Filoli

Garden Visit: Filoli

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

Filoli

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

Filoli Yews and Boxwood Hedges

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

Filoli Gardens

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

Cherry trees at Filoli

Pansy parterre at Filoli

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

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

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

Filoli rectagular garden

Filoli pink and blue garden

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

Yews at Filoli

Filoli pollarded trees

Filoli view from hilltop

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

Design vs. A Sense of Place

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

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

Gehry's Fondation Louis Vuitton from streetFondation Louis Vuitton Paris

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

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

Gehry Disney Concert Hall LA copyGehry IAC building in NYC

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

Gehry Pritzker Pavillion Chicago

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

Garden Travel: Back and Forth

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

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

vizcaya main parterre

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

Vizcaya Levels of geometry

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

Vizcaya Symmetry

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

Vizcaya mashup of traditional and local materials

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

vizcaya secret garden

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

Vizcaya inside the summer house

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

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

 

Garden Travel: Architectural Swoon in Miami Beach

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

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

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

Villa Paradiso

The LeslieThe Shepley

The Congress The Tudor

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.

Garden Design Inspiration: Architectural Details in Chicago

When I was in Chicago in August, speaking at IGC about landscape designers and their potential relationships with garden centers  I took a day before and a day after to explore the city and meet up with friends.  I’ve been to Chicago regularly over the past five years and have seen and written about its wonderful gardens and street plantings, but this time I went in search of something else.  Architecture.

Chicago reinvented itself after the great fire in 1871, and many of architecture’s greatest design minds have lived or worked in the city. Three who formed the basis of the way we think about buildings now –  Henry Richardson, Louis Sullivan and  Frank Lloyd Wright experimented in Chicago in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Carson, Pririe, Scott

 

I was somewhat surprised to see that Sullivan’s Carson, Pirie, Scott building is now a Target, but given that company’s commitment to design it made sense.

I met up with landscape designer, Helen Weiss and her daughter, for an evening and went on an Art Deco walking tour. I was surprised to be thinking about how the interlocking and sleek geometry of that style could be re-interpreted as garden designs.  Not literally–but as contemporary planting schemes or path layouts or even as ways to prune and hedge.  I am sure something from this inspiration it will surface as I work through design ideas I’ve been experimenting with.  It’s all a part of the process.

Detail Art Deco Chicago Elevator door Chicago Board of Trade Tile detail Chicago Window detail Chicago

Turf parterres at Versailles

Riding in the Backseat around a Curve

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

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

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

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

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

Turf parterres at Versailles

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

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

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

escargot begoniaThat lead to the design for a showhouse garden…

Blairsden Brocade progress shot and completed…

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

Landscape plan curved hedges

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

 

 

 

Garden Color Inspiration: Green

It might seem counterintuitive to add more green to a garden, but lately to my landscape designer’s eyes, green looks like it should, fresh and new.  (Go ahead, groan at that word use!) Two years ago, a version of green was the color of the year, but it was largely ignored by outdoor designers–perhaps we think we have the corner on green with our plant palettes.

Via Veranda

These greens aren’t the citrus based hues that have been screaming at us for several seasons as both accents and plants, but the deeper and more complex matte greens of the forest floor and canopy.

via Acanthus and Acorn

Green has been showing up in interior magazines and blogs and on the runway for a while now.

Via Apartment Therapy

Via Andrea Pompilo

Green has long been used on fence panels and trelliage, but it can also color furniture and accessories.

Green box planter

Via Jardins du Roi Soleil

It can be new looking and  surprising choice in a landscape adding a layer of complexity to the already existing organic greens that are there.

Some greens to play with… Green palette Left to right Farrow and Ball/Calke Green, Ralph Lauren/Campbell Green, Benjamin Moore/Amazon Moss and Sherwin-Williams/Shamrock.  All of these can be mixed as an exterior stain or paint.

Travel Inspiration for gardens in The Designer

The summer issue of The Designer, APLD’s quarterly design magazine is out.  In the editorial is a piece I wrote about my trip to Morocco last winter and how the patterned surfaces found everywhere there have continued to influence my landscape design work.


What isn’t included there are some of the detail images of that still come to mind when I start to design a garden or, specifically a planting plan, so I decided to share them here. I take dozens of detail images for future reference where ever I go, but seldom share them. They’re my reference material and often don’t make much sense to anyone else out of context–these do I think.

Brick wall with windows Fes

Iron window detail Marakesh

Tile fountain museum of Fes

La Mamoumia Hotel tile detail

 

The Revived Garden Design Magazine

Sometimes I almost get what I wish for.

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

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

Garden Design Magazine

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

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

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

Garden Design

The New Garden Design

The new Garden Design magazine promises to be full of inspiration and ideas for all of us.  I lamented when the previous one stopped publishing so I’m happy about this. Their primary focus is now American gardens and designers–not just the ones on both coasts either.  How do I know this for sure?  I’m a Contributing Editor.  That doesn’t mean I’m giving up my landscape design practice, it just means I have another outlet to express my love of  great design.

