Trendspotting: Honeycomb

Bees are in the news, so it’s totally understandable that bees and bee things should emerge as a garden trend. Recently I saw a wonderful hose pot in a garden I was visiting and have tried to no avail to find it.

Beehive hose pot

Image via  Miss Trixies Favorite Things

So that leads to honeycomb.  Artist Laura Kramer’s crystal encrusted wasp combs were on display when I was last at ABC Carpet and Home. Once I saw them, I started seeing honeycomb patterns everywhere.  I don’t think it’s just the power of suggestion…

Image via ABC Carpet and Home

Honeycomb patterns have been happening in fashion and interior design for a while so why not gardens?

Gucci Beehive dress

Top image via Gucci , bottom image  via CamPierce

It’s a small idea that can add nature’s geometry to traditional or contemporary garden styles. The pattern can apply to tiles, trellises, fabric and rugs, and even furniture.  A few ideas…

Honeycomb chair

Honeycomb wire chair above via Terrain.  Honeycomb modular wall trellis via Flora below. (These are available at  Jungle, BTW)

Honeycomb wall trellis

Old is new, and honeycomb hexagonal terracotta tiles are right on trend.  The yellow outdoor fabric sports a variation on the theme.  And the turf tiles in the very bottom image of a small Paris garden via (translated)  The Yellow House on the Beach are an original take on honeycomb.

Terra cotta honeycomb

Turf honecomb tiles

If you want more ideas, I’ve assembled a Pinterest board just for honeycomb inspiration.

Nemours Garden

Garden Designers Roundtable: Maintaining a Grand Plan

I had the privilege last week of free and unfettered access to one of America’s great country estates, Nemours. Happy for a working day out in a grand garden I had only heard about, I went.  Nemours, in Delaware, was built by a duPont and the gardens and mansion have just re-opened after a $40 million renovation.

Nemours Garden

Built as a love letter to his second wife (who did not love him back)  in 1907, A. I. duPont had the money and the means to build a European style pleasure garden complete with grand vistas, follies, fountains and enough formality and gold leaf to awe just about any visitor.  The most impressive golden object (they’re 24K gold leaf) at Nemours is a garden sculpture titled ‘Achievement’ in the grand allee.  Self aggrandized irony in that choice?

Gilded sculpture at Nemours

There are 4.5 miles of clipped hedging including boxwood, privet and barberry in the gardens.  Less invasive and lower maintenance choices were not made as part of the renovation.  There are acres of annuals.  A.I. duPont  had a staff of more than 300 to prune, pinch back, weed and maintain the formal gardens as well as the estate’s farm.  Today the staff is much, much, smaller and reliant on chemical solutions rather than the inexpensive labor-centric, mostly organic practices of 1907.  When labor became too expensive, chemicals became the cheap solution.

Abandoned greenhouse at Nemours

In its heyday, there were orchards and a formal potager, and there were greenhouses, now in a state of abandon, not far from the house.  It was self-sustaining in a way that few large properties are even now.  The original vision for the property included these details – food, cut flowers for arrangements, and homegrown bedding plants.  It was a working integrated estate.  Now, as a garden museum, it’s working core isn’t evident.  The grape arbor from the original potager is being replanted with table grapes, but the rest of it has been paved over for parking.  The pumphouse and root cellar are still there.  The only other remnants of Nemour’s farm are a few old pieces of machinery that were left in a forgotten corner of a barn and are set quaintly out in a field as if they didn’t matter much.  Most of the producing farmland was sold and  is now part of a state park.

These bygone estate gardens, which we should consider museums of our own garden history, are unsustainable without huge, well-trained staffs of gardeners and the working parts that served them.  Their pristine (if somewhat skewed in their reverence) ideal is expensive to maintain.  The pleasure gardens were never meant to be natural to begin with.  I’m sure there are ways to include more sustainable practices, the types employed when the estate was first built, but it takes imagination and not a little bit of knowledge to get them there without legions of low paid workers.  But wait!  Isn’t that who we employ to cut our own lawns and mulch our own beds? Few of them have training or practice organic gardening either.  What’s wrong with us?  Why do we seek to maintain (outside of a garden museum) the pristine yet false ideals of a world long gone when cheap labor needs to be replaced with chemicals who do our earth such great harm?  A little bit of mess is a good thing for all of us and the planet we live on.

