Planting Plans and Combinations

I have been thinking a lot about planting plans since I’ve been working on the Colonial Park Perennial Garden project. There are so many choices and points of view and it has forced me to really consider my own. I have always relied on my visual instincts when it comes to design–even with plants. That may seem out of fashion, but I also consider the lessons of the land I’m working with and what a particular site can teach me. I will never be done growing and evolving as a designer–just like the gardens I design.

For me, planting plans are about a hard to define quality that combines hints from the site, foliage, sun and shade, long lasting interest, bloom sequence, color, mood, habitat, the environment, deer and rabbits, the seasons, movement, availability, and on and on and on and not necessarily in that order all of the time. All of these are layered in my mind as I work through to a solution. I prefer to use fewer plants that are repeated in different combinations and proportions, rather than more used sporadically. The repeated elements are generally texture and color although with fewer plants, the interest happens with the proportions of each in relationship to each other and the whole. My mind is never at rest when I’m working on a planting plan. Each individual combination of plants has to layer all of the elements listed with its immediate neighbors and also convey some kind of lasting visual/visceral quality that is difficult for me to pin down. I admire the work of other designers, but what they can do is not what I can do. Planting design is intensely individual and no two designers have the same viewpoint just as no two pieces of art are the same. There can be copies and forgeries, but the real thing has the unique qualities of the designer’s hand stamped on it.

Although I would never use barberry in a plan because it is highly invasive where I live and work, this combination of an unidentified golden pygmy barberry (possibly Berberis thunbergii ‘Aurea Nana’) threaded with Drumstick Alliums (Allium sphaerocephalon) in John Gwynne and Mikel Folcarelli’s Sakonnet Garden stopped me, made me smile and consider it in a garden full of such moments.  Here’s another–Nicotiana langsdorfii and Asclepias spp. These are two plants that I would not have thought to combine yet I loved them together when I saw them.

Another planting that just made me think and has the emotive quality I often find elusive is by Deborah Silver in Michigan and is closer to what I like to do but also very different. The soft greys and purples in front of hard edged boxwood add a luminous, feminine quality to the crisp, geometric hedge. The three different foliage sizes and textures repeated throughout are highly edited yet don’t feel meager. They feel full and soft and ample. The soft grey combined with the deep violet picks up on the slate roof and is masterful in its proportions.

Although these combinations by others are beautiful in their own right and tick off some of the items in my never ending round Robin of a list, my combinations are different. I like restful, blowzy plantings with things spilling out over an underlying structure that somewhat like an overstuffed piece of furniture if that makes any sense. I want my gardens to make you exhale and everything that troubles you from that day or moment just falls away. I want the mess to be okay too which makes my viewpoint the antithesis of many formal and Japanese Zen gardens although I have employed elements of both.

In the end, my practice is to just start with the structure and then build softness and serenity with punctuation points around that. It evolves though, and often the first plant grouping laid down doesn’t make the final edit. Everything moves and shifts and changes as I make studies month by month to insure that there is equal time given to the seasons. Winter is included in that with both evergreen and the wonderful ‘mess’ left standing. The solution for both small and large gardens always reveals itself to me through the thought and the physical process of making the drawing which in turn is always driven by the site. No two are ever alike. Going back to where I started on this ramble. I’m not sleeping well, my mind is active and the park planting plan is almost done. I am editing as I go along. Then I will worry it some more and edit it again until I believe it’s well and truely finished–hopefully by my self imposed deadline in two weeks.

 

 

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

 

Narrow Fence Line Planting

In the suburban New York/New Jersey gardens where I do much of my landscape design work, fences are a part of the landscape. They become, by virtue of the height and length, a major landscape feature–whether intended or not. Creating a planting scheme to complement them depends on the fence and the homeowner’s intent for their yard and the shade sun patterns created by the fence itself.  The two examples below are stylistically different, but both are created in a very narrow space and require minimal care.

A hot, small space between a fence and a driveway can become a lush cottage garden that requires little water and simple maintenance.  For this small project I wanted the formality of the fence to be softened by the relaxed planting style. The white fence is a major player in the design  and a visual partner to bloom and foliage colors that are limited to yellow, blue and grey.

