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


Cathedral of Trees Muir Woods

Garden Designers Roundtable | My Cathedral

Spiritual journeys often reveal themselves over time.  I am not one for those that are organized.  For many years I have found mine  in the company of trees. They are a cathedral that moves me to tears each and every time with their beauty and bounty.  They give back to the earth like no other; a perfect life cycle.

Cathedral of Trees Muir WoodsYellow flag irisesDancing trees covered in moss

Basking Ridge Oak

This spring as I drive all over my Garden State chasing after work, clients, and plants the devastation of our hardwood forests and my most sacred places again brings me to tears.  My eyes fill up as I write this. Upended roots and downed trees are everywhere.  Broken limbs torn from the hearts of their trunks are wounds that won’t easily mend.  Our forests may take hundreds of years (if ever) to recover from two autumns of extreme weather.  Yet Mother Nature has a way of fixing herself and providing solutions where there are seemingly none.  The dead and dying become part of the perfect circle as hosts and nesting places.  So I stop whenever I can and offer whatever constitutes as prayer that the cathedrals will rise again and offer some other soul solace and joy.

Old Growth ForestHerons nesting in trees

Some other landscape and garden designers are celebrating trees in their own way today as part of the Garden Designers Roundtable monthly thematic posts:

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO
Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK
Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT
David Cristiani : The Desert Edge : Albuquerque, NM
Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA
Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ
Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT
Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN




Winter Gardens

Garden Designers Roundtable: Winter Inspiration

I’m totally obsessed with winter gardens.  The thing is though, by spring, just like everyone else I get caught up in the sexier spring and summer seasons and completely forget to plant for winter.  This year I’m going to try and change that.

Winter Gardens
Seed Pods
Winter Gardens
Winter Grasses

Most hope that permanent structures and some evergreens will be enough in winter, but I’m more interested in other elements that are unique to the season that will be as interesting and visually satisfying as other seasons.   There are plants beyond evergreens that add to the winter garden, but they require skill and maintenance to look good throughout the season.  Evergreens create bones and a backdrop and help to make things work in March and early April when just about everything else looks really crappy.  They, along with interesting and exfoliating bark, sing when there is snow.

Winter Gardens
Heptacodium miconiodes and evergreens in snow

As a designer, what I’m really excited about is creating a neutral and textural  garden story for winter that combines plants with structural elements and shadows to create a complex and interesting space.  I don’t need a lot of color in January like I do in June.  For me, winter is fairly neutral. The flat, blue quality of our eastern winter light with its long shadows lends itself to thoughtful color and texture juxtaposed with shadow play.

Winter Gardens
Winter Grasses and Stone Wall

Although the climate and light are different there, a visit to the Denver Botantic Gardens  spurred my interest in pursuing winter garden design even further.  Above, the neutral color palette makes this swath of mixed grasses have even more drama than it would have at the height of the summer. Too many people cut grasses down too early.  Wait until the end of February for that chore and reap the rewards.  Snow can make them look a bit untidy, but white and tan is an beautiful color combination.

Winter Garden Interest
Shadow play on Stone
Winter inspiration at NYBG
Shadow ‘allee’ at New York Botanical Gardens

Two ways to consider structure in the winter garden are as a canvas for shadows created by the long low light (above) and as as structural focal points (below).

Winter Garden Inspiration
Columns providing structure

A third, more fleeting way to add cold weather structure is to actually incorporate opportunities for ice to form, or to use it in big chopped up chunks as a winter feature where there was water in warmer weather.  When I lived closer, I used to make a pilgrimage to see the huge and jewel-like ice crystals on the Delaware River in mid and late winter, but I never actually considered this idea for a garden until I saw the two examples below, both at the Denver Botanic Gardens.

Water Feature with Ice
Monumental ice formations on a water feature
Winter garden inspiration
Ice ‘boulders’

Inspiration is everywhere…even in January.

For more inspiration, try these ideas from the other Garden Designers Roundtable blogging designers:

Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT
Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK
Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO
Jenny Peterson : J Petersen Garden Design : Austin, TX
Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN
Deborah Silver : Dirt Simple : Detroit, MI
Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA

Garden Designers Roundtable: A Fashionable Address

I’ve often said the least expensive way to spruce up or create a dramatic space is with stain and paint. It’s so inexpensive that if you don’t like it, you can afford to change it. Pair that with one of the most neglected areas of the landscape–house numbers–and there’s a multitude of fun, frugal and fashionable solutions.

