Design for a Public Perennial Garden

Every now and then I take a project that isn’t private and residential. Enter the Perennial Garden at Colonial Park in Somerset County. Currently it is a large circular garden with an entry aisle of double borders and a central gazebo. Plants that have been able to survive and thrive in less than ideal conditions dominate. Those conditions include the lack of an overall current garden plan, rampant deer, and a predominance of aggressive, deer resistant self seeders/spreaders. There is a gardener dedicated to the space. There are too many of too few plants to make the garden sing.

My approach to this project has been very different from what I normally do which is what attracted me to it. I have spent the past four months visiting, observing, cataloging existing plants (some to reuse, others not), and imagining what I would want from a garden like this if I was a casual visitor. There are few ‘sacred cows’ except the central gazebo which is, in my mind, an okay place to start. A central ADA compliant path will be added to it from the parking lot. A request was made by the head horticulturalist of the park to focus on native plants and their cultivars. As far as I can make that work, it’s what I do normally anyway. First look to the natives and then if they don’t or can’t fulfill the design goals, look elsewhere.

As it is, the current configuration doesn’t invite any kind of interaction except from the resident groundhog and deer. Brides use it as a background for their pictures yet there is little in bloom in June.

I believe that gardens should be experiential. Being able to walk and rest inside, to see plants up close adds to the experience of a garden.  This one only allows looking at it from the sidelines. That became my first goal of the redesign. I want to honor the circular history of the garden but not be strictly bound by it, I want ample space for plants while lowering the maintenance, and I want the garden to be a place for all except the groundhog and deer!

I experimented with several layouts, playing with paths and circular sections that would still allow the gazebo to be the central feature. Using a spiral based on the nautilus created by a Fibonacci sequence was one of those layouts. It clicked for me. We have a meeting to discuss it and a few other issues next week. Meanwhile, the concept is below and I will work on plant lists.

Outlier–Maybe Not.

I promised I would be back here when I thought I had something new or interesting to say. There is no eye candy today–just words and thoughts. I also don’t feel the need to push my ideas on anyone else–so you don’t have to agree or disagree with what follows.

I have never been one to blindly follow a trend or an idea. My thoughts, like most people’s, spring from my own experience and individual point of view. When I was working in the fashion industry, I was always interested in designers who were doing things differently from the rest.  I admired those who translated a burst of thought into ideas that were at first strange and wonderful but would ultimately be borrowed, watered down or interpreted by others. I was also interested in those who looked back and used history as a starting point celebrating the traditional and making it contemporary. For me, there is a healthy dichotomy of design thought there with equal emphasis on the new and the old.

In my mind, gardens or landscapes are defined as spaces that are outside of nature. They cannot be truly of nature since they are conceived and made by people. These human endeavors at garden making do not include restoration of native environments or habitat although they can incorporate those elements. They can try to mimic nature, but a garden is ultimately a space made by people for human activity, introspection, observation and the appreciation of beauty within the context of what is right for its particular environment and time. The human element of a garden is important. It is also where the outlier part comes in.

The gardens being made by the New Perennialist movement that started almost thirty years ago in Germany and have been perfected by Piet Oudolf and others are in my mind are largely to look at. I have visited some of the best of them and it’s the auxiliary spaces that invite human interaction, not the plantings. The gardens themselves may have a path or two through them, they may be large or small, but they are like paintings hung on a wall. They do not invite human participation. They are broad strokes of planting design artistry that invite visual reaction, not physical interaction.

There is great value in this idea when a site’s topography or limitations don’t allow for safe passage or it is a space that will act as a visual foil something else. This concept is what makes the High Line so successful and in my mind is also its downfall. The plantings are something that are passed through while doing something else. They can be admired, but in all but a few places they cannot be entered. They are beautiful, bold, border designs. The border as a garden design concept has been around almost as long as people have been making gardens. They exist on the sidelines. True, those sidelines can be breathtaking and can be beneficial to wildlife and the planet at large, but I am talking about garden making and that, as I said before, is a human undertaking that invites interaction.

Conversely there are historic gardens (remember that dichotomy?) that make plants such background players that they become almost irrelevant. They are decoration, they could be fake. These ‘gardens’ were designed primarily for people with little regard for the natural world other than how the designer could manipulate it into abstraction. Those gardens lose the sensory, introspective and observational aspects of plantings in a garden, leaving room only for human activity.