Perennials and Driveway fence

Yarrow and fenceFastigiate and dwarf varieties of plants are excellent choices for creating a layered interesting planting design in a narrow space. In the backyard below, the homeowner asked me for as much flat green space for three teenage boys to practice sports. Plants needed to be able to withstand errant balls and and occasional out of bounds play. The garden is less than four feet wide and is a straight line along the fence. It is layered to create four season interest and is composed of three plants:  fastigiate hornbeams (Carpinis betulus ‘Fastigata), a diminutive weigela–Weigla florida ‘Midnight Wine’ for color and spring bloom, and upright, narrow boxwood Buxus sempervirens ‘Monrue’  (Green Tower boxwood).  The maintenance consists of weeding and mulching when necessary and an annual prune for the boxwood.

Fence planting

 

 

Trials and Neglect in my Home Garden

I’m not a landscape designer who has a wonderfully designed garden that is a terrific advertisement for my craft at my home. I should, I live on a corner, but as I’ve shared here before it’s mostly a neglected mess with good bones and a rotating cast of plants. My home garden is quirky and in a constant state of flux. Since my landscape design practice is design only, I don’t have a crew I can ‘borrow’ for the big tasks, so they wait and are ignored for as long as possible. I’m mostly not very motivated to work in my own garden after spending my days designing beautiful ones for others.

This spring I wanted to do a major switch out of some elements in the garden to enable me to try some new plants and design ideas.  I grow plants to observe and trial that I want to try in my design work and I have limited space. That means every few years some have to go to make room for others.

cleaned out garden at hedges

Beyond my own neglectful gardening style, my garden is under siege. Deer, rabbits, feral cats, squirrels, chipmunks and voles and dogs who are allowed to pee on my plants are the culprits.  The yard is unfenced and I don’t water regularly or provide much in the way of added nutrients beyond compost and good soil to start with. Usually the plants that I take out are victims of their own success.  Over a period of  time they have proven themselves to me as worthy.  All have been in my garden a minimum of three full growing years  which is my loose time frame to trial a plant.

Here are my anecdotal notes on some of the plants which survived and thrived  and were removed yesterday to make room for others.  There is also a plant that I was sorry to see gone…I wasn’t ready to wave goodbye to it just yet.

Amsonia hubrichtii– I grew this from a 4″ pot and it became a monster–the one remaining plant was almost 4′ across and 3′ high.  It was never bothered by deer but it was also not a a plant I loved beyond the lovely light blue bloom in mid-spring.  Mine never had the brilliant fall color–just a dull gold.  The pests never bothered it.

Cornus alba ‘Elegantisima’–Grown from a big box cast off 1 gallon pot.  I loved the variagated foliage and the red twigs in winter, but it was too big even when coppiced regularly.  It is a vigorous grower and has a loose informal shape when left to its own devices. The pests left it alone completely. The image below was taken just after a freezing rain.

Cornus alba 'Elegantisima'

Vernonia noveboracensis–I like really tall perennials and I love this plant in the wild.  I’d rather have plants that don’t self seed everywhere in my garden since I don’t have time to edit them.  The exception to that is Verbena bonariensis.  As for the Veronia,  I don’t have enough room for this garden giant that thrives on neglect!  Over 6′ tall with violet blooms in late summer. I just got tired of it. No pest problems whatsoever.

 

Vernonia noveboracensis

Rhus typhina ‘Tiger Eyes’ and  Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Firetale’–These are paired together because I bought them as a pair.  The thought was to have the pink Persecaria grow up through the yellow leaves of the Rhus.  They did for one season.  I over romanticized the Rhus, it is a rangy looking thug. It looks fantastic in a pot though.  I can see why people fall for it and I would consider using it in a container.  It spread on its root stock into the lawn and other areas of the garden.  The Persecaria is supposed to be a thug…it’s a dud.  It didn’t thrive on my neglect and lack of ample moisture.  The good news is that neither were bothered by much of anything else.  The critters left both alone.

Rhus and Persecaria

 

The plant that bothered me to remove was a prized Styrax japonicus ‘Emerald Pagoda’.  Two years ago when the 17 year cycle of cicadas had them chomping leaves and creating garden mayhem everywhere–except my town, my young Styrax was the only plant  in my garden that was attacked. I decided to watch it and hope for the best.  I didn’t get my wish and it sadly went to the compost heap yesterday.

