Turf parterres at Versailles

Riding in the Backseat around a Curve

Miss R has been in the backseat all summer. Pretend you are on a roadtrip and listening to a story on the radio…the pictures will come after we reach our destination.

In a twist of weather related events and wonder, my landscape design business and my commitment to being the national President of APLD has taken all of my time, leaving little extra for regular blog posts.  Although I feel a nagging sense of ‘it’s been too long’, I’m happy to have my priorities straight and to be able to see my garden and landscape design work come alive. I always feel that the work I do has the power to create profound changes in people’s lives so I put that work before all else.

As a designer I’ve always worked in series, exploring ideas until I feel they’ve come to some kind of satisfactory conclusion for me intellectually.  The thing is though, is that I’m not always aware that a series is developing.  I experiment with ideas and some prove to be fleeting, while others stick around for further clarification. So on to part two of the backseat story.

I had planned a blog post based on some images I had been collecting on my iPhone when POOF! all were lost in a technological glitch.  No, I didn’t back up regularly then, I do now. So in going through what’s left via downloads from Instagram and Facebook, I noticed a thread of thought that’s been percolating into a full fledged idea.  It’s one I want to explore more fully when the opportunities present themselves.  Not all ideas work for all solutions.

I extol my students with the made up commandment ‘Thou shall curve with purpose and grace, thou shall not wiggle all over the place” when explaining how best to design using arcs and curves.  I tend to design with a hard straight edge and soften that with abundant  plantings marrying the geometry with the natural. It works on suburban lots of limited size and is simpler to maintain than lots of curved edges which become obscured overtime.  I didn’t realize I was having a love affair with curves until I started looking back through my images this year.  Here is the progression…

Turf parterres at Versailles

The Orangerie at Versailles in January while I was there just charmed me with its curved geometry and ease of maintenance–other than the topiaries just mow the lawn and cut back the hedge.

Then I was in New York and this long shadow caught my eye.

Sprial ShadowWhile shopping for plants for clients in a green house I whooped with excitement when I found a whole bunch of escargot begonias.

escargot begoniaThat lead to the design for a showhouse garden…

Blairsden Brocade progress shot and completed…

Blairsden completedAnd still yet a project that is currently being built distills those curves into a much simpler form.

Landscape plan curved hedges

These are ideas I want to explore further and evolve.  I guess with all of my time dedicated to straight lines that I really I don’t have any trouble with the curve. I just a bit of trouble finding time to post!




Jardin Majorelle

Garden Visit: Jardin Majorelle

I first read about Jardin Majorelle in Marrakesh, Morocco in the early 1980s in a fashion magazine story about Yves St. Laurent.

Jardin Majorelle

YSL and his partner Pierre Berge had bought the property, saved it from demolition, and set about restoring it. From the first brilliant blue photo I saw, I knew I wanted to stand in and experience this garden, not just look at it in pictures.

Noon shadows Jardin Majorelle

Originally designed and built in the 1920s by artist Jacques Majorelle who painted its walls blue and its details brilliant shades of yellow, green, orange and red off set by chalky tones of turquoise and green.

Shade house Jardin Majorelle

He collected plants in his travels and opened his garden to the public.  By the end of his life, however, he had to sell it and it deteriorated to the point that it was going to be leveled for a new Marrakesh hotel.

fountain and garden Jardin Majorelle

For me, Majorelle is about the interplay of color, water and light. It is less about its collection of 300 plants.  Their grey Mediterranean tones are counterpoints for bursts of bold, sun kissed color.

Jardin Majorelle Marrakesh

St. Laurent was born and raised in North Africa. He didn’t move to Paris until he was 18.  The light, color and texture of this place was as much a part of who he was as the rarefied world of the couture in Paris.  He often lived and worked at here until his death in 2008.  There is a simple memorial dedicated to his memory.

YSL memorial Majorelle

Having been warned, I went very early, before the tour buses arrived, and the garden got crowded.  I stayed for several hours watching the light and shadows.  I was transported by Majorelle’s joyful interplay of art, gardens, and fashion. Go if you can.

