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.

 

 

My Hashtag Sisterhood

None of us work in a void. Sometimes when wrapped up in client projects and deadlines, those of us who have boutique design firms can feel like a vacuum is sucking us in and all that surrounds us is ourselves, our clients, and our own work. For a landscape designer in a four season environment, January is especially devoid of just about everything so when I was invited by Modenus-The Design Directory to join a group of interior designers in Las Vegas to speak about luxury outdoor kitchens I said yes. What happened next was so unexpected. What follows will be a wee bit off topic.

Those of you who know me personally usually see the gregarious and social me. I am what is called a social introvert. I need and spend lots of time alone, but when in social situations I am connected and present–even though that’s not my natural state. The prospect of meeting 24 women who were absolute strangers was daunting. Enter the sisterhood.

SW Steakhouse Sisters

Rather than my usual ‘Hi I’m Susan’ with extended hand routine I started off as of an observer. I wasn’t sure if I would be the proverbial square peg in a round hole–I’m a landscape designer not an interior designer. I wasn’t. These women–all interior designers, design bloggers and project managers- not only welcomed me but were just as curious about why I was there and what I did as I was about them.  For three days we shared incredible opportunities and experiences from a private tour of the Wynn resorts with its general manager to a beautiful luncheon with incredible food and wine sponsored by Thermador at the uber midmod Las Vegas  Country Club to a fun and lively dinner hosted by Toto.  We went by bus to see the new seamless indoor/outdoor Responsive Homes designed by Bobby Berk for Pardee Homes, who, afterwards, huddled with us under a patio heater in the chilly Nevada night. We visited the upscale, sustainable 2016 New American Home, built to showcase  green technologies, techniques and products. In between all of that we attended KBIS2016 to see the best in Kitchen and Bath Products. I found plenty to like for outdoor living.

Throughout the three days these designing women questioned, shared, learned about their design discipline and about each other. There was no bitchiness or jealousy or drama. Everyone showed up ready to be and give their best. They were authentic and enthusiastic and supportive of each other in every way. They will forever be my hashtag sisterhood. #designhounds #blogtourKBIS #KBIS2016 #KBISoutdoorliving

concrete floor tiles

Contemporary Tiles and the Middle Ages

Sometimes my mind connects the dots in unexpected ways.  I visited ICFF (International Contemporary Furniture Fair) in New York over the weekend.  You would think I’d be all mid-mod and forward thinking. But no.

I fell for these concrete tiles from Grow House Grow.  They are a new product for the company, frost proof and come a a wide variety of colors.

concrete floor tiles

My mind immediately went to the Middle Ages and the floor at Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. Since my images of that were lost in an iPhone debacle, I borrowed this one from Wikimedia to illustrate the point.

Floor Sainte Chapelle

Now to find a place to use the contemporary ones in a garden design!

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.

 

Turf parterres at Versailles

Riding in the Backseat around a Curve

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

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

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

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

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

Turf parterres at Versailles

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

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

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

escargot begoniaThat lead to the design for a showhouse garden…

Blairsden Brocade progress shot and completed…

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

Landscape plan curved hedges

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

 

 

 

The Revived Garden Design Magazine

Sometimes I almost get what I wish for.

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

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

Garden Design Magazine

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

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

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

The Problem with Outdoor Designers

There’s a villain in this tale.  It’s Target.  Yes, that big box store, who actively promotes its designer relationships and products is the bad guy of this story.  What’s worse though, and it still doesn’t absolve them, is that they’ve been unconsciously aided by us.

Take a look at this.

image via ActiveRain

It’s an old story.  A relatively unknown designer outside of design circles with a beautiful and considered product gets ripped off by a corporate giant.  It happens all the time.  Why? Because many designers- especially those who design products for outside and the landscape designers who use those products don’t have the cache that other disciplines do. We’re generally not well known outside of our own design communities.  We don’t have big media profiles. In other words, we are invisible to the public who won’t recognize the complete and total ripoff by Target of ModFire’s fireplace.

