Garden Travel: Back and Forth

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

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

vizcaya main parterre

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

Vizcaya Levels of geometry

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

Vizcaya Symmetry

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

Vizcaya mashup of traditional and local materials

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

vizcaya secret garden

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

Vizcaya inside the summer house

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

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


Garden Design Details: Stone at Skylands

I hadn’t visited Skylands for about ten years, and never in the fall.  I went hoping to see the last of the fall foliage and instead found stonework that was interesting in its scope and full of ideas.

Skylands Pillar

Formerly an estate developed in the 1920s, it is now the New Jersey Botanical Garden and its stone American Tudor mansion  is better known than the gardens as a popular site for weddings.

Skylands steps to water feature

The stonework at Skylands is incredible and impressive…even if much of it is in need of repair.  There is both formal and rustic stonework and sometimes dressed stone is juxtaposed with natural, dry stacked with mortared.

Stone pillar and farm wall SkylandsStone entry and built in bench Skylandscurved stone steps SkylandsStone wall with rustic steps Skylands

There were two stone features in particular that I loved and was inspired by.  The first, a window box clearly displayed the hand and skill of the mason who made it.  I’ve never seen one like this and would love to be able to duplicate it in some way.

stone planter Skylands Stone planter detail Skylands

The other was some bluestone flat work done to surround a planter.  The stone radiates out from the central point of the circle, with angular cuts.

radiating bluestone paving Skylands

Skylands is a place that mostly stands still.  A new crabapple allee that had been planned when I was last there has been planted, but the site still screams that it is underfunded and under appreciated.

Crabapple allee Skylands

I was one of seven (I counted) people there on a sunny afternoon, and one of them was mowing the lawn.

Balcony floor

Garden Visits: Princeton

I visited gardens yesterday in Princeton, New Jersey. The tour was arranged by the New Jersey Landscape and Nursery Association (NJNLA) and featured four very different gardens by designer Bill Kucas.

What struck me about these outdoor spaces was that their details is what really made them interesting. In each space the features beyond plants were detailed beautifully, but when I asked about what made the spaces personal, that had been left up to the clients. In each space, with the exception of the one still being built, the choice of furniture and accessories beyond what the landscape designer had envisioned is what finished them and made them useful, wonderful places for people. Is a patio or deck really a place for people if there’s nowhere to sit or gather? Too often landscape designers stop at the plants and hard surfaces and leave the finishing touches up to the homeowner when the total vision should include all of the accouterments. Our interior design peers would never leave a space unfurnished!  None of this in anyway detracted from the day…even the predicted rain held off until we were leaving the very last one.

By far, my favorite detail of the day was a balcony with thin brick or roofing tiles set on edge.  It was finished with a rectangular copper gutter above and containing Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata).

Balcony floor

Additionally, there were other beautiful masonry details in each garden.  The pier below was unusual in that it combined stone, wood and concrete – each as its own detail but unified in the end product.

Garden pierWall fountain bluestone and brick paving detail

There were multiple seating areas in each space. Each had furnishings and accessories appropriate to the design and surrounding architecture.  There was contemporary furniture from Design within Reach and vintage Smith and Hawken at one site; Restoration Hardware dominated another; a third had a collection of antique and vintage pieces.  All of these ‘additions’ helped define the personality of the space and were lost opportunities for the designer to ‘finish’ the project through space and or furniture planning.  It’s true, sometimes clients want to do it themselves, but often they want to collaborate and don’t have access to the ‘To the Trade’ options that designers can provide.

DWR table and chairsFireplace Princeton

Pergola and marriage of materials

Lanterns in treeNow it’s back to work creating gardens and landscapes instead of being a ‘tourist’ in my own state on a busman’s holiday!


Sphinx at Hillwood Washington DC

A Tale of Two Garden Sphinxes

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

The sphinx at Hillwood…

Sphinx at Hillwood Washington DC

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

Sphinx at Blairsden

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

Jardin Majorelle

Garden Visit: Jardin Majorelle

I first read about Jardin Majorelle in Marrakesh, Morocco in the early 1980s in a fashion magazine story about Yves St. Laurent.

Jardin Majorelle

YSL and his partner Pierre Berge had bought the property, saved it from demolition, and set about restoring it. From the first brilliant blue photo I saw, I knew I wanted to stand in and experience this garden, not just look at it in pictures.

