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.


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.

Design vs. A Sense of Place

I’m not an architecture critic.  I am someone who loves great architecture both contemporary and historic. In my work as a landscape designer part of my focus is to create landscapes and gardens that surround the attendant architecture in such a way that the design partnership between them is timeless and seamless.  As a designer this may seem counter intuitive, but I believe that the best design has a sense of place and that my hand in that should be less, rather than more, visible.

Last week I visited Frank Gehry’s new building for the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris.  It is a tour de force of glass and structure.

Gehry's Fondation Louis Vuitton from streetFondation Louis Vuitton Paris

It stands alone in the Bois de Boulogne. Its sail-like architectural exoskelleton is remarkable, but it is a single design statement that has little or no relationship to its surroundings. I have seen his buildings and structures in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, and now Paris, and in each and every case they dominate rather than caress.

In an urban environment with competing architectural statements like the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles or the IAC building viewed from the High Line in New York (both below), this isn’t so obvious. But in the Parisien forest park, the building is very beautiful, but it is not of the place it’s in and that bothers me.

Gehry Disney Concert Hall LA copyGehry IAC building in NYC

I admire the imagination and innovation in Gehry’s work. The buildings themselves are structures of great beauty. I enjoy the intellectual challenges that his architecture presents me with, but what I now don’t like is how they don’t sit on the land with ease.  Even through the viewing prism of Lurie Park in Chicago the Pritzker Pavillion sits above it, alone and lofty as a single statement.

Gehry Pritzker Pavillion Chicago

I believe it is our responsibility as designers and architects to embrace and celebrate our surroundings, and so, while I admire Gehry’s vision and virtuosity, as well as the power his buildings have to draw admiring crowds and challenge the status quo I wish they would also honor the land they are on.

Garden Travel: Back and Forth

Next week I’m travelling again. This time on a search for garden antiques and vintage in the markets in Paris and parts of Belgium. I am continuing on to Rome for a few days of play after that. For the first time in many, many years, I won’t be taking my laptop with me.  I’ve traded the bulk and weight for my camera stuff and a tablet, so please follow my Instagram account for what I see and off the cuff inspiration.

I’ve also been waiting a while to post about a visit to Vizcaya when I was in Miami in November so here it is.  I was enchanted.  For a landscape designer, like me, who finds inspiration in classicism and order, this garden was sublime.  Inspired by Venice, yet built in the tropics, it transcended my expectations–which were high to begin with.  We arrived in the rain which magically stopped when I went out to the garden.

vizcaya main parterre

Lush and green, in November, Vizcaya was largely flowerless which did not detract from its interest.  Layers of texture, geometric forms and varied stone and stucco create the depth.

Vizcaya Levels of geometry

Interesting uses of repeated geometric shapes–circles, triangles and rectangles on both the horizontal and vertical planes create cohesion and draw the eye through the garden.  A single pop of color creates a focal point.  Great editing is what makes great design, not piling up detail upon detail just to have them.

Vizcaya Symmetry

The same view from a few steps over takes the asymmetric organization of the previous view to one of almost perfect symmetry.

Vizcaya mashup of traditional and local materials

Celebrating Italian gardens and Floridian materials using coral stone, native limestone and juxtaposing them with Italian terra cotta and antique statuary and urns.

vizcaya secret garden

I’ve often thought that any garden style can be interpreted within the context of a specific region or plant group.  A formal planting in the secret garden using cactus, grasses and agaves for structure and interest.

Vizcaya inside the summer house

Last but not least was the summer house with views of the Grand Canal–a conceit if there ever was one complete with gondola moorings.  This structure has been damaged during the Florida hurricane season and needs repair, but still had incredibly beautiful mosaic floor and lattice work.

There was much more to see, and if getting away from the cold dreary winter is on your list…Vizcaya fits the bill perfectly.


A Year beyond Miss R…

When I become this inconsistent, something is going on.  What has it been?  Life and work. Yes, Miss R has been part of that mix, but 2014 has been an odd year. It’s been an awakening of sorts. I love to write, but there are things that are more important to me than that.  I’ve rediscovered my three happiest places –at the drawing board, indulging my gypsy feet, and my newest obsession, photography.