The core of the problem is that those of us who actually design for outside are outsiders. We don’t think about establishing ourselves in the media as a goal that will ultimately raise our profiles and expand our businesses.  Designers in other related (and some unrelated) disciplines have product lines (think fabric, furniture, and other garden ornaments) for outside, but few of us do. Fashion designers like Oscar de la Renta and Trina Turk have lines of outdoor furniture and fabric. Interior designers and architects do as well. Why? Because they recognize how much these products can add to their bottom lines and  they brand themselves from the get go as lifestyle tastemakers and we don’t. Why don’t we? Few designed environments add to the quality of life like those outside do.

Very few landscape or garden designers have a goal to be high profile enough to matter to beyond the immediate neighborhoods they work in. They assume that focusing locally is what will make them money and they’re right in the most immediate sense, but many are doing work that deserves wider acclaim, and don’t actively pursue it. We don’t reach out to national consumer media and pitch our best projects.  We don’t court the companies who produce the  products we use by going to events outside of our discipline. How many textile manufacturers or furniture would want to have a booth next to the much pile or tree spade at a landscape show? Not any.

We need to make our best work much more visible and recognizable to the public. Our names should be on products and we should be collecting the percentages paid from licensees instead those from other design fields.  We need to put ourselves out there– and not just as an offshoot of gardening.  We need to reach out to the larger design community and create relationships with other designers as well as with plants people and landscape specific suppliers. We need to be regarded as a design discipline in the same way as interior designers are. We need to foster relationships with the press and promote our work as design worthy–it’s not just about the garden and plants.  It’s about a beautiful and designed lifestyle that those elements are a part of.  We relegate ourselves to the backyard and miss out on so many opportunities with our own short shortsightedness. When we do step out in front there’s not enough recognition or marketing cache attached to our businesses or names because we haven’t set ourselves up that way.  We need to set our own bars higher in this regard.

Shame on Target for knocking off Brandon Williams who has worked and reached out to the larger design community.  They stole his ModFire product design, but even though it makes my blood boil, I’m not all that surprised.

As a side note…the subscribe button should be working now!–sc

 

Art as Inspiration in Philadelphia

I went to the Philadelphia Flower Show last Friday.  It was a fragrant, blooming balm for my winter starved soul.  There was, as always, inspiration everywhere.  This year’s theme was ‘Articulture’ and display and garden makers interpreted the theme broadly.

As I’ve said before, there’s a big difference between flower shows and garden and landscape shows that call themselves flower shows.  Philadelphia is a FLOWER power show and this year, in my mind, the floral designers trumped everything and everyone else.

Not a review per se, these are just a few examples of what I was inspired by this year…and why.

Korean Letter Forms Philadlephia Flower ShowThe sheer size and bold graphic quality of this floral display just wowed me.  Floral designer, Michael O’Neil, AIFD was inspired by ancient Korean letter forms and created a contemporary mediation using bamboo and bloom.  I am inspired to be more fearless in my design choices just by seeing this.

Philadelphia Flower ShowAnother floral design company, Pure Design, inspired by Noguchi, made me think about the poetic quality of plants.  There was a FB discussion about how this chilled those who believe a plant has a soul, but I thought it spoke to simplicity and certain aspects of human’s harnessing of plants for their own desires.

Moda Botanica

In past years, I have been really enthusiastic about Moda Botanica‘s displays.  Except for this soft and super romantic floral sculpture I didn’t love their ode to Storm King this year.  With that said I went back and looked at this twice. It distilled the essence of what I do as a landscape designer down to some very basic ideas. The combination of texture and color as well as natural and artificial was visually powerful for me.

Miniature floral display Philadelphia Flower Show

The current trend for all things gardening in miniature was elevated to an art with this blue ribbon winning display inspired by Grounds for Sculpture by Margareta M. Warlick.  Less then one foot across, its geometric simplicity and attention to detail is a great reminder about how important editing is to the design process.