I believe there is room in contemporary garden and landscape design to celebrate human activity combined with interactive planting design as equal partners.  I also believe that the gardens and landscapes that do that will be long term successes. There is room for structure, hard surfaces and places for people as well as plants and habitat to co-exist and intermingle. They are not static or fixed in the moment past or present. We have changed our planet too much to be able to go back to nature as it was and gardens can help define how humans appreciate and savor the outdoors. What we really need to be thinking about is what is right for a specific piece of land in a specific region that will be used regularly by a group of individuals in a meaningful and participatory way. We need to consider how we entice people outside into the garden to observe, delight, create, to spend time and do things and think about their place in the world instead of just moving through it or looking at it or worse ignoring it and paying attention to hand held technology instead?

As a landscape designer I have questions that roll around in my brain to be solved by working through my design process. How do the successful attributes of traditional gardens and the best ideals of the new perennialists combine to create something new–something that balances the being and the seeing? How do I foster understanding and appreciation of our not so natural world, the one we now live in, through the design of spaces that allow people to interact with all of its pieces? Making planting design precious unto itself relegates it to the same place as a great work of art in a museum. It’s not that, it’s a living changeable thing. What is the most valuable human experience in any garden–is it different for every individual?  I try to strike a broad balance between the traditional and the contemporary–sometimes there are no perennials or grasses at all in my gardens. If that makes me an outlier, I’m okay with that.

Edit:  I sat on this post for a month or so until a group who I had a conversation with about this feeling of being an outlier and who I would consider to be New Perennialists encouraged me to publish it. –Susan

 

Garden Design Details: Container Planting

For me, it’s the end of container season.  I only plant them for a few clients. Planter design is not a core service of my landscape design practice because I find them to take as much time to prepare for and execute as any other planting design. In reality, that’s what a container is, a planting design executed in a very small, seasonal space. I do have clients who specifically ask me to design their containers and I say yes, but I just don’t overtly offer to do it.

Turquoise Anduze pot

 

Turquoise pots and entry

Nobody ever taught me the rules of containers so I approach them in the same way I would any design. I lean towards structure planted with abandon in my garden design and my container plantings reflect that for the most part. Since the space and number of plants I can use is so limited, I am a ruthless editor.  I don’t personally love planters filled with lots of different kinds of plants. I think it makes a stronger visual statement to limit them in the same way I would any other design. The container above has four varieties in it, the one below three. In a really big planter I may use as many as five, repeated throughout the design.

Barn pots

My approach is the same as for any design–first decide on the primary structure and then build down from there. In a garden that may be a tree, a pergola, or a sculpture, in a pot, it’s the same–there has to be something anchoring it all.

Variagated willow and blue pot

When I shop for container plants,  I shop for all of  them at once, collecting special plants from a wide variety of sources. The process takes several days. If a specific request was made, such as the variegated willow standards in the pots above I will seek them out. Each season I limit the color palette which aids in later editing. This year my palette included chartreuse, deep green, salmon/apricot, white/grey and a very saturated purple.

Atelier Verkaint pots on seatwall

Most of the time I use the client’s own containers, but over the past few years I’ve been specifying them in larger designs so I know they will work within the context of the larger landscape that I have designed. Planters to scale and the right style for the larger context are details that make or break a project.

Green Gardens

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.

Princeton garden

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.

Dallas Conf Day 3 024

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.

Vizcaya green parterre 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.

South Jersey + New Orleans Garden District 026

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.

Jungles Coconut Grove

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.

Winter Park Garden

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.

 

 

Garden Design Details: Fall Beyond Foliage

I had some rare time in between landscape design projects and clients last week and as I’ve been meaning to take my new camera lens out for a spin, I stopped by Frelinghuysen Arboretum in Morristown to search out some of the details of the season.  The focus of this public park is plants…not necessarily design although it has its designer-y moments.  I go here when I need a plant fix.  I send my landscape design students here to photograph and learn about plants just as I did years ago when I was learning.

Winding path Frelinghuysen Arboretum

Grasses, asters, Japanese anemones and Monkshood were at their peak and the large swaths of hardwood foliage astound, but there are many other details that can make a landscape’s planting design special in the waning warmth and long low light of autumn. Sometimes they are stalwart summer hanger’s on and sometimes they are plants whose season is now.

Semi spent bloom Heptacodium

The almost spent bloom structure of a Heptacodium miconoidies (Seven Sun Flower) has beautiful open structure and pale pink color.