I made a yearlong commitment to be the President of APLD and I wrote some interesting (I hope) stories for Garden Design magazine. I organized a European Objects and Oranments tour for designers that will happen the end of January. I fulfilled a twenty year long dream of going to Morocco and along the way something had to give and Miss R was it.  Here’s a rear view mirror of the year…in pictures of course!

I suspect 2015 will be just as sporadic for Miss R as I’ve already made commitments for more travel to wander and to speak at various events (roughly in order)–to Paris, Brussels and Rome; to Detroit and San Francisco; to Toronto, Baltimore and Chicago; and finally back to Washington, DC. Phew!  If you are in any of those places and want to try and meet up, email me and I’ll do my best!  In the meantime, Happy New Year to you and yours!




Garden Travel: Architectural Swoon in Miami Beach

It’s no secret that I’ve been exploring Art Deco forms as inspiration for garden designs. I’ve always been drawn to the geometry and order, even when I started my career as a jewelry designer. Many of the preeminent decorative styles of the early 20th century have this type of order – Bauhaus, DeStijl, Viennese Secessionist (Josef Hoffman’s work is another swoon), Art Moderne and Art Deco and they still draw me in. When the opportunity to visit Miami Beach after the APLD Landscape Design Conference in Orlando last week I jumped at the chance.  There was much more than this going on, including visits to several Raymond Jungle’s projects and Vizcaya, which I’ll write about in the coming weeks, but oh, those buildings in Miami brought me joy.

Each morning, before my companions were up I set out at dawn to take pictures–many of the buildings are on the beach and face east–I wanted the morning light.  Here are just a few of hundreds of these gems.  I think about taking the graphic quality of these facades, laying them down flat and using them in plan view as a starting point for planting beds and paths–I don’t think literally.

Miami Art Deco Jefferson Road McAlpin Ocean Drive the Carlton The Crescent The Kent

Villa Paradiso

The LeslieThe Shepley

The Congress The Tudor

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


Sphinx at Hillwood Washington DC

A Tale of Two Garden Sphinxes

Imagine my surprise, while visiting Hillwood Museum and Gardens, when I saw this sphinx at the entrance to the formal gardens.  There are four of them.  I’ve seen them before, in bronze at Blairsden–the house that is also the location for a garden I’ve designed for APLDNJ for this year’s Mansion in May.

The sphinx at Hillwood…

Sphinx at Hillwood Washington DC

The slightly different but not all that much sphinx at Blairsden.

Sphinx at Blairsden

I don’t know a lot about these types of sphinxes, but the similarities are remarkable don’t you think?

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.


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!


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.




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

A Quick Start to the New Year

The calendar year has changed again, so there’s news to report- for the next two months anyway. Change is good in my world, as is a good adventure! Beginning yesterday, I became the President Elect of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD). Yikes!

I’m travelling and speaking for the next two months. Want to meet up? Tweet me @susancohan to let me know you’re there…


Here’s where:

Baltimore, Maryland – January 10 I’ll be walking MANTS that day…finding inspiration and new ideas.

Denver, Colorado – January 15-17 I’ll be speaking at ProGreen about creativity and all things viaual and digital including Leaf and Pinterest. Here are the links to my workshops: Jan. 16/11:30, Jan. 16/2:45

Dallas, Texas – January 26-27 This is an APLD leadership event…I’ll be in the bar.

Brooklyn, New York – January 27 I’ll be attending Plant-O-Rama at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and catching up with everyone – come and say Hi!

New York, New York – January 28 I’ll be walking the NYIGF scouting stories for my clients and stories for Leaf

Bronx, New York – January 29 I’ll be attending Tom Stuart-Smith’s talk at the New York Botantical Gardens come and say Hi!

Seattle, Washington – February 17-22 I’m a NWFGS judge (that’s scary!) and speaker – I’ll be going to a bunch of events within the BIG event

Secaucus, NJ – February 27 I’ll be in the APLDNJ booth at the NJLCA trade show talking, talking, talking!

And if all of that’s not exhausting enough…I’ll be working on some on-going design projects and getting the Spring edition of Leaf ready with the team…phew!