Pergola Jardin Majorelle Colored pots and reflecting pool Jardin Majorelle Jardin Majorelle


Niew outdoor room/courtyard

New Barn for an Old Farmhouse, Part 2

A few weeks ago I shared two garden design concepts for an updated outdoor room to be built around a new handmade barn. Those initial designs morphed and grew into a new, expanded hybrid idea that now includes a smaller barn, a built-in grilling area, a pergola, a small greenhouse and a potager–all of which were added during the design review meeting.  A fireplace was switched out for a movable firepit.  For continuity, I also added a small orchard adjacent the potager that also acts as a visual screen from the neighbors beyond. Niew outdoor room/courtyardThe overall design still fits within the parameters of the original concept and is inspired by enclosed barnyards that I’ve seen on old estates both here and abroad. All of the original client requests as well as the new ones listed here have been incorporated into a flexible, family entertaining space.  The big bonus is the clients loved it as is, with no changes!


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.

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.

Jungle Design Williamsburg

Field Trip: Jungle

Hip isn’t a description usually used for garden centers.  Jungle, in Brooklyn, is hip.  Owner and landscape designer, Amanda Mitchell has created a smart and compelling space in trendy Williamsburg that blends vintage and contemporary, urban and bucolic, rustic and sleek, cutting edge and ancient near the East River.

Jungle Design Williamsburg

A brick wall with a bird mural painted by naturalistic street artist Roa, dominates one side of the nursery.

Roa Street Art Brooklyn

Street Art Roa Brooklyn

The  opposite side has a bluish theme. A baby blue pergola hung with vintage style railroad lamps, a blue structure of unknown use, and in the rear behind a beautifully built pergola that spans the space and next to the diminutive design studio, a patio continued the baby blue theme.

blue pergola

Vintage blue outdoor sofa

I visited Jungle for a party thrown by Dutch Tub.  There were several of them as well as their portable and very clever multipurpose wood stove/pizza oven Outdooroven which was being put to good use making pizzas for the guests.

oven in use

Jungle Design Brooklyn


contemporary parterres

Garden Inspiration: Luciano Giubblei’s Parterre Ideas

I’ve been a member of Pinterest almost since its inception.  I use it as place to store ideas both useful and random.  I also explore other designer’s boards to see what inspires them and maybe understand a little bit about their creative process.  Garden designer, Luciano Giubblei‘s, ideas for parterres blew me away.

contemporary parterres

The possibilities for these parterres skew the traditional idea and point towards a contemporary evolution of the form.Herringbone patterns, color field painting, Bauhaus textiles, rolling hills of vineyards and traditional parterres all exist as ideas and jumping off points.  What’s more, to my eye they make perfect sense and I can visualize every last bit of it.


Garden Designers Roundtable: Garden Visits and Lessons

I find that the best way to understand a space is to be in it, to move through it in three dimensions, so I visit gardens every year–sometimes as many as twenty or thirty in a given season.  I have visited great country gardens, pocket gardens, newly planted gardens, abandoned gardens, personal gardens, and public gardens.  Each one that I have spent time in has taught me something about space.

Even a narrow patio can seat 16

The patio (in private garden in Bucks County, PA) above was just an expansive ‘hallway’, but with careful planning and a custom built table it became a functional entertaining area for a large party.  Creating enough space for people to comfortably gather in is important in any garden.

Complex spatial relationships on a small patio

On the covered patio above, the relationship between the seating area, the garage to the left and the garden on the other two sides is human scale.  Portland, Oregon based landscape architect Michael Schultz manipulated the space further by adding a funhouse mirror.   (I would never think to do that…but loved it when I saw it.)

Not set up for conversation!

A lovely perennial border above in Chester, NJ is flanked by two benches.  People sitting on these benches can’t have a conversation – they’d have to yell across the lawn.  A spatial solution could have been found that would have allowed for a similar vignette of two benches but would have taken people’s use of the gardens into consideration.

There are those who come to design from a planting perspective, I don’t.  I know plants and revel in their beauty, but I make gardens for people, not for plants.  Some gardens are designed to be viewed rather than experienced.  Experience trumps a pretty picture for me every time.  Books and magazines can be inspiring, but they don’t really give a sense of space.  For me, as a designer, that’s what it’s really about – how people interact with and move through a space.  To understand that I have to physically be in a space.