Branches Acer japonica

I’m a sucker for contorted branches of a Japanese maple silhouetted against some foliage ‘stained glass’…

Autumn fern

The gold and russet fronds of Dryopteris erythrosora (Autumn Fern) in a woodland setting adds some unexpected living color to the ground plane. Mostly the oranges of fall are fallen from above.

Nicotiana sylvestris

The late blooming native Nicotiana sylvestris (Woodland tobacco) is a giant in most gardens but so worth it in terms of drama.  One of my personal favorites, and easily raised from seed, it takes forever for this plant to appear, and does smell a bit like an ashtray…remember those?

Pinus bungeana

Pinus bungeana‘s (Lacebark Pine) exfoliating camo bark.  Who wouldn’t want this in their garden?  I don’t see this tree in commonly in the trade or used enough in gardens.  In fact, I’ve only ever seen one once in a residential garden where I kept it from being cut down!

Aconitum and Anemone japonica

Lastly, as I said in the beginning the Aconitum and Anemones were at their peak.  So pretty reaching for the light.

 

Garden Color Inspiration: Green

It might seem counterintuitive to add more green to a garden, but lately to my landscape designer’s eyes, green looks like it should, fresh and new.  (Go ahead, groan at that word use!) Two years ago, a version of green was the color of the year, but it was largely ignored by outdoor designers–perhaps we think we have the corner on green with our plant palettes.

Via Veranda

These greens aren’t the citrus based hues that have been screaming at us for several seasons as both accents and plants, but the deeper and more complex matte greens of the forest floor and canopy.

via Acanthus and Acorn

Green has been showing up in interior magazines and blogs and on the runway for a while now.

Via Apartment Therapy

Via Andrea Pompilo

Green has long been used on fence panels and trelliage, but it can also color furniture and accessories.

Green box planter

Via Jardins du Roi Soleil

It can be new looking and  surprising choice in a landscape adding a layer of complexity to the already existing organic greens that are there.

Some greens to play with… Green palette Left to right Farrow and Ball/Calke Green, Ralph Lauren/Campbell Green, Benjamin Moore/Amazon Moss and Sherwin-Williams/Shamrock.  All of these can be mixed as an exterior stain or paint.

Travel Inspiration for gardens in The Designer

The summer issue of The Designer, APLD’s quarterly design magazine is out.  In the editorial is a piece I wrote about my trip to Morocco last winter and how the patterned surfaces found everywhere there have continued to influence my landscape design work.


What isn’t included there are some of the detail images of that still come to mind when I start to design a garden or, specifically a planting plan, so I decided to share them here. I take dozens of detail images for future reference where ever I go, but seldom share them. They’re my reference material and often don’t make much sense to anyone else out of context–these do I think.

Brick wall with windows Fes

Iron window detail Marakesh

Tile fountain museum of Fes

La Mamoumia Hotel tile detail

 

The Revived Garden Design Magazine

Sometimes I almost get what I wish for.

When it folded two years ago, I lamented the demise of Garden Design magazine. In that piece, I also made a wish of sorts — If we, as a design discipline and community, want to be taken seriously, then we need to support publications at all levels of the marketplace, not just those that cater to the weekend warriors who relegate us to the DIY sector. Landscape design and landscape architecture are serious, complex disciplines that can inspire within and without. 

Well, Garden Design is back in a new version, as a quarterly book-a-zine.  In the interest of full disclosure, I have been working with them behind the scenes as an advisor and contributing editor since the new publisher bought the title and all of its archives. I felt that if I was going to wish for it, I had better be a part of the change I believe in.  It might seem odd to write a review of something that I’ve had a hand in making, but that’s what designers do..view things with a hyper critical eye to how to make those things even better.

Garden Design Magazine

Although it’s not perfect, Garden Design does live up to its title and celebrates American landscape and garden design in a way no other publication on this side of the Atlantic even attempts. Overall, the first issue is a wow. It has a new cover design, a larger size and is bound like a book.  With 132 ad free pages, I can’t argue with the content, it’s rich and varied and there’s plenty to read and look at. It is wide ranging geographically and many of the images are drop dead gorgeous. Inspiration for all types of gardens and outdoor spaces are included and there is a fantastic regional section at the back of the book. Best of all, it focuses on design as an entity that is important to the ultimate success of any outdoor environment.