Benzinger Winery Insectary Trellises

Barrel Stave Garden Trellis

Before I start dashing around this morning I wanted to share this with you.  While in California two weeks ago with APLD, I visited Benzinger Family Winery in Sonoma.  They have an incredible biodynamic operation that among many other things includes an insectary.

Benzinger Winery Insectary Trellises

I keep on thinking about these beautiful, sculptural trellis structures in the insectary that were in part made from re-purposed barrel staves and wondering how I can interpret the idea in a client’s design.

Miss R on the road…visiting gardens

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


APLD President, Bobbie Schwartz

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

In my Reader…Perspectives from an Italian Garden

Just when spring was warming up–it snowed this week on gardens in the  NY/NJ metropolitan area…twice.  I started dreaming about being someplace else…anywhere really.   I let Gervais de Bedee take me to his corner of Italy and on his travels throughout Europe via his beautiful blog Perspectives from an Italian Garden.  Always elegant and classic in its point of view, Bedee’s blog also reflects the broad range of his interests from gardens to food to art to interiors.  Here’s a quick tour of some European (plus one from Morocco) gardens…

Villa d'Este, Lake Cuomo


Private garden, Taroudant, Morocco


Potager at Arabella Lenox-Boyd's garden 'Gresgarth'


Townhouse Entry, London


Small garden, El Escorial, Spain


A Tale of Two Fences…

One of the big benefits of having a visual memory is that I frequently connect images that have only a tenuous relationship to each other.

These urban fences are almost 3000 miles apart.  Both are extraordinary designs.  Both stand on land that was once wasted.  One has had civic support, the other community support. I saw them almost exactly a year apart.  I knew as soon as I saw the second one that I wanted to see them together, so I’m indulging my whim.

Portland 2009–Tanner Springs Park–Undulating Steel Fence

One of three city parks planned in 1999 by Peter Walker Associates, Tanner Spring Park is controversial.  It reclaimed industrial wasteland and restored the original stream and wetland environment in an otherwise urban environment.  Some residents don’t see it as very ‘parklike’.

The outside of the fence at Tanner Springs Park
Insets in the fence panels

Inside the park
Reclaiming industrial wasteland

Buffalo 2010–Urban Roots Cooperative Garden Center–Totemic Concrete Fence

This fence is on the boundary of what will be a contemporary park on 18th Street and Rhode Island Street in Buffalo, NY and is largely being built through volunteer efforts.  The fence was created with the help of a New York State Council of the Arts grant and the park will be a balm in an otherwise gritty urban neighborhood.  Urban Roots the only cooperative garden center in the country, shares the fence with the park.

Outside of the garden center
Fence Detail
Fence Gate with sculptural bench
Urban Roots Cooperative Garden Center

To Buffa10 with Love – Part 2

I have to learn to take more pictures.  When I travel I’m so intent on absorbing the mood and fabric of a place that I don’t look through my lens as often as I could.  Buffa10 was one of those places.  The city’s parks have an Olmstead pedigree and its streetscapes are a feast of gardens.

But oh! the architecture.  Just about every 18th, 19th and 20th century style of American vernacular architecture can be found here.  Federal mingles with Gothic Revival with Queen Anne with Victorian Italianate and American Tudor–often on the same street.  Now that the city is experiencing a renaissance that tradition of American building continues in the 21st century.  As I’ve already said…I’m often too busy storing images in my brain to take pictures, but here are some of buildings that I saw in just a few days. These don’t even begin to depict the depth and breath of what’s in Buffalo.  I’ve made absolutely no attempt a chronology either–they’re just what I saw.

Art Deco City Hall

City hall at sunset with a new building that will ultimately be covered in glass when completed.  This was the view from my hotel window.

Detail of the 19th century Lord & Burnham Glass house

The conservatory at the Buffalo and Erie Botanical Gardens was once the largest public greenhouse in the country.  It is the jewel in Olmstead’s South Park.

The Mansion on Delaware hotel

An incredible of example of Second Empire Mansard style.  (Am I getting too geeky yet?)  This was built in the late 1860s and is now a 28 room luxury hotel.  The gardens in front are traffic stopping when in bloom!

