Garden Design Details: Letterforms and Words

Letters and words have been a long term design and decorating trend.  Think ‘Dream’ above a bed, or ‘Eat’ in the kitchen, or ‘Grow’  in gardens. What happens when letter forms and words step outside of those cliches and become something else? Not the kind of words that are carved into something, but words and letters that are freestanding graphic elements that are interesting on their own or have a deeper meaning.

Image via Vintage Marquee Lights

There are so many possibilities that I’ve only begun to crack the surface and there’s not a single ‘grow’ or ‘I’m in the garden’ among them. These letters can be personal or just cool design elements. They can be vintage marquee lights or old bits of signage. They’re not hard to find.

Garden Lettters and Graphics

 Image via Gardenista

I’m going to Las Vegas in November for the first time (and probably the last) and have carved out time to visit the Neon Boneyard which has fascinated me for years. I’d love to use one of the ghosts of the past in a landscape design.

Image via Vegas Groom

Another way to use letterforms is for messages. Not the cliched ‘I’m in the Garden’ kind of thing, but something of substance and meaning. Below at the new garden at The Barnes Foundation designed by OLIN, the graphics are taken from Dr. Barnes’ notes on hanging his art collection.

Barnes Foundation

 Image courtesy of Pentagram

A simpler version of the same design concept can be an easy DIY project. These are formed with galvanized wire and pliers with loops for screws.  Not difficult at all.

image via April and May

 

 

Kingsley Bates outdoor furniture

Furnishing a New Patio

Too many landscape designers ignore an obvious service they can provide to their clients. Once the structural and planting work on a patio, deck, or even front entry has been completed they believe they’re done and leave furniture and accessory choices up to the homeowner or their interior designers.

I shop for and with my clients since until the project is totally completed, I’m the one with the vision for how the space will be used.  Why would I hand that off to someone else?

I’ll start an Ideabook and share it with a client to get the ideas flowing.  I source new and if appropriate, re-purposed materials.  Below is a large table and chairs I spotted for a client whose home has a distinct Nantucket vibe.  We will add custom cushions and some other accessories as well as stools for the bar area.  The furniture on the two other patio levels will coordinate, but won’t match giving it a ‘purchased over time’ feeling that many new spaces lack.

Kingsley Bates outdoor furniture

All weather wicker and fabric

I’ve heard landscape designers say ‘I’m not interested in furniture’ and I wonder why? Why let plants, stone, and woodworking be the only design details?  An interior designer wouldn’t stop at the walls and floor, why do they?  Obviously it’s a profit center for a designer, but the client benefits by having the work done for them and having a useful, wonderful space as soon as its finished.

I include space planning for patios in my initial concept plans and will be teaching a course about it and furniture, fabric and accessory selection at NYBG in the spring (it’s not listed yet) complete with a field trip to the  furniture showrooms.  Too many people don’t make their outdoor spaces big enough to be really useful.  They don’t think about the ‘how’ and ‘why’; only the ‘what’.

Patio Dining Area plan

A new book,  The Professional Designer’s Guide to Garden Furnishings, by fellow APLD landscape designer, Vanessa Gardner Nagel, aims to demystify the  process of selecting furniture, fabrics and accessories.  Nagel was an interior designer before turning her sights outside to the landscape, so she has a particular affinity for the subject. Her book covers stylistic information as well as materials selection and is comprehensive in scope.

Pro Guide to Garden Furnishings

The subject is treated in depth and is a great resource for seasoned pros and those new to the subject where there wasn’t one before. The Garden Furnishings Resources section relies on a product legend which I find to be cumbersome and I wish there was a loose leaf notebook version, a customizable source book, for practical, everyday use that could be updated at will or with updates from the publisher.  From the publishing side, that could be an additional revenue stream in packet updates from suppliers but that’s another story all together.  I also wish there had been a section for trade shows which I find to be among the most valuable and inspiring trips I take each year.  All in all though, it’s a good book in a product area that has exploded in terms of what’s available in the past five years.

