My Hashtag Sisterhood

None of us work in a void. Sometimes when wrapped up in client projects and deadlines, those of us who have boutique design firms can feel like a vacuum is sucking us in and all that surrounds us is ourselves, our clients, and our own work. For a landscape designer in a four season environment, January is especially devoid of just about everything so when I was invited by Modenus-The Design Directory to join a group of interior designers in Las Vegas to speak about luxury outdoor kitchens I said yes. What happened next was so unexpected. What follows will be a wee bit off topic.

Those of you who know me personally usually see the gregarious and social me. I am what is called a social introvert. I need and spend lots of time alone, but when in social situations I am connected and present–even though that’s not my natural state. The prospect of meeting 24 women who were absolute strangers was daunting. Enter the sisterhood.

SW Steakhouse Sisters

Rather than my usual ‘Hi I’m Susan’ with extended hand routine I started off as of an observer. I wasn’t sure if I would be the proverbial square peg in a round hole–I’m a landscape designer not an interior designer. I wasn’t. These women–all interior designers, design bloggers and project managers- not only welcomed me but were just as curious about why I was there and what I did as I was about them.  For three days we shared incredible opportunities and experiences from a private tour of the Wynn resorts with its general manager to a beautiful luncheon with incredible food and wine sponsored by Thermador at the uber midmod Las Vegas  Country Club to a fun and lively dinner hosted by Toto.  We went by bus to see the new seamless indoor/outdoor Responsive Homes designed by Bobby Berk for Pardee Homes, who, afterwards, huddled with us under a patio heater in the chilly Nevada night. We visited the upscale, sustainable 2016 New American Home, built to showcase  green technologies, techniques and products. In between all of that we attended KBIS2016 to see the best in Kitchen and Bath Products. I found plenty to like for outdoor living.

Throughout the three days these designing women questioned, shared, learned about their design discipline and about each other. There was no bitchiness or jealousy or drama. Everyone showed up ready to be and give their best. They were authentic and enthusiastic and supportive of each other in every way. They will forever be my hashtag sisterhood. #designhounds #blogtourKBIS #KBIS2016 #KBISoutdoorliving

Filoli

Garden Visit: Filoli

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

Filoli

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

Filoli Yews and Boxwood Hedges

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

Filoli Gardens

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

Cherry trees at Filoli

Pansy parterre at Filoli

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

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

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

Filoli rectagular garden

Filoli pink and blue garden

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

Yews at Filoli

Filoli pollarded trees

Filoli view from hilltop

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

Design vs. A Sense of Place

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

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

Gehry's Fondation Louis Vuitton from streetFondation Louis Vuitton Paris

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

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

Gehry Disney Concert Hall LA copyGehry IAC building in NYC

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

Gehry Pritzker Pavillion Chicago

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

Garden Travel: Back and Forth

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

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

vizcaya main parterre

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

Vizcaya Levels of geometry

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

Vizcaya Symmetry

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

Vizcaya mashup of traditional and local materials

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

vizcaya secret garden

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

Vizcaya inside the summer house

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

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

 

A Year beyond Miss R…

When I become this inconsistent, something is going on.  What has it been?  Life and work. Yes, Miss R has been part of that mix, but 2014 has been an odd year. It’s been an awakening of sorts. I love to write, but there are things that are more important to me than that.  I’ve rediscovered my three happiest places –at the drawing board, indulging my gypsy feet, and my newest obsession, photography.

I made a yearlong commitment to be the President of APLD and I wrote some interesting (I hope) stories for Garden Design magazine. I organized a European Objects and Oranments tour for designers that will happen the end of January. I fulfilled a twenty year long dream of going to Morocco and along the way something had to give and Miss R was it.  Here’s a rear view mirror of the year…in pictures of course!

I suspect 2015 will be just as sporadic for Miss R as I’ve already made commitments for more travel to wander and to speak at various events (roughly in order)–to Paris, Brussels and Rome; to Detroit and San Francisco; to Toronto, Baltimore and Chicago; and finally back to Washington, DC. Phew!  If you are in any of those places and want to try and meet up, email me and I’ll do my best!  In the meantime, Happy New Year to you and yours!

