Planting Plans and Combinations

I have been thinking a lot about planting plans since I’ve been working on the Colonial Park Perennial Garden project. There are so many choices and points of view and it has forced me to really consider my own. I have always relied on my visual instincts when it comes to design–even with plants. That may seem out of fashion, but I also consider the lessons of the land I’m working with and what a particular site can teach me. I will never be done growing and evolving as a designer–just like the gardens I design.

For me, planting plans are about a hard to define quality that combines hints from the site, foliage, sun and shade, long lasting interest, bloom sequence, color, mood, habitat, the environment, deer and rabbits, the seasons, movement, availability, and on and on and on and not necessarily in that order all of the time. All of these are layered in my mind as I work through to a solution. I prefer to use fewer plants that are repeated in different combinations and proportions, rather than more used sporadically. The repeated elements are generally texture and color although with fewer plants, the interest happens with the proportions of each in relationship to each other and the whole. My mind is never at rest when I’m working on a planting plan. Each individual combination of plants has to layer all of the elements listed with its immediate neighbors and also convey some kind of lasting visual/visceral quality that is difficult for me to pin down. I admire the work of other designers, but what they can do is not what I can do. Planting design is intensely individual and no two designers have the same viewpoint just as no two pieces of art are the same. There can be copies and forgeries, but the real thing has the unique qualities of the designer’s hand stamped on it.

Although I would never use barberry in a plan because it is highly invasive where I live and work, this combination of an unidentified golden pygmy barberry (possibly Berberis thunbergii ‘Aurea Nana’) threaded with Drumstick Alliums (Allium sphaerocephalon) in John Gwynne and Mikel Folcarelli’s Sakonnet Garden stopped me, made me smile and consider it in a garden full of such moments.  Here’s another–Nicotiana langsdorfii and Asclepias spp. These are two plants that I would not have thought to combine yet I loved them together when I saw them.

Another planting that just made me think and has the emotive quality I often find elusive is by Deborah Silver in Michigan and is closer to what I like to do but also very different. The soft greys and purples in front of hard edged boxwood add a luminous, feminine quality to the crisp, geometric hedge. The three different foliage sizes and textures repeated throughout are highly edited yet don’t feel meager. They feel full and soft and ample. The soft grey combined with the deep violet picks up on the slate roof and is masterful in its proportions.

Although these combinations by others are beautiful in their own right and tick off some of the items in my never ending round Robin of a list, my combinations are different. I like restful, blowzy plantings with things spilling out over an underlying structure that somewhat like an overstuffed piece of furniture if that makes any sense. I want my gardens to make you exhale and everything that troubles you from that day or moment just falls away. I want the mess to be okay too which makes my viewpoint the antithesis of many formal and Japanese Zen gardens although I have employed elements of both.

In the end, my practice is to just start with the structure and then build softness and serenity with punctuation points around that. It evolves though, and often the first plant grouping laid down doesn’t make the final edit. Everything moves and shifts and changes as I make studies month by month to insure that there is equal time given to the seasons. Winter is included in that with both evergreen and the wonderful ‘mess’ left standing. The solution for both small and large gardens always reveals itself to me through the thought and the physical process of making the drawing which in turn is always driven by the site. No two are ever alike. Going back to where I started on this ramble. I’m not sleeping well, my mind is active and the park planting plan is almost done. I am editing as I go along. Then I will worry it some more and edit it again until I believe it’s well and truely finished–hopefully by my self imposed deadline in two weeks.

 

 

Design for a Public Perennial Garden

Every now and then I take a project that isn’t private and residential. Enter the Perennial Garden at Colonial Park in Somerset County. Currently it is a large circular garden with an entry aisle of double borders and a central gazebo. Plants that have been able to survive and thrive in less than ideal conditions dominate. Those conditions include the lack of an overall current garden plan, rampant deer, and a predominance of aggressive, deer resistant self seeders/spreaders. There is a gardener dedicated to the space. There are too many of too few plants to make the garden sing.