These are personal picks.  For a more general overview, Garden Design has started to post some images I took for them while at the show on their Facebook page.

 

Andre Le Notre's Versailles Gardens

Andre le Notre: Four Hundred Years Strong

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

Andre Le Notre's Versailles Gardens

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

The Lurie Garden in high summer

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

Turf parterres at Versailles

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Garden Travel–Sort of.

In a few days I’ll be travelling for a couple of weeks.  This time, it’s not a garden/landscape related event, but one of my own invention.  My first stop will be Paris (as in France, not Texas).

I lived in France years ago and have returned since, so I plan to visit with friends, eat spectacular food that’s not on my diet, drink good wines, wander the streets and shop.  I’m also going to Maison et Objet and hope to report back on what’s exciting for outdoor there.

I expect to visit some green spaces that will be stark in their winter structure, see the Cartier retrospective at the Grand Palais, and some other events and places that will, for now be a surprise.

After that, I’m on to Fez and Marrakesh for adventure and exploration.

I’m going to try and visit three UNESCO World Heritage sites – the old city of Fez, Voubolis (a ruined Roman city, pictured below) and the Medina in Marrakesh.  There will be more shopping and of course a visit to Majorelle.  We will be traveling entirely by train in Morocco so that should be really fun.

Ruins at Volubilis, Morocco

If I have time to post while on the road, I will.  If not it will be when I return.

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.

Leaving Las Vegas

I spent almost a week in Las Vegas representing APLD at a board meeting as well as at an industry trade show. I had never been there before and it is the first place I’ve ever been where I would be happy not to go back to. There is no romance there unless you like, as one of my fellow designers dubbed it, ‘trailer park glamour’.

For the garden minded, there are pockets of innovation and interest, particularly in the Wynn Hotel.

Wynn display 2

Las Vegas

At The Shops at Crystals I saw a light installation by James Turrell, the mall combines site specific art and commerce, there was a totally original use of mums…yes, mums.

Display of mums in Las Vegas

Despite the artificial perfumed air, the bad fashion and the incredible, unsustainable environment which couldn’t exist without pumped in water, electricity and a boat (caravan?) load of other things that are not in anyway part of the natural environment in the Mojave desert, I did find two places intriguing.

The first, The Neon Museum, is uniquely Las Vegas.  The museum tells the history of the city’s upswing through its neon signs.  These ghost signs have been collected, preserved (thanks to little or no rust), cataloged and organized.  They are beautiful and also tell the history of 20th century design from quaint to futuristic.

Contrasting design styles at Neon Museum Las Vegas Mid century modern Neon Museum Neon Museum genie's lamp

For the second, after two days inside, I went with five other designers to Red Rock Canyon, which is less than an hour away from the Vegas strip by car.  My eastern eyes, used to green forested landscapes with glimpses of the sky, loved the unfiltered light – we were there at sunset, the scale of the sky, the neutral colors, and the rocks themselves.

Red Rock Canyon Nevada Grey and brown plants which would look dead in the east were thriving here, blooming yellow and salmon and red.

Red Rock canyon plants

When I returned home, I woke with a start to the bright red fall foliage outside my bedroom window.  Almost a week in the desert had made me unused to natural color…Las Vegas was either neutral or neon.

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

 

Concrete porch

Garden Design Details: Stenciled Concrete

I’m working with a landscape design client who has a limited budget and a concrete patio that will be re-furbished.  Although she opted for paint and a fun outdoor rug, we discussed the option of stenciling an ornamental (read not stone or brick) pattern on the pad instead.

It’s not often that there’s a technique so transformative that it can be a  simple DIY project or an elaborate professionally done detail.  To start–a Before and After from Grace Reed a professional faux painter from Dallas.  Why not set the bar high?

Concrete porch

And after.