 

 

 

Garden Travel: Architectural Swoon in Miami Beach

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

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

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

Villa Paradiso

The LeslieThe Shepley

The Congress The Tudor

Garden Design Inspiration: Architectural Details in Chicago

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

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

Carson, Pririe, Scott

 

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

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

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

Travel Inspiration for gardens in The Designer

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


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

Brick wall with windows Fes

Iron window detail Marakesh

Tile fountain museum of Fes

La Mamoumia Hotel tile detail

 

Sphinx at Hillwood Washington DC

A Tale of Two Garden Sphinxes

Imagine my surprise, while visiting Hillwood Museum and Gardens, when I saw this sphinx at the entrance to the formal gardens.  There are four of them.  I’ve seen them before, in bronze at Blairsden–the house that is also the location for a garden I’ve designed for APLDNJ for this year’s Mansion in May.

The sphinx at Hillwood…

Sphinx at Hillwood Washington DC

The slightly different but not all that much sphinx at Blairsden.

Sphinx at Blairsden

I don’t know a lot about these types of sphinxes, but the similarities are remarkable don’t you think?

Spring Bulb: Asphodelus fistulosus

I don’t usually write about plants I haven’t grown, but I’m so starved for spring I started looking through some images thinking to do a post about early spring bloomers.

Asphodelus aestivus Vobulis

Instead I found some lovely images of  Asphodelus fistulosus (Hollow stemmed asphodel) from my trip to Morocco in January.  It took a bit of sleuthing to figure out what this plant was…I hope I’m correct!  It was blooming everywhere in Volubilis, a Roman ruin, in the northeast near Fes and made me so happy to see it thinking that spring wouldn’t be far away at home.  Boy was I wrong!

Asphodelus aestivus close upAsphodelus aestivus with ruins Vobulis

It is a weed there, so beware here, several states list it as a noxious weed and it is prohibited! There were piles of it pulled out from unwanted spots. A member of the lily family, it has a long bloom season and is shorter than Eremurus and much less showy, but pretty nonetheless.  I don’t think it will be hardy in most of NJ since it’s listed as hardy to -0 and this winter we had a few days below that!

 

Garden Antiques Shopping…next winter!

Anyone who has hung around here for a while knows that I love antique and vintage garden ornament and furniture.  I buy things for my landscape design clients and often, what I’m buying has been found in Europe.  Since this never ending winter has been excellent for real and armchair travel, I’m planning an introductory buying trip for a small group of landscape designers next winter.  Not the most glamourous of seasons, but that’s when we have the time to go.

The trip will be short, between seven and ten days, and will take us to the antiques and vintage markets in Brussels, Antwerp and Paris. We will be working with local specialists and shipping will be coordinated for all purchases.  It will be less expensive to ship as a group than individually and we will be able to make shipping container minimums. There will be some garden related side events and free time to explore the cities with each other or solo.

Paris Flea Market vignette

I did a simple day scouting expedition (on Friday when the markets were mostly closed since that’s when I had the time) while I was in Paris to see what I could find easily. Even  partially open, there were treasures to be found.

There were plenty of mid-century pieces to be had also but they weren’t my focus that day.  I saw Willy Guhl planters and chairs, wire furnitur, signage and ornaments as well as all sorts of cool small items that could be re-used in a garden such as the boules Lyonnaise balls that I bought to use as container ornaments.

So if you think you might be interested in a trip like this, let me know via email susan at susancohangardens dot com and I’ll keep you in the loop as the plans progress.

 

 

Andre Le Notre's Versailles Gardens

Andre le Notre: Four Hundred Years Strong

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

Andre Le Notre's Versailles Gardens

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

The Lurie Garden in high summer

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

Turf parterres at Versailles

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jardin Majorelle

Garden Visit: Jardin Majorelle

I first read about Jardin Majorelle in Marrakesh, Morocco in the early 1980s in a fashion magazine story about Yves St. Laurent.

Jardin Majorelle

YSL and his partner Pierre Berge had bought the property, saved it from demolition, and set about restoring it. From the first brilliant blue photo I saw, I knew I wanted to stand in and experience this garden, not just look at it in pictures.

Noon shadows Jardin Majorelle

Originally designed and built in the 1920s by artist Jacques Majorelle who painted its walls blue and its details brilliant shades of yellow, green, orange and red off set by chalky tones of turquoise and green.

