Nemours Garden

Garden Designers Roundtable: Maintaining a Grand Plan

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

Nemours Garden

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

Gilded sculpture at Nemours

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

Abandoned greenhouse at Nemours

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

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

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

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

 

Ferns and Grasses

Field Trip: Native Plant Garden at NYBG

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

Ferns and Grasses

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

Foam Flowers - Tiarella cordifolia

Woodland edge

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

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

Barrique’s Recycled Barrel Stave Furniture

As part of my design crawl in New York the past two weeks, I visited ABC Home and Carpet for some inspiration.  The store never disappoints in its merchandise selections or displays.  A designer I know says ‘This is where the awesome happens’.  As usual I took a ton of photos (with permission) and some of those are on my Instagram feed.

On the second floor, as part of a storewide ‘Slow Design’ story,  I saw this chaise designed by Marc Sadler that was constructed from recycled wine barrel staves.

Barrel Stave lounge chair

It’s part of a larger group of furniture and accessories being fabricated by Barrique as part of their ‘Third Life of Wood’ program that supports recovering addicts in an Italian rehab facility.  They make the furniture and the profits go back to the center.  Wow.  Here’s some more…

Barriques Third Life of Wood Lounge chair

Antonio Citterio’s ‘Poltrona Lounge’ is both classic and contemporary.

Recycled barrel stave swing by Angela Missioni

Angela Missoni’s ‘Miss Dondola’ swing echos the same color and style that are found in her clothing lines.

Recycled barrel stave chair by Aldo Spinelli

Aldo Spinelli’s ‘Sardinia’ chair riffs on early twentieth century furniture design while being completely modern.

The furniture and its message are currently touring the U.S.  Here’s a schedule.

Top photo by the author, bottom three photos via Barrique

 

Paint Can planter

Garden Trends: Dumpster Style

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

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

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

Tin Can shingles
Can bottom shingles
image via Pinterest

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click for more Dumpster Style on Pinterest.

 

 

 

 

Wave Hill view

Vista and View Preservation

An article yesterday in the New York Times about a proposed and (yes) sustainably built and ‘green’ corporate headquarters that will rise above the Palisades along the Hudson River galvanized my thinking about view preservation as part of the whole save the planet movement.

Wave Hill view
View of the Palisades from Wave Hill

Views and vistas need to be preserved.  They are seldom considered when giant wind turbines are erected on mountain tops or along the shoreline. They’re not considered when housing developments climb up a hillside.  They’re not considered when a swath of land is taken up for new corporate headquarters.  Yet a property with a view is worth more than one without.

Parks and public spaces aren’t enough to protect many views that are in the way of our continued sprawl as well as so-called environmental progress.  In the New York metro region, land is valuable and in increasing short supply hours and miles away from the city. Our views need to be preserved as much as the remaining open space.

Views and vistas are part of the environment and should be preserved as such.  Shouldn’t the beauty of the earth’s landscape be just as important as saving its air, waterways and soil?  Humans need beauty as much as air, water, and soil.  For me, and many others I suspect, these views and vistas move me to my deepest core.  My heart stops on a drive or hike when I get a glimpse of the beauty of a vista and world beyond.  They soothe me when little else will, and inspire me when all else fails.  They deserve respect and preservation.

 

Graphic Recycled Garden Furniture

I am not a fan of the current trend that extols us to grab a shipping pallet or some cast off boards and use them to make something else.  Most of what results still looks like garbage.  Who cares if the materials are free?

These chairs by Old & Board satisfy my designer instincts and are made from recycled wood.

recycled wood garden furniture
Super graphics and high style

I saw them in person (and sat in them) at both Flora Grubb Gardens and The Gardener while I was in San Francisco last month.

Recycled garden furnture
Graphic additions make the simple design
Recycled garden furniture
More graphics
Benzinger Winery Insectary Trellises

Barrel Stave Garden Trellis

Before I start dashing around this morning I wanted to share this with you.  While in California two weeks ago with APLD, I visited Benzinger Family Winery in Sonoma.  They have an incredible biodynamic operation that among many other things includes an insectary.