Here are a few of my favorites. There are scores of DIY hints on how to do this yourself, so follow the links if you want specific instructions.

I love the addition of the No. in these two examples.

The image above is from Nesting Notions, but really great, easy to follow instructions with pictures can be found here.

There are lots of variations on the pots above. Easy to follow instructions can be found here.  Martha Stewart also has some for non-painted terra cotta planters.

For a more contemporary look, super graphics can be fun and can add to what otherwise might be stark architecture.

painted house numbers

Australian architects ODR broke up the monotony of these courtyard walls with a bold super graphic house number.  The choice of a traditional serif font here is important.  There are many, many choices for letter styles…choose carefully!

 An otherwise drab urban wall in enlived by this super-sized yellow digit!  via new focus

Large numbers can also work in a more traditional setting, but the font has to be appropriate to the place, so remember to choose carefully and  if you don’t like it you can always paint it over.  This one from Shelterness uses the same techniques found in the first set of numbers, but uses a much larger stencil.

If you’re really, really brave and the setting is appropriate, this uber sized address is a possibility. On the Offspring store in London.  The image is from Pinterest.

Super graphic address number

More inspiration for house numbers of all kinds can be found on my Pinterest board What’s Your Number and other designer’s Cheap and Chic ideas for your garden can be found on from these other Roundtable designers:

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

Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA

Deborah Silver : Dirt Simple : Detroit, MI

Rochelle Greayer : Studio ‘g’ : Boston, MA

Nectaroscordum siculum

Garden Designers Roundtable: Plants, Memory and Dance

I have reached an age when I am able to stitch together seemingly disparate memories into a fluid life’s story. The ability to see, the kind of sight gained through years of training, observation and memory, is what leads me to connect plants to memory. They are visual cues to the young girl whose book Let’s Imagine took dancing feet to far off and exotic places just by closing my eyes. Since a very young age I have had a fascination with Fred Astaire’s dance and style. Like so many young girls I wanted to be a ballerina. I still tap my gypsy feet to the slightest beat and have spent many, many solo hours on a crowded club dance floor lost in a my own world of sound and movement. My lifelong mantra has been “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.” (Thank-you Kurt Vonnegut.)

This dancing, swirling memory trail leads me back to plants. When I see maple samara twirling down from branches above, I think corps de ballet. When I see a grove of  leaning, gnarled trees I think of dancers and want to be among them. It’s a palpable, visceral feeling of memory and imagination. So, indulge me and let’s play Let’s Imagine.

Read the clue in each image’s caption and then close your eyes and imagine the most beautiful dancers you’ve ever seen.  Yes, plants even rooted in the ground as they are, do dance…

Nectaroscordum siculum
Pas de deux
Cercis canadensis 'The Rising Sun'
Blue Agave
American Beech

For more memorable dance partners, try these Garden Designer’s Roundtable posts:

Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA
Deborah Silver : Dirt Simple : Detroit, MI
Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA
Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO
Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK
Mary Gallagher Gray : Black Walnut Dispatch : Washington, D.C.
Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In The Garden : Los Altos, CA
Rochelle Greayer:  Studio ‘g’ : Harvard, MA
Susan Morrison : Blue Planet Garden Blog : East Bay, CA
Thomas Rainer : Grounded Design : Washington, D.C.

Black shade sail Bedessono Hotel and Spa

Garden Designers’ Roundtable: Details make the Design

I’m a collector of details.  Often when visiting gardens, as I did in Northern California last week, it’s the details that stick in my mind’s eye.  I muse on how I’d use them in a garden design.

Attention to the details in a design is what makes it sing.  When you add the details up and they are layered and nuanced, they make a beautiful whole.  Generally, I find places for details as well their ability to unify a design idea and to make visual relationships work are overlooked. Either there are too few details or they haven’t been edited well enough. Or, maybe I’m just cynical and jaded from visiting too many gardens (can one do that?), but in most of them the details are -in my opinion- more interesting than the whole.