Noon shadows Jardin Majorelle

Originally designed and built in the 1920s by artist Jacques Majorelle who painted its walls blue and its details brilliant shades of yellow, green, orange and red off set by chalky tones of turquoise and green.

Shade house Jardin Majorelle

He collected plants in his travels and opened his garden to the public.  By the end of his life, however, he had to sell it and it deteriorated to the point that it was going to be leveled for a new Marrakesh hotel.

fountain and garden Jardin Majorelle

For me, Majorelle is about the interplay of color, water and light. It is less about its collection of 300 plants.  Their grey Mediterranean tones are counterpoints for bursts of bold, sun kissed color.

Jardin Majorelle Marrakesh

St. Laurent was born and raised in North Africa. He didn’t move to Paris until he was 18.  The light, color and texture of this place was as much a part of who he was as the rarefied world of the couture in Paris.  He often lived and worked at here until his death in 2008.  There is a simple memorial dedicated to his memory.

YSL memorial Majorelle

Having been warned, I went very early, before the tour buses arrived, and the garden got crowded.  I stayed for several hours watching the light and shadows.  I was transported by Majorelle’s joyful interplay of art, gardens, and fashion. Go if you can.

Pergola Jardin Majorelle Colored pots and reflecting pool Jardin Majorelle Jardin Majorelle


overgrown boxwood Greenwood Gardens

Garden Visit: Greenwood Gardens

Greenwood Gardens, a Garden Conservancy preservation project, is also a public garden that has recently re-opened after several years of adaptive renovations.

In Short Hills, NJ, it’s about ten minutes from my home office, so I have visited it often since its first open day about 10 years ago.  I was lucky recently to be part of a private tour for APLD’s NJ chapter led by Louis Bauer, Greenwood’s Director of Horticulture.  It has been fascinating to watch the transformation of this garden.

When I first visited, the bones were there and the plantings, particularly the boxwood and yew hedging, were overgrown and blowzy.

overgrown boxwood Greenwood Gardens

 Much of the boxwood and yew hedging has been tamed.

formal axis greenwood gardens

The areas around the Georgian Revival home have been restored and are used for lectures, fund raising events and private parties.  Peter P. Blanchard, III, a descendant of the estate’s second owner, has been instrumental in saving and preserving the property in a region that is rapidly being subdivided, with old wonderful homes replaced by newer ones.  It’s a wonderful testament to loving the land we live on.

Facade of Greenwood Garden House with planters

Formal axis and monumental water features were in disarray, some still are, others, like the fountain like the fountain below, with Rookwood ornamentation,  have been restored.  Rookwood and the locally based (now defunct) Fulper tiles and charming repetition of a rooster motif can be found throughout the gardens.

Greenwood gardens

Other areas aren’t restored yet and Bauer has used plants to allude to what was once there.  The large water feature at one end of the long formal axis has a crumbling colonnade was once topped by a pergola.

Greenwood Gardens

The garden has always appealed to the decay porn lover in me and I found it have its own  visual poetry.

Greenwood Gardens

Greenwood Gardens still has aspects of that tumbled down romance, but now parts of it are side by side with renovated details, pumped up and pruned plantings as well as new ADA required accessibility necessary for a public garden.  I miss some of what was left to my imagination but also admire the restoration.  There are many details that I have yet to photograph…this last visit was at dusk and two of the wonderful architectural features were cloaked in darkness–the folly and the summerhouse.

foundations Greenwood Gardens

The foundations of the estate’s former glasshouses are lovely in their ruined state although they will be much more useful once restored.

stone wall and steps greenwood gardens

 The lower gardens at Greenwood have an incredible cascade that once culminated into a swimming pool, a folly with sculptural dwarf chess pieces, and a beautifully proportioned summerhouse as well as a natural pond and Sycamore allee.

Cascade Greenwood Gardens sycamore allee Greenwood Gardens

Greenwood is a garden in transition and to me, as a designer, that’s the most interesting and intriguing part of visiting.  I love gardens that allow my imagination to soar, that have stories to tell and mysteries to reveal.  Plants in some cases to echo what used to be architectural features and new naturalistic plantings in the front of the house are particularly beautiful.  I look forward to following the rest of the renovation, but will miss the romance of the ruin.