As it evolves, the magazine’s editorial voice and art direction needs to be clearer.  The details it presents both in photo editing and  typographic/layout design need to be tighter and much more consistent.  It also needs to focus on the flow of stories from one to another.  The desire to show everything needs to be tempered by a clear and sharp editorial knife that supports the publication’s ‘voice’. I learned these lessons first hand (and the hard way) working on other publications. Sometimes, less is more, sometimes not. The trick in editing and laying out a magazine is to make sure that every little bit ads to the reader’s new found or rediscovery of the content and that each story stands on its own yet leads logically to the next. Consistency in design is as true in magazines as it is in gardens. Knowing what to leave out is as important as what is included – sometimes more so.

So with all of that said, the revitalized and revived Garden Design is worth the cover price and needs the support of American design enthusiasts and I’m certain that it will only get better from the high bar it already set for itself over time. When that happens will I will have gotten exactly what I wished for.

Garden Design Details: Retro Patio Umbrellas

I’m tired of market umbrellas. Patterned or plain, they all look the same.  Outdoor umbrellas used to glamorous. My shady inspiration today came from Coastal Living’s cover story a few years ago and a garden designed by A Blade of Grass near Boston that was a 2013 APLD Landscape Design Award Winner .

coastal living cover

13-136 R-Pete Cadieux-Brookline Residence #3

There are a few companies that are making beautiful retro style umbrellas – the kind you would have found in mid-century Palm Springs or Palm Beach.

 

Black and White retro patio umbrella

 

 

 

 

 

Santa Barbara Umbrella Company‘s square Regatta umbrella in black and white.

blue retro umbrella

 

California Umbrella‘s classic round patio umbrella comes in dozens of color options.

purple umbrella with fringe

Santa Barbara Umbrella’s fringed round umbrella in violet and white and has all kinds of color options.

red and white striped umbrellaCalifornia Umbrella’s peaked umbrella in red and white stripes is also available in dozens of colors.

Images via Coastal Living, Association of Professional Landscape Designers, Santa Barbara Umbrella Company, California Umbrella Company.
Garden Design

The New Garden Design

The new Garden Design magazine promises to be full of inspiration and ideas for all of us.  I lamented when the previous one stopped publishing so I’m happy about this. Their primary focus is now American gardens and designers–not just the ones on both coasts either.  How do I know this for sure?  I’m a Contributing Editor.  That doesn’t mean I’m giving up my landscape design practice, it just means I have another outlet to express my love of  great design.

Garden Design

It is going to be a beautiful book like publication without any advertising and printed on beautiful paper.  It will be sold in garden shops and individual issue or annual subscriptions are available.

No, I’m not going to leak any stories!  You’ll have to wait until May and read it.  Until then, my latest piece is up on their website.

Andre Le Notre's Versailles Gardens

Andre le Notre: Four Hundred Years Strong

I’m taking sides with Andre le Notre.  Four hundred years ago he was practicing a type of landscape design that is still valid and revered today.  It’s handmade, skillfully practiced, and incredibly beautiful.  It is the antithesis of today’s trend towards natural gardens.  Many consider this type of garden to be unrealistic, unsustainable, and old-fashioned.  I disagree.

Andre Le Notre's Versailles Gardens

I’m tired of the so called ‘new’ perennial gardens with all of their blowsy grasses and prairie leanings.  I’m all for pollinators and habitat, but understand that there is more than one way to achieve healthy garden environments for all inhabitants. I wonder why it took the Dutch, visiting our vast waving plains, to show the world that a miniaturized, hyped up version of the same could be had at home.

The Lurie Garden in high summer

I have a profound reverence for the work of designers like Piet Ouldof and Gilles Clement, but as a designer, their naturalistic  ‘new’ style  old doesn’t make my heart sing.  I find that when I visit these gardens I love to look at them, but don’t really want to be ‘in’ them beyond a good ‘look’.  The style isn’t really all that new at all.  Ellen Biddle Shipman and Beatrice Farrand, as well as many others, were making intensive American perennial plantings throughout the last century–what’s different now is the mix of plants, the size and shape of the beds, and the tendency to want and believe it to be ‘maintenance’ free.  Is that because most of today’s gardeners don’t have the skill or time it takes for something else?  What will these gardens look like in 400 years?  Will they hold up like Le Notre’s?

Turf parterres at Versailles

Michael King argues in his recent post Never New Gardening that the so called ‘new’ has become not much more than a ‘look’.  To my eye, the ‘look’ of the turf parterres and the whimsical topiaries in the Orangerie at Versailles are contemporary…they’re just not wild.