Black shade sail Bedessono Hotel and Spa
Jaunty black shade sail at the Bardessono in Yountville

So, here, in no particular order (mostly because I’m jet-lagged and swamped with work) are some lovely details from the last part of my trip.  I haven’t been able to completely digest all that I saw, so enjoy my un-edited brain dump and use them for your own inspiration!

If you’d like to read my previous post on the courtyards at the Bardessono Hotel OR if you’d like to read what other designers think about the details, try these:

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK
Deborah Silver : Dirt Simple : Detroit, MI
Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT
Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA
Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT
Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In The Garden : Los Altos, CA


Garden Designers Roundtable: Art or Garden?

I suspect that most people think about art in the garden as a well placed sculpture or even a beautifully designed border, but what happens when artists and designers create a garden as art from the get go?  Do we consider it a garden or is it art?

There are garden festivals  devoted to conceptual garden design that celebrate outdoor space as a possibility for creating ‘garden’ art on a large scale.  I’m a huge fan of these spaces as they challenge me as all great art does…to think.   They go beyond what we typically view as a garden, yet they incorporate plants, soil, hardscape, and found/built objects just as our own gardens do.  Sometimes they’re pretty, sometimes they’re not.

Is this a garden or art or both?  Perhaps it’s neither and just odd.  Whatever the answer, it’s thought provoking.

15 Knots

Designed by ATLAS and Ford Lipschitz  at the 13th iteration of the Festival of Gardens at Reford Gardens in Quebec explores how wind affects our perception of landscape.  Fans behind lathe walls turn off and on.  The landscape changes as the flags blow or not.  The noise is also part of the experience…although I couldn’t include that here. 

A garden or art or both?

Topher Delaney’s garden at Cornerstone in California is closer to what most consider to be a garden, however minimal.  Why?  It has all of the pre-requisite elements–a wall, plants, gravel and a place to sit (the rope spheres).  This space also invites people to interact with it by moving the spheres.  Does an outdoor space need human interaction to be considered a garden, if so is it still art?

Blue Stick Garden

Also at Reford, the Blue Stick Garden by CLaude Cormier has traditional garden elements…plants, a boardwalk and vertical elements.  Garden or art or both?

Whatever the answer, as I said before, they make me think and look at what I do in a new way.  I find these gardens to be inspiring (yes, I think they’re all gardens) to such an extent that I want to visit the most famous garden festival in France,  the International Garden Festival at Chaumont which has happened every summer for the past 20 years.  Maybe next summer…

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

Mary Gallagher Gray : Black Walnut Dispatch : Washington, D.C.

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

Jenny Peterson : J Petersen Garden Design : Austin, TX

Deborah Silver : Dirt Simple : Detroit, MI

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

Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX

Garden Designers Roundtable: Garden Visits and Lessons

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

Even a narrow patio can seat 16

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

Complex spatial relationships on a small patio

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

Not set up for conversation!

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

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

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

Fern Richardson : Life on the Balcony : Orange County CA

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

Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT

Rochelle Greayer : Studio G : Boston, MA

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

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

Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA

David Cristiani : The Desert Edge : Albuquerque NM



Garden Designers Roundtable: Reality Check! Designers Save Money


This post is a bit of a rant because I find that so many people don’t really get it. Landscape renovations and installations are as big a construction project as any bathroom, kitchen or home addition. Few would attempt those without a having a detailed plan or hiring qualified contractors, yet many people with a shovel and a free weekend believe that they can build their landscapes themselves. Worse yet are those who profess to be professionals and do not have the training or skills to mitigate even the most basic of landscape related problems. (The tortured River Birch below was installed by a ‘professional’ at my local Dunkin’ Donuts)

Huh? Might be the most stupid planting mistake I have ever seen

Because I am a landscape designer this may seem like a self serving post, but it’s really not. I earn a fairly good portion of my fees because clients hire me to correct problems with their already built landscapes and gardens. Either they built it themselves or someone else just did a shoddy job via lack of experience or professionalism. Problems range from easy fixes like appropriate plant choices to major issues with stonework and drainage.