Stenciled Front Porch

The same pattern was used by artist Ray Redondo as a detail.

Stenciled concrete

These patterns can be complex or simple, rustic or sophisticated. Some ideas can be easily achieved.  The concrete has to be cleaned and prepped before any stenciling is done, otherwise it won’t last.  There is a great breakdown of the process on Concrete Network and there are YouTube tutorial videos there also.

Road and parking lot symbols are stenciled.  Here’s a take on a word stencil.  A simple hello..

Simple and elegant organic floral motifs that peak out from the sides of a space…

Stenciled concrete patio

…or take the same idea and create an allover pattern.  The one below is from Royal Design Studio.

Concrete stenciled patio

Get inspired by street art stencils and graphic patterns.  Banksy uses stencils.  Polish street artist Nespoon uses doilies as inspiration and stencils.

Nespoon doily stencil

A further interpretation of this idea is a single color stenciled rug.  The one below found on Pinterest and the one above are stenciled on top of concrete paving.

stenciled rug

Small medallions can be used to break up a solid block of color or again, used as an all over pattern.  This is probably the simplest of all the stenciling techniques.  The two below are from Design Sponge and the Los Angeles Times Blog.

Stenciled medallions on concrete patio

Concrete stenciled patio

I really wish that I’d had the opportunity to explore these first hand on a project, but I will with another client on another project!

Niew outdoor room/courtyard

New Barn for an Old Farmhouse, Part 2

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

 

Phillip Johnson's Glass House

Field Trip: The Glass House

Last week, I went to New Canaan, Connecticut to visit the most iconic modernist residential building in America–Phillip Johnson’s Glass House.  Since I first saw an image of it in a survey of American architecture, I’ve wanted to see it firsthand.

Phillip Johnson's Glass House

What surprised me was how much more was there than just the house.  Johnson experimented with buildings, follies, and land forms on 47 acres from 1945 until his death in 2005.  Some, like the Glass House (1945) transcend time and space; others like the Library/Study (1980) and the Lake Pavilion (1962) appear rooted in their time; while still another, the Painting Gallery (1965) foretells the future and conjures up the past.  He borrowed ideas from his travels, history, art and other architects and played with them on his own property.

Philllip Johnson New Canaan property

That is not to say that this is not serious architecture, it is, but without anyone but himself to please, these structures are less ponderous and weighty than much of Johnson’s other work.  Sometimes, as in the case of the Lake Pavilion (top image below) whose arches echo those on the Beck House (1964) (bottom image below) which I visited with APLD in Dallas, they are life size scale models of ideas in action.

The Lake Pavillion Phillilp Johnson

Phillip Johnson's Beck House

It was thrilling to see the juxtaposition of these experiments with existing farm walls, art and pathways.  It gave me insight into Johnson’s creative patterns and ideas.  Close to the original structure, proportions and geometric shapes repeat and reflect themselves, further away they are less relational but no less geometric.

Throughout his life, Johnson collected art and two buildings are galleries for his sculpture and painting collections. Each offer a distinct experience.  The Painting Gallery is a bunker like structure housed under a grass covered mound.  Inside the gallery itself has a series of circular rotating tracks that allow the six pieces of his 42 piece collection to be viewed at a time.

Painting Gallery Philllip Johnson

 The Sculpture Gallery (1970) is a tour de force of light and shadow that eclipses the art inside.  I was mesmerized by it and the way the patterns shifted and changed as the clouds overhead filtered the available light or not.  It gave the building a living, breathing feeling.

Sculpture Gallery Phillip Johnson

The property when viewed as a whole life statement is a masterful celebration of textural interplay, light and shadow, and mass and void that I’ve seen few other places.

Bridge detail The Glass House

Phillip Johnson had a profound respect for the land he built on and few of the buildings/follies feel forced.  The land he built on is honored as are the existing field walls that came before him.  Nowhere was this more evident than at the view from a site specific Donald Judd sculpture over a farm wall to the glass house.