Benzinger Winery Insectary Trellises

I keep on thinking about these beautiful, sculptural trellis structures in the insectary that were in part made from re-purposed barrel staves and wondering how I can interpret the idea in a client’s design.

Solar Panel Sense

I have been struggling with the visual impact that alternative energy sources have on the landscape.  I’m conflicted.  I know we need to seriously decrease our dependence on fossil fuels, but often the windmill and solar farms that are increasingly visible…mar the vistas and take up valuable open space that to me is just as valuable as the energy they create.

So there I was, driving (those fossil fuels again) by a local corporate park and Voila! a thoughtful solution that’s a win-win for solar panel installation.  Solar panels are being installed  in the parking lot creating energy for use, shade and shelter for the cars beneath them. They’re being built in every island in a parking lot on land that’s already been paved over…not green space.  They even look good in a retro kind of car park way.

Solar panels installed in a parking lot

Garden Portrait: Boat’s End, Australia

Since the local bookstore with a great selection of foreign magazines closed I have missed leafing through (and buying) stacks of international design magazines.  Now, unless I’m making a trip to NYC where I now buy and browse, I look for them on the web.  So with that backstory…I was enthralled with Sarah and Roger Budarick’s drought tolerant garden, Boat’s End, in Australian House and Garden.

The garden combines Australian natives and compatible non-natives to dramatic effect.  The scale, color and vistas in this garden is what I’m attracted to.  I can’t grow most of the plants in my zone 6 climate that gets plenty of water.  I can, however, take away plenty of design inspiration!

Photo credits:  top to bottom all by Brigid Arnott.

There was a previous article about the garden in Gardening Australia that goes into much more detail.

Desert Dreams

There’s a fantastic article in today’s New York Times about Arcosanti.  What’s that you ask?  In my mind, it is/was the first eco-concious city of the future.  In other’s it’s the mad idea of architectural genius Paolo Soleri.  Before there was Masdar City (a much more commercial development), there was Arcosanti and Soleri.

I’m not going to repeat what the article has to say, but instead will say that Soleri’s books and philosophy were highly influential on me as a designer–not so much the visual, but the ideas.   I hope I will get to visit one day…it’s been on the list for years!

The Vaults with a view to the desert beyond
The bells that are more famous than the place

View the slide show with images of making the bells here.

Photo Credits top to bottom:  Wikipedia Commons, Organic Nation

Slow Home Living…a garden design

It started with a tweet.  My Twitter buddy @slowhomeliving aka Gloria asked a question about her pool’s renovation.  I answered.  For the next two months we worked together developing a master plan for her lifestyle/flower/blogging business to flourish in.  More important than that…it had to work for her family.

Great bones–the centerpiece is the early 19c farmhouse– helped get this project off to a wonderful start.  Like all old houses…nothing was square, things had been added willy-nilly and it had fantastic character.  My job was to unite all of the disparate pieces into a cohesive whole.

The finished pool and back view of the house

I start most landscape designs exploring specific uses and their relationships to each other.  I explore the possibilities for re-imagining the existing space.  In this case there were outbuildings, a raised patio, a pool and an existing vegetable garden.  In keeping with her slow home living philosophy, Gloria wanted to make sure as many of the existing plants and materials were re-purposed as possible.

Re-designed potager

An avid gardener, fantastic chef and professional flower arranger all three needed to be incorporated into the garden spaces.  A 19c feeling needed to work for a very 21c family.

New patio space for entertaining and family dining

Gloria made a trip to the Brimfield Antiques Market and returned with gates, pots and other pieces which were incorporated into the design.

Recycled and repurposed garden ornaments

An entry courtyard was redesigned to create a welcoming stopping point with stronger link between the driveway, house, shed and pool areas.  The existing arbor was left in place and new garden beds were added.

The entry courtyard

There is still much more to be completed…a custom gate for an old stone pilar, woodland plantings, a new front garden and a rose garden are among them.  The beautiful old farmhouse is getting the garden it deserves and Gloria and her family are using their space, swimming in a renovated pool and eating fresh from the garden every night.  They’re slow home living.