Shade house Jardin Majorelle

He collected plants in his travels and opened his garden to the public.  By the end of his life, however, he had to sell it and it deteriorated to the point that it was going to be leveled for a new Marrakesh hotel.

fountain and garden Jardin Majorelle

For me, Majorelle is about the interplay of color, water and light. It is less about its collection of 300 plants.  Their grey Mediterranean tones are counterpoints for bursts of bold, sun kissed color.

Jardin Majorelle Marrakesh

St. Laurent was born and raised in North Africa. He didn’t move to Paris until he was 18.  The light, color and texture of this place was as much a part of who he was as the rarefied world of the couture in Paris.  He often lived and worked at here until his death in 2008.  There is a simple memorial dedicated to his memory.

YSL memorial Majorelle

Having been warned, I went very early, before the tour buses arrived, and the garden got crowded.  I stayed for several hours watching the light and shadows.  I was transported by Majorelle’s joyful interplay of art, gardens, and fashion. Go if you can.

Pergola Jardin Majorelle Colored pots and reflecting pool Jardin Majorelle Jardin Majorelle

 

Garden Travel: Patrick Blanc’s Wall at Musee du quai Branly, Paris

How many green walls can boast about looking this good at nine years old…in January?  Easily found about two blocks from the Eiffel Tower, Patrick Blanc’s green wall, completed in 2005, on a Jean Nouvel designed museum, has held up beautifully.  I’ve seen so many crappy green walls that I was totally delighted when I turned the corner and saw it.

Musee du quai Branly

pedestrian with green wall

wall detail Musee du quai Branly

blanc green wall detail

Mahonia on green wall Musee du quai Branly

 

More Garden Travel–Sort of.

In a few days I’ll be travelling for a couple of weeks.  This time, it’s not a garden/landscape related event, but one of my own invention.  My first stop will be Paris (as in France, not Texas).

I lived in France years ago and have returned since, so I plan to visit with friends, eat spectacular food that’s not on my diet, drink good wines, wander the streets and shop.  I’m also going to Maison et Objet and hope to report back on what’s exciting for outdoor there.

I expect to visit some green spaces that will be stark in their winter structure, see the Cartier retrospective at the Grand Palais, and some other events and places that will, for now be a surprise.

After that, I’m on to Fez and Marrakesh for adventure and exploration.

I’m going to try and visit three UNESCO World Heritage sites – the old city of Fez, Voubolis (a ruined Roman city, pictured below) and the Medina in Marrakesh.  There will be more shopping and of course a visit to Majorelle.  We will be traveling entirely by train in Morocco so that should be really fun.

Ruins at Volubilis, Morocco

If I have time to post while on the road, I will.  If not it will be when I return.

Garden Travel: Nebraska

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

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

rolling prairie in Nebraska

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

Omaha, NE

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

Lakeside patio

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

Benjamin Vogt's garden path Lincoln NE

Winter grasses

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

Entrance Holy Family Shrine NE

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

Holy Family Shrine

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

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

Leaving Las Vegas

I spent almost a week in Las Vegas representing APLD at a board meeting as well as at an industry trade show. I had never been there before and it is the first place I’ve ever been where I would be happy not to go back to. There is no romance there unless you like, as one of my fellow designers dubbed it, ‘trailer park glamour’.

For the garden minded, there are pockets of innovation and interest, particularly in the Wynn Hotel.

Wynn display 2

Las Vegas

At The Shops at Crystals I saw a light installation by James Turrell, the mall combines site specific art and commerce, there was a totally original use of mums…yes, mums.

Display of mums in Las Vegas

Despite the artificial perfumed air, the bad fashion and the incredible, unsustainable environment which couldn’t exist without pumped in water, electricity and a boat (caravan?) load of other things that are not in anyway part of the natural environment in the Mojave desert, I did find two places intriguing.

The first, The Neon Museum, is uniquely Las Vegas.  The museum tells the history of the city’s upswing through its neon signs.  These ghost signs have been collected, preserved (thanks to little or no rust), cataloged and organized.  They are beautiful and also tell the history of 20th century design from quaint to futuristic.

Contrasting design styles at Neon Museum Las Vegas Mid century modern Neon Museum Neon Museum genie's lamp

For the second, after two days inside, I went with five other designers to Red Rock Canyon, which is less than an hour away from the Vegas strip by car.  My eastern eyes, used to green forested landscapes with glimpses of the sky, loved the unfiltered light – we were there at sunset, the scale of the sky, the neutral colors, and the rocks themselves.