Gardens are made things. It’s not outdated to include planted elements that require a gardener’s hand beyond cutting them down once a year, dividing drifts of plants and pulling some weeds to maintain a design. I don’t support the use of small backpack, gasoline powered trimmers of any variety, but wonder why with the current movement for all things handmade and artisinal that gardeners haven’t taken up the cause with more hand driven pruning?  Is it lack of skill or interest?

Did lopers and hedge pruners and rakes get forgotten?  Is it because it takes time to learn the methods and when to put those into practice? Or is it because any intervention is seen as an affront to the sustainability of a garden?  Andre le Notre’s gardens are 400 years old this year, what’s more sustainable than that?

There will be those who read this post who think that it takes an army of gardeners to maintain immense gardens like le Notre designed. Gardens with structure take skill and time to maintain–just like any other.   In fact, they are simpler and less labor intensive to maintain than some of the new perennial gardens.  Do the math.  Versailles has approximately 2100 acres and 80 gardeners. That’s roughly 26 acres of care per gardener.  The 6.73 acre High Line in New York has 9 gardeners and hundreds of seasonal volunteers to help with cutting back and cleaning up each year.  Just counting those on the staff roster that’s  approximately 3/4 acre per gardener.  So which is actually more labor intensive? The numbers speak for themselves.  Both can be organic.

Then there is the argument of scale and cost. Dial back Versailles to the average suburban lot and these gardens become do-able with less.  The new perennial gardens really need space to work well.  Not every town will allow an entire front yard to be taken over by a meadow, and in the eastern hardwood forest where I live and work, that meadow would soon become a forest without constant vigilance to eradicate self seeded volunteer trees.  I’m not saying that the selection of plants is what’s at issue here, it’s a design and maintenance issue.  I like the evergreen bones of structure in gardens like Le Notre’s- especially in the winter.  In truth, in high summer I love a meadow, newly mowed and or fields of wheat or wildflowers and many of the new perennial gardens have elements of evergreen structure.  In my own work I blend the two.  Create structure as a sculptural and architectural elements and and plant lushly.

Le Notre was born in the Tuileries where his father was a gardener.  He was surrounded by generations of skilled practitioners and learned by doing.  Imagine the gardens we could have if we get up from our screens, get outside and really learn our craft.  Imagine the gardens we could have if we really trained those who we hire to maintain them instead of just giving them a backpack blower and some power trimmers?  An apprenticeship program is not a bad idea.  Work and get paid to learn from a master and then work to become the master.  Le Notre, born to a gardener, learned his craft and became someone who worked for kings and whose work has survived for 400 years.  Who of us can say the same?

Garden Travel: Nebraska

I spent last week in Nebraska. I was invited there to teach a design workshop to other designers. Not one to turn down any travel opportunity, I went a few days early and visited with Marti Neely, a super talented designer and one of my APLD peeps.

As someone who grew up in the middle of what was once eastern hardwood forest, I was surpised by Nebraska’s neutral  winter landscape. Instead of feeling dull and lifeless the prairie shimmers as the unhindered winter winds whip through it.

rolling prairie in Nebraska

In Omaha, we walked through a series of sculptures that make up the Spirit and Courage of Pioneers park and celebrated those who ultimately settled and farmed there.  Created by two artists, Blair Buswell and Ed Fraughton, there are geese and bison flying through and barging through buildings as well as a full sized wagon train trudging up a hill.  It really made me think about the 19th century push west and what it meant to those who lived there and those who colonized it.  There wasn’t a Native American to be found in the series.

Omaha, NE

We then moved on to see one of Marti’s lakeside projects. Even in the 45 mile an hour winds with shallow snow cover the elegance of her design’s structure was apparent.  The sweeping curves of one section of the project echoed the shoreline uphill from the lakefront.  I never occurred to me that there might be lakes in Nebraska.

Lakeside patio

The next day we drove to Lincoln to visit with plantsman, Benjamin Vogt in his garden in which was lovely despite being winter and surprising in it’s tract home development location.

Benjamin Vogt's garden path Lincoln NE

Winter grasses

My favorite part of the day was a visit to Gretna, midway between Omaha and Lincoln, to see the Shrine of The Holy Family.  Inspired by E. Fay Jones’ Thornecrown chapel (1980) in Arkansas, the shrine’s proportions and curved lines are different.  The local architecture team at BCDM acknowledged the inspiration from the beginning and went on to make a statement that is more prairie than forest.