To read what other designers think about gardens they’ve visited,  click on the links below…

Fern Richardson : Life on the Balcony : Orange County CA

Susan Morrison : Blue Planet Garden Blog : East Bay, CA

Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT

Rochelle Greayer : Studio G : Boston, MA

Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In The Garden : Los Altos, CA

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA

David Cristiani : The Desert Edge : Albuquerque NM



House, Studio and Garden Hunt…

As some of you know, for the past few months I’ve been looking for a new house.  I’ll let you know when I finally seal a deal and I’ll probably start a series of posts on the reno since a fixer-upper is what I’m looking for.

At any rate, there are very few fixer-uppers that are contemporary in my price range, so I’ve been dreaming of an outbuilding/office that I can satisfy the part of me that loves, loves, loves uber clean contemporary design.  I would also like to walk outside to go to work…even a short walk across the yard would be fine!

Here is some of what I’ve been saving as inspiration.  They’re all on my Garden Buildings Pinterest board if you want to see more ideas in a wider range of styles.  This is just what I like for me..

A DIY shed/office

I could build this…well with some help I could build it or the one below.  I’d switch out the roofing material on the 2nd one though…needs more light!

A simpler DIY shed

These are probably out of my range budget wise…but still…  The first is an L41 Compact Home and the second is from ecospace studios…they call it the Work Pod…I’m good with that!

L 41 Compact home would be an awesome studio!
Work Pod from ecospace Studios just big enough


Tuesday’s Find…turquoise planters

This garden find is more about the color than the actual pieces.  I’ve written about this shade of Robin’s Egg Blue before.  It can be contemporary or vintage looking depending on the context.  It plays well with other colors without being secondary.  So these pots aren’t really the thing this week…their color is.

The blue's the thing...

The pots themselves are available from Inner Gardens in Los Angeles.

A Garden is a Lovesome thing…

The poem in the title (and below) , by Thomas Edward Brown, is carved in stone at the entrance to the private pleasure garden Ellen Biddle Shipman designed for Gertrude Seiberling at Stan Hywet Hall.

Sculpture at the end of the garden

There is an innate femininity to Shipman’s gardens.  As a divorced, single parent with a career at the beginning of the 20th century I can’t even imagine the prejudice she faced.  When I visit her surviving gardens I am always aware of their rigid formalism tempered with softer plantings and color.  Gardens are always an expressive art and bare the imprint of their makers.

The reflecting pool at the garden's center

During her long career, Shipman made many gardens.  Some are wild, but most have an underlying formality typical of the times.  The design features are always softened by other elements–much like Shipman must have been in real life.

Geometry softened by plantings

That the garden is called the ‘English Garden’ does it a disservice.  It is uniquely American both in its design and its designer.  The garden is of its time and place and has been faithfully restored to Shipman’s plans.

Garden Cottage

I loved that her plan, which is shown at the garden’s entrance is very adamant about not substituting plants or features.  She must have had a steel backbone to stand up and make sure her vision was realized exactly as she saw it in her mind’s eye. Plantings included boxwood, hydrangeas, espaliered apples, climbing roses, peonies, standards, iris and most suprisingly the day I was there, the native–and a personal favorite of mine–Thermopsis caroliniana.

Thermopsis caroliniana

Whenever I visit a Shipman garden or their remnants, I’m always in awe and don’t necessarily take the best photos…I’m too busy trying to get inside this woman’s head…to feel what she wanted me to feel and to learn from her all these years later.

A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot!
Rose plot,
Fringed pool,
Ferned grot–
The veriest school
Of peace; and yet the fool
Contends that God is not–
Not God! in gardens! when the eve is cool?
Nay, but I have a sign;
‘Tis very sure God walks in mine.


Tuesday’s Find…a fan

Sometimes being out in the garden is just hot and unpleasant.  Imagine this floor fan retrofitted as an outdoor sculpture and fan!  Industrial artifacts are on the horizon in garden trends…not farm artifacts, but things from our factory past that are reimagined for use and decoration in green spaces.  A bit of design paradox and irony.

Sculpture and function all in one? Could be.

This one is from Early Electrics in Cortland Manor, NY.  There are some other ideas for the Industrial Garden here.