 

Pink in the courtyard

Color: In the Pink

I’ve seen rumblings of an unexpected garden color trend.  We love pink flowers in our beds and borders, but not so much in other areas.  Maybe it’s just too gender charged, maybe it’s just too unexpected, but for whatever reason it we don’t use it.  For those in the know, like Steven Elton of Brown Jordan, who I heard speak in Chicago two weeks ago, pink garden accessories and furniture was an emerging trend in the European markets.  Actually, if you follow trend forecasting, pink has been bandied about for a few years.  So I decided to explore the possibilities…in the pink!

Pink in the courtyard

Pink walls in bold graphic stripes make a dreary courtyard pop with unexpected color.  The pink is picked up in the table settings.

Pink stripes poolside

The reintroduction of Schiaparelli to the market next season makes a stylish case for pink.

Schiaparelli's Shocking Pink

Her famous ‘Shocking Pink’ may seem that way in the garden, but it’s really not.  It can be dreamy and restful also.

Pink balcony

 Or it can make a big energetic and contemporary statement.

Some pinks to try painting a fence or garden wall.  Left to right:  Farrow and Ball/Cinder Rose No. 246Behr/Fuschia Kiss 100B-6, and Benjamin Moore/Hot Lips 2077-30.

Pink color swatch for outdoor stains

Here’s a corresponding Pinterest In the Pink inspiration board that just makes me happy!

Terra cotta floor tiles

Garden Inspiration: Tile Medalions

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

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

Terra cotta floor tiles

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

Balcony tiles

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

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

Stoneware numbers from Pewabic Pottery, Detroit

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

New Orleans Street sidewalk number

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

Landscape Design Project in Progress

I like working as part of a large team when I am brought in at the beginning, rather than the end of a project as so often happens.  Collaboration with architects, other designers and clients can be fun and rewarding creatively. What I don’t like is the turf wars that can happen when the project is being built.  Uncommunicated changes that seem insignificant to one contractor can be an essential piece of the puzzle to another and are easily lost.

The most important thing that is lost is time.  That is the case on the project pictured in progress below.  We had hoped to finish this before the holidays but since landscape installs last…well we’re now slogging in deep, deep mud.  This is a large project that includes a pool, new pool house, spa, pergola, garden areas as well as new steps up the steep hill to the house and an extensive dry stream and subterranean drainage system.   I was involved in the design and placement of all of the landscape elements except the pool.

The Garden and Woodland Concept

The overall concept for the garden and woodland areas.  This board was created using the online mood board generator Olioboard.

The original patio plan

The original design for the pergola had planter bases.  Those were eliminated to trim costs and the patio was made smaller.  Hence the design of the pergola had to be modified.

The modified pergola with completed pool house and spa

This is an expansive entertaining space for an active family.  We did not lay the patio or build the pergola–that was the domain of the building contractor.  A separate pool contractor was responsible for the pool.

View through the pergola to new steps on hill and boulder wall in progress

The mud is clearly visible and ankle deep.  The drainage system hasn’t been connected yet and will eventually solve that problem.

Recycled granite curb steps now make the hill easier to traverse

The boulder wall will be completed this week and we will start on a low dry stacked garden wall that will help to satisfy the town’s setback rules for the poolhouse.  Once that’s done we’ll begin the drystream and in early spring connect all of the drainage systems to culminate there when there is overflow which is typical on this very wet property.  More as the progress happens!

Tuesday’s Find…French Foundry Pots

I love it when I find things that meld various interests.  These foundry pots do just that linking my history in both garden design and metalwork.  Carved from igneous rock and used to pour molten metals, they have been re-purposed as beautiful containers.  22 inches tall and 17.25 wide, these would look fabulous in any garden or patio.  They can be had at Orange in Los Angeles.

Wonderful patina and beautiful shape

As for what to put in them?  Please visit my designer friends who are posting about their favorite landscape plants along with guest blogger, Nan Ondra on Garden Designers Roundtable today at 1pm.

 

Tuesday’s Find…here comes the sun

I’ve always liked sun faces as a motif.   I see garden wall ornaments with shining benevolent suns all the time.  This vintage 1960s dining table and chairs uses them to great, fun effect.  How wonderful would this set be at a beach house or under a pergola in the desert?   I can imagine sitting with friends, watching the sun rise or set over before a great day starts or sharing a great meal at its end.  Too bad, the set is located somewhat inland right now at Pariscope Design in Illinois…I’m sure they have sun there too…

 

Sunny table and chairs