Entrance Holy Family Shrine NE

Its curved lines, blond wood concrete and windswept location work in context.  A limestone and turf entryway, a restored bluestem prairie, and a rill that runs from the chapel alter to the a pool and sculpture in the main building builds a powerful message.

Holy Family Shrine

Holy Family Shrine NEI was happy to be there in winter when the changing light, the tans and ochres of the wood and grasses, and the buff hue of limestone paths and boulders worked in concert with each other to create a stark and arresting beauty that I expect would be difficult to find elsewhere.

I’ll be travelling again next week and hope to blog from the road.  Where to this time?  Paris, Fez and Marrakesh. Stay tuned.

Ornamental cabbages

Garden Color Inspiration: Violet, Plum, and Aubergine

I’ve been collecting images for this post for a while.  I wrote about pink a while ago and people either loved it or hated it.  There’s been quite a bit of chatter about what’s going to be the color of the year this year, and there are rumblings of pink or purple being the front runners.  Shades of purple and violet can be arresting in a garden. Unlike the pink post, this one includes plants.

Ornamental cabbagesFall container planting in shades of violet designed by Bruce Bailey from Heavy Petal Nursery.

image via Marie Claire

An aubergine stucco wall makes a dramatic backdrop for both brown and green.  This deep red-violet is probably the most restful of the purple family.

Purple mulch

image via Floradora

Although I’m not a fan of dyed mulch, this violet and pink path makes a bold statement, especially combined with apricots and oranges.  Maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to this color family this time of year.  Violet, plum, aubergine and just about any shade of purple is a fantastic counterpoint to the oranges and yellows of fall foliage.  They are complimentary on the color wheel so they can also be quite garish.

Purple knot garden

image via Pinterest via John Glover

An analogous color story of violet and red-violet spins the traditional knot garden idea into something completely different.  Violet, plum, aubergine or just plain old purple can be serene or quite nutty depending on the circumstance it’s used in.  Below are three examples.  The first is transitional and calming, the second contemporary and frenetic, the third eclectic and welcoming.  Whichever, it’s a bold color choice, not for everyone, but in the right place…well all things have a place, don’t they?

image via HGTV

image via HGTV

Moroccan style purple entry

image via Marie Claire

Garden Design Details: Letterforms and Words

Letters and words have been a long term design and decorating trend.  Think ‘Dream’ above a bed, or ‘Eat’ in the kitchen, or ‘Grow’  in gardens. What happens when letter forms and words step outside of those cliches and become something else? Not the kind of words that are carved into something, but words and letters that are freestanding graphic elements that are interesting on their own or have a deeper meaning.

Image via Vintage Marquee Lights

There are so many possibilities that I’ve only begun to crack the surface and there’s not a single ‘grow’ or ‘I’m in the garden’ among them. These letters can be personal or just cool design elements. They can be vintage marquee lights or old bits of signage. They’re not hard to find.

Garden Lettters and Graphics

 Image via Gardenista

I’m going to Las Vegas in November for the first time (and probably the last) and have carved out time to visit the Neon Boneyard which has fascinated me for years. I’d love to use one of the ghosts of the past in a landscape design.

Image via Vegas Groom

Another way to use letterforms is for messages. Not the cliched ‘I’m in the Garden’ kind of thing, but something of substance and meaning. Below at the new garden at The Barnes Foundation designed by OLIN, the graphics are taken from Dr. Barnes’ notes on hanging his art collection.

Barnes Foundation

 Image courtesy of Pentagram

A simpler version of the same design concept can be an easy DIY project. These are formed with galvanized wire and pliers with loops for screws.  Not difficult at all.

image via April and May

 

 

Aerial view design by Secret Gardens of Sydney

Garden Visit: Secret City Hideaway in Australia

I often find arresting images of gardens from Australia.  Many times they’re from Secret Gardens of Sydney.  The pure graphic quality of this interior courtyard is strong and fun and full of ideas-despite its diminutive size and simplicity.Aerial view design by Secret Gardens of Sydney

The strength of this design is in its firm editing.  Nothing is here that doesn’t add to the overall space.  Materials and color are limited, yet the courtyard has a playful feeling mostly due to the graphic wall that anchors it.  It’s not cold, it’s welcoming. This type of restraint is very hard to achieve in any garden where most would add rather than subtract.  It’s a good lesson.