So what is going to take the place of everything I removed?  Plants I’ve never grown before…

Filoli

Garden Visit: Filoli

My visit last week to one of the great American gardens, Filoli, in northern California, was a revelation in many ways.  I have wanted to visit since I first saw pictures of it years ago. The garden was designed in the early 20th century by its original homeowners with a team of architects, artists, and horticulturists. There is no known master plan yet it has survived largely in tact which is a rarity for American estate gardens of this size and scope.

Filoli

Sometimes my travels are guided by my desire to experience specific places firsthand. My trip to Marrakesh and Majorelle was one of those. Standing in a place, in real time and feeling the human factor and scale is important. At Filoli it is very important.  As big as the garden is, it feels intimate.  There is a succession of garden rooms unified through the use of specific plants as well as how they are used.

Filoli Yews and Boxwood Hedges

Thinking about what a design might have looked like in plan view and then ‘feeling’ it out on the ground makes me think about the power of great design. For me, a photograph can never replace the human experience.  The intersection between the man made and the natural interests me as a landscape designer. Ultimately what I design are places for people. Filoli is definitely a garden for people.

Filoli Gardens

In landscape design terms, I want to see what the designer(s) intended from my own 5’7″ viewpoint. Being in a place and noting how the site was honored or not, how I am directed to move through it by plants and paths, how I experience hidden, surprise and obvious views, by noting the themes and repetitive motifs, by seeing how the elements all hang together allows me to grow and stretch as a designer.  These visits are my master classes, learning from others firsthand, yet through my own lens of experience.

Cherry trees at Filoli

Pansy parterre at Filoli

Of the many gardens I’ve visited, none use the axial views better than Filoli. They are strong and thoughtful, directing views and embracing the surrounding California landscape.  It is both very symmetrical and not at all.

Filoli Axial view through gateFiloli axial view through the gardenFiloli axial view with tulips and yewsFiloli Axial view with brick walk and stepsFiloli Axial view from bench

Filoli as a designed space is overwhelmingly about rectangles–on the ground plane as well as on the vertical plane. There are very few curves…an arch here, a round fountain there or a boxwood ball. Even the famous cylindrical yew towers read as rectangles.  Although traditional, it doesn’t feel dated or outmoded.

Filoli rectagular garden

Filoli pink and blue garden

The rectangles are softened with exuberant plantings in calculated and calibrated color palettes.  They are punctuated by clipped and trained plants. There are pollarded sycamores and espaliered fruit trees as well as a beech hedge and cascading varieties of wisteria. The hundreds of yews are the stars of the garden.  The plants are used design elements at Filoli.  They are equal players defining as well as decorating space.

Yews at Filoli

Filoli pollarded trees

Filoli view from hilltop

I was happy to spend a day in great company, walking and talking in this remarkable garden. It exceeded my expectations and I felt as if I cheated our late out of the gate spring in New Jersey with a few days of bloom and sunshine on the California coast.  Visit if you can.

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.

 

 

My Award Winning Garden Design

Last fall, I entered a garden I designed in New Jersey in 2015 APLD International Landscape Design Awards in the Planting Design category. It was awarded the highest honor, a Gold Award. To be honest, I knew the value of the design, but since it is the antithesis of current planting trends, I was really pleased. Current trends in planting design seem to require ornamental grasses and meadow-like qualities. This garden has neither, but that doesn’t make it unsustainable or unfriendly to all  but deer.

Lee Hill Farm 3

The garden’s underlying structure of boxwood hedging and pyramids gives it definition. My client specifically asked that I not use any ornamental grasses as they felt they were too ‘beachy’ looking.  The 7800 square foot garden was originally built in the 1920s when the 15 acre property had a working greenhouse and two full-time gardeners. The bones of that garden remained: stonework in disrepair, heaved brick walks, and a leaky concrete pond.

pots et al 010

pots et al 009

Lee Hill Farm 1 Before

The homeowners wanted to re-imagine the space in the spirit of the original, but with lower maintenance and an eye towards family use and deer resistance. A new stone wall was built to create a level terrace on the west slope with new gravel paths and existing brick walks that were excavated and re-laid linking to existing steps.

pots et al 011

rumson, harding, westfield, scranton 039

Lee Hill Farm 9

Planting beds were edged with recycled steel and damaged stonework was repaired. Millstones from throughout the property were inserted into the relaid brick paths to indicate transitions. The homeowner repaired the pond with salvaged parts; inexpensive off the shelf, steel arbors were added to support climbing roses; and drip irrigation installed.