Blogfest 2011

For the next three days I will be participating in Blogfest 2011 in New York.  It’s a behind the scenes event for design and lifestyle bloggers hosted by Kravet and Lee Joffa.

Kravet Outdoor fabric designed by Barbara Barry

Each day we will be treated to highly focused events focused on residential design. Monday will be spent with editors and publishers of some of the most recognized shelter/lifestyle titles in magazine publishing at their headquarters in the Hearst building.  It’s interesting to note that the tower was the first (2006) building in midtown Manhattan to achieve LEED Gold status from the USGBC.

Hearst Tower in NYC

I will probably be the only landscape/design designer, but all of the information translates easily outside.  Here’s what we’ll be doing on Monday…just click on each topic to see the details…and then on to two party events in the evening.

If you follow my Tweets @susancohan then you can follow along.  I’ll be posting here regularly on Tuesday (Tuesday’s Find…) and Wednesday (Foliage Partners) since technology allows me to appear to be cloning myself.  There may be some extras if I’m not totally exhausted!

Tuesday’s Find…French Foundry Pots

I love it when I find things that meld various interests.  These foundry pots do just that linking my history in both garden design and metalwork.  Carved from igneous rock and used to pour molten metals, they have been re-purposed as beautiful containers.  22 inches tall and 17.25 wide, these would look fabulous in any garden or patio.  They can be had at Orange in Los Angeles.

Wonderful patina and beautiful shape

As for what to put in them?  Please visit my designer friends who are posting about their favorite landscape plants along with guest blogger, Nan Ondra on Garden Designers Roundtable today at 1pm.


Garden Design Details: Pergolas

Sometimes being a designer means solving a mystery.  I’d like to say that clients’ desire for structures and elements to be incorporated into their garden’s design was consistent and cyclical, but it’s not.  This spring I find myself being asked for several pergolas and outbuildings to be part of the landscape designs I’m working on.

I like to show clients inspiration early in the design process.  I find that these images not only help them to clarify their vision, but they help me to understand it as well.  Pergolas all follow the same format…it’s the details that change.  What color is it? What materials are we going to use?  Will it be a transition from one place to another or a place to linger?  Will it be attached or freestanding?  Will it be contemporary or tradtional?   With that in mind, below are several pergola ideas for a wide range of clients and styles.


A pergola with a pitched roof and weathered finish
A rustic stickwork pergola
Uber contemporary rooftop 'pergola' structure


Clean, geometric detailing
Planters between posts (this is one of mine btw)


Pergola and vertical garden hybrid!

There are just about as many variations as the imagination can dream up.  Some are simple to build, some complex.  Please click on each photo to be taken to its source.

March Magazine Madness

March has been particularly good to me and I’m tooting my own horn here.  As a hard core magazine lover, I’m thrilled to be featured in three this month!  This type of press coverage is not a common occurrence around the studio and it couldn’t come at a better time…early spring.  I’m so fortunate to have great clients with great projects who trust me with their property and their dreams.  Bring on Spring!

First, NY Spaces not only mentioned my garden on their cover, but a beautiful editorial was inside…

On the cover and inside!
A Potager

Then, at a dinner party, the hostess showed me a more local publication….love being included as a ‘Great Garden’

Great Gardens!
A nice local plug...

And of course…Horticulture, where I write the east coast half of Design Perspectives.

Suburban Solutions

You can click and enlarge to read any of the articles here.

Design Perspectives
A monthly column by Rebecca Sweet and I
Two designers on a single topic...

If this embaressment of riches wasn’t enough, one of my favorite blogs, Paradis Express gave Miss R a shout out.  It’s going to be a great season.

Garden Design Details: Rustic Wood Gates

One of the most neglected ideas in garden design is that of entry and exit in a garden.  Too often gardens are islands in a sea of turf, shoved against a building or relegated to the property’s edge.  There is an anticipation of delight and surprise when you unlatch a gate or open a door to enter a garden.  These portals are a signal that something’s going to happen–that you are now entering someplace different.

Here are some ideas for rustic wooden garden gates.  These can give a garden a sense of place and age.  Not everything has to be new–the plants are new each spring! All of the gates have great designs.  Some didn’t start out as rustic, but became that way over time.