Secret Garden Sydney courtyard design Secret Garden Sydney courtyard detail

 All images via Secret Gardens of Sydney

 

Kingsley Bates outdoor furniture

Furnishing a New Patio

Too many landscape designers ignore an obvious service they can provide to their clients. Once the structural and planting work on a patio, deck, or even front entry has been completed they believe they’re done and leave furniture and accessory choices up to the homeowner or their interior designers.

I shop for and with my clients since until the project is totally completed, I’m the one with the vision for how the space will be used.  Why would I hand that off to someone else?

I’ll start an Ideabook and share it with a client to get the ideas flowing.  I source new and if appropriate, re-purposed materials.  Below is a large table and chairs I spotted for a client whose home has a distinct Nantucket vibe.  We will add custom cushions and some other accessories as well as stools for the bar area.  The furniture on the two other patio levels will coordinate, but won’t match giving it a ‘purchased over time’ feeling that many new spaces lack.

Kingsley Bates outdoor furniture

All weather wicker and fabric

I’ve heard landscape designers say ‘I’m not interested in furniture’ and I wonder why? Why let plants, stone, and woodworking be the only design details?  An interior designer wouldn’t stop at the walls and floor, why do they?  Obviously it’s a profit center for a designer, but the client benefits by having the work done for them and having a useful, wonderful space as soon as its finished.

I include space planning for patios in my initial concept plans and will be teaching a course about it and furniture, fabric and accessory selection at NYBG in the spring (it’s not listed yet) complete with a field trip to the  furniture showrooms.  Too many people don’t make their outdoor spaces big enough to be really useful.  They don’t think about the ‘how’ and ‘why’; only the ‘what’.

Patio Dining Area plan

A new book,  The Professional Designer’s Guide to Garden Furnishings, by fellow APLD landscape designer, Vanessa Gardner Nagel, aims to demystify the  process of selecting furniture, fabrics and accessories.  Nagel was an interior designer before turning her sights outside to the landscape, so she has a particular affinity for the subject. Her book covers stylistic information as well as materials selection and is comprehensive in scope.

Pro Guide to Garden Furnishings

The subject is treated in depth and is a great resource for seasoned pros and those new to the subject where there wasn’t one before. The Garden Furnishings Resources section relies on a product legend which I find to be cumbersome and I wish there was a loose leaf notebook version, a customizable source book, for practical, everyday use that could be updated at will or with updates from the publisher.  From the publishing side, that could be an additional revenue stream in packet updates from suppliers but that’s another story all together.  I also wish there had been a section for trade shows which I find to be among the most valuable and inspiring trips I take each year.  All in all though, it’s a good book in a product area that has exploded in terms of what’s available in the past five years.

 

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.

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.

Opiary: Garden Pots from Princeton

Last year, one of the few things I liked at the Kips Bay Showhouse was Robert Canon’s planters.

Opiary Pots Kips Bay Showhouse

This year I at ICFF I liked them even more.  When I saw them again this past weekend, these planters were in my mind, one of the most original and creative outdoor products at the fair.  They had a original and quirky point of view that would be at home in so many gardens.

Opiary Studio

 Opiary, Canon’s Princeton based studio is creating organic looking, well priced beautiful containers and garden accessories from recycled materials.  I’m going to try and arrange a studio visit.

opiary studio

 All photos via Opiary.
American Tudor

A Facelift for a Tudor Grand Dame

Some of my favorite landscape design projects involve American Tudors.  I love the romance of these houses, their quirky details, their materials and how often they survive the wrecking ball.  Many of these homes were built in the 1920s and family needs change with the times.  I am currently working on a design for a circa 1929 home and re-imagining the landscape for a young, 21st century family.  This will be the first of several irregular posts on the project which won’t be completed until the fall.

American Tudor

The current landscape has outgrown its space and usefulness so much of it will be replaced.  Things have been ignored for too long to be simply pruned.  Entries and exits, steps and useful areas front and back will be part of an architectural and landscape renovation that will make this grand dame young again.

Garden Design Magazine

Wake Up! American Garden Design Enthusiasts

Many of you know that Garden Design magazine has sadly folded.  That in itself isn’t surprising given the economic climate for print publications.  Print magazines have huge overhead, cumbersome lead times and ever increasing competition from the marketplace.  What I found shocking was how small its circulation was- 189,741.