My approach to this project has been very different from what I normally do which is what attracted me to it. I have spent the past four months visiting, observing, cataloging existing plants (some to reuse, others not), and imagining what I would want from a garden like this if I was a casual visitor. There are few ‘sacred cows’ except the central gazebo which is, in my mind, an okay place to start. A central ADA compliant path will be added to it from the parking lot. A request was made by the head horticulturalist of the park to focus on native plants and their cultivars. As far as I can make that work, it’s what I do normally anyway. First look to the natives and then if they don’t or can’t fulfill the design goals, look elsewhere.

As it is, the current configuration doesn’t invite any kind of interaction except from the resident groundhog and deer. Brides use it as a background for their pictures yet there is little in bloom in June.

I believe that gardens should be experiential. Being able to walk and rest inside, to see plants up close adds to the experience of a garden.  This one only allows looking at it from the sidelines. That became my first goal of the redesign. I want to honor the circular history of the garden but not be strictly bound by it, I want ample space for plants while lowering the maintenance, and I want the garden to be a place for all except the groundhog and deer!

I experimented with several layouts, playing with paths and circular sections that would still allow the gazebo to be the central feature. Using a spiral based on the nautilus created by a Fibonacci sequence was one of those layouts. It clicked for me. We have a meeting to discuss it and a few other issues next week. Meanwhile, the concept is below and I will work on plant lists.

Showhouse Season: Mansion in May 2017

When I first started blogging on a different platform in 2007, my subject was my designer show house garden in Rumson. Hardly anyone saw those posts or again in 2009. Now all these years and many designer show houses later I’ve decided to blog about the same thing. This time, it’s for the Mansion in May. So let’s begin.

First a large old house is sought by the event organizers. Once found, every other year architects, interior and landscape designers are invited to submit ideas for a space that will be on public display for the month of May. Each must submit a proposal for up to three spaces to a selection committee–so being invited isn’t the end process. The 2017 house is Neo-Gothic Alnwick Hall, one of the surviving homes on Millionaire’s Row between Madison and Morristown, New Jersey.

Photograph by Wing Wong/Memories TTL

I was only interested in one of the 17 landscape spaces offered. A small enclosed courtyard at the rear of the building. Apologies for the slightly out of focus before picture I took with my phone…

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Below is my proposal which was accepted by the committee.  The next time I post, will be about the coordinating of this garden with the various artists and personalities involved as well as the details of building it. Special consideration has to be given to these types of gardens since they will get more foot traffic in one month than most get in a lifetime–more than 20,000 people!

mim courtyard

Outlier–Maybe Not.

I promised I would be back here when I thought I had something new or interesting to say. There is no eye candy today–just words and thoughts. I also don’t feel the need to push my ideas on anyone else–so you don’t have to agree or disagree with what follows.

I have never been one to blindly follow a trend or an idea. My thoughts, like most people’s, spring from my own experience and individual point of view. When I was working in the fashion industry, I was always interested in designers who were doing things differently from the rest.  I admired those who translated a burst of thought into ideas that were at first strange and wonderful but would ultimately be borrowed, watered down or interpreted by others. I was also interested in those who looked back and used history as a starting point celebrating the traditional and making it contemporary. For me, there is a healthy dichotomy of design thought there with equal emphasis on the new and the old.

In my mind, gardens or landscapes are defined as spaces that are outside of nature. They cannot be truly of nature since they are conceived and made by people. These human endeavors at garden making do not include restoration of native environments or habitat although they can incorporate those elements. They can try to mimic nature, but a garden is ultimately a space made by people for human activity, introspection, observation and the appreciation of beauty within the context of what is right for its particular environment and time. The human element of a garden is important. It is also where the outlier part comes in.