Rustic stickwork gate
Reclaimed lumber gate
Gate with worn patina
Farm gate
Gate with field stone pier and cupola
Junk gate
Gate to a garden that's no longer there...


In my Reader…my book!

This was ‘leaked’ yesterday by a friend on Facebook…it was supposed to be a surprise…

Over the winter I created a look book of built work.  It’s a hybrid between a coffee table book of garden eye candy and more serious text.  I want to do more collaborative design work with architects and interior designers, so the content and pictures are designed to peak their interest.   A soft cover version will be used as a portfolio piece for potential clients.  I’ve always had a ‘leave behind’ portfolio, but my secondary hope is that a book will hang around either office or home when brochures get recycled or filed and cd’s get lost in the shuffle.

Here’s a preview–it’s a little slow to load, but you’ll get the idea.  Let me know what you think!  I haven’t seen the finished product yet…the test print will arrive on Thursday.

Trend Watch: Belgian Beige for Garden Rooms

For the past few years, a major interior design trend has been slowly trickling down from the high end to the mass market.  ‘Belgian Beige’ is perfect for translation in garden rooms.  Upscale mass merchants like Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn have already seized on this new neutrality in a major way.

The look via Restoration Hardware

The trend is more the sum of its parts than a singular look.  It is neutral, hence the ‘beige’, and the styling has antique, industrial and rustic elements carefully juxtaposed.

Garden ornaments via Detroit Garden Works

For materials think burlap and natural wicker, zinc and weathered woods.  Think texture and patina.  Think smooth and rough.

Rusty and fresh

For specific pieces think quirky and classic simultaneously.

Antique glass cloches

Scale plays an import role–everything is oversized and dramatic which is perfect for outside spaces.

Lanterns hung via block and tackle from tree
Leafy orbs in zinc via Restoration Hardware

The trend is architectural–think salvaged building fragments and references to grand buildings.


An easy interpretation via House Beautiful

To see more of the images I collected for this idea, check out my Belgian Beige Garden  board on Pinterest.

Tuesday’s Find…a Clock

This clock has some edible garden chops…in a roundabout way.  It hung outside and over the vendors at the Los Angeles produce market for more than 80 years.  It’s for sale now and available from Off the Wall Antiques.  I would love to have it in my garden, on my patio or on top of my garage!

Beautiful patina from being outside for 80+ years
Detail with apple crates
Citrus and clock face details

If produce and edibles are your thing…visit my fellow designers on Garden Designers Roundtable today at 1 p.m. est.

House & Garden (British)

The February 2011 issue of House & Garden almost got it right.  I’m talking about the mix of articles–not the gardens they chose to profile.  There are three features on gardens…two about designers and an additional monthly feature on products. Yea!  Not many shelter publications that center around residential design have even one feature on designed outdoor spaces–let alone three–especially in the winter.  For that alone it’s is a win.

Nothing is mentioned of any of these articles on the cover however…and there is the lose part.

Where's the mention?

Touting Choosing the Best, inside the magazine is an article titled The House and Garden guide to the Leading Garden Designers of Today–yet no mention on the cover?  What happened to the ‘garden’ in House and?

Feature on Best British Garden Designers--hooray!

There’s a wonderful feature on Dar el Hossoun, the gardens of a lodge and spa in southern Morocco designed by French garden designers Arnaud Maurieres and Eric Ossart.  The gardens manage to respect traditional Moroccan motifs using contemporary ideas about planting.

Editorial spread w/beauty shots and great content

The third feature is  a pictorial of Colonsay House in Scotland–a wild garden with a world class collection of rhododendrons.

Rhododendrons and more in the wilds of Scotland

Now why don’t more shelter/design magazines consider the designed outdoor environment?

In my Reader…Nowness

Just reading this uber-chic blog makes me feel cool.  Impossibly hip, Nowness is the daily blog from LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.  Well written and beautifully documented, its exclusive content comes from a wide range of contributors and is definitely luxury based.  Covering fashion, food, art, film, music, design, travel and sport it is surprising in it depth. Nowness aims to be an interactive hub for all things luxury NOW.  It’s totally unlike any other blog I’ve ever read and that’s hard to do since I read a lot of them–the images alone are worth a look.