Lee Hill Farm 6

Planting plans from the 1940s were available and indicated that the original garden had a color palette of deep blues and pinks punctuated with seasonal yellow and white accents. They were the inspiration for the new seasonal bloom sequence that starts out predominantly blue, white and pink; changes to white, yellow and pink; and back to blue, white, and pink. The historic property had been documented as General Lafayette’s winter headquarters at some point during the Revolution. Boxwood hedges and repeating pyramids are a nod to formal 18th century French gardens. That they are also deer resistant and provide winter interest was also considered. An organic maintenance plan was put in place–the evidence of this is the seeded areas between the natural bluestone slabs which as long as they are ‘green’ are mowed and left to their own devices.

Lee Hill Farm 5Lee Hill Farm 8Lee Hill Farm 10

The finished garden is lush and sensual with abundant bloom and textural interest.  It is a traditional garden that was never meant to be ‘naturalistic’, but it was, and is meant to be of its time and place and I’m very grateful that it has received an award as acknowledgement that it’s okay not to follow the trends.

Photography by Rich Pomerantz and Susan Cohan.  All rights reserved.

 

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 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.

Veronia and maple

Planting Design: Late Fall Texture and Color

Now that we’ve begun the season of darkness and it looks like midnight at 5 pm, bursts of golden color during the day is important. I love the last of the riot of color and texture that is in my front home garden.  The details become very important.

Veronia and maple

Vernonia noveboracensis (New York Ironweed) seed heads and browned leaves and stems against a background of Acer rubrum ‘Autumn Blaze’ (Red maple) foliage.

I look for plants that at minimum do three seasons of heavy lifting even if it’s in a period of decay.  They have to be tough and deer resistant.  They also have to play well with others and offer opportunities for textural combinations since most of their bloom times are fairly short lived.  Here are some of the stars in my New Jersey home garden in late fall.  None are difficult to grow or find and all are suitable for a small space–some take up airspace like the narrow yet 7′ tall Veronia rather than having a big footprint others like the Amsonia need a wide birth and frequent division to keep them where they are.

Leucanthumum superbum 'Becky'

Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Becky’ (Shasta Daisy) 

Cotinus coggygria 'Ancot'

Cotinus coggygria ‘Ancot’ (Golden Spirit Smokebush)

Amsonia and sedum

Amsonia hubrichtii (Threadleaf  bluestar) and Sedum x ‘Autum Joy’

Fothergilla gardenii and red twigged dogowood

Fothergilla gardenii foliage and Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’ (Red Twigged Dogwood) twigs.

Crabapple

Malus x ‘Coralburst’ (dwarf crabapple) fruits.

Vernonia noveboracensis seed heads

 Vernonia noveboracensis (New York Ironweed) seed heads.

 

Garden Designers Roundtable: Design on the Diagonal

Anyone who has tried to learn the art of garden and landscape design has had the unifying principles of rhythm, and repetition branded in their brains along with texture, form and color.  I always found this to be confusing and way too much to think about in the fluid process that is my creative workflow.

What is less discussed and a too often missed is a simple tool I call ‘Love the Diagonal.’ My landscape design students get this drilled into their brains before any of the others because it can unify a design and create an emotive design experience without any of the others. The rule is simple: Use the other principles, but place the same or similar elements (plants especially) diagonally through a design.

Simple diagonal plant repitition

It may seem counter intuitive, the geometry, that is, but in the design process, the act of placing and layering elements in diagonal sequences can lead to a complex solution that is both fluid and natural. Several examples below illustrate this process.

