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

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

 

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.

 

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.

 

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

Hydrangea paniculata 'Tokyo Delight' iced

Ice in the Garden

We had our first significant snow of the season yesterday.  It turned into rain last night and covered everything with a thin coat of ice.  I’m torn between the beauty of it and the knowledge that some of my boxwoods may not survive or will, at the very least, need a severe pruning in early spring.

For now I’ll focus on the morning’s transient beauty in my New Jersey home garden before it melts.

Hydrangea paniculata 'Tokyo Delight' icedHydrangea paniculata ‘Tokyo Delight’

Malus 'Coralburst' on ice

Malus ‘Coralburst’

Fothergilla gardenii on ice

Fothergilla gardenii

Spirea thunbergii on ice

Spirea thunbergii

Spirea thunbergii Mt. FujiSpirea thunbergii ‘Mt. Fuji’

Cornus alba 'Elegantisima'Cornus alba ‘Elegantisima’

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.

Veronia and maple

Planting Design: Late Fall Texture and Color

Now that we’ve begun the season of darkness and it looks like midnight at 5 pm, bursts of golden color during the day is important. I love the last of the riot of color and texture that is in my front home garden.  The details become very important.

Veronia and maple

Vernonia noveboracensis (New York Ironweed) seed heads and browned leaves and stems against a background of Acer rubrum ‘Autumn Blaze’ (Red maple) foliage.

I look for plants that at minimum do three seasons of heavy lifting even if it’s in a period of decay.  They have to be tough and deer resistant.  They also have to play well with others and offer opportunities for textural combinations since most of their bloom times are fairly short lived.  Here are some of the stars in my New Jersey home garden in late fall.  None are difficult to grow or find and all are suitable for a small space–some take up airspace like the narrow yet 7′ tall Veronia rather than having a big footprint others like the Amsonia need a wide birth and frequent division to keep them where they are.

Leucanthumum superbum 'Becky'

Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Becky’ (Shasta Daisy) 

Cotinus coggygria 'Ancot'

Cotinus coggygria ‘Ancot’ (Golden Spirit Smokebush)

Amsonia and sedum

Amsonia hubrichtii (Threadleaf  bluestar) and Sedum x ‘Autum Joy’

Fothergilla gardenii and red twigged dogowood

Fothergilla gardenii foliage and Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’ (Red Twigged Dogwood) twigs.

Crabapple

Malus x ‘Coralburst’ (dwarf crabapple) fruits.

Vernonia noveboracensis seed heads

 Vernonia noveboracensis (New York Ironweed) seed heads.

 

Planting Design: Planting for Fall Drama

I never tire of visiting other people’s gardens. Good or bad they always have something to teach me.  This past weekend I visited two.  One in New Jersey and the other across the Delaware River in Pennsylvania.  They both showcased ornamental grasses and their power to transform an autumn garden.

James Golden writes about his garden on a wonderful blog, View from Federal Twist.  He describes himself as a ‘new American’ style gardener.  What he is really is a an engaged and talented plantsman with an eye for design.  I previously visited and wrote about his Brooklyn garden for  Leaf  but leaped at the opportunity to spend a day talking gardens and design at his country garden.  It will be open for Garden Conservancy Open Days on October 19th if you want to see it in person.

James Golden Pond at Federal Twist Miscanthus and Sanguisorba Wave Hill chairs and grasses

After lunch and shopping for some hairspray (see the tale at the end of this post) we visited Paxon Hill Farm.  The display gardens there were glorious and interesting and full of fall ideas for planting.  It would be worth it to couple a visit here with the Open Days tour.

Pond at Paxon Hill Farm

 

Paxon Hill Farm Display Garden

Hairspray?  I suggested that James use it to keep some of the seed heads in tact that he wants to keep for winter interest without having to worry about self seeding.  Not the average garden tool, but it should work very well.  My preference is for unscented Aqua Net. Don’t knock it ’till you’ve tried it.

 

 

Planting Bambi’s Buffet

Twelve years ago I built a garden on what was a deer path in my narrow side yard.  Why? To experiment with plants primarily for deer resistance, but also to know and grow new plants for my landscape designs.  I don’t generally plant things for clients that I haven’t grown.  That means this garden as well as my others are in a constant state of upheaval and change.  The side yard gets almost totally replanted every three to five years; the others which are more public get things tucked in or dug up.