The gardens being made by the New Perennialist movement that started almost thirty years ago in Germany and have been perfected by Piet Oudolf and others are in my mind are largely to look at. I have visited some of the best of them and it’s the auxiliary spaces that invite human interaction, not the plantings. The gardens themselves may have a path or two through them, they may be large or small, but they are like paintings hung on a wall. They do not invite human participation. They are broad strokes of planting design artistry that invite visual reaction, not physical interaction.

There is great value in this idea when a site’s topography or limitations don’t allow for safe passage or it is a space that will act as a visual foil something else. This concept is what makes the High Line so successful and in my mind is also its downfall. The plantings are something that are passed through while doing something else. They can be admired, but in all but a few places they cannot be entered. They are beautiful, bold, border designs. The border as a garden design concept has been around almost as long as people have been making gardens. They exist on the sidelines. True, those sidelines can be breathtaking and can be beneficial to wildlife and the planet at large, but I am talking about garden making and that, as I said before, is a human undertaking that invites interaction.

Conversely there are historic gardens (remember that dichotomy?) that make plants such background players that they become almost irrelevant. They are decoration, they could be fake. These ‘gardens’ were designed primarily for people with little regard for the natural world other than how the designer could manipulate it into abstraction. Those gardens lose the sensory, introspective and observational aspects of plantings in a garden, leaving room only for human activity.

I believe there is room in contemporary garden and landscape design to celebrate human activity combined with interactive planting design as equal partners.  I also believe that the gardens and landscapes that do that will be long term successes. There is room for structure, hard surfaces and places for people as well as plants and habitat to co-exist and intermingle. They are not static or fixed in the moment past or present. We have changed our planet too much to be able to go back to nature as it was and gardens can help define how humans appreciate and savor the outdoors. What we really need to be thinking about is what is right for a specific piece of land in a specific region that will be used regularly by a group of individuals in a meaningful and participatory way. We need to consider how we entice people outside into the garden to observe, delight, create, to spend time and do things and think about their place in the world instead of just moving through it or looking at it or worse ignoring it and paying attention to hand held technology instead?

As a landscape designer I have questions that roll around in my brain to be solved by working through my design process. How do the successful attributes of traditional gardens and the best ideals of the new perennialists combine to create something new–something that balances the being and the seeing? How do I foster understanding and appreciation of our not so natural world, the one we now live in, through the design of spaces that allow people to interact with all of its pieces? Making planting design precious unto itself relegates it to the same place as a great work of art in a museum. It’s not that, it’s a living changeable thing. What is the most valuable human experience in any garden–is it different for every individual?  I try to strike a broad balance between the traditional and the contemporary–sometimes there are no perennials or grasses at all in my gardens. If that makes me an outlier, I’m okay with that.

Edit:  I sat on this post for a month or so until a group who I had a conversation with about this feeling of being an outlier and who I would consider to be New Perennialists encouraged me to publish it. –Susan

 

Re-Making an Old Garden for a New Family

Often my landscape design clients I ask me to insert some contemporary flavor into an existing landscape. These renovation projects are similar to interior updates in that the new has to dovetail seamlessly with the existing. This family had a very traditional, overgrown and poorly maintained landscape that had no place for three active, young girls to be outside except the driveway, an in need of repair pool, and a too small patio. The house sits on generous lot that is also promontory with a steep slope up to the front door and an even steeper slope back to the rear property line.

Devlin Before Pix

Most people would look at this and say ‘What’s wrong with that? It’s beautiful!”.  On the surface it was, but on closer inspection there were many functional issues and I saw opportunities to open up sight lines, to create family and entertaining space as well as to make better transitions from one place to the next and technical options to correct erosion and drainage problems. I also saw a yard that when it was first designed, twenty-five years ago, had been well thought out–but was now way past its prime. The fireplace, for example, had been shored by someone up on the back end with 2 x 4’s where the footing had separated from the stone work. That was just a disaster just waiting to slide down the hill if not repaired or demolished. Boxwood hedges that defined several ‘rooms’ had been allowed to get too big and many had large dead sections or were riddled with fungus. Trees that had been smaller had now outgrown their sites, had dead wood, or were in two cases just dead. Every last bit of masonry had to be repaired…there were loose stones and steps throughout.