Diagonal repetition of key plants

These elements will be visual guideposts as well as unifying features.  It really doesn’t matter what they are.

diagonal textural plant repetition

Always imagine a human experience.  What will the eye see and how will the senses work in concert with the act of moving through a space?  How can sight beckon and be the first  of the garden’s experiential moments beyond a ‘Wow’?  Not a singular focal point, but a siren’s song of visual clues.  Changes in color and plant choices can be made without even knowing what they will be until the very end.  It’s then easy to go back and edit, identify, and apply the other design principles to the planting design.

multiple design layers diagonals

 

Diagonal design in practice is an opportunity to create visual experiences while moving through a garden or landscape.  Gardens and landscapes, after all are about human experience.  Geranium x Rozanne repeated diagonally on the path in the example below forms visual guideposts to the patio beyond.  Color repetition between the yellow Hemerocallis spp. and the Rudebeckia spp. across the path lift the garden experience upward.  The fine textural and color repetition of the burgundy Berberis and Acer disectum pull that visual experience through the space to it’s conclusion.

Diagonal garden designOnce mastered, every planting scheme will look good.  Try the diagonal, next time you’re planning a design and ignore the rule of odd numbers too…

To learn more about design principles today, visit other landscape designer’s posts from the Garden Designer’s Roundtable series.

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO
David Cristiani : It’s A Dry Heat : Albuquerque, NM
Mary Gallagher Gray : Black Walnut Dispatch : Washington, D.C.
Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK
Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN

 

Planting Design: Planting for Fall Drama

I never tire of visiting other people’s gardens. Good or bad they always have something to teach me.  This past weekend I visited two.  One in New Jersey and the other across the Delaware River in Pennsylvania.  They both showcased ornamental grasses and their power to transform an autumn garden.

James Golden writes about his garden on a wonderful blog, View from Federal Twist.  He describes himself as a ‘new American’ style gardener.  What he is really is a an engaged and talented plantsman with an eye for design.  I previously visited and wrote about his Brooklyn garden for  Leaf  but leaped at the opportunity to spend a day talking gardens and design at his country garden.  It will be open for Garden Conservancy Open Days on October 19th if you want to see it in person.

James Golden Pond at Federal Twist Miscanthus and Sanguisorba Wave Hill chairs and grasses

After lunch and shopping for some hairspray (see the tale at the end of this post) we visited Paxon Hill Farm.  The display gardens there were glorious and interesting and full of fall ideas for planting.  It would be worth it to couple a visit here with the Open Days tour.

Pond at Paxon Hill Farm

 

Paxon Hill Farm Display Garden

Hairspray?  I suggested that James use it to keep some of the seed heads in tact that he wants to keep for winter interest without having to worry about self seeding.  Not the average garden tool, but it should work very well.  My preference is for unscented Aqua Net. Don’t knock it ’till you’ve tried it.

 

 

Ogre

Garden Visit: Atlanta Botanical Garden

I’m in Atlanta for the inaugural Garden Bloggers Conference and I came two days early to explore.  Yesterday, visiting the Atlanta Botanical Garden with friends and fellow landscape designers Kathy and Tom Carmichael. we were beset by monsters!

Ogre

But seriously.  The garden’s blockbuster installation of creatures was produced by the same team, the International Mosaiculture of Montreal,  who have built fantastical creatures around the world since 1998.  There is another group of them on view until September 29th at the Montreal Botanic Garden.  These are huge.  Some are 20′ tall and made of thousands of plants.

Cobra

 

Unicorn

I suspect these creatures were the reason the garden was so crowded.  There were long lines at the ticket booth as well as streams of cars entering the garden all day long. This is a very good thing for a public garden.  Often they are quiet places with few visitors. My favorite creature was the Earth Goddess.  She was beautiful and built in a way that she appeared to spring forth from the surrounding woods and water.

Earth Goddess

Mien Ruys

Planting Design: Ornamental Grass Hedges

It’s the season when ornamental grasses are doing their best to be the stars of the landscape.  The current trend of naturalistic and meadow-like plantings are perfect for ornamental grasses, but so are hedges.

In this garden, designed by Mien Ruys who considered to be the mother of the current naturalistic planting movement, a Miscanthus hedge sits next to one that is traditional, clipped and evergreen. The possibilities are evident.

Mien Ruys

Many grasses can be planted as hedging both tall and short.  They can stand independently or be used as low edging. Below, two types of grasses, a Pennisetum and a Miscanthus, are used by Belgian design firm Archi-Verde as free-standing hedges.  It would be refreshing to use grasses as the ‘outline’ in a parterre instead of the traditional evergreen edging much in the same way the Victorians used annuals to create highly patterned effects.

