When Less is the Thing

I recently visited a group of gardens in and around Boston with the Association of Professional Landscape Designers. It’s always a hyper stimulating time for me with a combination of input that merges other designers’ insights and opinions, seminars presenting both science and design, and visits to the locale’s interesting gardens and landscapes.  After several days of this past conference I found myself longing for the big idea. I found it on the last day in a garden created by two octogenarians in Rhode Island over the past 50 years.

Berta and Nate Atwater have made a landscape that is sublime in its simplicity. Boundary walls of native stone and sweeps of short mowed paths are punctuated with trained and pruned plants. The wild and the cultivated exist side by side and as complements to each other. The big idea for me was the low mowed paths.  These areas of nothing much that allow the eye and mind to rest or wander are what many gardeners would consider unused space to be filled were restful and contemplative. It takes a confidence to allow void to be the thing.  A mowed path through tall meadows and grasses is nothing new and common in large country gardens.  This was different in its short and shorter stature and allowed the views and verticals to sit equally.


The Designer’s New Look…no not Dior!

The Association of Professional Landscape Designers‘ quarterly magazine has just re-launched. It has been re-designed and re-imagined and I think it looks really, really great.

Read it here and subscribe for free.  If you are a landscape designer then you should really consider becoming a member of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD) if you aren’t already.  Here are a few reasons why I’m happy I did. For the next two weeks (March 15th-April 1st) you will get three months additional membership at no extra cost if you join by April 1.  Tell ’em I sent you!

Here’s the reference to Dior if you’re interested…

Garden Design Details: Cleveland Underfoot

I was visiting gardens in the greater Cleveland area last week and what struck me most was the details.  There were wonderful, thoughtful ideas in almost every garden of the more than 30 we visited.

Here are some of the wide variety of uses for natural stone paving and steps seen in the gardens.  Some of these were found on modest properties, others on grand estates.  All are interesting and can be easily reinterpreted…all except the hand carved steps that is.

At landscape designer, Ann Cicarella’s home garden…

Carved rosette and bluestone set in pea gravel
Masterful intersection of four types of stone

At a private garden…the house was mid-century…

Double sets of limestone treads used as risers

At designers Sabrina Schweyer, APLD and Samuel Salsbury FAPLD’s home garden in Akron…

Natural stone steps and wall with 'mushroom' light
Slab bridge over small stream

At Stan Hywet Hall, now a public garden, once a grand country manor in Akron…

Hand carved limestone risers
Ellen Biddle Shipman--classic bluestone/brick walkway

And at two different private gardens.  Unusual sandstone paver driveways. The second is at a private home.  The second is part of a grand manor designed by LD Taylor from 1929-32.

Stone paver patterns
Sandstone car park in a classical pattern

Many of the rest of my photos will be used to illustrate ideas throughout the coming months…hope you stick around and enjoy!


Miss R on the road…visiting gardens

It’s that time of year again when I travel to visit gardens. To truly understand a garden, you have to stand in the middle of it. I can only learn so much from images–and we all know that I’m an image junkie.


APLD President, Bobbie Schwartz

So off I go to Cleveland–yes, it rocks. APLD is holding its annual landscape design conference there this year and I’m speaking and participating in the conference. I will try to blog from the road, but that doesn’t always work. If you want to follow along, I’ll post images and thoughts from my Twitter feed and on my Facebook page. That I can do on the fly!

In my Reader…an itinerary

In what little spare time I have this week, I’ve been pouring over an advance copy of the itinerary and conference brochure for next week’s Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD) International Landscape Design Conference in Dallas.

Conference Brochure

This will be my fifth consecutive year attending this particular conference.  What is the attraction?  It’s the dialog. There’s lots of conversation, but most important to me is the visual dialog between me and the incredibly high quality of the landscapes and gardens we visit.  Some are popular locally, but many others are never open to anyone.   In fact, we have been asked when visiting some gardens in the past to not publish photographs or write about our visits publicly to protect the homeowner’s privacy.  I learn from the discourse, the divergent experiences and opinions of my peers.  I learn by going somewhere where I don’t know the plants and can focus simply on the design elements.  I become a better designer through my participation.

Garden on APLD Dallas tour

The conferences are timed so that the landscapes and gardens we visit are at their peak.  Each location has been different–selected with the idea that there is something unique about the locale and its unique regional design sensibility. I’ve learned not to question why we are going to a particular place and instead trust that the designers who organize the conference locally will show me the best and most challenging outdoor spaces they have to offer.

Garden detail in Dallas

I will be blogging, tweeting and otherwise sharing my experiences both as will several of my APLD peers. You can follow along in your own reader,  on the APLD FB page or by using the #apld hashtag for Twitter.