Visitor's Center at the Martin Complex

This photo is not by me, it’s from the Darwin D. Martin Complex website, but I did visit the building.  The Eleanor and Wilson Greatbatch Pavilion was designed by architect Toshiko Mori and completed in 2009.  The use of glass and aluminum echos Wright’s use of brick and stone in the adjacent complex.   It is not at all out of place within the context of Wright’s buildings on the property.

Wright's Martin House
Dwight D. Martin house

The only compound designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the Dwight D. Martin (1904-1905) house is currently an asbestos clean-up site.  Tours of the property are on the outside–you can see Mori’s pavilion in the upper left corner.  The second view shows a re-constructed pergola and the ‘Martin’ bird houses…they never were actually home to any birds.

Albright Knox Gallery

To understand just how modern Wright was, all you have to do is go across Delaware Park (another Olmstead) to the Albright Knox Gallery.  The Neo-Classical style was typical in 1905 and was designed by architect E.B. Green.  Green was a Buffalo based architect whose work is visible throughout the city.  It is a world class modern art museum.

American Four Square

Two American Four Square houses with fantastic paint color.  This style of early 20th century residential architecture can be found all over the United States.  My grandparents lived in one–many years later I lived in a duplex on the top of another.

Charles Rohlfs Arts and Crafts Style House

Up the street from the Four Squares is the Arts and Crafts style former home of Charles Rohlfs – a fine furniture maker and contemporary of Gustav Stickley.  There’s going to be a retrospective of his work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art this fall.  The building is way more austere than his over the top furniture.  Click here for the photo credit for this one.

The Buffalo Design Collaborative

I walked by this amazing Art Deco building on Delaware Avenue on my way home from dinner.  I went back to find photos by the resident photographer, Katie Schnieder.

The Cottage District

The cottages in this distinct residential district were built between the mid 19th and early 20th centuries.  Small cottages just like the one I live in now.  The difference is that there are several blocks of these so they don’t seem like the smallest home in town–and mine’s painted a conservative grey.  The doors will soon be purple though–and that’s because I loved what I saw in Buffalo–I could even picture myself living there.

I saw so much more that I might have to have a Part 3…

Shift in Perception

I had occasion this past weekend to visit the center of the country–no not New York or Los Angeles, but Iowa.  Being a hardcore, jaded metropolitan New York area resident, I had preconceived ideas of what I would see and experience there.  I expected small town America–the hayseed variety.  I was wrong and am happy to report that by my barometer, Iowa City, Iowa was sophisticated and charming.

Eastern Iowa as I expected--flat farmland
Eastern Iowa as I expected--flat farmland

I was there for APLD board meetings and didn’t get as much chance to explore as I would have liked.  I missed a planned trip to a prairie restoration project due to airport delays.  I did get to walk a bit each day, passing shops filled with beautiful displays, handmade objects and restaurants.  I also got to stay at a cool hotel and eat at a local restaurant, the Motley Cow,  that specialized in using local ingredients.  I had hoped to sneak away to the Prairie Lights bookstore–but that didn’t happen.

Side street Iowa City
Side street Iowa City
Pedestrian overpass
Pedestrian overpass

A shift in perception and an appreciation for places beyond my immediate geography is a welcome thing.  My creative output requires that my sometimes preconceived ideas are challenged and that I have new ways to think about, view and interpret the world.

A Gathering of Garden Writers

I’m at my first Garden Writer’s Association symposium in Raleigh, NC.  I decided to attend just to see what it was like and well, it’s different than I expected. Also, the Raleigh location and the planned garden visits were places I wanted to see…more about that in a minute.

First and foremost these writers and garden communicators are welcoming and I’ve met some people who I previously only knew through their books or on-line via blogs, zines and social media.  Second, about 95% of them are crazed with plant lust.

Here’s some images of places and plants from the first couple of days.  Like my trip to Portland this past July, it’s going to take a while to filter everything so it works for me.

It's the's a bottle tree
It's the's a bottle tree

This bottle tree and the lovely ecclesiastical birdhouse in the next image are from Helen Yoest’s wildlife garden.  On a suburban lot, she has created a haven for birds, butterflies, and other small creatures including a box turtle.

Church birdhouse
Church birdhouse

Another highlight of the first few days was a visit to Duke Gardens.  A teaching garden that was once part of the Duke estate, there was exquisite stonework and interesting plant combinations in a terrace originally designed by Ellen Biddle Shipman.