Garden Design

It is going to be a beautiful book like publication without any advertising and printed on beautiful paper.  It will be sold in garden shops and individual issue or annual subscriptions are available.

No, I’m not going to leak any stories!  You’ll have to wait until May and read it.  Until then, my latest piece is up on their website.

The Designer’s New Look…no not Dior!

The Association of Professional Landscape Designers‘ quarterly magazine has just re-launched. It has been re-designed and re-imagined and I think it looks really, really great.

Read it here and subscribe for free.  If you are a landscape designer then you should really consider becoming a member of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD) if you aren’t already.  Here are a few reasons why I’m happy I did. For the next two weeks (March 15th-April 1st) you will get three months additional membership at no extra cost if you join by April 1.  Tell ’em I sent you!

Here’s the reference to Dior if you’re interested…

Art as Inspiration in Philadelphia

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

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

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

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

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

Moda Botanica

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

Miniature floral display Philadelphia Flower Show

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

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

 

Andre Le Notre's Versailles Gardens

Andre le Notre: Four Hundred Years Strong

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

Andre Le Notre's Versailles Gardens

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

The Lurie Garden in high summer

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

Turf parterres at Versailles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Terra cotta floor tiles

Garden Inspiration: Tile Medalions

After a trip, sometimes I don’t see nuggets of ideas until I look at my images.  I chose the shots after all, so there is some vague through line.  So here goes.

When I was in Chicago two weeks ago (was it that long?) some friends and I visited the Cuneo Mansion and Gardens.  The landscape or what’s left of it, is very formal and was designed by Jens Jensen early in his career and didn’t really have his signature prairie style imprint.  What interested me more than that, if you view my images were two flooring patterns.  One inside the house on the second floor and the second on a small balcony off a bedroom.

Terra cotta floor tiles

The second floor pattern in the house incorporated varying squares of granite, terra cotta and glazed squares.  It was worn and beautiful.

Balcony tiles

A small balcony- in disrepair and shot through the locked screen door–off a guest room  incorporated the same patterned glazed squares and bluestone.  Getting closer to my outside design inspiration.

 A small central medallion or an entire pathway could be created using these tiles…but finding frostproof ones?  That didn’t happen until a few days later in Detroit when I visited Penwabic Pottery.  I bought two stoneware house numbers that are frostproof and meant for outside use to experiment with.

Stoneware numbers from Pewabic Pottery, Detroit

I’m going to make an address stepping stone or wall piece that combines those numbers with a previous and different trip’s inspiration – the inlayed street markers in New Orleans.  They fascinated me when I was there and have stuck with me in the inspiration memory banks.

New Orleans Street sidewalk number

I’m not sure yet  if what I make will be brick (a sub for terra cotta) and bluestone or bluestone and granite–both will go with my early 20th century cottage. Somehow all of this inspiration adds up if I let myself be free enough to connect the dots.  I’m sure there will be a pathway or a medallion in a client’s future garden once I get the technique down in mine.

Dutch concept gardens

Garden Portrait: Appeltern, The Netherlands

It’s hot.  It’s summer.  I’m indulging in a bit of armchair travel inside in the cool.

I am a fan of conceptual gardens.  Why?  They challenge our ideas of what constitutes a garden. There are trial gardens for plants, so it makes sense to me that there should also be trial design gardens. Last year, I visited  two, Cornerstone in Sonoma and Les Jardins des Metis in Quebec. Both made me think about what I do as a landscape designer in new ways. These concept gardens are usually built to last for a season or two, so their creators aren’t inhibited by issues of longevity and maintenance or client demands.

A relative newcomer to the scene, the Festival Gardens at Appletern Gardens in the Netherlands is in its fourth season this year.

Dutch concept gardens

It’s part of a much larger 22 acre garden park that includes many different types of gardens.  My favorite of the 2013 concept gardens called Balans (Balance) and was designed by Babako.  It is a linear installation reminiscent of Patrick Dougherty’s stickwork.

appletern gardens 2013

In addition to the annual concept gardens there are 17 other types of gardens loosely organized around a theme or type of outdoor space.  I’m putting it on my ever increasing list of ‘must visit’ gardens.

Appeltern Gardens

In interior design, this garden would be called ‘transitional’ as a mix between traditional and contemporary styles.  I’m loving the single pale blue, beach glass tones in the gabions.  Imagine them lit at dusk.  Dreamy.

Modern DIY Garden

This garden appeals to the DIYer in me.  I could probably put most of this together in a weekend from stuff I hoard  have in the garage, use it all summer and then switch it up the next.  Why does everything need to be so permanent?

Herb garden at Appletern

I was a little disturbed by an image of purple loostrife in full bloom in the Appletern Herb garden and I’m not sure about kidney shaped beds EVER, but I loved the trees and the color story.