Garden Design MagazineSome will moan about its elitist slant.  What is it about our exterior design community that it can’t find inspiration in, celebrate and aspire to the very top levels of design?  I doubt if all of Architectural Digest’s 800k regular readers can afford or even want what is in that publication yet they obviously see enough value in it to buy a copy.

If we, as a design discipline and community, want to be taken seriously, then we need to support publications at all levels of the marketplace, not just those that cater to the weekend warriors who relegate us to the DIY sector.  Landscape design and landscape architecture are serious, complex disciplines that can inspire within and without.  We need American publications that reflect our diverse economy, interests and regions and we need to embrace those that show us the best of design outside at every level.

 

 

Blogfest 2011–The Elle Decor Concept House

Earlier this week I attended Blogfest 2011 in New York with 120 design and lifestyle bloggers.  We attended to learn more about design, publishing, resources and each other.  I was the only landscape designer in the group and that’s why I went–it’s important for me as a designer to continually look beyond my own discipline and push and stretch those boundaries.

At the end of the first day, we were invited to the Elle Decor Modern Life Concept House.  I headed out to the terrace before anyone else to get some beauty shots.  I was able to get some photos and speak with Todd Nickey, the designer.  Nickey partnered with Restoration Hardware to create a long and narrow urban terrace.

Long view of the terrace

Part of the space was contemporary and featured Extremis furniture (which I’ve written about here before) and the rest was much more traditional.  It didn’t work as a unified space.  It was overcrowded and chock- a-block with stuff.  Try and have a party out there and the humans would be squeezed.   The scale and flow outdoors is different than inside–even on a terrace.  That’s why  landscape designers need to work together with interior designers and architects to create seamless and appropriate spaces for total residential living–inside and out.

Opposite view of the terrace

I did like the contrast of the contemporary planters with the wood table,  Irish moss (Sagina subulata) and Hens and Chicks (Sempervivum) are a combination I wouldn’t have thought of.  I also liked the shots of sunny yellow throughout which did help to unify the long view.

Contrast of texture and color

I  flipped for these wing chairs from Restoration Hardware.  They were whimsical and fun.  I hadn’t seen them yet in person yet…although I might be tempted to paint them if they were mine…

Wingback Chair

I’ll probably post some more ideas from this experience next week but for now I have to catch up on work with clients and projects that I missed…

 

 

 

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?

A Garden Renovation

It’s an interesting turn of events when a client calls and wants me to renovate a garden I designed for them years ago.  Several months ago, that’s exactly what happened.  One of my clients is planning a 2nd story master suite addition to their 1920s American Tudor.  The town was unsure they wanted to approve it, so I was asked to create new plans for the garden that would enclose it as well as renderings of what the finished product would look like.

Now I can draw, but I wanted something spectacular that would really impress the zoning board and my perspective drawings lack a certain je ne sais quoi so I decided to work with a landscape and architectural illustrator,  to create some renderings from my plans and photographs.

The Garden Plan

The new second story master suite creates a covered porch underneath it.  The new footprint will replace the current gardens on that side of the house which we installed six or seven years ago.  A large cedar will have to be removed and many of  the major plants will be dug and relocated prior to the start of construction.

Here are the renderings.  All too often I find clients and others have a difficult time visualizing from a plan view.  I usually resort to a lot of hand waving in the garden with the plan in front of us, but this was not an option this time.

Front view of the garden and addition

The drawings have a lovely traditional quality to them that I really love.  My drawing style is much more graphic and cartoony.

Garden rear view with addition and porch

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

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.

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.

In my Reader…a winter list

As a landscape designer in the northeast United States, winter is a relief.  I can read for pleasure without feeling the nagging sense that I should be doing something else.  Here are some of the books I want to read this winter–some work related, some not.  Unlike other lists at this time of year, I haven’t read these yet…I just want to.

Patrick Dougherty’s new book Stickwork.

Stickwork

Andrew Moore‘s photo essay of Detroit.  Readers here know of my interest in abandoned landscapes and industrial sites as well as what becomes of them.

Detroit Disassembled

Wendy Goodman’s book on Tony Duquette was a book to lust after, so I’m putting her latest on Gloria Vanderbilt on my list as well.

Gloria Vanderbilt

Of the many garden books offered this season, I am intrigued by two.  (That doesn’t mean I won’t take the rest out of the library and give them a gander.)

Paula Deitz’s essays and books on gardens have always been high on my list.

On Gardens

And last…since I’m a self avowed tree lover and hugger, Hugh Johnson’s The World of Trees.

The World of Trees