devlin pool afterAfter our arborist completed recommended tree work and removals, the pool renovation came first. We repaired the coping, re-plastered in a new darker color, added crisp, blue glass subway style waterline tile, added two bluestone decks and a ribbon around the pool. We demolished the tumbled down pergola to gain some square footage and open up usable space.  The very crooked fence was straightened out and the hillside above the now exposed stone wall was planted. New furniture was ordered that added to the contemporary feel of the space. An attempted water feature repair did not work on the old water wall so that will be the final piece added to the puzzle later this year.

Hydrangeas and water wall w pool

 

Camelllia espalier and pool

I met several times with the clients and their children to discuss what to save and what to demolish as well as what their ‘dream’ yard would entail.  The kids wanted a play space beyond the front yard swing. The adults wanted safe and usable pool space as well as a larger entertaining space. They also wanted a more contemporary feeling within the context of what was there.

An old dog run behind the garage that had a more gentle slope than the rest of the property was re-made into a children’s play area. The children hand painted curtains for their ‘stage’.

Devlin play area

Extra fence from the pool area was used to enclose it on the lower side and the chainlink fence that had contained the dogs was removed.  A simple balance beam was made from felled tree trunks, a playhouse/stage area with a new bright blue deck was built under the existing stairs and a slide added to the top. The remaining stockade fence was stained white to brighten up the shady area and a carnival silly mirror was added to it just for fun.

Charlotte on the slide

The final phases of the renovation ended up being the most problematic.  Almost all of the existing bluestone had to be relaid since it was incorrectly installed the first time. Retaining walls had insufficient foundations and were failing and were replaced.  The hillside below was stabilized and planted with native Carex to aid in soil retention.  The fireplace was demolished and new walls were added to a reconfigured patio.  The enlarged patio has a firepit and contemporary furnishings. The new seatwall has built in speakers and the steps to the pool have been widened as has the walkway to the adjacent courtyard.  A garden now visually links the patio with the pool decks.

Patio seating areas

A courtyard was turfed over and the boxwood hedges and plantings in the front yard redesigned.  A small, curved path at the driveway entrance was re-configured to allow for two chairs for adults who supervise the driveway bike and scooter riding.

Devlin front entry

Side walk to front

Sections of hedge were removed from each side of the walkway to unify both sides of the front lawn.  A scraggly pine was removed to allow what will be a beautiful Cornus kousa more light and room.  Boxwood were replace with those from other areas and were pruned into clean lined shapes. Nepeta and daylillies were transplanted from the driveway to add seasonal interest.  Plants were added to a side walk as well as to the driveway areas and new micro patio.

Devlin Driveway entry to patioThe best thing is that every time I visit there are bikes, hula hoops, pool toys and chalk art everywhere. What was once a problem space has become one that is loved and used.  I can’t ask for a better result!

chalk play

 

Garden Design Details: Container Planting

For me, it’s the end of container season.  I only plant them for a few clients. Planter design is not a core service of my landscape design practice because I find them to take as much time to prepare for and execute as any other planting design. In reality, that’s what a container is, a planting design executed in a very small, seasonal space. I do have clients who specifically ask me to design their containers and I say yes, but I just don’t overtly offer to do it.

Turquoise Anduze pot

 

Turquoise pots and entry

Nobody ever taught me the rules of containers so I approach them in the same way I would any design. I lean towards structure planted with abandon in my garden design and my container plantings reflect that for the most part. Since the space and number of plants I can use is so limited, I am a ruthless editor.  I don’t personally love planters filled with lots of different kinds of plants. I think it makes a stronger visual statement to limit them in the same way I would any other design. The container above has four varieties in it, the one below three. In a really big planter I may use as many as five, repeated throughout the design.

Barn pots

My approach is the same as for any design–first decide on the primary structure and then build down from there. In a garden that may be a tree, a pergola, or a sculpture, in a pot, it’s the same–there has to be something anchoring it all.