Garden Visit: Atlanta Botanical Garden

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


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




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

Earth Goddess

Nemours Garden

Garden Designers Roundtable: Maintaining a Grand Plan

I had the privilege last week of free and unfettered access to one of America’s great country estates, Nemours. Happy for a working day out in a grand garden I had only heard about, I went.  Nemours, in Delaware, was built by a duPont and the gardens and mansion have just re-opened after a $40 million renovation.

Nemours Garden

Built as a love letter to his second wife (who did not love him back)  in 1907, A. I. duPont had the money and the means to build a European style pleasure garden complete with grand vistas, follies, fountains and enough formality and gold leaf to awe just about any visitor.  The most impressive golden object (they’re 24K gold leaf) at Nemours is a garden sculpture titled ‘Achievement’ in the grand allee.  Self aggrandized irony in that choice?

Gilded sculpture at Nemours

There are 4.5 miles of clipped hedging including boxwood, privet and barberry in the gardens.  Less invasive and lower maintenance choices were not made as part of the renovation.  There are acres of annuals.  A.I. duPont  had a staff of more than 300 to prune, pinch back, weed and maintain the formal gardens as well as the estate’s farm.  Today the staff is much, much, smaller and reliant on chemical solutions rather than the inexpensive labor-centric, mostly organic practices of 1907.  When labor became too expensive, chemicals became the cheap solution.

Abandoned greenhouse at Nemours

In its heyday, there were orchards and a formal potager, and there were greenhouses, now in a state of abandon, not far from the house.  It was self-sustaining in a way that few large properties are even now.  The original vision for the property included these details – food, cut flowers for arrangements, and homegrown bedding plants.  It was a working integrated estate.  Now, as a garden museum, it’s working core isn’t evident.  The grape arbor from the original potager is being replanted with table grapes, but the rest of it has been paved over for parking.  The pumphouse and root cellar are still there.  The only other remnants of Nemour’s farm are a few old pieces of machinery that were left in a forgotten corner of a barn and are set quaintly out in a field as if they didn’t matter much.  Most of the producing farmland was sold and  is now part of a state park.

These bygone estate gardens, which we should consider museums of our own garden history, are unsustainable without huge, well-trained staffs of gardeners and the working parts that served them.  Their pristine (if somewhat skewed in their reverence) ideal is expensive to maintain.  The pleasure gardens were never meant to be natural to begin with.  I’m sure there are ways to include more sustainable practices, the types employed when the estate was first built, but it takes imagination and not a little bit of knowledge to get them there without legions of low paid workers.  But wait!  Isn’t that who we employ to cut our own lawns and mulch our own beds? Few of them have training or practice organic gardening either.  What’s wrong with us?  Why do we seek to maintain (outside of a garden museum) the pristine yet false ideals of a world long gone when cheap labor needs to be replaced with chemicals who do our earth such great harm?  A little bit of mess is a good thing for all of us and the planet we live on.

For more  thoughts about maintaining gardens from designer/bloggers,just click the links below.

Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA
David Cristiani : The Desert Edge : Albuquerque, NM
Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT
Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN
Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK
Mary Gallagher Gray : Black Walnut Dispatch : Washington, D.C.


Mario Valdes sculpture

Art in the Garden : Manolo Valdes

There was an unexpected pleasure added to my visit to NYBG last week – the monumental, garden inspired sculptures of Mario Valdes.  They were supposed to be gone by then and weren’t, so I was thrilled to see them.  Here’s why.  For me, these heads (created specifically for this exhibit) surrounded and sometimes engulfed with leaves, butterflies and garden elements perfectly symbolized exactly what goes on in mine sometimes. Whether that was the artists intent or not it was totally delightful to see them. Enjoy.

Mario Valdes sculpture

Garden Art Mario Valdes

Steel butterfly sculpture Mario Valdes

NYBG Mario Valdes monumental sculpture

Mario Valdes sclupture

Ferns and Grasses

Field Trip: Native Plant Garden at NYBG

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

Ferns and Grasses

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

Foam Flowers - Tiarella cordifolia

Woodland edge

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

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

Jungle Design Williamsburg

Field Trip: Jungle

Hip isn’t a description usually used for garden centers.  Jungle, in Brooklyn, is hip.  Owner and landscape designer, Amanda Mitchell has created a smart and compelling space in trendy Williamsburg that blends vintage and contemporary, urban and bucolic, rustic and sleek, cutting edge and ancient near the East River.

Jungle Design Williamsburg

A brick wall with a bird mural painted by naturalistic street artist Roa, dominates one side of the nursery.