Bold combo at the Duke terrace gardens
Bold combo at the Duke terrace garden

Exotica at Duke Gardens
Exotica at Duke Gardens

Lyrical curve on curve at Duke Gardens
Lyrical curve on curve at Duke Gardens

Portland | Distilled

New and unknown destinations of all kinds always fuel my creative process, but I need time to put all of what I experience in perspective. When something is new it swirls around in my head and is exciting–like a new love affair.  As with any relationship, the test of time filters what is going to be longer lasting than that first heart stopping crush.

It’s been a month since my trip to Portland, Oregon to attend the APLD International Landscape Design Conference and it has taken me that long to process some of what I experienced there…so here goes…

One of my favorite quotes carved into stone at the Ecotrust Building
One of my favorite quotes carved into stone at the Ecotrust Building

Much has been written about Portland as being the greenest and most sustainable city in the United States and evidence of that commitment to a healthy planet is everywhere.  Portland’s citizens embrace an active outdoor lifestyle and even in the most urban core of the city, it is impossible to ignore the natural world that surrounds it and its influence on city life.

Outdoor Portland
Outdoor Portland

The landscape designers in Portland might protest, but the gardens I visited, for all of their genus loci,  seemed rooted in a similar philosophy to other types of  ‘natural’ gardens like those from the 18th century created by landscape gardeners like Capability Brown.  In those long ago and greatly celebrated gardens, the idea as I understand it, was to evoke an idealized vision of the natural landscape.

The water features below are extremely different stylistically.  All were inspired by the natural world and all were man made.  Each interpretaion is unique and evokes a respect for and awe of nature.   For me, a month later, this is the lingering idea..a river runs through it.

The koi pond at the Portland Japanese Garden
The lower pond at the Portland Japanese Garden
Lawerence Halprin's iconic Ira Keller Frountain
Lawrence Halprin's iconic Ira Keller Frountain
Snake pond at Michael Schultz and Will Goodman's garden
Snake pond at Michael Schultz and Will Goodman's garden

Postscript:  I thought originally that my next blog post about my trip would be  ‘Portland | Underfoot’ since there were so many interesting paving ideas there.  I’ve decided instead to publish that as an album on my Facebook Studio page instead.

My Garden State | Sandy Hook

My uncle was visiting from Montana.  They don’t have an ocean there, so off we went to ours.  I picked a beach destination I’d never been to before even though it’s the closest public beach to my house.  Sandy Hook, which is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area,  is so popular that on a hot summer day the parking lots are often full by mid morning–that popularity is one of the reasons I’ve never gone.  I was in for a very pleasant surprise.

Protected dunes and a view of the Atlantic
Protected dunes and a view of the Atlantic

Located less than 25 miles from Manhattan, Sandy Hook  has a seven mile stretch of beach that is home to more than 300 varieties of migratory birds.  Posted many places on the island were ‘wanted’ posters offering a $4000 reward for information about the wanton destruction of an active plover nest earlier in the summer.  It’s wise to stay on the paths here.  There’s rampant poison ivy, that without really knowing it, I suspect provides food for birds and protects them from human intrusion.

Wildlife Management area with shipping lane in the background
Wildlife Management area with shipping lane in the background

Sandy Hook also boasts the country’s oldest lighthouse–still in operation–as well as an active Coast Guard base.  I wasn’t expecting  the military presence on a trip to the beach.  Fort Hamilton is on the northern end of the island as is an old growth holly forest and there were several missile and cannon displays as well as an abandoned gunnery built in 1902.  While exploring the ghostlike abandoned gunnery and adjacent wildlife management area, we could hear the pop of  rifle practice in the background. Long a strategic and practical entry point to the New Jersey/New York shipping lanes, Sandy Hook is an odd combination of  historical, military/industrial and natural.

Gunnery Ruins
Gunnery Ruins

Fort Hamilton’s  boarded up and tumble down historic buildings are slated for development through a public/private partnership.

Lighthouse circa 1764
Lighthouse circa 1764

But back to the beach…there’s a dog friendly beach, designated areas for fishing sensibly away from bathing beaches, a clothing optional beach (and this is a National Park) as well as beautiful clean and sandy family beaches.  A very active bike lane runs the length of the island.