Ultra modernist garden on Dallas tour

Off to the west…

I’m taking the show on the road again.  For a spring starved landscape designer, my trip to the San Francisco Bay area for the next week couldn’t come at a better time.  It is snowing outside here, but it will be spring there.

For three days I will be participating in meetings of various kinds that will help determine a bold and bright future for the Association of Professional Landscape Designers–I serve on its Board of Directors.

Adventure is planned for the rest of my trip with wonderful tour guides–a friend from high school who I haven’t seen since I was a resident artist at Peter’s Valley in the 70s–she still dances to the Grateful Dead, a new friend who I met via a project we coordinated together last year and who is hanging out in San Francisco for a bit, and two people –a landscape designer and a garden writer–who I have never met in the flesh but who have become part of my life over the past 10 years via various internet paths.  A different experience is planned for each friend–a walk in Muir Woods, a day trip to wine country and an exploration of the city.  I’m very excited to see the San Francisco spring and have the incredible good fortune to have great friends who are willing to show it to me.

Travel Plans

I love to travel and next week I’m getting the opportunity to go some place I’ve never been–Oregon.  I’ll be traveling to the APLD International Landscape Design Conference in Portland and the Hood River Valley and I’m very excited about it.

Downtown Portland photo via theantitourist.wordpress.com

These conferences are an important part of my professional life.  They give me access to people and places that I might not otherwise have, they introduce me to new (to me) ideas and they give me a chance to get my finger on the pulse of what my peers are doing.  Hopefully I will find the time to blog about what I see–I always take hundreds of garden photos, many of which I share here.

So it’s time to pack (actually do the laundry first), print out my e-tickets, and set off on an adventure.  Yippee!

Inspiration and Influence – Garden Visits

An old gate at Greenwood Gardens, Short Hills, NJ on its first Open Days day several years ago.
The gate is no longer there.

Today it’s grey and rainy. I’m dreaming of gardens. Yesterday, my 2009 edition of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Directory came in the mail. Its arrival made me think about how much I have been inspired by seeing gardens. Not only do I visit on Open Days, but the APLD annual design conference also incorporates amazing garden visits. There are some random photos of gardens which I’ve visited over the years included here. I appologize if some aren’t credited to their sources and owners as I rarely write down what I’m photographing as I go along.

The Grotto under the pool at the White Garden in Lewisboro NY, designed by Patrick Chasse

Observing someone else’s point of view, details, and planting styles have had a profound effect on my growth as a landscape designer.Over the years I’ve visited gardens large and small, good and not so good in many countries. All have had some type of impact on my design aesthetic–either as something to aspire to or something to avoid.

Michael Trapp’s Garden in Connecticut

When I was first starting out, I focused on all of the amazing plants that I didn’t know and dutifully wrote them all down. Now I walk with camera and sketchbook in hand–taking pictures and drawing small details as they strike me. Mostly I snap–sketching takes me too much time!

Robert Irwin’s Garden at the Getty Center, Malibu, California

I actually try not to analyze it too much when I’m there–I try to experience the gardens while I’m in them. Sometimes I’ll see something that I don’t like and that’s just as galvanizing as what I do.

Shape and texture on the California coast near Santa Barbara

A Trip without a Map

As many of you already know, I am very involved with the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD), as its International Membership chair, and this past weekend I was in Chicago for their 2nd annual Chapter Symposium. At that meeting I was responsible for presenting state and regional chapter leaders with ideas to retain and recruit chapter members.

Things got really interesting when I presented Social Media opportunities. Energy, confusion, disbelief and social media evangelism mingled together in the room. I realized that I had with a simple PowerPoint presentation taken the group into unknown and virtually unexplored territory. I had, along with my own experiments in the past several months, established, managed or embellished APLD’s social media presence on Facebook, LinkedIn, Land8lounge, Landscapedia, and Twitter. Just like starting a new landscape design, these savvy design professionals needed a ‘site’ map to follow to achieve their goals.

I contacted social media PR professional, Jessie Newburn, from Nemetschek North America to see if we could use social media jointly to promote an event that APLDNJ had planned to demonstrate their Vectorworks Landmark CAD program to New Jersey chapter members.

We established an extremely fluid and organic (read highly experimental) social media marketing plan which will unfold during the next week prior to the March 3rd event which is currently full with a waiting list. Hopefully, in addition to creating a format for sharing the event, the end game will be a base map that others can use and build on–we’re navigating new territory and exploring the possibilities. You can follow the progress and see it unfold over the next week here.

Web 2.0 Ballroom

Before I begin again, let me put some things in perspective. I learned to type on a typewriter–a manual one. I’m no more tech savvy than the average person who texts via cell phone, answers email and orders stuff I don’t need on-line. With each new Web 2.0 site I interact with, I have to take time to learn its nuances. I get cocky, make mistakes setting up my accounts and then have to spend more time trying to get them the way I want them. It is an evolutionary process, but the beauty is that once the work is put in, Web 2.0 takes on a life of its own. That’s why they call it viral. People have started contacting me via social media for information, the traffic on my website is up almost 40% over the same time as last year. The amount of time visitors spend on my website is longer and I’ve been able share my experiences with people active in other media. I’m learning a whole new way to roll out my welcome mat.