Variagated willow and blue pot

When I shop for container plants,  I shop for all of  them at once, collecting special plants from a wide variety of sources. The process takes several days. If a specific request was made, such as the variegated willow standards in the pots above I will seek them out. Each season I limit the color palette which aids in later editing. This year my palette included chartreuse, deep green, salmon/apricot, white/grey and a very saturated purple.

Atelier Verkaint pots on seatwall

Most of the time I use the client’s own containers, but over the past few years I’ve been specifying them in larger designs so I know they will work within the context of the larger landscape that I have designed. Planters to scale and the right style for the larger context are details that make or break a project.

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.

Green Gardens

Green is a thing. Right now it’s a missing thing. It’s what I miss most during winter and what makes me smile first in the spring–those small green shoots pushing up through frigid earth. I’ve been thinking about making flowerless gardens. Gardens that are mostly green. Gardens that rely  on scale and texture and subtlety of hue and maybe some skilled pruning.

Princeton garden

In New Jersey, where I practice landscape design, this may prove to be more difficult than it is in warmer climates where there are bolder choices and plants with immense architectural leaves. Many of the images here are from gardens I’ve visited in the south–Miami, Dallas, and New Orleans.  All are interesting to me and there are no flowers in them.

Dallas Conf Day 3 024

Whatever broad bold foliage we have here the deer seem to love …like hostas, so I’ll find a substitute of some sort. Broad strappy foliage is easier to find–grasses have that in abundance. Subtle transitions of green along with texture will create the primary interest beyond shape.

Vizcaya green parterre Scale and shape and texture become much more important when color is limited. Finding companions that work with each other and can stand visually on their own and help define space is challenging with flowers–without it’s crucial.

South Jersey + New Orleans Garden District 026

Finely textured plants can disappear with out something with muscle to play off of. There can still be drama, but it’s more mellow (pun intended). These gardens don’t have to be formal and clipped, they can be loose and natural or somewhere in between.

Jungles Coconut Grove

Creating a planting plan that will be interesting in four seasons yet not be totally without seasonal specific floral interest will be a challenge–most of the plants I love anyway have super cool foliage and interesting bloom. Choosing plants for foliage and texture is usually where I start a planting design, after the permanent structure of the garden has been figured out. Bloom, however beautiful is secondary and fleeting.

Winter Park Garden

So for now, while the land is frozen in white and snowy limbo, I’ll just have some green dreams and wait for opportunities to reveal themselves in the upcoming spring landscape design projects.

 

 

My Award Winning Garden Design

Last fall, I entered a garden I designed in New Jersey in 2015 APLD International Landscape Design Awards in the Planting Design category. It was awarded the highest honor, a Gold Award. To be honest, I knew the value of the design, but since it is the antithesis of current planting trends, I was really pleased. Current trends in planting design seem to require ornamental grasses and meadow-like qualities. This garden has neither, but that doesn’t make it unsustainable or unfriendly to all  but deer.

Lee Hill Farm 3

The garden’s underlying structure of boxwood hedging and pyramids gives it definition. My client specifically asked that I not use any ornamental grasses as they felt they were too ‘beachy’ looking.  The 7800 square foot garden was originally built in the 1920s when the 15 acre property had a working greenhouse and two full-time gardeners. The bones of that garden remained: stonework in disrepair, heaved brick walks, and a leaky concrete pond.

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pots et al 009

Lee Hill Farm 1 Before

The homeowners wanted to re-imagine the space in the spirit of the original, but with lower maintenance and an eye towards family use and deer resistance. A new stone wall was built to create a level terrace on the west slope with new gravel paths and existing brick walks that were excavated and re-laid linking to existing steps.

pots et al 011

rumson, harding, westfield, scranton 039

Lee Hill Farm 9

Planting beds were edged with recycled steel and damaged stonework was repaired. Millstones from throughout the property were inserted into the relaid brick paths to indicate transitions. The homeowner repaired the pond with salvaged parts; inexpensive off the shelf, steel arbors were added to support climbing roses; and drip irrigation installed.