Donald Judd at Phillip Johnson's Glass House

His lifelong experiments sit easily on the land even though they are the antithesis of natural.  More than half a century later they still belong.

All images taken and shared by the Susan Cohan, please credit appropriately.

Trendspotting: Honeycomb

Bees are in the news, so it’s totally understandable that bees and bee things should emerge as a garden trend. Recently I saw a wonderful hose pot in a garden I was visiting and have tried to no avail to find it.

Beehive hose pot

Image via  Miss Trixies Favorite Things

So that leads to honeycomb.  Artist Laura Kramer’s crystal encrusted wasp combs were on display when I was last at ABC Carpet and Home. Once I saw them, I started seeing honeycomb patterns everywhere.  I don’t think it’s just the power of suggestion…

Image via ABC Carpet and Home

Honeycomb patterns have been happening in fashion and interior design for a while so why not gardens?

Gucci Beehive dress

Top image via Gucci , bottom image  via CamPierce

It’s a small idea that can add nature’s geometry to traditional or contemporary garden styles. The pattern can apply to tiles, trellises, fabric and rugs, and even furniture.  A few ideas…

Honeycomb chair

Honeycomb wire chair above via Terrain.  Honeycomb modular wall trellis via Flora below. (These are available at  Jungle, BTW)

Honeycomb wall trellis

Old is new, and honeycomb hexagonal terracotta tiles are right on trend.  The yellow outdoor fabric sports a variation on the theme.  And the turf tiles in the very bottom image of a small Paris garden via (translated)  The Yellow House on the Beach are an original take on honeycomb.

Terra cotta honeycomb

Turf honecomb tiles

If you want more ideas, I’ve assembled a Pinterest board just for honeycomb inspiration.

Placing a barn

New Barn for an Old Farmhouse

I’ve been commissioned to design an outdoor entertaining area for one of the oldest farmhouses around that will also incorporate a new barn/woodshop. We are at the very beginning of a complex project, so I thought I’d share that part of the process.  After meeting with the homeowners I made an Ideabook to help them visualize the project.

My client, who is a passionate and active gardener with a talented woodworking partner, also wants a family entertaining area, easy access to her garden shed and details like stone walls and a possible meadow beyond for grandchildren to explore and play in.

Placing a barn

The first step is to create the placement of a new 16 x 20 barn that will replace and enlarge the old one that was destroyed by a tree falling on it during Hurricane Sandy.  The current garden areas are a patchwork of projects that haven’t had a master plan as you can see from the basemap above.  Existing elements have been connected out of necessity without much thought to the overall scheme of things.

Concept number one creates an outdoor courtyard that has easy access to ground level doors and blocks a view of a subdivision on the street beyond.  It separates the garden shed from the barn and also incorporates a bosc which is a design element I’ve always wanted to try.  Both designs have fire features which will allow the new area’s use to be extended into colder weather on both ends of the season.

New Barn for an old farmhouse

Concept number two requires less work and renovation and keeps the existing wonky brick walk in place.  It also keeps the work areas ie. the barn and shed together creating a casual barnyard effect.

Barn Courtyard 2

Usually, I post color plans, but this is the work that goes on way before I get to that point.  These are where the designs begin–with concepts fleshed out to see if they work spatially and to think about how people will move through a space and use it before a single plant is envisioned.  The concept that we decide on will be refined further after  the and are budgets set, materials for hardscape are chosen and then, at the end, the planting plan will be developed.

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.

Barrique’s Recycled Barrel Stave Furniture

As part of my design crawl in New York the past two weeks, I visited ABC Home and Carpet for some inspiration.  The store never disappoints in its merchandise selections or displays.  A designer I know says ‘This is where the awesome happens’.  As usual I took a ton of photos (with permission) and some of those are on my Instagram feed.