One of my life philosophies was summed up best by Kurt Vonnegut, “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.” Well, I’m dancing. I am increasingly fascinated by my own Web 2.0 ballroom experience. This parallel universe operates in real time, in nano second time delay, and in its own time. As I’ve blogged, branded, talked and tried, I’ve developed new relationships with people—some of whom I actually know in real time. Even though it’s a massive cyber party, it’s still driven by and about people.

My new dance card partners are Twitter, land8lounge, and Flickr. Sometimes these three twirl around the ballroom together. If I load my photos from Flickr to my folio in land8lounge they will post to Twitter. Imagine one big social media dance with me in the center—the belle of the ball for just a moment.

Twitter is fun, fast and fascinating. I flirted with it briefly this past spring, but I just started using it with any regularity. I’m floored by the amount of information that streams through in small bites. Since I communicate via text with many of my contractors and clients anyway, I can now Twitter them from my phone and PC. I follow a few people, blogs and websites and am followed by fewer people. It sounds like it could be vaguely creepy, but its not. If someone wants to follow me, Twitter will send me an email to confirm and I can decide if I want them on my cyber trail or not.

Using Twitter yesterday, I recommended a book to a friend who Twittered that he was vacuuming and then I viewed and was blown away by two amazing photos by fellow APLD member Greg Corman. The photos were streamed to Twitter when he posted them on land8lounge—the first was of a forest of Dragon’s Blood trees and the second, a stone wall in Yemen. All of this happened in 140 character tidbits. Twitter is a rich and varied experience–a moveable feast. A new friend, Chris Heiler from LandscapeLeadership.com, and I are both APLD members, have real time friends in common, yet we’ve never met face to face. We Twitter. When I post this blog entry, since I’ve figured out how to make one of those tiny url’s, I’ll Twitter.

Next on my dance card is land8lounge. It’s a hip, hybrid professional/social networking site for and by landscape architects and designers. The wealth of information, visual inspiration, advice and international content alone is worth the time spent setting it up fully. My folio page was up for less than an hour when two people I knew in real time found me. I set up a group for APLD in a snap, streamed Miss Rumphius’ Rules, and was discovered by other members. I suspect I will spend more in the lounge than in other places.

As far as Flickr goes, I needed to crop some photos into squares, my photo program stinks and wasn’t letting me do it. Flickr provided the solution with ease. I had previously tried Google’s Picasa and didn’t really like it. I haven’t been able to upload the photos to Miss Rumphius yet, I get a funky message that I’m doing something wrong on that score or else Yahoo doesn’t want to play with my Google based blogger. I haven’t done much more with Flickr yet other than to edit pix to use in my updated portfolio, upload to land8lounge and to create sets of photos. I needed to do that anyway since my photo files are a disorganized mess spread over 3 different photo programs and various CDs. The fact that others can see my photos is kind of like cleaning the house when company is coming. You want to put your best foot forward. I want to explore setting up group portfolios on Flickr for people I know from other places so we can share images, ideas and connect visually.

I don’t think all of this is for everyone and I believe that eventually I’ll find some things more useful than others, but right now I’ve stopped being a wallflower and I’m dancing along on happy feet with my Web 2.0 ballroom partners.

A Very Cool Web Honor!

Landscapedia has been cool enough to make me their featured designer for December. When fellow APLD member, Michael Franklin, first asked me, I told him I was honored that he even asked me.

I first learned about this online community for gardeners and landscape professionals in summer issue of the ‘The Designer’, Association of Professional Landscape Designer’s quarterly journal.

So, check it out let me know what you think!

#6–Detour–The Girl Who Can’t Say NO!

One thing about volunteer projects for a cause…your skill set quickly is evaluated and put to additional good use.

Last Thursday an estate gardener who sometimes plants for me called to say he’d been asked to plant the entry to the showhouse and that the plants were going to be donated. Could I design it for him? This guy has done me many favors in the past so I was delighted to help. He sent over some pictures of the area and I told him I would go and measure it next week. I put the matter aside for a while.

On Friday, as I was getting ready to leave town for an APLD meeting, the landscape chairwoman emails me to ask if I can do an illustration for the journal of the area. She needed it quickly because it was past the actual deadline. So of course, I said yes. The two main features of this area are a stone wall with two driveway pillars, a semi-boarded up carriage house and a HUGE Japanese stone lantern. So, without a plan, here’s a photo of the raw space from a slightly different view from the sketch (directly below)…I just can’t say no.