Lee Hill Farm 6

Planting plans from the 1940s were available and indicated that the original garden had a color palette of deep blues and pinks punctuated with seasonal yellow and white accents. They were the inspiration for the new seasonal bloom sequence that starts out predominantly blue, white and pink; changes to white, yellow and pink; and back to blue, white, and pink. The historic property had been documented as General Lafayette’s winter headquarters at some point during the Revolution. Boxwood hedges and repeating pyramids are a nod to formal 18th century French gardens. That they are also deer resistant and provide winter interest was also considered. An organic maintenance plan was put in place–the evidence of this is the seeded areas between the natural bluestone slabs which as long as they are ‘green’ are mowed and left to their own devices.

Lee Hill Farm 5Lee Hill Farm 8Lee Hill Farm 10

The finished garden is lush and sensual with abundant bloom and textural interest.  It is a traditional garden that was never meant to be ‘naturalistic’, but it was, and is meant to be of its time and place and I’m very grateful that it has received an award as acknowledgement that it’s okay not to follow the trends.

Photography by Rich Pomerantz and Susan Cohan.  All rights reserved.

 

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 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 Details: Fall Beyond Foliage

I had some rare time in between landscape design projects and clients last week and as I’ve been meaning to take my new camera lens out for a spin, I stopped by Frelinghuysen Arboretum in Morristown to search out some of the details of the season.  The focus of this public park is plants…not necessarily design although it has its designer-y moments.  I go here when I need a plant fix.  I send my landscape design students here to photograph and learn about plants just as I did years ago when I was learning.

Winding path Frelinghuysen Arboretum

Grasses, asters, Japanese anemones and Monkshood were at their peak and the large swaths of hardwood foliage astound, but there are many other details that can make a landscape’s planting design special in the waning warmth and long low light of autumn. Sometimes they are stalwart summer hanger’s on and sometimes they are plants whose season is now.

Semi spent bloom Heptacodium

The almost spent bloom structure of a Heptacodium miconoidies (Seven Sun Flower) has beautiful open structure and pale pink color.

Branches Acer japonica

I’m a sucker for contorted branches of a Japanese maple silhouetted against some foliage ‘stained glass’…

Autumn fern

The gold and russet fronds of Dryopteris erythrosora (Autumn Fern) in a woodland setting adds some unexpected living color to the ground plane. Mostly the oranges of fall are fallen from above.

Nicotiana sylvestris

The late blooming native Nicotiana sylvestris (Woodland tobacco) is a giant in most gardens but so worth it in terms of drama.  One of my personal favorites, and easily raised from seed, it takes forever for this plant to appear, and does smell a bit like an ashtray…remember those?

Pinus bungeana

Pinus bungeana‘s (Lacebark Pine) exfoliating camo bark.  Who wouldn’t want this in their garden?  I don’t see this tree in commonly in the trade or used enough in gardens.  In fact, I’ve only ever seen one once in a residential garden where I kept it from being cut down!

Aconitum and Anemone japonica

Lastly, as I said in the beginning the Aconitum and Anemones were at their peak.  So pretty reaching for the light.

 

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

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!

 

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.

Spring Frenzy!

It’s been one of the most jam packed and crazy springs in recent memory.  Perhaps it is because winter seemed never ending in New Jersey and it still hasn’t really warmed up! As happens every April, I get so busy my days are a roundabout where one seems to blend into the next and somehow, it all gets done.  This spring, in addition to working with some existing and incredible new design clients,  there have been several other major things going on.

Susan Cohan APLD backyard garden plan

I had the opportunity to visit Washington DC (so many blooms…so many people!) during its famed cherry blossom season to work on a piece for Garden Design magazine which is publishing again in 10 days! Hurry up and subscribe to that!