Roa Street Art Brooklyn

Street Art Roa Brooklyn

The  opposite side has a bluish theme. A baby blue pergola hung with vintage style railroad lamps, a blue structure of unknown use, and in the rear behind a beautifully built pergola that spans the space and next to the diminutive design studio, a patio continued the baby blue theme.

blue pergola

Vintage blue outdoor sofa

I visited Jungle for a party thrown by Dutch Tub.  There were several of them as well as their portable and very clever multipurpose wood stove/pizza oven Outdooroven which was being put to good use making pizzas for the guests.

oven in use

Jungle Design Brooklyn


Urban Garden Center NYc

Field Trip: Urban Garden Center NYC

Never have I seen so much done with so little.  A garden center under the railroad tracks with no running water and no electricity?  That’s Urban Garden Center in Spanish Harlem.

Urban Garden Center NYc

Plants, seeds and tools happily co-exist with dumpster dive finds and new merchandise that is used with aplomb, humor and an a sense of style that typifies its can-do attitude.

Display at Urban Garden Center NYC

 It’s totally wacky and fantastic.  I loved it.

Chairs on a chain link fence NYC

Spanning two blocks under the elevated railroad tracks from 116th to 118th Street, Urban Garden Center is a multi-generational family business with a big heart.  They not only serve the immediate community, they work in the retail shop and are committed to and passionate about what they are trying to achieve and against all odds.  Water is carted in several times a day in 250 gallon tanks from across the street.  Electricity is via generator.

Water at Urban Garden Center NYC

While I was there with my friend Elizabeth Przygoda-Montgomery of Shop Boxhill, I saw a young couple buying a pot of geraniums for their fire escape (a New York garden space) and a well-heeled Park Avenue type who tried to buy everything he saw…even if it wasn’t for sale!  Three of my favorite vignettes are below.

Art Chair NYC

Display at Urban Garden Center NYC116th street Urban Garden Center NYC

Field Trip: The Litchfield Daffodils

Last Saturday, after talking about garden design at White Flower Farm, I met up with an old friend and we spent the afternoon in Litchfield, CT touring about and catching up.  Our final stop of the day was Laurel Ridge.

Litchfield Daffodils Laurel Hill

 There were tens of thousands of narcissus in bloom on fifteen acres of hillside deemed too rocky for farming.

Upper Pasture Litchfield Daffodils

Laurel Hill Narcissus

 The pasture was first planted in 1941 and is now supported by the Laurel Ridge Foundation.  It was a lovely spring afternoon ramble!

Reeves Reed Arboretum

Reeves-Reed Arboretum: 2013 Art in the Garden

This year they got it right.  The 2013 installment of Art in the Garden at Reeves-Reed Arboretum features the work of sculptor Tom Holmes.  The dozen or so works are placed throughout the gardens and to see them all is to also see the garden in a new way.

Reeves Reed Arboretum

An early morning walk revealed thoughtful placement of sometimes monumental work that had a direct relationship to nature. Mr. Holmes’ work and the individual placement throughout the arboretum challenges the viewer to think not only about the power of art in the landscape, but how relationships between art and nature can be formed.

Reeves Reed Arboretum


Stone crescent sculpture Tom Holmes

Tom Holmes sculpture Reeves Reed Arboretum

The Reeves-Reed Arboretum is located on Hobart Avenue in Summit, NJ and is open dawn till dusk.  A post on a previous year’s installation can be found here.

Rock Garden

Field Trip: Leonard J. Buck Garden

Tens of thousands of years ago, a glacial lake drained leaving behind basalt outcroppings now known as Moggy Hollow in its wake.  Flash forward to the 1930s, when Leonard Buck planted them and established what would become a world class rock garden in a wooded glade on his estate in Far Hills.

Rock Garden

Inch forward a few seconds in the earth’s history and you have the sunny and cool 21st century spring afternoon when I visited what is now a county park.

Buck Garden Far Hills

I am not a rock  or alpine garden officiando, but the Leonard J. Buck Garden does something else very well.  It seamlessly (for the most part) blends the gardeners hand within the broader context of the natural world.  Even with the contemporary interest in natural planting schemes, this garden stands out.

There are large swaths of woodland, but they are augmented with pathways, viewing ledges, plants and rustic structures. There is evidence of slope conservation and reintroduction of native plants, and there also are the eccentric plants, such as the dwarf boxwoods (Buxus ‘Kingsville Dwarf’) that mound up hillsides and on rock formations here and there.