Grass hedges

Grass hedges can add color or be designed to be a textural through-line in a garden much like any other linear element.  At his own property in New York state, photographer Larry Lederman, has created a bright yellow hedge of Hakonechloa macra ‘Aurea’.

Hakonechloa hedge

Image via New York Social Diary

The best part about these hedges is that they need very, very little in the way of maintenance.  Cut them down once a year and divide them every few years.  A low maintenance hedge?  Now that’s something to consider.

 

 

 

Planting Bambi’s Buffet

Twelve years ago I built a garden on what was a deer path in my narrow side yard.  Why? To experiment with plants primarily for deer resistance, but also to know and grow new plants for my landscape designs.  I don’t generally plant things for clients that I haven’t grown.  That means this garden as well as my others are in a constant state of upheaval and change.  The side yard gets almost totally replanted every three to five years; the others which are more public get things tucked in or dug up.

Side yard unplanted

This is a replanting year for the side yard.  Many of the previous plant experiments have been removed.  Some of the structural plants or things that I’m attached to for whatever emotional tug they have on me remain.  The space was better designed and built out of entirely found materials when I started it (below), now it’s somewhat of a hodgepodge with a nod to design.

narrow side yard garden

The garden faces south and has hot sun in the middle of the day with shade on each end as well damp areas and those that are dry so it suits a wide range of situations.  The soil has been amended in the same way I would have a garden prepared anywhere–with rich organic matter and not much else.

Here are the 5 I’m most excited about from a much more extensive planting list.

Aesculus parvivlora var. serotina ‘Rogers’ – I’ve wanted to grow this for years.  It’s a tough sell to a client though since they usually look like they’re defective in containers in the nursery.  This is a plant for someone with patience…I have that!

Aesculus parviflora var

Bouteloua gracillis ‘Blonde Ambition’ -I don’t have a good image from the plants I bought because it looks crappy in the container right now, but I have high hopes for this one.  I love it’s airy qualtiy and that’s hard to find in a small ornamental grass.  Here’s a link.

Helenium x ‘Ruby Tuesday’ – I’ve killed more Heleniums than I have previously admitted to, but I keep trying…

Helenium x Ruby Tuesday

Hypericum x ‘Blue Velvet’ – much finer foliage than its cousins.  Grey blue too.  I’ve had great success with every Hypericum I’ve grown and use the groundcover Hypericum calycinum often.  It’s a fantastic and showy semi-evergreen groundcover for a south facing slope which in my mind is akin to planting Hell.

Hypericum

Stachys monieri ‘Hummelo’ (also known as Stachys alpina ‘Hummelo’) – I’m finally getting around to a plant that everyone raves about–it’s not blooming right now but has very beautiful foliage.  We’ll see if it makes the appetizer tray in Bambi’s buffet!

Stachys monieri 'Hummelo' foliage

 So in a couple of seasons I’ll let you know what’s been eaten at this buffet since you’ll see them in future designs if they hold up.  In the meantime I’m going to try some in client’s gardens that have sturdy deer fences!

 

 

Planting Design: A Wet Shady Meadow

I will admit to having to take some time to wrap my head around an addition to a garden that we installed last year.  Although we have improved the overall drainage on the expansive site, there is one pesky area that is still a little bit damp.  It’s walk-able and mow-able, but my client has come around to what I had originally suggested for the spot – a wet, shady meadow.

Meadow style plantings and damp shade don’t have to be mutually exclusive and here are three plants I’m considering to give it multi-season color, drama and texture.  They are all in my experience reasonably deer resistant also.

Rogersia pinnata – a plant I haven’t used in a couple of years since most of the shady spots I’ve been working in have been dry woodlands.  I’m going to try two varieties for their rough texture and difference in foliage and bloom color.  The one I’m most excited about is ‘Chocolate Wings’

Lobelia silphatica – one of my favorite self seeders.  My current client LOVES blue.  It may be the perfect plant for this area.

Juncus inflexus ‘Blue Arrows’ – another choice for color and fine threadlike foliage with a stiff vertical habit

I’m excited about this part of the project because it allows me to flex and stretch in ways that I don’t always have the opportunity to do.