  
Beach towels in the sunroom
Birdfeeder on an out building

 

 

 

 

In my Reader…Tokyo DIY Gardening

You know I’m not a huge DIY person.  If everyone did that, I’d be out of business.  BUT, I love Tokyo DIY Gardening.  An open source site for anyone who gardens in overcrowded Tokyo. It is also chock full of inspiration for anyone who believes that plants and gardens of all kinds make our world a more livable place.

Founded by Jared Braterman and Chris Berthelsen the site consists of images of real and imagined green spaces and has interactive maps, participant uploads, photos of private and public gardens and articles about urban greening and gardening.

 

2010 Top 5 Posts–Yours!

I’ve never done a “top”  list before.  I was interested in what everyone was here was reading so I took a look at the numbers.  As a landscape designer I’m interested in trends–self generated as well as user generated. The list below is a nod to the best of list tradition–not mine–yours.  Click each the first few words of each description to go to that post.

An exploration of India’s potential influence on garden styles.  The Raj ruled this post.

5 things that influenced me as a landscape designer in 2010.

Ideas on color in garden design…no I wasn’t talking to myself.

Thoughts and ideas about sustainability in garden and landscape design.

A love song to the amazing architecture in Buffalo.

Not so green…walls

True confession…I find most green walls…well…too green.  I find them to be dramatic, but my brain needs visual space and covering everything from head to toe in plants is not always my idea of  beauty.  Well, it is in the jungle–and in certain urban situations where the opposite can also be oppressive.  Even inside, green walls make me feel well… claustrophobic.  Before I take a boatload of manure for this idea, hear me out.

I love the idea of growing things vertically, up over arbors, through other plants, even up walls, but I don’t need a vertical green carpet.  I am a fan of Patrick Blanc’s work, but can’t imagine it everywhere.

Green Wall at Les Halles in Avignon via Patrick Blanc

Without skilled and thoughtful installation and proper maintenance it is easy for a green wall to end up looking like the example below.

Three year old green walls in Southern California

Now with all of that said, here are two sensible alternatives that I have seen.  Still green, still vertical, still pants on walls.  I wrote about the first over a year ago as part of a post on eco-luxuryFlora Grubb’s beautiful green walls at the Bardessono resort in Napa.  There’s space for the eye to rest and there’s plenty of green and drama.

Flora Grubb's Tilandsia wall at Bardessono
Attached via low tech alligator clips

The next, I have no experience with but they do exactly what I’m thinking about.  From the French company, Vertilignes (translation: green lines) is a green wall unit that accomodates 28 plants that use a simple planting and watering system. There is a mirrored variation. It’s simple, clean and green.  It has visual breathing space.

Vertiilignes 'Diva' Screen

Planted 'wall'

So the next time when thinking about green walls, try to envision a jungle or try to envision a place that is green but also offers a place to rest visually.  Now bring on the manure.

Sustainability and the ‘M’ word

Over the past weekend there has been much discussion in the garden and landscape community about sustainability, healthy environments and organic practices.  Both the American Society of Landscape Architects and the Garden Writers Association had their annual conferences and saving the planet through sustainable initiatives was high on each group’s priority lists.  The Association of Professional Landscape Designers is having theirs in two weeks and the message will be the same.  Everyone in the green industry agrees…almost.

For the past several years in private, at dinner parties and in my classrooms I have been having a similar discussion, but mine starts with the ‘M’ word…maintenance.Landscapes and designed environments are only as good and as long lasting as their maintenance.  How many people do you know with a garden/lawn care service?  I know many.  How many of those companies have embraced sustainable practices?  I bet the number goes way, way down.  Here’s the deal.  Until we  take a leadership role and give those who maintain what we dream up a way to make a viable and profitable living maintaining our projects sustainably, our efforts are for naught.  Great landscapes last beyond their designers.  They are a living entity that requires care.