For more  thoughts about maintaining gardens from designer/bloggers,just click the links below.

Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA
David Cristiani : The Desert Edge : Albuquerque, NM
Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT
Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN
Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK
Mary Gallagher Gray : Black Walnut Dispatch : Washington, D.C.

 

Meadow forming on an empty contaminated lot

The Abandoned and Contaminated Lot Up the Street

I live in a densely populated fairly urban-suburban area.  Houses, most built in the 1920s, are close together on 50′ x 100′ lots.  New York City is 25 miles east.  My street starts on our town’s Main Street.  There used to be a gas station there whose ancient tanks sprung a leak and the site was shut down and  ‘cleaned up’ to the tune of millions of dollars.  Now there is a Dunkin’ Donuts where the gas station used to be.

Meadow forming on an empty contaminated lotBehind and adjacent that misspelled testament to obesity in America is an abandoned, contaminated lot. Collateral damage.  It used to have a house on it.  Now it has wildflowers (most will call them weeds) and wildlife among the 10+ testing stations for subterranean pollution.  I hope they don’t mow it and allow it to start to heal itself.

Wildflowers in an abandoned lot

Ferfew

Achillea

Placing a barn

New Barn for an Old Farmhouse

I’ve been commissioned to design an outdoor entertaining area for one of the oldest farmhouses around that will also incorporate a new barn/woodshop. We are at the very beginning of a complex project, so I thought I’d share that part of the process.  After meeting with the homeowners I made an Ideabook to help them visualize the project.

My client, who is a passionate and active gardener with a talented woodworking partner, also wants a family entertaining area, easy access to her garden shed and details like stone walls and a possible meadow beyond for grandchildren to explore and play in.

Placing a barn

The first step is to create the placement of a new 16 x 20 barn that will replace and enlarge the old one that was destroyed by a tree falling on it during Hurricane Sandy.  The current garden areas are a patchwork of projects that haven’t had a master plan as you can see from the basemap above.  Existing elements have been connected out of necessity without much thought to the overall scheme of things.

Concept number one creates an outdoor courtyard that has easy access to ground level doors and blocks a view of a subdivision on the street beyond.  It separates the garden shed from the barn and also incorporates a bosc which is a design element I’ve always wanted to try.  Both designs have fire features which will allow the new area’s use to be extended into colder weather on both ends of the season.

New Barn for an old farmhouse

Concept number two requires less work and renovation and keeps the existing wonky brick walk in place.  It also keeps the work areas ie. the barn and shed together creating a casual barnyard effect.

Barn Courtyard 2

Usually, I post color plans, but this is the work that goes on way before I get to that point.  These are where the designs begin–with concepts fleshed out to see if they work spatially and to think about how people will move through a space and use it before a single plant is envisioned.  The concept that we decide on will be refined further after  the and are budgets set, materials for hardscape are chosen and then, at the end, the planting plan will be developed.

Mario Valdes sculpture

Art in the Garden : Manolo Valdes

There was an unexpected pleasure added to my visit to NYBG last week – the monumental, garden inspired sculptures of Mario Valdes.  They were supposed to be gone by then and weren’t, so I was thrilled to see them.  Here’s why.  For me, these heads (created specifically for this exhibit) surrounded and sometimes engulfed with leaves, butterflies and garden elements perfectly symbolized exactly what goes on in mine sometimes. Whether that was the artists intent or not it was totally delightful to see them. Enjoy.

Mario Valdes sculpture

Garden Art Mario Valdes

Steel butterfly sculpture Mario Valdes

NYBG Mario Valdes monumental sculpture

Mario Valdes sclupture

Ferns and Grasses

Field Trip: Native Plant Garden at NYBG

When a new garden destination opens, I always like to wait a bit and let the crowds simmer down so I can explore it in peace. I need that space to process my ideas and to really see a place. The Oehme, van Sweden designed Native Plant Garden at The New York Botanical Gardens opened in May to gushing and effusive reviews.