On the second floor, as part of a storewide ‘Slow Design’ story,  I saw this chaise designed by Marc Sadler that was constructed from recycled wine barrel staves.

Barrel Stave lounge chair

It’s part of a larger group of furniture and accessories being fabricated by Barrique as part of their ‘Third Life of Wood’ program that supports recovering addicts in an Italian rehab facility.  They make the furniture and the profits go back to the center.  Wow.  Here’s some more…

Barriques Third Life of Wood Lounge chair

Antonio Citterio’s ‘Poltrona Lounge’ is both classic and contemporary.

Recycled barrel stave swing by Angela Missioni

Angela Missoni’s ‘Miss Dondola’ swing echos the same color and style that are found in her clothing lines.

Recycled barrel stave chair by Aldo Spinelli

Aldo Spinelli’s ‘Sardinia’ chair riffs on early twentieth century furniture design while being completely modern.

The furniture and its message are currently touring the U.S.  Here’s a schedule.

Top photo by the author, bottom three photos via Barrique

 

Opiary: Garden Pots from Princeton

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

Opiary Pots Kips Bay Showhouse

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

Opiary Studio

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

opiary studio

 All photos via Opiary.
Leaf Magazine Spring 2013

Spring is Sprung with Leaf Magazine

I hope you’re not tired of hearing about the new issues of Leaf and my involvement with them.  I think the latest issue–out today– Spring 2013–is as good, if not better, than those that have come before it.

Leaf Magazine Spring 2013

It’s a great source of professional pride for me that we–Rochelle Greayer and I– continue to publish it and to push the envelope of what we believe a great American magazine focusing on design outside can be.

Our audience continues to grow–our last issue was seen by more than 1 million people.  We are actively seeking publishing partnerships (however that becomes defined) and exploring new ways to deliver content to even more readers. So please  enjoy this issue and let me know what you think in the comments or email me at scohan @ leafmag dot com.

Garden to Table DIY

Garden to Table- Simplfy the Holiday DIY

I have so little time this year for holiday DIY projects that I’ve been looking for super simple ideas.  I always lean to those that can use seeds pods, cones and whatever else I already have on hand.

Here’s one that could be done with a huge variety of berries and napkins…I have some handwoven ones a friend made and some berries just outside the window…

Garden to Table DIY

This also makes me think I need to plant more things just for this season…things with berries and seed heads that will persist into the winter. The berries above are Charming Fantasy Snowberries from Monrovia.  The napkin image is from Pinterest.

Flora Grubb Gardens 2012

Postcard from San Francisco

We (me and 200 other APLD designers) spent the day visiting several gardens in San Francisco. There were some things I really liked, but damn my critical self, I have visited so many gardens that I need to be wowed and these gardens mostly didn’t wow me.

So here’s what I liked…

Color and texture at Flora Grubb (I first visited a couple of years ago)…

Flora Grubb Gardens 2012
Corten, agaves, black nursery pots at Flora Grubb

the use of plant names and graphics in a medicinal garden by Topher Delaney

Topher Delaney
Steel and graphic plant names at the UCSF Edible Medicinal Garden

repetition on a roof deck by Walter Hood

Walter Hood roof deck design
Repetition of elements and use of scale via Walter Hood

bold use of red in a garden by Alma Hecht, APLD,

Red garden wall
Bold use of red on a garden wall

and a mini woodland in a very, very small garden by Katey Mulligan, APLD.

Katey Mulligan APLD
A small corner turned into a woodland

 

 

Succulents

An Afternoon in Berkeley

I was lucky enough to spend the afternoon with two designers who have been a huge influence on me over the last ten years.  Michelle Derviss and David Feix were kind enough to take time out of their busy days to chauffeur me around Berkeley to visit some of David’s gardens.