Side yard unplanted

This is a replanting year for the side yard.  Many of the previous plant experiments have been removed.  Some of the structural plants or things that I’m attached to for whatever emotional tug they have on me remain.  The space was better designed and built out of entirely found materials when I started it (below), now it’s somewhat of a hodgepodge with a nod to design.

narrow side yard garden

The garden faces south and has hot sun in the middle of the day with shade on each end as well damp areas and those that are dry so it suits a wide range of situations.  The soil has been amended in the same way I would have a garden prepared anywhere–with rich organic matter and not much else.

Here are the 5 I’m most excited about from a much more extensive planting list.

Aesculus parvivlora var. serotina ‘Rogers’ – I’ve wanted to grow this for years.  It’s a tough sell to a client though since they usually look like they’re defective in containers in the nursery.  This is a plant for someone with patience…I have that!

Aesculus parviflora var

Bouteloua gracillis ‘Blonde Ambition’ -I don’t have a good image from the plants I bought because it looks crappy in the container right now, but I have high hopes for this one.  I love it’s airy qualtiy and that’s hard to find in a small ornamental grass.  Here’s a link.

Helenium x ‘Ruby Tuesday’ – I’ve killed more Heleniums than I have previously admitted to, but I keep trying…

Helenium x Ruby Tuesday

Hypericum x ‘Blue Velvet’ – much finer foliage than its cousins.  Grey blue too.  I’ve had great success with every Hypericum I’ve grown and use the groundcover Hypericum calycinum often.  It’s a fantastic and showy semi-evergreen groundcover for a south facing slope which in my mind is akin to planting Hell.

Hypericum

Stachys monieri ‘Hummelo’ (also known as Stachys alpina ‘Hummelo’) – I’m finally getting around to a plant that everyone raves about–it’s not blooming right now but has very beautiful foliage.  We’ll see if it makes the appetizer tray in Bambi’s buffet!

Stachys monieri 'Hummelo' foliage

 So in a couple of seasons I’ll let you know what’s been eaten at this buffet since you’ll see them in future designs if they hold up.  In the meantime I’m going to try some in client’s gardens that have sturdy deer fences!

 

 

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

 

Beautiful vegetables

A Month of Sundays – Cold Beet Salad

A few months back I stated that I would be adding other content to Miss R–exploring things outside of gardens and landscapes. I love food, so this may turn into a once a month seasonal series.  For those of you who follow my Instagram feed, you know that I go to a local Farmer’s Market almost every Sunday morning from May to November.  The image below is a collage of what I bought in June.

Beautiful vegetables

I’m a huge supporter of these local, weekly markets and have been going regularly, in season, since they started almost 20 years ago.  I don’t grow my own.  What you may not know is that I also love to cook.  I’m not a recipe follower beyond the first time for something completely new and foreign.  After that I riff and local, organic, fresh ingredients add to that spontaneity.  I started cooking this way when I lived in France where local markets were plentiful and had ingredients that weren’t at that time available in American grocery stores. Here’s what I made from the beets pictured…

Cold Lemony Beet Salad

This is my interpretation of a classic cold beet salad that won out over the cold borscht I was channeling from my great Aunt Julie. This salad is super easy and would make a great addition of ‘red’ to a Fourth of July red, white and blue buffet.

Ingredients

4 medium fresh beets – yellow, red or Chiogga (these are the heirloom ones that are candy striped when you slice them–they are super pretty!)

1 large shallot 2 cloves of garlic

Juice of 1 lemon

1 tsp of balsamic glaze

1 T lemon zest

1 T best quality extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

Boil the beets in about 3″ of water until easily pierced with a fork–about 15 minutes.   (Save the tops to saute later if you want–they’re delicious). Drain and set aside to cool and peel. Slice shallots very thinly. Cut cooled and peeled beets into 3/8″ x 2″ logs (don’t be fussy about this, but this is the best size–trust me). Combine lemon zest, beet logs and shallots in a large bowl. Mince and smash garlic and whisk with lemon juice, balsamic glaze and oil to make the salad dressing–adjust to taste if too tart, but remember the beets are super sweet.  Toss with beet salad and chill.  Makes 4 large servings.

Cold Beet Salad

I also post what I make to Instagram, so in a way the series has already started–without the recipes.  This what the beet salad looked like…now you can riff on your own.  Enjoy!

New Providence Meadow

A Garden Unexpected…Field of Dreams Redeux

Foxgloves were blooming everywhere when I last visited what I call A Garden Unexpected in New Providence. I wasn’t just driving by this time, but deliberately went to see what was blooming in early summer.  What I found was no less delightful than the first time I stumbled across this field.  I expected coreopsis (there was some mixed in), but the big show was daisies.  Hundreds of thousands of them spread over the five to six acre meadow tucked behind soccer fields and in between corporate headquarters winding around the woodland edge.