Working with a designer isn’t really out of range financially for most people. It’s not only for the well-heeled and financially overblown. The fact is that designers save their clients money at every step of the way in essence earning their own keep. In my design practice I save my clients money by helping them to avoid costly mistakes before they are made, by passing on at least part of the professional discount I receive on furniture, accessories and plants and offering choices that are ‘to the trade’ only that fit their specific budget.

Even a DIY weekend warrior can save money with as simple paid consultation with a designer before that shovel goes into the ground. The emphasis here is on paid. A free consultation won’t yield in much unless a signature is put on the dotted line for the totality of the work and then that consultation’s value will be hidden in some other cost. (No one works for free.) A paid consultation can be as little as $75 and as much as several hundred. A professional designer will listen to their clients and be able to assess problems and talk about possible solutions, a professional designer will be able to steer a client to choices that will serve their lifestyle and budget, and a professional designer will often offer ideas for building a project in stages with a plan for one, five or even ten years as their client’s budget allows. A designer will also insure that the outside is unified, works with the architectural style of the house and isn’t over or under built for the neighborhood. A professional designer will make sure they communicate any town or housing authority regulations that will impact a project. They will have a roster of artisans and contractors who can do the job at a high level of quality if that’s what their client’s choose. Most importantly, a professional designer will consider the ramifications of what is proposed to be built on a property’s resale value therefore protecting what is most people’s biggest investment–their home.

Don’t make this, the most common mistake in any of the building trades. Hire a designer before starting a landscape project…even if it’s just for an hour’s consultation and save headaches and money.

To hear what other professional landscape designers have to say about reality…

David Cristiani : The Desert Edge : Albuquerque, NM

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

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

Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA

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

Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA

Shirley Bovshow : Eden Makers : Los Angeles, CA

Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA

Garden Designers Roundtable: Hort Idols the Live Show!

Today I want to take a different approach (are you suprised?) to the idea of who my horticulture idols are and share how much I’ve learned from visiting the gardens I’ve seen with the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program.  Some famous, some not, the creators of these gardens shine each year when the gardens are open to the public.

Entrance to a private walled garden in New Jersey

Open Days have allowed me to see extraordinary gardens that I would not have had access to otherwise.  Each one has inspired me.

Patrick Chasse's under pool grotto at the White Garden in New York

Every design discipline has its stars…its creators, its communicators and its mavericks.

An extraordinary potager in a private New Jersey garden

Until 1989 when the conservancy first worked to preserve The Ruth Bancroft Garden in California, America’s private gardens were at risk.

The magical interior of Michael Trapp's garden house in Connecticut

Now, more than twenty years later, tens of thousands of people visit private and public gardens each and every year.

Entrance to the greenhouse gardens at a private New Jersey garden

I’ve been visiting gardens since the first directory was available.  Each spring I visit with my guidebook and camera in hand…

Bunny Williams' understated porch in Connecticut

a day planned out…alone or with a companion I set out to discover America’s garden idols…live!

The round pool at Hortulus Farm in Pennsylvania

On a side note…Leaf Magazine will be giving away ten 2012 Garden Conservancy Open Days Guides during its holiday givewaway starting December 1st.

For more reading on other designer’s Horticultural Idols visit the links below…

Thomas Rainer : Grounded Design : Arlington, Virginia
Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT
Rochelle Greayer : Studio G : Boston, MA
Jenny Peterson : J Peterson Garden Design : Austin, TX
Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT
Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA

Garden Designer’s Roundtable | How Did I Get Here?

You may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?”
–Talking Heads, Once in a Lifetime

Indulge me please. I have enough years behind me to be able to view the paths and detours I’ve taken. Some things have been long held and constant, a love of the landscape for one, but more than that, a love of great design in all of its forms has allowed me to crisscross visual boundaries and to work in several disciplines along the way.

When connected, these visual stops on the road–and many more, create a snapshot of my design sensibilities.  It’s not the total story of how I got from here to there…but it’s a big part of it.

It started in the 60s.  Mod London, pop art, the counterculture were at the beginning of my travels.

The logo for Mary Quant...note the floral motif...

Then I discovered Art Noveau and Modernism almost simultaneously.