We need pro-level electric or solar mowers that are rechargeable from job to job.  We need clean fuel burning trucks.  We need blowers that minimize noise and pollution.  We need to train people how to prune so that meatball pruning isn’t the norm.  We need training in organic and sustainable practices at the mow and blow level. We need to lead the way, but we have to arm those who follow in our wake or it’s all for nothing.

In my Reader…Recycle UK

Every now and again someone will email me and ask me to post something on my blog. I never have…before today. I’m usually fiercely independent and don’t want to have to return the favor.  This was originally sent to me via email.

I have recycler’s guilt.  I still throw away too  much–although considerably less than many of my neighbors if our weekly trash bags are counted.  Although the site itself is similar to the US freecycle sites, this infographic  from England is really worth the read.  Click on it,  it will be enlarged and readable.  Thanks, Claire at recycle UK.

Recycling

Infographic by Recycle – Don’t bin it, recycle it

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.


Bardessono’s Compelling Courtyards

In the pouring rain, two garden design and writing friends and I made Bardessono our final stop on a whirlwind tour of Napa and Sonoma. I first wrote about this LEED Platinum certified resort/spa earlier this year in a post called The New Luxury.  I was surprised to find that it wasn’t out in the country, but smack dab in the middle of the charming village of Yountville.  The hotel/spa’s  website makes it look as bucolic as the rest of Napa and Sonoma.

Olive trees, grasses and rammed earth wall in the main courtyard

Even in the downpour, Bardessono’s landscape design did not disappoint.  Arranged in a series of individual spaces that flow around clean lined geometric architecture, each of the tree themed courtyards had unique yet related visual identities.  Richard Hestikind designed the stone and water features that are at the heart of the each space.  In his statement about the gardens, he says ‘At one time, years ago, a natural stream wound through what is now the hotel grounds.  The general goal of the water feature was to re-introduce emerging water into the courtyards in unique ways.’

The three primary courtyards:  Olive, Birch and Magnolia are distinct yet related via their tree themes and materials.

The Olive Courtyard fountain

The Olive courtyard fountain incorporates three stone olive grinding wheels.

The Birch Courtyard

A large circular pad leads to the bridges and winding path through the Birch courtyard.

The Magnolia Courtyard in bloom

The Magnolia courtyard was by far my favorite.  Sprial stone work on the ground plane juxtaposed with rough hewn basalt verticals, water and those blooming magnolias made the rainy trek so worth it.

The central spiral in the Magnolia courtyard
Spiral leading into spiral

Both of my companions for the day also wrote about this stop..read their takes at Garden Porn and Alice’s Garden Travel Buzz.  There will be some more from Miss R on this amazing day and other San Francisco Bay Area adventures next week.

Inspiration and Influence: Craftsman Farms

As the brilliant fall foliage fades, I find myself thinking more and more about larger themes in the natural world and how they directly inform my own landscape design work.  Response to concerns about the health of our planet and its inhabitants have designers in all disciplines embracing sustainable practices and hailing biomimicry as the next design paradigm.  I have always looked for inspiration from the natural environment (among many other things), so this week I stopped at Craftsman Farms which is close to where I live in New Jersey

Harmony
Harmony

Originally more than 600 acres, the now 30 acre property is a National Historic Site.  Deservedly so, it is one of the most significant examples of American Arts and Crafts architecture.  Craftsman Farms also illustrates visually how the landscape can inform all types of design.

Local materials are used throughout
The main house in situ

Gustav Stickley, the visionary behind it, is most famous now for his now highly collectible ‘Craftsman’ style furniture.  Craftsman Farms is an outgrowth of his particular aesthetic, philosophical and social ideas.  Stickley built the compound almost 100 years ago as a model for sustainability.    The main house, which Stickley had planned as the center piece of a farm school for boys,  has been painstakingly restored but the garden areas have not.

Restored facade
Restored facade

It is a place inspired by its sense of place, much like gardens can be.