Buck Gardens Far Hills NJ

Other groups of spring bulbs on a slope of hardwoods seem more natural.  There are many varieties of ferns and Solomon’s Seal.  There are Trilliums (thanks to the electrified perimeter deer fence) and Aquilegia and Epimediums and flowering trees.  The thoughtful placement and planning of paths and bridges over the park’s meandering stream allows an easy ramble of  discovery.

Directions to the garden can be found here.

Guadeloupe painting on Door

Guadeloupe, Gardens, and Prie Dieu

Have you ever visited a garden that as a whole didn’t speak to you but parts of it made you smile?  That happened to me last week.  A garden I visited incorporated an extensive and lively collection of Mexican folk art.  Colorful trinkets were everywhere and way over the top.  Throughout the garden there were multiple icons and images of Our Lady of Guadeloupe, the patron saint of Mexico.  Three of these just made me smile…one, the last one you’ll see here, made me laugh out loud.

Guadeloupe painting on Door
First, she appeared on the kitchen door
Patron Saint of Mexico Guadeloupe
Next she appeared as a mosaic inset on the back of a garden wall
Gardener's shrine to Guadeloupe
Finally, complete with a gardener’s Prie Dieu, in a brick shrine in the side yard


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



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.

Field Trip: Mariani Gardens

Enroute to Connecticut for a party two weeks ago, I stopped for a second look at Mariani Gardens, an upscale garden/design center in Armonk, NY.  My first visit was four years ago just after it had opened.

At the entrance

Their specific specialty is large B & B (balled and burlaped) trees.  That hasn’t changed in four years.  They have beautiful specimens in very large sizes with very large pricetags.

Large b & b trees in the garden center
Fastigiate copper beeches

When I visited the first time, the parking lot was full, the cafe hopping and all of the design areas well stocked.  When I visited two weeks ago–45 minutes before closing on a Saturday–I was the only customer.

Plant display

Despite the lack of clientele…a closed cafe and and merchandising that looked much the same as it did four years prior, there were some interesting ideas and products to be found.  Mariani has high end furnishings for outdoor rooms from companies like Janus et Cie and Brown Jordan among others.  These were merchandised beautifully–I actually bought a small lantern shown on the side table below as a hostess gift.


The most unusual thing I saw was a Betula jacqemontii (Himalayan Birch) trained as a sort of umbrella.  I’ve never seen a tree trained that way before.


Betula umbrella
Canopy detail

Would I go again?  If I was driving by, certainly.  Would I make a special trip?  Probably not.







A Garden is a Lovesome thing…

The poem in the title (and below) , by Thomas Edward Brown, is carved in stone at the entrance to the private pleasure garden Ellen Biddle Shipman designed for Gertrude Seiberling at Stan Hywet Hall.

Sculpture at the end of the garden

There is an innate femininity to Shipman’s gardens.  As a divorced, single parent with a career at the beginning of the 20th century I can’t even imagine the prejudice she faced.  When I visit her surviving gardens I am always aware of their rigid formalism tempered with softer plantings and color.  Gardens are always an expressive art and bare the imprint of their makers.

The reflecting pool at the garden's center

During her long career, Shipman made many gardens.  Some are wild, but most have an underlying formality typical of the times.  The design features are always softened by other elements–much like Shipman must have been in real life.

Geometry softened by plantings

That the garden is called the ‘English Garden’ does it a disservice.  It is uniquely American both in its design and its designer.  The garden is of its time and place and has been faithfully restored to Shipman’s plans.

Garden Cottage

I loved that her plan, which is shown at the garden’s entrance is very adamant about not substituting plants or features.  She must have had a steel backbone to stand up and make sure her vision was realized exactly as she saw it in her mind’s eye. Plantings included boxwood, hydrangeas, espaliered apples, climbing roses, peonies, standards, iris and most suprisingly the day I was there, the native–and a personal favorite of mine–Thermopsis caroliniana.

Thermopsis caroliniana

Whenever I visit a Shipman garden or their remnants, I’m always in awe and don’t necessarily take the best photos…I’m too busy trying to get inside this woman’s head…to feel what she wanted me to feel and to learn from her all these years later.

A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot!
Rose plot,
Fringed pool,
Ferned grot–
The veriest school
Of peace; and yet the fool
Contends that God is not–
Not God! in gardens! when the eve is cool?
Nay, but I have a sign;
‘Tis very sure God walks in mine.