Paris Metro Station

Paley Park in New York

I could post 1000s of visuals, but as I said, indulge me.  Flash forward through travel to other places, personal journeys and interests in Punk, Postmodernism, Grafitti, Anime, Wabi Sabi, Neo Geo, Adams architecture, fashion (always that) and too many more combined with a deeper interest in those who created the designed outdoor environment at the same time.  I written about many of them here…Halprin, Rose, and Shipman to name a few.

If I look at this partial plan of Versailles, I see elements of all of the above.

Flash forward again.  While I carry those experiences and many others with me there are too many for a simple blog post and this isn’t a memoir or autobiography.  What intrigues me now is rooted in pop culture, history and technology.  My work, I think, reflects those interests with strong lines, nods to tradition and a genuine respect for the land I’ve been working on.  Lately though, this isn’t enough to contain my diverse interests and I’ve taken on a new project.  One that I hope will help people to understand that great design extends past our doorways.  You didn’t think you’d be able to read a post without me having a shameless plug for Leaf in it did you?

For other designers’ interpretation of getting from here to there,Simply click on the links below and enjoy the journey.

Debra Prinzing  &  David Perry:  A Fresh Bouquet

Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX

Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT

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

Jenny Peterson : J Peterson Garden Design : Austin TX

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

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

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

Tuesday’s Find…lawn chairs

Today my garden designer/blogger peers over at Garden Designers Roundtable along with the Lawn Reform Coalition will be discussing lawn alternatives.  Lawns are a hot button topic with many on both sides of the garden fence, so I thought I’d offer an alternative of my own–even though I’m not officially posting this month.

British artist Kevin Hunt presented these lawn chairs as part of his degree show in 2005.


Garden Designers Roundtable: Seeking Shade

If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer.  But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.

~Henry David Thoreau

Dancing trees

I am a loafer. I spent the summer afternoons of my youth in two places…with my nose in a book and in the woods–sometimes I did both.


For me, our wood’s magic wasn’t rooted in botany or its perfect lifecycle of renewal.  It was the cool darkness with dancing light and magic that drew me in.

Magical patterns of light

As an adult their influence is still a major factor in my design practices as well as in life.  I prefer shade.

Woodland Garden

Shade by itself  creates an emotive response that never fails.  In our gardens we naturally seek shade on porches…under umbrellas and pergolas…on in a woodland garden.  For me, shade is an opportunity to design with magic.

Shade combo in my home garden

For other thoughts on shade, please visit our guest blogger this month–Margaret Roach from A Way To Garden and the rest of the GDRT blogging designers below.

Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA

Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA

Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT

Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN

Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA

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

Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX

Garden Designers Roundtable: Rock Stars

Last week I was at an event where more than 100 designers went mad for their industry’s stars.  I mean paparazzi mad.  Photo ops, flashes everywhere, one on one moments and book signings for all who wanted.  I lamented that the U.S. landscape design industry doesn’t cultivate that type of celebrity. We should.  If we did, and our greats were famous, we might get some of the lucrative licencing deals that architects, interior designers and even fashion designers get for outdoor products.

Here are three who work with stone in the Northeast who are deserving of even wider celebrity status than they already have.   They are artists and dry stone wallers.  They make the most rigid of materials fluid.  Their work dances across landscapes and their craft is slowly disappearing yet their work will stand for centuries.   They are our Rock Stars.

Lew French works on Martha’s Vineyard.  He uses stone in unusual and surprising ways.  Here’s a link to a profile done several years ago on CBS Sunday Morning.  He, like the NYC designers I saw, has big name clients and a book.

All photos above via Lewis French

Dan Snow works from his base in Vermont. He has written two books and the first, In the Company of Stone, has been in my library since the day it was published. There is also a film about his work called Stone Rising, The Work of Dan Snow.  He is a master at bending traditional techniques and making them into something else entirely.

Photo above via The Gardener’s Eden

Two photos above via In the Company of Stone

Andy Goldsworthy isn’t a dry stone waller. He is an artist who sometimes uses stone.  Yes, he’s British, but much of his work is here–he spent three years as a visiting professor at Cornell.  There are films and books galore.  Wall details the project shown below at Storm King Art Center.  This wall is legendary among local artisan masons.

Photos above via Susan Cohan

If you’d like to see Goldsworthy’s  last lecture as a visiting professor at Cornell, click here.

