true.  My client is very traditional and her British partner is an avid gardener so they had definate ideas about what they wanted.  The established (and poorly pruned) boxwood against the front of the house had to stay.  We will prune them properly and take about 6″ off their height. Others, as you’ll see, were removed.

The  progress photos from the first day of laying out the gardens are below.

These boxwoods had to go.  They were just too big for the space.  A low hedge of ‘Suffruticosa’ will replace them and will be pruned to ‘extend’ the  lower wall made by the brick cheekwall that borders the lower steps.


The new entry will be formal.  The Dwarf Alberta Spruce (reliably deer resistant) will be in a sea of Hypericum calycinum that will create a transition into larger and more complex and informal plantings on either side whose central feature are the two large  Amelanchier lamarckii in the second photo below.  The large boxwood have already met their demise.

Formal entry for a formal home

The Amelanchier will put on a show in June that will stop traffic coming up the long driveway.

Front entry from driveway side

This phase of the project also includes a white garden and an enclosed courtyard.  Those are going to be laid out tomorrow morning.  I’ll post again when these a finished.

Dallas, Part 2a – Cool and Modern

My trip to Dallas last week with APLD included five days of garden visits to 35 gardens both public and private.  This marathon of visual input and inspiration was exhilarating and surprising.  The traditional and the contemporary exist side by side in this cosmopolitan and culturally sophisticated city.  Since there were so many great gardens, I’ve decided to break it up into a few posts.   The first two are by a local landscape architect who is creating a lot of buzz.

The first two gardens are contemporary.  I saw some of the the best modern design I’ve seen in a long time in Dallas–there will be others profiled in subsequent posts.  Both of these gardens are products of the same design team–Landscape design by David Hocker, ASLA + Residence designed  by Gary Cunningham.   Each project used space and borrowed views to advantage, celebrated local materials and plants in a surprising and sometimes challenging ways, but most important of all, they were human in scale and were designed for people to interact with both the land and each other.

The Northrup Garden

This garden had a controlled color palette of cool grey-blues, white and tan.  It was on a gently sloped corner lot and was designed to be relatively maintenance free without the need for excessive water.  It capitalized on the borrowed views of the park across the street.  What resulted is a serene, contemporary space that respected the genus loci and felt larger than it was.  Great attention was paid to the details with local materials and native plants used throughout.  The elliptical plunge pool was a pleasant surprise and didn’t feel forced or out of place.

The corner of the property
View from the street
The front yard looking back to the entry
Raised edge of pool set into gentle slope

The Ballangee Garden

The same team created this contemporary home on the eastern shore of Joe Pool Lake.  There are similarities in the architecture style, but the plant palette and use of space was completely different.  Native plants, local materials and wildlife habitat make this very modern home feel as if it’s been there for a very long time.  I ran around for 20 minutes taking photos before settling in at the top of the tower with a glass of wine to watch the sun set.  Close to the house, the space was very grid oriented, but as  you moved into the larger landscape the spaces became more natural and expansive.  Mowed areas were punctuated by natural areas and conversely, natural areas had mowed paths through them.   I was really enamored with the turf ramp that went from the veranda to the open lawn.

The back view of the 'lookout' tower
A view from the tower to the pool and the lake
Pool detail, outdoor kitchen and fire pit
The last golden rays of light

Monday 34 | A Year of Mondays

I’ve been out of town for more than a week.  I skipped last week since, obviously, I was elsewhere.  I was in other people’s gardens in fact.  Having observed one of my own so closely for more than half the year has taught me to be decisive and critical in my viewing.  As a designer, I need more than pure observation.  I need to gauge the mood of a place, its nuances.  What looks right to me?  What looks forced?  What simply is–like rain held in the concave leaves of a young Cotinus.

No. 34