Red Rock Canyon Nevada Grey and brown plants which would look dead in the east were thriving here, blooming yellow and salmon and red.

Red Rock canyon plants

When I returned home, I woke with a start to the bright red fall foliage outside my bedroom window.  Almost a week in the desert had made me unused to natural color…Las Vegas was either neutral or neon.

Ogre

Garden Visit: Atlanta Botanical Garden

I’m in Atlanta for the inaugural Garden Bloggers Conference and I came two days early to explore.  Yesterday, visiting the Atlanta Botanical Garden with friends and fellow landscape designers Kathy and Tom Carmichael. we were beset by monsters!

Ogre

But seriously.  The garden’s blockbuster installation of creatures was produced by the same team, the International Mosaiculture of Montreal,  who have built fantastical creatures around the world since 1998.  There is another group of them on view until September 29th at the Montreal Botanic Garden.  These are huge.  Some are 20′ tall and made of thousands of plants.

Cobra

 

Unicorn

I suspect these creatures were the reason the garden was so crowded.  There were long lines at the ticket booth as well as streams of cars entering the garden all day long. This is a very good thing for a public garden.  Often they are quiet places with few visitors. My favorite creature was the Earth Goddess.  She was beautiful and built in a way that she appeared to spring forth from the surrounding woods and water.

Earth Goddess

Garden Travel: Atlanta Bound

I’m travelling to Atlanta over the weekend.  Early next week is the Garden Bloggers Conference, but I’m going early to visit some gardens and garden shops and visit with friends.  I’ve never been to Atlanta so I’m excited to see what’s happened since Gone with the Wind which along with NeNe Leake’s hair is the only lasting image I have of the city…

I’m excited to see the botanical gardens as well as Garden*Hood and some shops I’ve picked out as well as the city in general.

Boxwood and terracotta at Detroit Garden Works

Garden Shop: Detroit Garden Works

One of the great garden shops in the United States is in Detroit. Yes. that much maligned and blight filled city has an big upside. Part of that upside is Detroit Garden Works. I’ve wanted to visit for years, and had the chance when I was in Detroit with APLD last week.

Boxwood and terracotta at Detroit Garden Works

Carefully chosen new, vintage and antique products from all over the world are merchandised in a way that makes each one seem precious and necessary.

Inside display at Detroit Garden Works

Classic in its outlook, Detroit Garden Works is the brainchild of landscape designer Deborah Silver who originally started the shop eighteen years ago because she couldn’t source what she wanted locally. Map in hand, the store’s manager and buyer Rob Yedinak, drives through Europe annually to handpick new and vintage offerings.

Entry Gates and containers at Detroit Garden Works

 There is a wide array of accessories and furniture to really suit any garden style even though the shop has a traditional feel. Terra cotta, steel, stone and concrete predominate and the shop is also local showcase for Branch Studios work.  There is a small area for plants, and there are espalier, planted containers, window boxes and boxwood throughout.

Furniture and Pots at Detroit Garden WorksTopiary Forms at Detroit Garden Works

With the onslaught of big box stores and garden centers with little imagination beyond piling on the plants and pots, shops like this one stand out.  Some will gripe about high prices, but you get what you pay for and if you value great design and beautifully made objects this shop is a must.

Steel fiddlehead garden spikes

I bought something which is rare for me.  Handmade steel fiddleheads were totally affordable and a grouping of several in three different sizes of them are going in my new shade garden this fall.  They came beautifully packaged the day after I came home.  The high level of customer service and attention to detail isn’t lost on me either.

Heart shaped EspalierThis image pretty much sums up how much I liked the shop and it’s not the only reason to visit Detroit as you will see in future posts!

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.

Branch Studios

Garden Accessories: A Visit to Branch Studio

I’m still in Detroit and processing everything I’ve seen so far.  I was lucky enough to spend a few days with landscape designer Deborah Silver and her dog and human partners before the 2013 APLD Landscape Design conference started.  One of the highlights was a side trip to Branch Studio where Buck Moffat and his crew of metal workers bend, shape, stamp, laser cut, weld, rivet, galvanize and patina steel into a variety of  extraordinarily beautiful handmade containers and garden accessories–all dreamed up by Deborah. Branch Studios Branch Studios Fountain Attention to detail and the care given to each piece marks them as objects of beauty unto themselves.  That we can have them in gardens when there is so much of the opposite out there is in itself a luxury for a designer.  For someone who values fine craftsmanship and classic beauty,  the containers and and architectural features created at Branch are worth their price.