 

 

 

Ferns and Grasses

Field Trip: Native Plant Garden at NYBG

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

Ferns and Grasses

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

Foam Flowers - Tiarella cordifolia

Woodland edge

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

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

boxwood hedging

Planting Design: Wave Hedges

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

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

boxwood hedging

 

Wave hedge foundation plan

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.

Hubert de Givenchy and Gardens

Hubert de Givenchy is better known his couture creations for Audrey Hepurn than he is as a champion of gardens.  But champion he is. Upon retirement in 1995, he was a key player in the restoration of the Potager du Roi (the King’s Vegetable Garden) at Versailles.  Since then Givenchy has created a very French yet very modern parterre at his chateau in the Loire Valley, Le Jonchet.

Givenchy, Le Jonchet Parterre

In the 16th century, parterres (which don’t have to have any flowers at all) were called referred to as gardens a la francaise. Low clipped boxwood in patterns so ornate they resembled embroidery we’re actually called parterre de broderie and reached their peak at Versailles and were, as a style, appropriated by the upper classes across Europe.  Large parterres required skilled maintenance and were labor intensive and exist today in more contemporary forms.

Parterre at Versailles

Image above via Pinterest 

Back to Monsieur du Givenchy.  The simple circular pattern of the parterre at Le Jonchet is what makes it able to exist today.  Instead of broderie the pattern looks like embroidery hoops–fitting for a retired couturier.  I don’t know if that was the intent.  Although it still requires precise clipping and care, it is totally contemporary and utterly French.  It is a garden I can enjoy, but not necessarily want.

Givenchy, Le Jonchet Parterre

Givenchy, Le Jonchet

The images of Givenchy’s Le Jonchet are from the December 2012 issue of World of Interiors…one of my favorite magazines.

Garden in autumn

My Dirty, Little Garden Secret

Yes, I have a secret.  You may have noticed that I haven’t posted anything about my own gardens this year.  That’s because I have a dirty, little secret about them.

Here it is.  For the past year I have done nothing in the garden besides cutting back my neighbor’s wisteria before it overtook my studio windows and pull one giant weed.  I really mean nothing.  No supplemental water, no mulch, no deadheading or cutting back, no planting, no weeding, no deer spray, no nothing other than what I mentioned above.

Garden in autumn
My front garden in the fog a few days ago

Why?  I wanted to see just how little maintenance the various gardens could takebefore they looked truly awful.  Why?  This is what happens to my installed gardens more often than not with unskilled labor taking care of them.  That and all of the shrubs are pruned within an inch of their lives.

Here’s what happened.  The two gardens that were largely perennials and grasses look like hell.  The two that are mixed-shrubs, trees, and perennials look fine–a little blowsy but fine.  I do (honking my own horn) attribute the success of these two gardens to good design.

I will have hell to pay later on and the Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica) and the wild onions will need a hard taskmaster next year.  My gardener friends are appalled, but my neighbors still stop when I’m outside and tell me how beautiful the gardens are.  So now my secret is out.

Spring Brights in the Garden

Early spring is coming early here this year.  Gardens are bursting with unseasonably warm weather.  Here are two stars of the early spring garden (blooming this week) that are much more interesting and super substitutes for the ubiquitous forsythia.

Cornus mas is a small flowering tree, hardy to Z5 with beautiful exfoliating bark and foliage that makes it a great choice for small gardens.  Here it’s paired with Jasminum nudiflorum (Winter Jasmine), a semi-evergreen low growing shrub that is hardy to Z6.  I love to use it draping over walls.

 

Flower Shows vs. Garden Shows

There is an important distinction other than age (183 years) for the Philadelphia International Flower Show and most others…it’s a flower show…not a flower and garden show.  Floral designers, event planners, amateur and professional horticulturalists show and compete alongside landscape designers and nurseries.  This mix all happens inside a vacuous convention center with an industrial roof instead of sky and a concrete floor instead of soil.

I make the distinction because so many cry ‘fake’– ‘just theater’–‘unrealistic’ when it is supposed to be exactly that.  A show of flowers out of season and all jumbled up in new and exciting ways that can lead us to think about them differently.

One of my favorite parts of the show are the evening bags and jewelry made out of seeds, leaves, twigs and other plant parts.  They are super creative.  The one below was as glamorous as any Judith Leiber evening bag.