The day we went was hot and sunny and the wind was from the west so the water was relatively calm.  This is not a big surf beach.  Despite the westerly breezes, there weren’t any insects like those that sometimes plague Long Beach Island, but Sandy Hook’s water isn’t as clear as it is in southern New Jersey.  The beach was cleaner–this park is serious about taking your garbage with you.

The dunes with the park's visitor's center in the distance
The dunes with the park's visitor's center in the distance

Notice that there’s almost no blown about trash on these dunes–and look how many people use this beach on a weekday.  It’s quite remarkable.

A sea of umbrellas
A sea of umbrellas
Wide sandy beaches and bathers
Wide sandy beaches and bathers

When I started extolling the virtures of ‘My Garden State’ earlier this summer, I had no idea that I’d be introduced to someplace as uniquely New Jersey as Sandy Hook.  Go if you can.

Portland | First Impressions

Portland outside of Powell's BooksI visited the Pearl District twice this week.  Once by accident and once intentionally.  I need some time to digest everything I’m seeing and experiencing.  Later I will write a series of posts on gardens and inspiration, but for now this image seems to sum up the unusual urbanism I’ve experienced so far. Although it’s not a typical picture of Portland, this image says it all for me.   I would describe Portland as determined, tolerant, activist, whimsical, young, handmade and self propelled.

Travel Plans

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

Downtown Portland photo via

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

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

Talking to Myself

I have in some way and in fits and starts kept a journal for years. There have been times when just the act of chronicling what ever was happening in my life has helped me sort it out. As a teenager they consisted of pages and pages of laments, descriptions of parental and personal drama, social slights and ad hoc adventures.

After graduating from art school I starting making illustrated journals in black bound sketchbooks and for years I kept them safely in a box to be looked at now and then. Ten years ago, all but one of these sketchbook journals were destroyed in a basement flood.

Studies for a series of landscape inspired brooches circa 1977

What wasn’t destroyed were the two new types of journals I had been keeping. In dated composition books I kept a series of garden journals. My garden composition books were often carried with me to the nursery, library or bookstore. My first designed garden is in one. Although I have an extensive design education and years of experience, I am a self taught gardener. My garden journals contained sketches, ideas, bloom times, receipts, plant labels all types of information that I wanted to remember.

A page of one of my garden composition notebooks

In small sketchbooks I kept travel journals. Since I have always had to travel on the cheap, these journals became souvenirs of my adventures. I recorded descriptions of places and made collages of tickets, postcards and sketches. Ephemera was collected and the notebooks were created on the go. They were a record of where I had been in the world larger than my own backyard.

From a trip to London in 2001

In both of these new journals there were also tidbits of the old journals–personal notes and the occasional lament.

When I first started writing Miss R, I didn’t realize that it would evolve into a new type of journal. The first year was stop and go, and I didn’t really pay much attention to the content or frequency. Now I realize that the content is really an extension of my years of writing about my life. No, I don’t often write about personal drama, but I do definitely write about the way I feel about what I do. I also write about places I’ve been and plants I’ve seen and post drawings, designs and other tidbits of my creative life.

A recent page from my current notebook

I still carry a notebook with me to jot down ideas, plant names, or make a quick sketch of something–although digital pictures have replaced some of my sketches. I realize that recording my ideas and experiences has been part of my life long creative process.

Dreaming of Other Places

I have itchy, gypsy feet. When the weather gets nice my longing to pick up and go gets worse.

I want to go some place exotic–full of color, odd sounds and history.


I want to go some place I’ve never been that will inspire me.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

I need to get outside of my comfort zone.


Maybe it’s just the May-hem of being a landscape designer at this time of year causing me to want to escape.

Yellowstone National Park

Don’t get me wrong–I love what I do, but I need to recharge and my creative batteries sometimes need a jump start.

Nikko Temple, Japan

Travel does that for me–it jolts me into a new direction every time.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

I’ve always had wanderlust and have luckily been able to indulge it on mostly a whim. When I was younger with less responsibility, I’d just pack a bag and go.

Fez, Morocco

Now it’s not so easy. I dream of the places I want to see and save and save until I can afford to go. One of the above will be next.