New Providence Meadow daisies and coreopsis Meadow with daisies, New Providence NJ

The walk through the meadow is an abandoned fitness trail that was probably built in the 90s by Lucent who is the biggest of the corporate neighbors to this space.  It was a totally enjoyable stop that made my day slow down and much, much better than it had been.  The field near the corner of off Mountain Avenue and Diamond Hill Road in New Providence if you’re local and want to visit.

Placing a barn

New Barn for an Old Farmhouse

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

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

Placing a barn

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

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

New Barn for an old farmhouse

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

Barn Courtyard 2

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

Fragrant blooms of a yellowwood tree

Native Plants: Cladrastis kentukea – Kentucky Yellowwood

My little town has an unusual collection of street trees.  On my block alone there are red maples, dogwoods, redbuds, oaks, and two native beauties – Cladrastis kentukea all planted in the hell strips.  1′ to 2′ abundant clusters of fragrant white blooms on two side by side trees made me screech the tires on the way home the other day.  This isn’t a common tree around here and it is a stunner in every way.  I have to remember to us this beauty in more landscape designs!

Fragrant blooms of a yellowwood tree

Kentucky Yellowwood

Cladrastis kentukea has a loose informal shape suitable to casual settings or as a feature tree in a large landscape.  Its native range is further south – hence the name.  Yellowwood is hardy from zones 4-8, with brilliant yellow fall foliage. It is a large shade tree that can reach 30-50 feet, likes full sun, and has a long taproot so make sure it’s planted where it can stay.

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

 

 

 

Opiary: Garden Pots from Princeton

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

Opiary Pots Kips Bay Showhouse

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

Opiary Studio

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

opiary studio

 All photos via Opiary.
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.

An Unanticipated Slowdown

You may have heard that we had a wee storm here earlier this week.  These images from the New York Times tell part of the story.   There is another one to tell.

Ten or twelve years ago, before the instantaneous world of WiFi and most smartphones, I spent a random hour after dinner on the world wide web on the one desktop computer we had at home.  Mostly I just played Tetris and chatted with designers on a landscape forum.

Flash flood forward to the aftermath of Sandy, I am without even that dial-up access and have to leave the house with electronics in hand.  I journey to be with others for a few hours who also have portable techno habits but no way to satisfy them at home.  The upside of all of this is that things that I put off so I could email, text or Tweet last week have moved forward to fill the void of time that the lack of instantaneous access has left.

I have mended everything in the ‘needs a button’ pile, cleaned my house, read a fantastic book (The Rules of Civility), read the actual newspaper (instead of on my iPad) and taken walks much longer than I did last week.  My neighborhood has come alive with people out on the street, neighbors talking to each other, and boys raising money for the Red Cross by selling brownies and hot coffee.

Yes, I’m writing this at the local Starbucks and am glad for the WiFi, the camaraderie and access to information.  I’m also sad that I know that as soon as all is restored we’ll go back to our frenetic need for instant gratification and too many hours in front of a screen.  The sense of community and neighborliness will once again disappear behind closed doors.

 

Departures and Debuts

May is (as they say) busting out all over and it’s not even really here yet.

Today I’m travelling to Little Rock to visit P. Allen Smith’s real Garden Home.

Garden designed by P. Allen Smith
Photograph via  The New York Times

Smith invited 20 bloggers to visit and see the farm, participate in workshops and generally be guests for what I expect will be genuine southern hospitality, great gardens and some cool product pitches.  It will also be great to see people that I don’t get to see often!

While I’m away, The Mansion in May opens and we’re ready…finally!  The house and gardens are absolutely spectacular…the best I’ve seen in the many years I’ve been privileged to participate.  This year I created a small rooftop terrace that is colorful, eclectic and fun.

The Voyager's Terrace

Please come and visit if you can, it’s open for the entire month of May and benefits the new hospice at Morristown Medical Center.

Mid-Winter Garden Design Project

I started blogging soon after I started creating conceptual gardens.  I wanted a way to describe the process as it was happening.  That grew into something else entirely and now Miss R has a life of her own…

With that said, this winter I’m planning another conceptual garden, my first in a few years. I took a break and have said ‘no’ to two previous invitations during that time.  I wasn’t going to do this project at either and shouldn’t have even gone to see it because old houses have a pull on me like no other.  Glynallyn is a special place and part of local history.  It’s also currently owned by the bank and the show house is one huge staging effort.  Got a few spare millions?