Gingko leaves, arborvitae foliage, cantaloupe seeds and more make this 'bag'

Another favorite (I’ve written about them in another year here) was Moda Botanica’s (a Philadelphia based floral and event design company) kinetic display of foliage that every viewer could change by manipulating the panels via large hand cranks.  It was super creative.

Foliage, bird netting , bicycle chain and plexiglass were used here

Since the real reason for my trip this year was to cover a display garden we’re featuring in the next issue of  Leaf Magazine you’ll have to wait until April 1st for that and the one major new trend I spotted!

Late Winter Plants in glorious bloom!

Earlier this week I walked around The New York Botanical Gardens with landscape designer Naomi Brooks of Verdant Landscapes.  The two of us were like kids released into the sunshine after a day too long in school.  Our walk was stop and go as we oooh’d and ahhh’d and took photos of plants in bloom.

Here’s what made me stop and think that I really need to pay more attention to the late winter garden.  I think I’ll challenge myself to make one when I finally settle on a new house.

Prunus mume 'Matsurabara Red'
The lovely native Hamamelis vernalis
Wild and wonderful Edgeworthia chrysantha
Helleborus x ericsmithii 'HGC Silvermoon' holds its blooms up!
Hamamelis x intermedia 'Primavera' was one of many varieties blooming
My favorite viburnum...V. bodnantense 'Dawn'
We all know how much I love Mahonia bealei...

Just a note…The botantical gardens are probably a full zone warmer than my 6B, but in a regular winter many of these are blooming here too.  There, though, the Jasminum nudiflorum (Winter Jasmine) and many of the winter Camellias were already largely bloomed out.

 

 

Garden Portrait: Boat’s End, Australia

Since the local bookstore with a great selection of foreign magazines closed I have missed leafing through (and buying) stacks of international design magazines.  Now, unless I’m making a trip to NYC where I now buy and browse, I look for them on the web.  So with that backstory…I was enthralled with Sarah and Roger Budarick’s drought tolerant garden, Boat’s End, in Australian House and Garden.

The garden combines Australian natives and compatible non-natives to dramatic effect.  The scale, color and vistas in this garden is what I’m attracted to.  I can’t grow most of the plants in my zone 6 climate that gets plenty of water.  I can, however, take away plenty of design inspiration!

Photo credits:  top to bottom all by Brigid Arnott.

There was a previous article about the garden in Gardening Australia that goes into much more detail.

Black and Tan–a dramatic winter palette

During the summer months, the busy corner where these grasses are on the street side of the fence is nothing special.  In midwinter, however, they made me stop, look and shoot some photos.  This bold color palette would be just as dramatic if there was snow…which there isn’t.

Charcoal fence with tan grasses

There are several colors that would be great for a dark fence like this and could make a combo just as dramatic.  Midwinter is the perfect time for some drama in the garden!

Texture and color is what makes this work

Not all greys and blacks are created equal.  Here are three dark hues that can mimic the fence color but not necessarily read as black or grey–although they are.  All are from my local paint stores, so they’re not exotic or super expensive.  Left to right: the closest to a true black is Sherwin Williams Tricorn Black SW6258, Blacktop 2135-10 from Benjamin Moore has green undertones, and another from Sherwin Williams is Bohemian Black SW6988 that has a decidedly plum cast and would be a strong design statement as a fence stain.

Any of these would make a wonderful background for a variety of plantings and would read as a color in winter and up drama quotient when we need it most.

House and Home – Raffia End Page

The Canadian shelter magazine, House and Home got it almost right.  On the very last page of the May 2011 issue is a feature titled ‘Raffia’.  Picking up on multiple trends from several design disciplines–handmade, natural materials, neutral beiges and tans as well as lean modern design– it features them together.  What they could have also done was add a few plants and/or outdoor specific accessories for a total living trend. Here’s the post and some additions of my own…

Raffia

The sedges are particularly suited to this idea….

Carex testacea

Peeling and exfoliating bark is another way to add plants to this idea.

Heptacodium miconiodes (Seven Son Flower)

Probably this easiest match would be many of the ornamental grasses…

 

Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster'

I didn’t think that was so hard…did you?