Cherry Blossoms in Washington DC

I finished up and sent out plans for a landscape designers buying trip to Paris and Brussels next January.  Ongoing info and updates for that trip can be found here.

I designed and helped install a show house garden for the Mansion in May with my New Jersey Chapter of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD) of which I’m national president…

Garden at Blairsden

And I managed to get some sleep…even though it doesn’t seem like there would be time for that!  What I didn’t have much time for is Miss R, so I hope you understand if I pop in and out this spring without my usual regularity!

Rattan Chaise

Garden Trends: Rattan Seating

I first noticed this emerging trend in Paris at Maison et Objet in January. Rattan furniture is back. As a material, it’s been out of favor for a while, but in the 1940s and 50s it was popular and chic. The new rattan is lyrical and colorful and doesn’t include the large scale banana leaf prints that gave it the feeling that it belonged on a porch in Malaysia somewhere.
Rattan Chaise

Rattan chair Maison et Objet

These pieces will be at home with a wide variety of contemporary, transitional and traditional styles. The best part is that rattan pieces are available at all price points and a wide variety of colors making them a stylish option for many, many gardens, patios and decks.  Here’s a small selection.  Top to bottom:  Crate and Barrel’s Kruger Dining chair, David Francis’ Aura chair, David Francis’ Stockholm chair, Ikea’s Holmsel chair, and Safavieh’s Shenandoah Blue chair.

Crate and Barrrel Rattan David Francis furniture David Francis Stockholm Chair

Ikea Holmsel chair safavieh blue rattan

 We’ll be trendspotting at Maison et Objet 2015 on next January’s Antiques and Ornaments Tour for landscape designers.  If you want info on that trip, please email me susan at susan cohan gardens dot com.

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…

The Problem with Outdoor Designers

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

Take a look at this.

image via ActiveRain

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Garden Travel: Nebraska

I spent last week in Nebraska. I was invited there to teach a design workshop to other designers. Not one to turn down any travel opportunity, I went a few days early and visited with Marti Neely, a super talented designer and one of my APLD peeps.

As someone who grew up in the middle of what was once eastern hardwood forest, I was surpised by Nebraska’s neutral  winter landscape. Instead of feeling dull and lifeless the prairie shimmers as the unhindered winter winds whip through it.

rolling prairie in Nebraska

In Omaha, we walked through a series of sculptures that make up the Spirit and Courage of Pioneers park and celebrated those who ultimately settled and farmed there.  Created by two artists, Blair Buswell and Ed Fraughton, there are geese and bison flying through and barging through buildings as well as a full sized wagon train trudging up a hill.  It really made me think about the 19th century push west and what it meant to those who lived there and those who colonized it.  There wasn’t a Native American to be found in the series.

Omaha, NE

We then moved on to see one of Marti’s lakeside projects. Even in the 45 mile an hour winds with shallow snow cover the elegance of her design’s structure was apparent.  The sweeping curves of one section of the project echoed the shoreline uphill from the lakefront.  I never occurred to me that there might be lakes in Nebraska.

Lakeside patio

The next day we drove to Lincoln to visit with plantsman, Benjamin Vogt in his garden in which was lovely despite being winter and surprising in it’s tract home development location.

Benjamin Vogt's garden path Lincoln NE

Winter grasses

My favorite part of the day was a visit to Gretna, midway between Omaha and Lincoln, to see the Shrine of The Holy Family.  Inspired by E. Fay Jones’ Thornecrown chapel (1980) in Arkansas, the shrine’s proportions and curved lines are different.  The local architecture team at BCDM acknowledged the inspiration from the beginning and went on to make a statement that is more prairie than forest.

Entrance Holy Family Shrine NE

Its curved lines, blond wood concrete and windswept location work in context.  A limestone and turf entryway, a restored bluestem prairie, and a rill that runs from the chapel alter to the a pool and sculpture in the main building builds a powerful message.