Garden Design Details: Cleveland Underfoot

I was visiting gardens in the greater Cleveland area last week and what struck me most was the details.  There were wonderful, thoughtful ideas in almost every garden of the more than 30 we visited.

Here are some of the wide variety of uses for natural stone paving and steps seen in the gardens.  Some of these were found on modest properties, others on grand estates.  All are interesting and can be easily reinterpreted…all except the hand carved steps that is.

At landscape designer, Ann Cicarella’s home garden…

Carved rosette and bluestone set in pea gravel
Masterful intersection of four types of stone

At a private garden…the house was mid-century…

Double sets of limestone treads used as risers

At designers Sabrina Schweyer, APLD and Samuel Salsbury FAPLD’s home garden in Akron…

Natural stone steps and wall with 'mushroom' light
Slab bridge over small stream

At Stan Hywet Hall, now a public garden, once a grand country manor in Akron…

Hand carved limestone risers
Ellen Biddle Shipman--classic bluestone/brick walkway

And at two different private gardens.  Unusual sandstone paver driveways. The second is at a private home.  The second is part of a grand manor designed by LD Taylor from 1929-32.

Stone paver patterns
Sandstone car park in a classical pattern

Many of the rest of my photos will be used to illustrate ideas throughout the coming months…hope you stick around and enjoy!


Miss R on the road…visiting gardens

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


APLD President, Bobbie Schwartz

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

In my Reader…Perspectives from an Italian Garden

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

Villa d'Este, Lake Cuomo


Private garden, Taroudant, Morocco


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


Townhouse Entry, London


Small garden, El Escorial, Spain


In my Reader…Earthly Delights

This is probably more a save the date than anything else.  If you live and work in the New York metropolitan region, plan on attending this event on May 21st!  Earthly Delights promises to be an exceptional garden event filled with great speakers, cool garden antiques and rare plants.  It will be worth the drive from Philadelphia or Connecticut too.  You might remember the review of the garden it’s being held in that I posted last spring…

Circular Swimming Pools

I’m working on a landscape design that will incorporate a round pool.  I’ve been meaning to write about circular swimming pools for a while and have been collecting inspiration images on garden visits.  Round pools can stand on their own as a traditional pool or they can be integrated into the garden and ‘read’ as a pond rather than a pool.

Here are a few I’ve seen on garden visits in the past two years.

Round pool at Bamboo Brook

Designed and built in New Jersey in the early 20th century by one of the first women landscape architects, Martha Brookes Hutcheson, this was a swimming pool and part of a larger water harvesting system.  Since her property, Merchiston Farm has become a public park it has modified and is now only 12″ deep.

Midcentury solution - round swimming pool

Tucked into a corner, this round pool designed by Dallas landscape architect Susi Thompson is perfect for this mid-century modern home.

Robert Bellamy's home pool
Robert Bellamy - round pool for a client

Two pools by Dallas based landscape architect, Robert Bellamy.  The first at his home and the second a variation on a theme for a client.

The round 'fountain' pool

Renny Reynolds and Jack Staub’s  round ‘fountain’ at Hortulus Farm in Pennsylvania.  I didn’t realize it was a pool until I saw the steps into it…

Eliptical plunge pool

An eliptical variation on the round pool theme from David Hocker, a Dallas based landscape architect.

A Crying Shame

Despite my swagger, I’m a softy.  I well up in tears when I am moved by something–not usually landscapes or gardens.  In most professional situations, I am able to contain myself.  At Lawrence Halprin’s Heritiage Plaza in Fort Worth I was not…it made me cry.  I felt privileged to be able to visit on a private tour while in Fort Worth with APLD.  There I go again–moist eyes.

That a city with as much wealth as Fort Worth has let this park deteriorate is a travesty.  That the 8 million dollars needed to restore it hasn’t been raised is shameful.  Across town Phillip Johnson and John Burgee’s Water Gardens from the same era (1974) is a vibrant public space despite its stark and hard edged brutalist design.

Unlike the Water Gardens which could be dropped down in any open field, Halprin’s design honors the land it occupies and is/was a living hymn to the city’s past as well as its future.  There is growing grassroots support for its restoration, but make no mistake about it, it’s endangered.  Its future is in question–the necessary funds have not been raised.

Honoring the past and the future

Heritage Plaza was built in 1977.  In an effort to help protect it, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places this year.