Glynallyn, built 1913-17 with arrow pointing to balcony

So now I’m going to create a very eccentric Raj inspired lounge with a greenwall and lots of color in an otherwise very drab space.  I want it to look like the original owner of the house just got back from a trip to India yet still be contemporary, young and fun.  Anyone interested in following along?

The balcony at Glynallyn

The balcony is in a sad state.  We plan to liven that up though!

The inspiration for an outdoor lounge...

When a garden changes hands…

Last May I spent a morning with Rich Pomerantz photographing three of my gardens.  Normally I shoot all of my own photos, but I have never been able to get decent images of these three, so I brought in Rich to shoot them for me.

The garden was a reinvention of an early 20th century estate garden on a historic property that had fallen to ruin.  In its previous incarnation, 2 full time gardeners lived on the property and cared for it.  They had access to a small greenhouse, potting shed and gardeners cottage which have been partially restored.  There is also coldframe that is in such bad shape it could qualify as a partial archeological site.

Fast forward to 2011.  The property has been sold again and the garden that I built for may not survive the new owners.  To me that makes the following photos (all by Rich) so special.  It reminds me that gardens are always ephemeral…one minute in one is never the same as the next.

Peony walk with rose arbors
Salvaged fountain
A view across the interior lawn
Curtain wall with perennials

In my Reader…Earthly Delights

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

My New Jersey…not Reality TV

Well I finally, by mistake, saw five minutes of the MTV hit Jersey Shore.

For much of my life, in three separate stints, I have lived in the Garden State by choice.  I am not of Italian descent, don’t call anyone by a stereotypical slur and definitely have more than two brain cells to rub together…even when drunk.

Go ahead, believe what you see on TV.  Sure the Sopranos also live here…and their ancestors in Atlantic City too. By all means believe.  There are too many people here anyway.

Let me show you a little secret though…get off  the highway and travel west, all over the state you will see this…

Protected open farmland

But don’t believe me, believe the Jersey Shore, because TV tells the truth–after all isn’t it reality?

Grounds for Sculpture

Last Sunday I met up with a group of my peers from APLDNJ for a summer social and private tour of Grounds for Sculpture.  I hadn’t been in a few years, so enough time had passed for me to see it with ‘new’ eyes.  The day was blazing, the company was stimulating and as always the sculpture park was a mix of high and low, weird and wonderful and outside the box thinking.

Over 250 large and small scale sculptures are on the grounds, many in their own ‘garden’ spaces.  What has always fascinated me about the park is the way plants, landscape forms and elements are used.  They are an integral part of the experience.

Picea abies 'Pendula'

Two Picea abies ‘Pendula’ form a living arch that frames the view of  a highly polished steel sculpture just beyond it on a walkway.

Undulating walk

One of two walkways with Corten supported turf ‘waves’.

Gabion Wall

This gabion wall supports a suspended bridge.  It could have simply been filled with rip rap, but instead it is a sculptural wall that forms the backdrop of an amphitheater.

Red Maple Allee

Nowhere in the park are plants used in a more arresting way than this allee of red maples.  They were dug and planted as young trees in groups that had already formed.  They are pruned up so their trunks form a living fence and the effect is highly sculptural.

Courtyard

The stone and steel sculptural piece in the foreground is entitled Grupo and is by Pat Musick.

Water Feature
Courtyards

I kept on thinking about Luis Barragan in this series of courtyards.

J. Seward Johnson, the park’s visionary philanthropist is also a sculptor and his work is throughout the park.  He creates vignettes of life-sized characters doing things.  The most famous are recreations of paintings by the French impressionist painters in 3-D.  I find them hilarious…none more than this one of Monet’s Woman with a Parasol on a hill of grasses and plastic poppies…yes plastic.

Fake Poppies et al.

And because this is a sculpture park I’ll show you my favorite non-plant piece (Hearts Desire by Gloria Vanderbilt) which is new to the park since I was last there and was in the ‘Garden of the Subconscious’–a meandering space formed with weeping pines and spruces.

Kewpie dolls in Hell (not it's real name)

Go if you can, it’s worth the trip.

Fieldtrip: James Rose Center

Last Saturday morning I headed north to Ridgewood, NJ to help with the annual spring clean up at the quirky and impossibly creative James Rose Center.

The Guest House

This modernist bastion of free thinking and improvisation is located in a community of entitled suburbanites surrounded by traditional homes and manicured yards.  It is, as you would suspect, an anomaly.