Holy Family Shrine

Holy Family Shrine NEI was happy to be there in winter when the changing light, the tans and ochres of the wood and grasses, and the buff hue of limestone paths and boulders worked in concert with each other to create a stark and arresting beauty that I expect would be difficult to find elsewhere.

I’ll be travelling again next week and hope to blog from the road.  Where to this time?  Paris, Fez and Marrakesh. Stay tuned.

Peapack NJ

Looking Forward by Looking Back

I spent the first grey working day of 2014 tromping through an old house and garden. Later this year, for the month of May, Blairsden, in Peapack, NJ will become a sparkling designer show house and gardens.  I was there to preview the latter. I love old houses, especially ones that have new lovers after years of neglect.  I find both the neglect and the restoration fascinating.

The place is a wreck.  Almost every aspect inside and out needs something.  Outside there are courtyards, formal terraces, sculpture, a loggia, a totally ruined cascade, a tumbled down orangerie and a grotto of sorts.  There were gardens here at one point, but all that’s left are ghosts. Very few of the landscape/garden spaces were available for re-design and I’m not at all sure that I will participate this year.  Still, it was a fantastic way to spend the morning despite a looming storm and frigid temperatures.

Peapack NJThe imposing oak front door with limestone steps and details.  Obviously there’s construction going on!  Turn around and you will see…

Empty reflecting pool at Blairsden Peapack NJ

The reflecting pool will be completely restored.  The driveway flanks it on either side.

Ruined courtyard Blairsden Peapack NJ

Loggia at Blairsden Peapack NJAn interior courtyard with a loggia on its south side.  The house is built high on a  hillside with  sweeping views of the Far Hills.  Terraced lawns are just below.  A cascade starts at the lowest terrace.

Fountainhead for cascade Blairsden Peapack NJ

Cascade at Blairsden Peapack NJ

The water cascade going down to the home’s original entry driveway.  That was at some point re-routed and is up the hill by the reflecting pool. Above the fountainhead is what used to be an orangerie.  It is abandoned with its arching glass windows long gone.

Orangerie Blairsden Peapack NJAt the base of the cascade is a remarkable view up to the house.

Base of the cascade's view Blairsden Peapack NJWith all of this desolate and forlorn beauty there was a Sphinx (one of four actually) who I’d like to think is wondering what all the hubbub is about and what spring will bring after such a long and lonely stretch of indifference.

Sphinx at Blairsden Peapack NJ

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.

Ornamental cabbages

Garden Color Inspiration: Violet, Plum, and Aubergine

I’ve been collecting images for this post for a while.  I wrote about pink a while ago and people either loved it or hated it.  There’s been quite a bit of chatter about what’s going to be the color of the year this year, and there are rumblings of pink or purple being the front runners.  Shades of purple and violet can be arresting in a garden. Unlike the pink post, this one includes plants.

Ornamental cabbagesFall container planting in shades of violet designed by Bruce Bailey from Heavy Petal Nursery.

image via Marie Claire

An aubergine stucco wall makes a dramatic backdrop for both brown and green.  This deep red-violet is probably the most restful of the purple family.

Purple mulch

image via Floradora

Although I’m not a fan of dyed mulch, this violet and pink path makes a bold statement, especially combined with apricots and oranges.  Maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to this color family this time of year.  Violet, plum, aubergine and just about any shade of purple is a fantastic counterpoint to the oranges and yellows of fall foliage.  They are complimentary on the color wheel so they can also be quite garish.

Purple knot garden

image via Pinterest via John Glover

An analogous color story of violet and red-violet spins the traditional knot garden idea into something completely different.  Violet, plum, aubergine or just plain old purple can be serene or quite nutty depending on the circumstance it’s used in.  Below are three examples.  The first is transitional and calming, the second contemporary and frenetic, the third eclectic and welcoming.  Whichever, it’s a bold color choice, not for everyone, but in the right place…well all things have a place, don’t they?

image via HGTV

image via HGTV

Moroccan style purple entry

image via Marie Claire