The central plaza

Surrounded by chain link fence since 2007, this modernist marvel of design and engineering is in an advanced state of disrepair and closed to the public.  It is a  ghost town. So empty in fact, that the day we visited a grey fox was hunting in the central plaza–climbing the tree in the lower left hand corner of the image above and then disappearing down and empty rill into the wild beyond.

The main pavilion and 'source' for the water works

As it is across town at the Water Gardens, H2O was a central theme here, but instead of being a series of wet monolithic vignettes, its intimate spaces helped to tell the park’s story and humanize its experience.

The first 'drop'

Rills, falls, intricate water courses, ponds and wet walls follow a path throughout the park.  Even without the water, its suggested intent is clear.  To walk the plaza, you would have had  to interact with the water by listening to it, walking over it, along side it and under it.  It guided and followed.

Stepping 'stones' across a rill

Beyond the modernist concrete bones of Halprin’s vision for the space, built on the site of what was once the actual Fort Worth, what’s left now are poor repairs, rills filled with leaves and the overwhelming sense that something magical is missing.  There I go again…moist eyes.

Where's the water?
Poorly patched and empty water course

My photographs only begin to tell the story.  The park needs to be experienced to understand its full impact–even without the water so central to its design.  Halprin’s interlocking and intersecting grids are clear. The presence of the constantly moving water–now missing–would have softened hard edges and added shimmering and reflective qualities not seen without it.  It would have created a sound barrier from the noise of the city beyond its walls.  People and water would have breathed life into the now abandoned space.

Path across a ghost pond
The water wall just above the ghost pond
View from the level above

There is a short history of the park and its decent and the struggle to save it on the Cultural Landscape Foundation’s website.  For now though, the rills are everywhere, below, beside, above and even through the walls….yet they are empty, rotting and sad.  There I go, moist eyes again.

Dallas, Part 2a – Cool and Modern

My trip to Dallas last week with APLD included five days of garden visits to 35 gardens both public and private.  This marathon of visual input and inspiration was exhilarating and surprising.  The traditional and the contemporary exist side by side in this cosmopolitan and culturally sophisticated city.  Since there were so many great gardens, I’ve decided to break it up into a few posts.   The first two are by a local landscape architect who is creating a lot of buzz.

The first two gardens are contemporary.  I saw some of the the best modern design I’ve seen in a long time in Dallas–there will be others profiled in subsequent posts.  Both of these gardens are products of the same design team–Landscape design by David Hocker, ASLA + Residence designed  by Gary Cunningham.   Each project used space and borrowed views to advantage, celebrated local materials and plants in a surprising and sometimes challenging ways, but most important of all, they were human in scale and were designed for people to interact with both the land and each other.

The Northrup Garden

This garden had a controlled color palette of cool grey-blues, white and tan.  It was on a gently sloped corner lot and was designed to be relatively maintenance free without the need for excessive water.  It capitalized on the borrowed views of the park across the street.  What resulted is a serene, contemporary space that respected the genus loci and felt larger than it was.  Great attention was paid to the details with local materials and native plants used throughout.  The elliptical plunge pool was a pleasant surprise and didn’t feel forced or out of place.

The corner of the property
View from the street
The front yard looking back to the entry
Raised edge of pool set into gentle slope

The Ballangee Garden

The same team created this contemporary home on the eastern shore of Joe Pool Lake.  There are similarities in the architecture style, but the plant palette and use of space was completely different.  Native plants, local materials and wildlife habitat make this very modern home feel as if it’s been there for a very long time.  I ran around for 20 minutes taking photos before settling in at the top of the tower with a glass of wine to watch the sun set.  Close to the house, the space was very grid oriented, but as  you moved into the larger landscape the spaces became more natural and expansive.  Mowed areas were punctuated by natural areas and conversely, natural areas had mowed paths through them.   I was really enamored with the turf ramp that went from the veranda to the open lawn.

The back view of the 'lookout' tower
A view from the tower to the pool and the lake
Pool detail, outdoor kitchen and fire pit
The last golden rays of light

Dallas, Part 1

I came to Dallas with few preconceived ideas.  I haven’t been here since 1978.  It’s changed a bit.  As I said last week, what I did expect was to be inspired by what I see and hear.  That’s happened already.  My first impressions are about the juxtaposition of materials in the gardens we’ve visited.  The attention to materials used in a pure way has blown me away.  Industrial with organic,  hard with soft,  fine with coarse are all part of the mix.