Ferns and Grasses

The hand of ‘The New American’ garden style attributed to OvS is evident throughout the 3.5 acre site that comprises more than 100,000 plants native to the Eastern Seaboard.  It is contemporary and has flashes of genius.  It is, to my eye, a clearly designed space that wants to also be natural. Vignettes abound that never occur so frequently in the wild. Some are painterly and others are dramatic. This is a garden after all and a teaching one at that.  It covers a lot of regional and geographic botanical territory and includes mature and new plantings.  Some areas are so densely planted that they have little room to grow and the maintenance will have to be intensive for garden crews or they’ll look awful in very little time. My favorite places were those in and bordering the woodlands that combined structural punctuation points with soft underplanting.

Foam Flowers - Tiarella cordifolia

Woodland edge

The garden’s central water feature is contemporary and at first I thought it looked too jarring. After exploring the garden and giving it some thought, I understand the design philosophy that clearly places our collective responsibility for these native and wild places in a contemporary context. Sustainable materials, storm water recycling and bio filters are all unseen yet declared parts of this feature. Other areas provide shelter and food for wildlife. Signage indicates and explains natural communities in an engaging way.

Central water feature at NYBG Native Plant GardenBio filter and ducks at NYBGAs a designer, I appreciate the subtlety of another designer’s hand, but wonder how many visitors will notice the details.  In some ways the garden is too natural and I suspect some won’t get it at all.  They’ll think that this is just what’s out there in the real world, when in reality it’s not.  If the garden is to be a success, people have to stop and read and listen and look carefully to see the details.  When viewed as a whole, it could be perceived as just another messy, unmanicured space that so many find threatening because they are so far removed from the wild.

boxwood hedging

Planting Design: Wave Hedges

As always, I’m primarily interested in how people move through a three dimensional outdoor garden space.  I’m also interested in how to guide the experience–whether it’s an arrival sequence or just a meandering walk.  Lately I’ve been experimenting with what I call wave hedges.  They are short curved hedges of boxwood or other dense evergreen that from one view appear to be continuous, but from another are actually low waves of curved green ‘walls.’

Below are two examples for gardens that are being built this season or early next.

boxwood hedging

 

Wave hedge foundation plan

Garden Details: Stan Bitter Path Tiles

I’ll start by saying I don’t know much about this except that the image of these ceramic tiles for a  garden path has stuck with me for over a week.  I keep going back to it and still liking it a lot! They strike just the right amount of craft and whimsy for me.

Image via Lost in the Landscape

What I do know.  I first saw an image of the tiles on Pinterest.  They were designed by Fresno based sculptor Stan Bitters and were included in an auction of 20th Century pieces a few years ago in Los Angeles.  There’s more about that  and the history of the tiles on James Soe Nyun’s wonderful blog Lost in the Landscape that I traced the image back to.  Boy would I love to have this path!

Fragrant blooms of a yellowwood tree

Native Plants: Cladrastis kentukea – Kentucky Yellowwood

My little town has an unusual collection of street trees.  On my block alone there are red maples, dogwoods, redbuds, oaks, and two native beauties – Cladrastis kentukea all planted in the hell strips.  1′ to 2′ abundant clusters of fragrant white blooms on two side by side trees made me screech the tires on the way home the other day.  This isn’t a common tree around here and it is a stunner in every way.  I have to remember to us this beauty in more landscape designs!

Fragrant blooms of a yellowwood tree

Kentucky Yellowwood

Cladrastis kentukea has a loose informal shape suitable to casual settings or as a feature tree in a large landscape.  Its native range is further south – hence the name.  Yellowwood is hardy from zones 4-8, with brilliant yellow fall foliage. It is a large shade tree that can reach 30-50 feet, likes full sun, and has a long taproot so make sure it’s planted where it can stay.