Green is a thing. Right now it’s a missing thing. It’s what I miss most during winter and what makes me smile first in the spring–those small green shoots pushing up through frigid earth. I’ve been thinking about making flowerless gardens. Gardens that are mostly green. Gardens that rely on scale and texture and subtlety of hue and maybe some skilled pruning.
In New Jersey, where I practice landscape design, this may prove to be more difficult than it is in warmer climates where there are bolder choices and plants with immense architectural leaves. Many of the images here are from gardens I’ve visited in the south–Miami, Dallas, and New Orleans. All are interesting to me and there are no flowers in them.
Whatever broad bold foliage we have here the deer seem to love …like hostas, so I’ll find a substitute of some sort. Broad strappy foliage is easier to find–grasses have that in abundance. Subtle transitions of green along with texture will create the primary interest beyond shape.
Scale and shape and texture become much more important when color is limited. Finding companions that work with each other and can stand visually on their own and help define space is challenging with flowers–without it’s crucial.
Finely textured plants can disappear with out something with muscle to play off of. There can still be drama, but it’s more mellow (pun intended). These gardens don’t have to be formal and clipped, they can be loose and natural or somewhere in between.
Creating a planting plan that will be interesting in four seasons yet not be totally without seasonal specific floral interest will be a challenge–most of the plants I love anyway have super cool foliage and interesting bloom. Choosing plants for foliage and texture is usually where I start a planting design, after the permanent structure of the garden has been figured out. Bloom, however beautiful is secondary and fleeting.
So for now, while the land is frozen in white and snowy limbo, I’ll just have some green dreams and wait for opportunities to reveal themselves in the upcoming spring landscape design projects.
Last fall, I entered a garden I designed in New Jersey in 2015 APLD International Landscape Design Awards in the Planting Design category. It was awarded the highest honor, a Gold Award. To be honest, I knew the value of the design, but since it is the antithesis of current planting trends, I was really pleased. Current trends in planting design seem to require ornamental grasses and meadow-like qualities. This garden has neither, but that doesn’t make it unsustainable or unfriendly to all but deer.
The garden’s underlying structure of boxwood hedging and pyramids gives it definition. My client specifically asked that I not use any ornamental grasses as they felt they were too ‘beachy’ looking. The 7800 square foot garden was originally built in the 1920s when the 15 acre property had a working greenhouse and two full-time gardeners. The bones of that garden remained: stonework in disrepair, heaved brick walks, and a leaky concrete pond.
The homeowners wanted to re-imagine the space in the spirit of the original, but with lower maintenance and an eye towards family use and deer resistance. A new stone wall was built to create a level terrace on the west slope with new gravel paths and existing brick walks that were excavated and re-laid linking to existing steps.
Planting beds were edged with recycled steel and damaged stonework was repaired. Millstones from throughout the property were inserted into the relaid brick paths to indicate transitions. The homeowner repaired the pond with salvaged parts; inexpensive off the shelf, steel arbors were added to support climbing roses; and drip irrigation installed.
Planting plans from the 1940s were available and indicated that the original garden had a color palette of deep blues and pinks punctuated with seasonal yellow and white accents. They were the inspiration for the new seasonal bloom sequence that starts out predominantly blue, white and pink; changes to white, yellow and pink; and back to blue, white, and pink. The historic property had been documented as General Lafayette’s winter headquarters at some point during the Revolution. Boxwood hedges and repeating pyramids are a nod to formal 18th century French gardens. That they are also deer resistant and provide winter interest was also considered. An organic maintenance plan was put in place–the evidence of this is the seeded areas between the natural bluestone slabs which as long as they are ‘green’ are mowed and left to their own devices.
The finished garden is lush and sensual with abundant bloom and textural interest. It is a traditional garden that was never meant to be ‘naturalistic’, but it was, and is meant to be of its time and place and I’m very grateful that it has received an award as acknowledgement that it’s okay not to follow the trends.
Photography by Rich Pomerantz and Susan Cohan. All rights reserved.
I’m not an architecture critic. I am someone who loves great architecture both contemporary and historic. In my work as a landscape designer part of my focus is to create landscapes and gardens that surround the attendant architecture in such a way that the design partnership between them is timeless and seamless. As a designer this may seem counter intuitive, but I believe that the best design has a sense of place and that my hand in that should be less, rather than more, visible.
Last week I visited Frank Gehry’s new building for the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. It is a tour de force of glass and structure.
It stands alone in the Bois de Boulogne. Its sail-like architectural exoskelleton is remarkable, but it is a single design statement that has little or no relationship to its surroundings. I have seen his buildings and structures in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, and now Paris, and in each and every case they dominate rather than caress.
In an urban environment with competing architectural statements like the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles or the IAC building viewed from the High Line in New York (both below), this isn’t so obvious. But in the Parisien forest park, the building is very beautiful, but it is not of the place it’s in and that bothers me.
I admire the imagination and innovation in Gehry’s work. The buildings themselves are structures of great beauty. I enjoy the intellectual challenges that his architecture presents me with, but what I now don’t like is how they don’t sit on the land with ease. Even through the viewing prism of Lurie Park in Chicago the Pritzker Pavillion sits above it, alone and lofty as a single statement.
I believe it is our responsibility as designers and architects to embrace and celebrate our surroundings, and so, while I admire Gehry’s vision and virtuosity, as well as the power his buildings have to draw admiring crowds and challenge the status quo I wish they would also honor the land they are on.