Equisetum, brick, aluminum, Buffalo grass, concrete
Stone, brick, stained glass, and wood
Tempered glass, aluminum, Buffalo grass, concrete
Bronze, mirrored glass, plants and brick
Pebbles, aggregate and smooth concrete
Soft turf and brick
Glass, stone, plants

There will be more on the gardens as soon as I have a chance to process everything and organize my thoughts.  It’s a whirlwind of input.

In my Reader…an itinerary

In what little spare time I have this week, I’ve been pouring over an advance copy of the itinerary and conference brochure for next week’s Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD) International Landscape Design Conference in Dallas.

Conference Brochure

This will be my fifth consecutive year attending this particular conference.  What is the attraction?  It’s the dialog. There’s lots of conversation, but most important to me is the visual dialog between me and the incredibly high quality of the landscapes and gardens we visit.  Some are popular locally, but many others are never open to anyone.   In fact, we have been asked when visiting some gardens in the past to not publish photographs or write about our visits publicly to protect the homeowner’s privacy.  I learn from the discourse, the divergent experiences and opinions of my peers.  I learn by going somewhere where I don’t know the plants and can focus simply on the design elements.  I become a better designer through my participation.

Garden on APLD Dallas tour

The conferences are timed so that the landscapes and gardens we visit are at their peak.  Each location has been different–selected with the idea that there is something unique about the locale and its unique regional design sensibility. I’ve learned not to question why we are going to a particular place and instead trust that the designers who organize the conference locally will show me the best and most challenging outdoor spaces they have to offer.

Garden detail in Dallas

I will be blogging, tweeting and otherwise sharing my experiences both as will several of my APLD peers. You can follow along in your own reader,  on the APLD FB page or by using the #apld hashtag for Twitter.

Ultra modernist garden on Dallas tour

Garden Tour

One of my gardens is part of the Friends of Frelinghuysen fall garden tour on September 19th.  Registration for the self guided tour is open until September 15th and will feature 5 private gardens rarely open to the public in Summit and Short Hills.

The landscape and gardens I designed are a complex mix of distinct areas – not rooms.  Each has its own unique character and performs a specific function yet they all hold together as a whole.  The property, about 2 acres, was first landscaped in the 1920s when the original Norman style Tudor home was built.  The current owners doubled the size of the house and called me to design the landscape.  I love working on American Tudors.

Here are three of the larger areas.  The first is a restored and augmented woodland.  We removed weedy trees and as much of the original pachysandra as we could and added a bluestone stepping path through it.  We also added ferns, dogwoods, Solomon’s seal and moved all of the shade loving white blooming and white variegated shrubs and perennials to this area of the property.  The woodland shields much of the corner view in and out of the house from the street and helps to create a sense of mystery.  There is an entrance across the lawn from one of the two adjacent streets through a mature row of hemlocks (all of which were exceedingly healthy).

Late spring woodland in Summit, NJ

On the opposite side of the property the renovation and expansion left a mass of exposed utilities adjacent the existing pool.   How pretty..not! I designed some simple trellis work and installed  it to complement the French style of the home and hide the eyesores.  I also enlarged the pool deck to allow for some furniture.  It had been 3′ wide with a 6′ deep rhododendron filled garden with no place to sit or entertain.

Pool deck and trelliage

A garden was created on the opposite side of the pool which is the primary view point from the home’s livingroom.  Large containers were installed and bricks were faux painted to match those on the house and a classic scheme of roses and hydranges interspersed with perennials was installed.  It blooms all summer long.

Roses and Hydrangeas

One of the most challenging aspects of this project was the front courtyard.  The renovation had used up most of the available impermeable lot coverage allowance and we used what was left for the pool deck.   The front door of the home is only used for guests so massive amounts of foot traffic wasn’t an issue.  There was broken bluestone left over from construction on site, so we created a ‘ruined’ courtyard complete with espaliered apple trees.

'Ruined' Courtyard
Espaliered Apple -polinator is across from it

Other areas not shown are a daylily walk and a circular garden that helps camouflage the family’s trampoline.  There are some beautiful specimen trees that were added to the exisiting mature red oaks. An old planting of hostas on the front slope of courtyard was also preserved and the original stone steps up to it were excavated and tied into the entry from the lawn.  This remains one of my favorite projects and I’m really proud to have it included on this tour.