If you’d like to read our other posts on stone…this month Garden Designers Roundtable is thrilled to have guest bloggers Deborah Silver and Sunny Weiler blog along with us. Everyone’s links are below.

Deborah Silver : Dirt Simple : Detroit, MI

Sunny Wieler : Stone Art Blog : West Cork, Ireland

Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT

Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN

Ivette Soler : The Germinatrix : Los Angeles, CA

Jenny Peterson : J Petersen Garden Design : Austin TX

Rochelle Greayer : Studio G : Boston, MA

Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT

Tara Dillard : Vanishing Threshold : Atlanta, GA

Design Challenge: Garden Designers Rountable

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

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

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

The entry courtyard

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

Path to the front door

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

The main house and 4 of 5 outbuildings

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

Ideas and notes

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

Wood, gravel. bluestone and granite

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

The Conceptual Plan

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

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

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

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

Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT

Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN

Ivette Soler, Los Angeles, CA

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

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

2010 Top 5 Posts–Yours!

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

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

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

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

Thoughts and ideas about sustainability in garden and landscape design.

A love song to the amazing architecture in Buffalo.

Garden Inspiration | Garden Designers Roundtable

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

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

Fashion and garden synergy

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


Industrial and natural textures collide

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

Movable gardens from Urban Buds


French company Bacsac on the move

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

Inception challenged perception

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



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

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

Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA

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

Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN

Ivette Soler : The Germinatrix : Los Angeles, CA

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

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

Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX

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

Rochelle Greayer : Studio G : Boston, MA

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



Garden Designers Roundtable: Romantic Garden Dining

It seems curious, as it gets cold here in late November,  that I would be thinking about dining outdoors, but  I have a secret.  I collect images of ultra-romantic outdoor furniture suitable for dining and tabletop accessories in hopes of styling one of  my client’s country gardens  for a photograph one day.  Since most of these are so over the top, I never do it, always opting for simpler props and photo styling.

As part of my design process – including the outdoor kitchens that are a mainstay of my design studio’s business, I think about the dining experience.  I like that there is something inherently decadent and luxurious about dining outside with china, crystal, beautiful fabrics and fabulous food.  So as the long northeast winter begins, dream with me about dining al fresco…click image to enlarge or visit the original at Olioboards.   Stop here if ‘eye candy’ isn’t on your menu…

Here’s the overall look I’m after…and a recipe.

Luxurious and romantic garden settings

And for the table–an old recipe from Gourmet (which I miss a lot!)  There’s nothing like fresh fruit from the garden in season…it’s what I miss most in the winter.

Prosecco and Summer Fruit Terrine

4 cups mixed fruit such as berries; peeled and thinly sliced peaches; and halved seedless grapes
2 3/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin (from two 1/4-oz envelopes)
2 cups Prosecco (Italian sparkling white wine)
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Arrange fruit in a 1 1/2-quart glass, ceramic, or nonstick terrine or loaf pan.

Sprinkle gelatin over 1/4 cup Prosecco in a small bowl and let stand 1 minute to soften. Bring 1 cup Prosecco to a boil with sugar, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and add gelatin mixture, stirring until dissolved. Stir in remaining 3/4 cup Prosecco and lemon juice, then transfer to a metal bowl set in a larger bowl of ice and cold water. Cool mixture, stirring occasionally, just to room temperature.

Slowly pour mixture over fruit, then chill, covered, until firm, at least 6 hours.

To unmold, dip pan in a larger pan of hot water 3 to 5 seconds to loosen. Invert a serving plate over terrine and invert terrine onto plate.

Photo: Romulo Yanes for Gourmet

This time, I’ll leave the garden and the cooking up to you…

Links to the rest of the Garden Designers Roundtable posts today:

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK
Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In the Garden : Los Altos, CA
Shirley Bovshow : Eden Makers : Los Angeles, CA
Susan Schlenger : Landscape Design Advice : Hampton, NJ

Garden Designers Roundtable | Follies

I have a taste for the absurd, the wildly impractical and the creative.  Add to that real or imagined historical context and VOILA! you have my favorite type of garden folly.  It’s really too bad that there’s little interest–both economically and aesthetically–in follies any more.  I love me a tumbled down ruin that really isn’t.  The Garden Designers Roundtable is posting on Renovation and Restoration today so I thought I’d take the contrary approach!