Branch Studio plantersPlanters on the workroom floor are above.  Below the same planters designed by Deborah and planted up in downtown Detroit.

Branch planters downtown Detroit

I started out my professional life as a metalworker so the melding of landscape and metal in this particular environment was fascinating for me.  It was the best of both worlds.

Branch Studio box planter

Branch Studio planter boxes

Branch Studio Pergola

The Lurie Garden in high summer

Garden Travel: Planting Design and Architecture in Chicago

I took a walk very early this morning to The Lurie Garden and Roy Diblick’s new garden at the Chicago Art Institute.  My first observation (actually I walked them yesterday afternoon also) is how distinctly the spatial and planting design of both sits well with and plays off the surrounding architecture.  This is not easy to do.

My second observation is that I preferred the smaller Diblick designed garden to Ouldouf designed one at The Lurie.  It was more intimate, more suited to the residential scale I work in.  It was also unfinished–a second half has been prepped for planting.

The Lurie with surrounding architecture.  I know that most will cringe that I’m not talking about Piet Ouldof’s beautiful plantings.  What I observed isn’t detail, it’s a powerful context and connection to place.

Lurie and Gehry

Chicago skyline and Lurie hedges

Gehry and LurieRoy Diblick of Northwind Perennial Farm talks eloquently about creating plant communities and creating symbiotic relationships between plants.  This small garden surprisingly isn’t dominated by the Richardson Romanesque shard of the Stock Exchange, instead both sit comfortably with each other.

Richardson Romanesque

Roy Diblick

Roy Diblick planting design

Dutch concept gardens

Garden Portrait: Appeltern, The Netherlands

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

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

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

Dutch concept gardens

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

appletern gardens 2013

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

Appeltern Gardens

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

Modern DIY Garden

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

Herb garden at Appletern

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

All images via Appletern Gardens

 

Phillip Johnson's Glass House

Field Trip: The Glass House

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

Phillip Johnson's Glass House

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

Philllip Johnson New Canaan property

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

The Lake Pavillion Phillilp Johnson

Phillip Johnson's Beck House

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

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

Painting Gallery Philllip Johnson

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

Sculpture Gallery Phillip Johnson

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

Bridge detail The Glass House

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

Donald Judd at Phillip Johnson's Glass House

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

All images taken and shared by the Susan Cohan, please credit appropriately.
Urban Garden Center NYc

Field Trip: Urban Garden Center NYC

Never have I seen so much done with so little.  A garden center under the railroad tracks with no running water and no electricity?  That’s Urban Garden Center in Spanish Harlem.

Urban Garden Center NYc

Plants, seeds and tools happily co-exist with dumpster dive finds and new merchandise that is used with aplomb, humor and an a sense of style that typifies its can-do attitude.

Display at Urban Garden Center NYC

 It’s totally wacky and fantastic.  I loved it.

Chairs on a chain link fence NYC

Spanning two blocks under the elevated railroad tracks from 116th to 118th Street, Urban Garden Center is a multi-generational family business with a big heart.  They not only serve the immediate community, they work in the retail shop and are committed to and passionate about what they are trying to achieve and against all odds.  Water is carted in several times a day in 250 gallon tanks from across the street.  Electricity is via generator.

Water at Urban Garden Center NYC

While I was there with my friend Elizabeth Przygoda-Montgomery of Shop Boxhill, I saw a young couple buying a pot of geraniums for their fire escape (a New York garden space) and a well-heeled Park Avenue type who tried to buy everything he saw…even if it wasn’t for sale!  Three of my favorite vignettes are below.

Art Chair NYC

Display at Urban Garden Center NYC116th street Urban Garden Center NYC

Hubert de Givenchy and Gardens

Hubert de Givenchy is better known his couture creations for Audrey Hepurn than he is as a champion of gardens.  But champion he is. Upon retirement in 1995, he was a key player in the restoration of the Potager du Roi (the King’s Vegetable Garden) at Versailles.  Since then Givenchy has created a very French yet very modern parterre at his chateau in the Loire Valley, Le Jonchet.