All of the images below have are from Nowness in the past month.  How’s that for being current?

Sophisticated color outdoors
Winter Polo in St. Moritz
Fairy Tale Illustration by fashion designer Christian LaCroix

Tents and sky

The makings of mescal

Tuesday’s Find…Modernist planters

Modernist and geometric elements for the garden can be so clean lined that they lack visual power beyond their form.  This beautiful set of highly detailed planters found at Gordon Watson Ltd goes against that idea.  Made of  perspex, bronze and aluminum (so 70s!), the crisp and clean lined boxes are certainly hard edged, but when planted up the natural soft quality of plants would create a powerful visual counterpoint to their geometry.

Planters designed by Tobias Scarpa, Italian c1972

A Chanel Inspired Garden

Rochelle from StudioG and I are having a garden inspiration throw down.  She frequently uses fashion as a muse for garden inspiration.  I am a hardcore fan of fashion, so when she posted a Hippie fashion inspired post, I challenged her to this one based in Chanel…she accepted.  It’s been a lot of fun putting this together.

Chanel, both the woman and the fashion house, have long intrigued me.  I knew I was on to something when I saw the garden inspired runway from the Spring 2011 Couture Collection shown last fall in Paris.

2011 Chanel couture collection via the New York Times

It’s ironic that Mlle. Chanel, who was a proponent of all things modern has become such an icon of classicism.  Karl Lagerfeld who has been Chanel’s designer since the 80’s has continually reinvented the look while staying within the Chanel design lexicon.   Even the logo looks would make a fabulous basis for a the oh-so-French clipped parterre.

Imagine the interlocking C's as boxwood...

There are specific motifs that have become to signify Chanel style.  I’m going to use five of  those here as inspiration for a garden.

Camellias are an easy place to start…worn first by the mademoiselle and later used as fashion details in a variety of ways.  Last summer I lusted over these flip-flops.

Chanel camellia flip flops

An easy segue…

White camelia

Chanel was influenced by the tweeds and checks found in British country clothes.  She reinterpreted the material using it in what is now considered the quintessential Chanel suit.

Tweeds interpreted by Chanel

Chanel tweeds and checks for the garden…

Dedon's Slim Line Outdoor Chair

Costume jewelry, particularly pearls and chains are another Chanel signature motif…

From the 2006 Spring collection--chains!

And in the garden…

Chanel for a rainy day in the garden...rainchains!

The quilted bag…these have come in every possible style and color…

The classic quilted bag

These ‘quilted’ cabinets would be perfect for an outdoor kitchen…

Quilted Cabinets - Perfect for an outdoor kitchen

And because it is so essentially French…I would design a boules court in my garden just so I could have a set of these.  I would invite over a group of friends, pour some excellent wine and have a party n’est pas?

Petanque (Boules) by Chanel

Design Challenge: Garden Designers Rountable

All of us are working on the same real life design problem this month–a landscape renovation for a young couple’s New England country home.  Tuesday’s Find will return next week.

For my part, I’m going to attempt to explain my process–or how I arrive at the conceptual design idea.   I actually cultivate a  lack of continuity in my initial thoughts because that scatter-shot method serves my creative purpose–ideas flow fast and freely…so here goes.

Even with pictures and descriptions, I have to walk a property–to experience it in three dimensions to be able to understand its nuances and its land speak.  What I found at Amy’s  (abcddesigns) country house was a property in need of cohesion.  The clean sophisticated simplicity of  the architecture and materials of the existing home and the out buildings needed an overall concept to tie them together visually and functionally.

The entry courtyard

Each structure was beautiful unto itself, but none really related to another by anything other than proximity.  There was no real arrival experience.

Path to the front door

In the back there had been some attempt to place these structures in logical places, but what the property lacked was flow.  Each space seemed separate–they needed the landscape to unify them.