Texture
Texture
Natural steps
Natural steps

The idea that we as designers are a part of a larger natural system and need to be nourished and inspired by that system is best summed up in Stickley’s own words–“We need to go often to the treasury of Nature that we may restore, renew the magnetic force that makes us valuable to ourselves, to others. Nature gives so generously to those who go to her….She heals and enriches, never drains or impoverishes, and is always trustworthy, reliable.”

Note:  A short companion video can be viewed by clicking  here.

My Garden State|The Meadowlands and the Hackensack River

This is a tale of human alteration of the natural world that is leaning towards having a happy ending.  Anyone who grew up, as I did, near the Hackensack River and the adjacent Meadowlands knows that even in our lifetimes, it has been permanently altered.   I had the opportunity this week to go on a river tour of the area.  The eco-tours are run by Hackensack Riverkeeper, part of the Waterkeeper Alliance, whose efforts and education on behalf of the river are instrumental in saving and preserving the Hackensack for future generations.

Storm clouds over a landfill
Storm clouds over a landfill
New York City to the east
New York City to the east

Although the water in the river is getting cleaner, what used to be a largely freshwater river basin is now brackish due to damming upstream, draining of marsh land for farming, and building up the sides of the river with fill (much of it of dubious origins).  The mounded land  in the top photo above is a toxic landfill of unknown contents.  There was a time when garbage dumping in and around the river was commonplace.   The cycle of  environmental abuse is ending.  We treated (in some cases still treat) and permanently altered this waterway for what we thought was our own benefit for centuries. 8700 of the original 30,000+ acres of the meadowlands are now protected.  Birds, fish and other species are returning. 110 species of birds were officially counted this past spring and Osprey and Peregrines are finding nesting opportunities and plentiful food.  Spartina alterniflora–a native salt marsh plant–is fighting it out with the ubiquitous Phragmites communis.

A stand of Phragmites
A stand of Phragmites communis
Native Spartina alterniflora
Native Spartina alterniflora
Sunset over the Hackensack River
Sunset over the Hackensack River

The New Luxury

A few words stenciled on a shop window got me thinking about this…the very last lure after organic spa treatments were the enticing words  ‘eco-luxury‘.  I would think that eco-luxury would be one ‘green’ term that garden and landscape designers would have already latched on to.   Its marketability as a lifestyle concept has been embraced by interior designers, spas and resorts, and architects–yet I haven’t seen it used as a concept by landscape designers.

Think about it–guiltless, sustainable, ecologically sound design, installation and management practices that appeals to clients who want to lead a pampered, opulent  lifestyle without any earthburger connotations. The possibilities boggle the mind.  The fact is, that many clients do not even  realize that they can have a beautiful and luxurious outdoor environment that is  also eco-conscious.   Pictured below is Bardessono,  a resort/spa in Napa Valley that markets itself as the ‘greenest’ luxury hotel in America.  Seeking a LEED platinum certification, it is sleek, modern and definitely luxurious and it’s part of a larger and fast growing trend in many segments of the design industries.

Bardessono Resort, Napa Valley w/vertical walls by Flora Grubb via the New York Times
Bardessono Resort, Napa Valley w/vertical walls by Flora Grubb via the New York Times

What exactly is eco-luxury in landscape and garden design?  It’s creating the highest level of design, aesthetics, and quality while  maintaining an ecologically sustainable and balanced environment that doesn’t tax natural resources in its creation or its ongoing  maintenance.  What client wouldn’t want a project that met that criteria?  Local sourcing and planned resource use for their garden’s creation and maintenance will save them money in the long run.  Eco-luxury does not have add to the cost of  a project if it’s designed that way from the onset.

For me, as a landscape designer, it  means that  I have to continue to use locally sourced materials and building techniques, create a balanced use of natural resources such as water, establish a recycling plan for the entire lifecycle of the project,  and create opportunities for using renewable energy sources during the creation and life of the built landscape.   I realize that I have been a proponent of the eco-luxury movement for a while now, I just haven’t thought of it that way.  So now it  also means that I can market my design services being environmentally sensitive without sacrificing the ‘bling’.

Photo credit:  The New York Times

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