Yes, I did.

Build something that looks like it’s falling down–and has been for years, and years, and years.  Why?  Because it gives you pleasure.  We don’t do that enough in life.

Folly by master stone artist Dan Snow

Last Saturday I took some time and a 45 minute detour to visit my favorite folly.  The Ruin at Chanticleer is only ten years old.  It was built on what was left of the foundation of another house.  It is witty and intelligent. It is without a doubt one of my favorite garden spaces…ever. Chanticleer, a pleasure garden outside of  Philadelphia is a place of incredible imagination and  inspiration.  It is open to the public and if you are ever within shouting distance it is well worth the trip and the incredibly economical $5.00 entrance fee.

The ruin

On a small hill planted with Carex appalachia, the ruin begs further exploration.

The main entrance

And just inside the ‘door’…

A bit nutty...

There is so much to look at in the folly and so many convergent deas here that I’ve chosen to only feature a few.  It’s really one of those places that needs to be experienced in reality rather than via photographs and text.

The reflecting pool in the 'Great Room'

Espalier and succulents on the wall are reflected in a huge black granite sarcophagus like water feature.

Planting detail
Stone carpet

The library is adjacent to the ‘Great Hall’ complete with books…

A heavy read...

Through another opening is a slightly disturbing water feature with carved stone faces by sculptor Marcia Dohahue.

Floating faces

There are also planted fireplaces, containers,  gardens run amok and hundreds of little details.  No matter how many times I’ve visited, each time I could stay for hours.

View across the lawn

So next time garden restoration and renovation is a topic of discussion, why not take the opposing view and think about follies as a place of discovery and wonder.  Follies aren’t really a folly, they are a place to experiment wildly with the unexpected, the uncommon, and the undone.

The rest of the Roundtable posts can be found by clicking the links below.

Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA

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

Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

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

Rochelle Greayer : Studio “G” : Boston, MA

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

Garden Designers Roundtable – Underused Plant(s)

Underused plants is a totally subjective topic based only on one person’s experience.  So bear in mind that I’m the non-plant obsessed designer of the group!

I have visited many, many gardens and I’ve only seen this plant in three or four private gardens even though almost every arboretum and botanical garden I have visited has one.  So, in my experience, Heptacodium miconioides or Seven Son Flower is an underused large shrub/small tree if there ever was one.

With a climbing rose in a private garden in Pennsylvania

Hardy in USDA Zones 5-9, Seven Son Flower is a truely 4 season plant that tops out at 15-20 feet and about 10 feet wide.  It’s not terribly fussy and will grow in full sun or part shade.  It does require pruning at a young age to create a graceful tree form.  The small tree in the image above has been pruned, the one in image below has not.

In bloom

Now here’s the kicker…it may only survive due to its re-introduction into horticulture in the 1980s.  The Arnold Arboretum has had one since 1905, but it was rediscovered about 30 years ago and is very rare in its native habitat in China.

Why should you have it in your garden?  It rivals Stewartia pseudocamellia with its bark’s exfoliating beauty.

Exfoliating bark
Winter Interest with texture and structure

Its vase shape makes it valuable for designing a layered planting scheme and an easy companion to woodland shade lovers.

Multi-stemmed vase shape

The bold and coarse foliage is very useful when creating textural interest.

Bold foliage

Personally, I really like the buds.

Heptacodium flower buds

When most gardens are beginning to wane, Seven Son Flower puts on a show.  It has spectacular late season, fragrant blossoms when little else is in bloom.  They start out white and as the fall progresses the calyces turn rosey as if it has a second, different color bloom cycle.  They are attractive to butterflies.  Its fall foliage is golden–although pretty unremarkable.

White Bloom
Late season color

What’s not to like?

Here are the links to the rest of the roundtable posts…enjoy–it’s a plant-a-holic’s delight!

Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA »
Carolyn Gail Choi : Sweet Home and Garden Chicago : Chicago, IL »
Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA »
Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT
Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN »
Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA »
Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO »
Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK »
Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX »
Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In the Garden : Los Altos, CA »
Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT »
Tara Dillard : Vanishing Threshold: Garden Life Home : Atlanta, GA »

In My Reader…

For those of you have been reading Miss R for a while, you know how I am constantly on the hunt for inspiration for my garden and landscape design work. You also probably have figured out that I am a lifelong voracious reader of everything–newspapers, blogs, books, cereal boxes–even Miss R is named after a heroine in a book.  I read serious tomes not as often as I probably should, but also magazines of every sort,  trashy novels, gardening books, biographies and even The Star in the grocery aisle.  I am curious about many things except vampires.

So starting this Friday for a while,  with In My Reader I’m going to share exactly that…what I’m reading and looking at (sometimes it’s all about the pictures). New and old favorites, blogs, websites and other on-line resources along side books, articles and other printed (yes printed on paper) materials that I use and find in this process.  As a warning though…it might take a while to connect the dots…I have a busy mind and a sometimes a short attention span.  Please stop by and let me know what you think…

As a preview of things to come…today at 1 pm EST pick up links from the Garden Designers Roundtable.  I am a contributing member, but I’m not posting on this month’s topic ‘Small Spaces’.

Oh! Kay…

Don’t get used to it–that is two plant postings in a row– but May brings bloom, and I fall in and out of plant lust every minute.   I have often said that plants are the last thing on a designer’s list when fleshing out a landscape plan, but without the knowledge of them…well that’s a whole other discussion.

My favorite magnolia  is M. grandiflora ‘Kay Parris’.  It  has large creamy almost prehistoric looking blooms that are wonderfully fragrant.  The tree itself is upright instead of broad and its  foliage is shiny green on top with fuzzy cinnamon undersides.  Hardy to zone 6 it’s appropriate for smaller gardens.  I have used it in client’s gardens for years and it never fails to delight.

Kay Parris

Self Contained

I’m not blogging with the Roundtable this month, but I thought I’d share some more of the containers I saw while shopping the market a few weeks ago at Terrain anyway.  I already posted one of a trio of shade pots on the Garden Designers Roundtable Facebook page.  If you want to read the Roundtable posts,  there’s a link just under the photos below…

Read the Garden Designers Roundtable posts by following the links from here at 1 pm EST.

Garden Designer’s Roundtable: Visual Clues

When I thought about the idea of exploring focal points, I thought in the plural and I also thought about my own design process.  Among the first things I consider after I’ve figured out most of the more functional needs of a garden’s design is how I want people to move through a space and how I can visually manage their interaction with it.  What will make them slow down and look to the distance? What will make them speed up to discover what something really is? What is going to draw the eye, pique the imagination, stop a viewer in their tracks with either beauty or delight?  Many times these visual clues are focal points.

In the garden plan below, a project finished just a few days ago, there is a series of three focal points – individual and unique in their function, all have a distinct role to play in the human experience of the garden.  Each one is deliberate it its attempt to evoke a response – either to draw participants into the space or to give them a visual resting place.

Garden Plan

From left to right-the focal points:  an urn in the center of the orchard,  an arbor at the entrance to the orchard, and a pole for sugar snap peas to climb in the center of the garden.  They are designed to work in a sort of tag team sequence so that from almost any angle of the garden the eye is drawn from one to the next to the next.  The idea is to  allow people to visually travel the space without actually moving through it.

The three focal points

When experienced in a straight line each point has it’s own identity and helps to create a marker for travel through the garden visually telling them that there is something else beyond.  Below is a photo from the side of  the garden and each focal point is still doing its job.

Sideline view of three focal points

The urn in the orchard was specifically planted with bright red geraniums to be a beacon in the distance–the garden is over 100 feet long.  It doesn’t really matter if no one goes back there or not–it defines the space as separate and unique from a distance.


Focal points are more than just a place to look in a garden-they can direct, intrigue and inform the people who spend time there.

Now you can focus on what the other members of the roundtable have to say…follow the links here…

Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA »
Carolyn Choi : Sweet Home and Garden Chicago : Chicago, IL »
Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT »
Laura Livengood Schaub : Interleafings : San Jose, CA »
Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK »
Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX »
Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In the Garden : Los Altos, CA »
Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ »
Susan Morrison : Blue Planet Garden Blog : East Bay, CA »
Susan Schlenger : Landscape Design Advice : Hampton, NJ »
Tara Dillard : : Atlanta, GA »