The main house and 4 of 5 outbuildings

The first step in my process, after finding out the homeowner’s dreams for their property  is to plot everything–measurements are taken and located on a drawing to scale.  Below you’ll see is my notes scribbled on a copy of that basemap. I don’t do ‘bubble diagrams’ because I am visualizing the space as I make notes.  This works for me and doesn’t lock me into an idea.  My notes address client requests, ideas of  my own and whatever else seems appropriate in the flow of the creative process.  I work quickly–changing and editing as I go along letting some ideas become more fully realized and letting others fall away.

Ideas and notes

On the property there is already a mashup of  materials in play.   When I visited in the fall, Amy had already replaced the turf in front of the barn with a bluestone courtyard.  There were granite slab steps, bluestone walks, wood fences and stone walls.   I chose bluestone as the unifying material.  It’s plentiful locally and classic.

Wood, gravel. bluestone and granite

One of the things that interests me most about landscape design is how to get people from one point to another and how they will interact with each other as well the three dimensional space.  Sometimes plants form that underlying structure, some times its paths and hard surfaces.

The Conceptual Plan

Amy’s style is eclectic yet contemporary.  To create a unified design that complemented the architecture and without moving any of the major features, I developed a geometric scheme based on the existing relationships.   On her wish list was a patio by the screen porch and an herb garden.  On her husband’s was a spa and a lap pool.  They are not avid gardeners and do not want to be.

By searching for relationships between the existing outbuildings and creating new ones with paths and patios, I have been able to unify the space and create logical transitions between each area.  This is drawing would be the first of many revisions in the design process.  There are no real details in this plan.  It’s simply starting point.

For the rest of the Roundtable designer’s ideas for the same project, visit the links below

Carolyn Gail Choi : Sweet Home and Garden Chicago : Chicago, IL

Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT

Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN

Ivette Soler, Los Angeles, CA

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

Aspirational Garden Design

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal about who is buying luxury products was good news to me.  Aspirational buyers love their gardens as well as the interiors of their homes.  They hire designers.   That, in my way of thinking, is a very good thing.

Many in the economic climate of the last several years have become DIY champions and warriors, ignoring that those of us who provide thoughtful design services that often make living in a spaces both indoors and out more efficient, sustainable and in the long run much more cost effective than doing it yourself.

Now that that mini-rant is over, on to the inspiration part of the aspiration.  As part of my landscape design practice, I specify furniture and accessories for outdoor environments.  Readers here know that I’m constantly on the lookout for pieces that will work for the transitional and neo-traditional outdoor living spaces I design.  I have taken my now 4 year old Janus beauty book to more than one client appointment.  Aspirational and inspirational, this catalog not only showcases furniture, its’ chock full of other ideas…if you look.  The furniture is extremely high quality and super expensive…hence the aspiration part.

Here’s a look at 2011’s Beauty Book and some ideas I took away from it.

Grey, washed out citrus and aubergine

An extremely sophisticated color palette of washed out grey, ivory, citrus and aubergine.  I’ve been seeing yellow and grey for interiors, and this makes sense of it outdoors.

Naturalist's collection

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the chair, but what interests me is the display of neutral ‘naturalist’ shells, bones and other anthropomorphic items behind it. ( There’s a fast emerging trend based on historic naturalists and plant hunting — see Garden Design and the New York Times.)

A celebration of neutrals

There have been hints for a while that a totally neutral color palette is coming back…look how the small green lawn pops when it doesn’t have to compete.  There’s a garden design lesson there.

Dark garden walls and wood decking

Obviously styled to show off the furniture, I really like the dramatic, dark, glossy walls and wood decking in this image.  Glossy with matte can work for structures as well as plant combinations and is worth exploring further.

Ideas can come from anywhere–it’s what we dream about and aspire to that inspires and informs the spaces we live in.

In my Reader…Inspire Me Now

This is one for anyone with a short attention span.  Inspire Me Now is a blitz of  inspiration images and ideas curated by Szymon Blaszczyk, a specialist in user experience design.  The blog consists solely of provocative images  that demand a minute’s worth of thought.  Perfect for the busy, busy new year ahead!

Here are some recent and not so recent entries–as always, click the image to be taken to the post.



Roof domain?


Public service…

2010 Top 5 Posts–Yours!

I’ve never done a “top”  list before.  I was interested in what everyone was here was reading so I took a look at the numbers.  As a landscape designer I’m interested in trends–self generated as well as user generated. The list below is a nod to the best of list tradition–not mine–yours.  Click each the first few words of each description to go to that post.