All images via Appletern Gardens

 

Phillip Johnson's Glass House

Field Trip: The Glass House

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

Phillip Johnson's Glass House

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

Philllip Johnson New Canaan property

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

The Lake Pavillion Phillilp Johnson

Phillip Johnson's Beck House

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

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

Painting Gallery Philllip Johnson

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

Sculpture Gallery Phillip Johnson

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

Bridge detail The Glass House

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

Donald Judd at Phillip Johnson's Glass House

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

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

A Mid-Century Birthday

I have a benchmark birthday tomorrow. You know, one of those decade defining ones.  One I never expected or could even envision–back in the youth driven 1960s and 70s.  I am part of what is still the largest generation in the Western Hemisphere and we are not aging gently or easily.  Sixty is not the new forty.  It is the new sixty. Fifty isn’t the new thirty.  It’s the new fifty. And forty seems to be more angst ridden than the other two for those I know who are reaching it this year.

I strive to be current and  informed, to keep up with trends and ideas.  It is inherent in my curiosity driven personality–I’m still drawn to new ideas, yet in my own work I lean towards the classic.  I’m still evolving as a designer although I feel that I have a defined stylistic lexicon that works for me and my clients.  For the past 10 years I have  been creating landscapes that I hope will last beyond me. I plant trees and build with stone to try to insure their  longevity.

Traditional landscape design

I try and honor the land, the architecture and my client’s dreams.  I know that my work’s stylistic tendencies lean toward the traditional as a reflection of the market that I work in and as much as I love crisp, contemporary style,  I’m okay with that.

It’s ironic that the iconic style in current vogue was in its first heyday when I was in kindergarten.  Modernism screamed ‘This is the Future!”  Today,  Modernist and mid-century designs are sought after as vintage styles and are considered timeless and classic.  So I’m celebrating my benchmark by visiting what I consider to be the most iconic of them all, Phillip Johnson’s Glass House.  Come back next week for the details.  Happy Birthday to me!

Phillip Johnson's Glass House, New Canaan, CT

 

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.

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

 

 

 

contemporary parterres

Garden Inspiration: Luciano Giubblei’s Parterre Ideas

I’ve been a member of Pinterest almost since its inception.  I use it as place to store ideas both useful and random.  I also explore other designer’s boards to see what inspires them and maybe understand a little bit about their creative process.  Garden designer, Luciano Giubblei‘s, ideas for parterres blew me away.

contemporary parterres

The possibilities for these parterres skew the traditional idea and point towards a contemporary evolution of the form.Herringbone patterns, color field painting, Bauhaus textiles, rolling hills of vineyards and traditional parterres all exist as ideas and jumping off points.  What’s more, to my eye they make perfect sense and I can visualize every last bit of it.

 

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.

Phlox subulata

A Perfect Spring Week

There are about two perfect spring weeks every year and last week was one of those. Light was bright and unfiltered by the still bare deciduous canopy. Gardens burst into bloom, the sky was the bluest of blues, and the air was cool yet also warm after the winter chill.

Phlox subulata

Windows opened and children’s laughter filled the air inside and out. Birdsong started before dawn. Yet spring is also poignant. Last week is over and petals dance and drift to the ground feeding the roots below, beginning the cycle of renewal all over again. So it goes.

Leaf Magazine Spring 2013

Spring is Sprung with Leaf Magazine

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

Leaf Magazine Spring 2013

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

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

Paint Can planter

Garden Trends: Dumpster Style

If you haven’t figured it out from previous posts, I’m having a visceral and negative reaction to quaint upcycling. Please do not show me something else made out of pallets.  Yuck. A good dumpster dive involves a deep understanding of Wabi-sabi and the beauty of objects just as they are, not as we would like to pretend them to be. Dumpster Style uses objects just as they are found, with minimal intervention.

Paint Can planter
Tape is the only designer additive here
 image via Thea’s Mania

Of course Dumpster Style’s found objects (treasures?) can be used for another purpose, but the difference is, is that they maintain their original integrity. There is a romanticism in the purity of  these objects.  They don’t need to be masked, they can be used with minimal ‘design’ interference from well meaning and overly industrious upcyclers.

Tin Can shingles
Can bottom shingles
image via Pinterest

Somewhat nutty, the roof garden below clearly has respect for what the objects were in a thoughtful and stylized way.  Originally from Apartment Therapy, I shared this one on Leaflets back in July and it spurred a lot of discussion.

Dumpster Style Garden
Rooftop Dumpster Style Edible Garden
Image via Apartment Therapy

As for the Wabi-sabi, a quote from the very first page of Leonard Koren’s wonderful book Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers sums it up:

Wabi-sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.
It is a beauty of things modest and humble.
It is a beauty of things unconventional.

And sometimes it’s just all about the dumpster.  Artist Oliver Bishop-Young hasn’t changed much about this dumpster…or has he?

Dumpster planter Oliver-Bishop Young
Planted Dumpster Style
recycled-urban-guerrilla-garden
Dumpster Planter from artist Oliver Bishop-Young
 images via Oliver Bishop-Young

Click for more Dumpster Style on Pinterest.

 

 

 

 

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