Succulents
Subtle color combination in a hellstrip via designer David Feix

I didn’t take many photos since David’s got thousands on his Flickr page (linked above) and I wanted to focus on our wide ranging conversation.  Sometimes it’s so much more important to pay attention to people instead of plants!

garden

Here Comes the Sun…Yellow is Everywhere

Here comes some bright and sunny punch for gardens.  Yellow.  I started reporting seeing it on the Leaf FB page earlier in the spring, and now I see the idea developing into a full blown color trend.

So here we go…

Designer Michael Tavano used yellow in a big way in this small New York City courtyard designed for the Elle Decor Modern Life Concept House.

garden
A yellow garden wall at the Elle Decor Showhouse

A yellow fountain makes a bold statement in a private Santa Monica courtyard.

garden courtyard
Sunny or grey, yellow punches up the color story

As part of an urban garden/art installation in France…

urban gardens
Yellow helps punctuate the Garden of Cracks…

At the Hampton Court Flower show this year…Designer Mike Harvey showed another yellow garden wall.

garden yellow
Hampton Court garden with a yellow wall

In the French design magazine Cote Maison Sud, there was an entire layout of yellow for outside…

Yellow goes outside
More yellow ideas for outside

 

Leaf Magazine Summer 2012

It’s Summer!

It’s summer and that brings a whole different set of thoughts, ideas and activities.  I went out the other night to walk the dog and was totally enchanted by fireflies in a way I hadn’t been since childhood.  I miss the magic of summer and am going to try and recapture some of it this year.

We have tried to convey what we feel summer means our new issue of Leaf.

Leaf Magazine Summer 2012
Summer issue of Leaf Magazine

So for the next few summery weeks,  when I’m not working on landscape design related things, summer will be roadtrips, beach trips, picnics and all sorts of other non-garden-y activities.  Where am I going?  Next week points north for a bit, but more about that later.

 

 

Two NYC Designer Show Houses, Part 1

As part of Blogfest2012 I visited two New York City designer show houses.  Since I am a veteran designer of these types of temporary installations on this side of the Hudson River, I am always interested to see what and how others do it.

The, first one, the Kips Bay Decorator Show House has been an annual fundraising design event in the city  for 40+ years.  It’s reviewed and discussed and sometimes sets trends for years to come.  This year, for the first time, it was on the west side, in two sets of penthouses instead of an east side townhouse.  Each space had an expansive outdoor terrace.

The North and South Terraces, designed by Gunn Landscape Architecture, had some interesting details (it was raining when I was there) but felt empty and unfinished.

On the North Terrace, an attempt was made to define the space through a combination of concrete and ipe pavers but fell short.  The unfinished part comes from a stack of the concrete pavers that had been removed for the ipe decking, but were stacked next to a stairwell as if the contractor had just left for lunch…

Rainy terrace with paving detail looking east

Small planted areas were carved out of the ground plane as well as in boxed planters along the perimeter.

Corner planter facing south west (Love the clamshell planter)

Although beautifully done, some of the plant choices on the  northwest facing terrace were questionable…too hot, too sunny.

Planting detail

 

I’m totally one for capitalizing on the view and realize that outdoor space with expansive views in every direction on the 21st floor is exotic and at a premium, but I thought more could have been done to give the space a sense of intimacy despite the soaring views.

The South Terrace felt disjointed and was not holding up well in the weather.  I had high hopes when I first walked outside and saw a lovely shady planting scheme in Robert Cannon’s sculptural planters.

Robert Cannon's sculptural planters

A ‘lawn’ was a major feature on the main terrace.  With the availablitity of amazing faux turf, this felt like a weekend project made out of cheap astroturf rather than a feature in a $16,000,000 penthouse.  It should have been, and could have been, super fun, young and well crafted.

'Lawn' and outdoor beanbag chairs

There was a Wow feature on this terrace…a boules court!  I loved it.

Boules Court, 21 stories up!

If there was ever a space to use these Chanel boules, this was it.

Chanel boules

Show houses, even outside, are supposed to be about ideas and theater.  These lacked the overall design elements to achieve that despite some great ideas and details.