An exploration of India’s potential influence on garden styles.  The Raj ruled this post.

5 things that influenced me as a landscape designer in 2010.

Ideas on color in garden design…no I wasn’t talking to myself.

Thoughts and ideas about sustainability in garden and landscape design.

A love song to the amazing architecture in Buffalo.

Garden Inspiration | Garden Designers Roundtable

I graze across disciplines, media and firsthand experience to feed my ever growing habit. Here are five (of the many more) ideas from the past year that have inspired me.  Some have been included in previous posts, others on my FB page, and still others are new to this post.  All have contributed to the whole that is my constantly evolving design aesthetic that needs feeding, feeding, feeding.  After all, I’m a self proclaimed inspiration junkie omnivore.

French fashion icon Jean Paul Gaultier teamed up with green wall whiz, Patric Blanc to create a runway statement.  No longer flat, the idea of designing a garden for vertical, undulating and moving surfaces intrigues me.

Fashion and garden synergy

Great and inspiring retail was the subject of a post entitled They Give Great Shop after a trip to Berkley last winter.  I still find myself thinking about objects and textures I saw at Artefact.


Industrial and natural textures collide

Gardens don’t have to be a static thing or relegated to traditional containers.  Taking a garden along with you rather than going to your garden is a new way of thinking for me.  Here are two that inspired that idea.

Movable gardens from Urban Buds


French company Bacsac on the move

I have always loved the movies.  Inception was a visual feast and made me think harder and look harder to see beyond what I think I’m really looking at.   Oh, that spinning top.

Inception challenged perception

Travel feeds my inspiration appetite. The 1st was reviewed in Artiface and Artifacts.  The 2nd is from a trip to Dallas.  Right now I am inspired by juxtaposing traditional and contemporary with artifice and naturalistic design.



There is so much more…architecture, industrial design, interior design, graphic design, just about anything Dutch, plants, pop music, performing arts, museum shows, books, people, current events, pop culture…and then there’s augmented reality…but that would be a book instead of a blog post–wouldn’t it?

Want to be inspired by the other Roundtable contributors?  You can pick up their links…

Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA

Carolyn Gail Choi : Sweet Home and Garden Chicago : Chicago, IL

Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN

Ivette Soler : The Germinatrix : Los Angeles, CA

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX

Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In the Garden : Los Altos, CA

Rochelle Greayer : Studio G : Boston, MA

Susan Morrison : Blue Planet Garden Blog : East Bay, CA



Not so green…walls

True confession…I find most green walls…well…too green.  I find them to be dramatic, but my brain needs visual space and covering everything from head to toe in plants is not always my idea of  beauty.  Well, it is in the jungle–and in certain urban situations where the opposite can also be oppressive.  Even inside, green walls make me feel well… claustrophobic.  Before I take a boatload of manure for this idea, hear me out.

I love the idea of growing things vertically, up over arbors, through other plants, even up walls, but I don’t need a vertical green carpet.  I am a fan of Patrick Blanc’s work, but can’t imagine it everywhere.

Green Wall at Les Halles in Avignon via Patrick Blanc

Without skilled and thoughtful installation and proper maintenance it is easy for a green wall to end up looking like the example below.

Three year old green walls in Southern California

Now with all of that said, here are two sensible alternatives that I have seen.  Still green, still vertical, still pants on walls.  I wrote about the first over a year ago as part of a post on eco-luxuryFlora Grubb’s beautiful green walls at the Bardessono resort in Napa.  There’s space for the eye to rest and there’s plenty of green and drama.

Flora Grubb's Tilandsia wall at Bardessono
Attached via low tech alligator clips

The next, I have no experience with but they do exactly what I’m thinking about.  From the French company, Vertilignes (translation: green lines) is a green wall unit that accomodates 28 plants that use a simple planting and watering system. There is a mirrored variation. It’s simple, clean and green.  It has visual breathing space.

Vertiilignes 'Diva' Screen

Planted 'wall'

So the next time when thinking about green walls, try to envision a jungle or try to envision a place that is green but also offers a place to rest visually.  Now bring on the manure.