A covered section of the roof garden

Rose, mad genius that he was, experimented with so many convergent ideas here that it is impossible to convey them all through photographs in a blog…one visit would not even be enough to absorb them all.

One view of the roof deck
Turn around and this is the view of the roof deck

Rose built the home/studio/garden in 1953 and lived there for almost 40 years until his death in 1991.  As I understand it, the building and surrounding garden were in a constant state of experimental flux for almost all of that time.

Light and shadow

Its still evolving history makes it  a vital emblem of  a changing world from a fertile and busy mind who fundamentally understood that change was constant and necessary.

A tree is given room to grow between exterior rafters
The same tree reveals itself again in the second story

Combinations of materials high and low, new and recycled, permanent and temporary are freely juxtaposed throughout the building and garden.

Stairway to the roof

In Rose’s own words– “to reveal what is always there is the trick. The metamorphosis is seen minute by minute, season by season, year by year. Through this looking glass, ‘finish’ is another word for death.”

View out from in

Over 60 years ago Rose wrote the closest definition I have ever found of a garden.

Man and nature, nature and man

From his 1958 book Creative Gardens— “A garden is an experience…If it were possible to distill the essence of a garden, I think it would be the sense of being within something while still out of doors.  That is the substance of it: for until you have that, you do not have a garden at all.”

Fence detail

To  visit the James Rose Center is to experience a garden where then is now, now is then, the inside is out, the outside is in and the top is bottom and the bottom is the top.  It is also an opportunity to take a glimpse into the mind of one of American landscape architecture’s most original thinkers.


My Garden State | Sandy Hook

My uncle was visiting from Montana.  They don’t have an ocean there, so off we went to ours.  I picked a beach destination I’d never been to before even though it’s the closest public beach to my house.  Sandy Hook, which is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area,  is so popular that on a hot summer day the parking lots are often full by mid morning–that popularity is one of the reasons I’ve never gone.  I was in for a very pleasant surprise.

Protected dunes and a view of the Atlantic
Protected dunes and a view of the Atlantic

Located less than 25 miles from Manhattan, Sandy Hook  has a seven mile stretch of beach that is home to more than 300 varieties of migratory birds.  Posted many places on the island were ‘wanted’ posters offering a $4000 reward for information about the wanton destruction of an active plover nest earlier in the summer.  It’s wise to stay on the paths here.  There’s rampant poison ivy, that without really knowing it, I suspect provides food for birds and protects them from human intrusion.

Wildlife Management area with shipping lane in the background
Wildlife Management area with shipping lane in the background

Sandy Hook also boasts the country’s oldest lighthouse–still in operation–as well as an active Coast Guard base.  I wasn’t expecting  the military presence on a trip to the beach.  Fort Hamilton is on the northern end of the island as is an old growth holly forest and there were several missile and cannon displays as well as an abandoned gunnery built in 1902.  While exploring the ghostlike abandoned gunnery and adjacent wildlife management area, we could hear the pop of  rifle practice in the background. Long a strategic and practical entry point to the New Jersey/New York shipping lanes, Sandy Hook is an odd combination of  historical, military/industrial and natural.

Gunnery Ruins
Gunnery Ruins

Fort Hamilton’s  boarded up and tumble down historic buildings are slated for development through a public/private partnership.

Lighthouse circa 1764
Lighthouse circa 1764

But back to the beach…there’s a dog friendly beach, designated areas for fishing sensibly away from bathing beaches, a clothing optional beach (and this is a National Park) as well as beautiful clean and sandy family beaches.  A very active bike lane runs the length of the island.

The day we went was hot and sunny and the wind was from the west so the water was relatively calm.  This is not a big surf beach.  Despite the westerly breezes, there weren’t any insects like those that sometimes plague Long Beach Island, but Sandy Hook’s water isn’t as clear as it is in southern New Jersey.  The beach was cleaner–this park is serious about taking your garbage with you.

The dunes with the park's visitor's center in the distance
The dunes with the park's visitor's center in the distance

Notice that there’s almost no blown about trash on these dunes–and look how many people use this beach on a weekday.  It’s quite remarkable.

A sea of umbrellas
A sea of umbrellas
Wide sandy beaches and bathers
Wide sandy beaches and bathers

When I started extolling the virtures of ‘My Garden State’ earlier this summer, I had no idea that I’d be introduced to someplace as uniquely New Jersey as Sandy Hook.  Go if you can.