Givenchy, Le Jonchet Parterre

In the 16th century, parterres (which don’t have to have any flowers at all) were called referred to as gardens a la francaise. Low clipped boxwood in patterns so ornate they resembled embroidery we’re actually called parterre de broderie and reached their peak at Versailles and were, as a style, appropriated by the upper classes across Europe.  Large parterres required skilled maintenance and were labor intensive and exist today in more contemporary forms.

Parterre at Versailles

Image above via Pinterest 

Back to Monsieur du Givenchy.  The simple circular pattern of the parterre at Le Jonchet is what makes it able to exist today.  Instead of broderie the pattern looks like embroidery hoops–fitting for a retired couturier.  I don’t know if that was the intent.  Although it still requires precise clipping and care, it is totally contemporary and utterly French.  It is a garden I can enjoy, but not necessarily want.

Givenchy, Le Jonchet Parterre

Givenchy, Le Jonchet

The images of Givenchy’s Le Jonchet are from the December 2012 issue of World of Interiors…one of my favorite magazines.

A Quick Start to the New Year

The calendar year has changed again, so there’s news to report- for the next two months anyway. Change is good in my world, as is a good adventure! Beginning yesterday, I became the President Elect of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD). Yikes!

I’m travelling and speaking for the next two months. Want to meet up? Tweet me @susancohan to let me know you’re there…

calendar

Here’s where:

Baltimore, Maryland – January 10 I’ll be walking MANTS that day…finding inspiration and new ideas.

Denver, Colorado – January 15-17 I’ll be speaking at ProGreen about creativity and all things viaual and digital including Leaf and Pinterest. Here are the links to my workshops: Jan. 16/11:30, Jan. 16/2:45

Dallas, Texas – January 26-27 This is an APLD leadership event…I’ll be in the bar.

Brooklyn, New York – January 27 I’ll be attending Plant-O-Rama at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and catching up with everyone – come and say Hi!

New York, New York – January 28 I’ll be walking the NYIGF scouting stories for my clients and stories for Leaf

Bronx, New York – January 29 I’ll be attending Tom Stuart-Smith’s talk at the New York Botantical Gardens come and say Hi!

Seattle, Washington – February 17-22 I’m a NWFGS judge (that’s scary!) and speaker – I’ll be going to a bunch of events within the BIG event

Secaucus, NJ – February 27 I’ll be in the APLDNJ booth at the NJLCA trade show talking, talking, talking!

And if all of that’s not exhausting enough…I’ll be working on some on-going design projects and getting the Spring edition of Leaf ready with the team…phew!

 

Garden in New Orleans

Postcard from New Orleans

I’m in New Orleans for the first time.  I’m representing APLD as well as speaking at the International Pool, Spa and Patio Expo.  I took the morning to walk around the Garden District for a few hours before setting up shop in the convention center.

The Uptown neighborhood is served by trolley and has varying architecture, mostly dating from the 19th century. Greek Revival and a regional Victorian style, the Raised Center Hall Villa, are the predominant architectural styles. There is a specific regional style to the gardens in the district.  One of the most obvious is the layering of clipped dwarf shrubs.  Foliage texture is used to great advantage.  It’s fall and just before winter Camellia season so not much was in bloom.  It was surprising to see camellias used as hedges.

Garden in New Orleans
Clipped and layered foliage texture
Layered planting in New Orleans
Layered and clipped

Iron work, one of the icons of New Orleans’ architectural details, is everywhere, with cast iron trumping forged work.  There are balconies, gates, fences and decorative grates punctuating just about every building and street.

Iron balcony New Orleans
Cast iron balcony
Ironwork Garden District in New Orleans
Cast and forged elements in a fence and gate

Houses have deep porches or shady courtyards to offer cooler places to be outside.  I’m sure that’s the respite from the heat and humidity is matter of degree in August and September.

Layered planting and ferns on a front porch
Front Porch with massive ferns
Shades on a front porch in New Orleans
Shades on a front porch in New Orleans

Perhaps the thing that was the most fascinating from a plant point of view was the Resurrection Ferns (Polypodium polypodioides) growing wild and freely on the live oaks.   Talk about vertical planting and urban greening…

Resurrection Ferns
Resurrection Ferns on a live oak

Virtual Wanderlust…Le Pavillion de Galon

Every now and then I get sucked in.  I wander off my intended path and Voila! I find something wonderful, better yet when the possibility exists to stay there.  I love the gardens at Le Pavillon de Galon, a bed and breakfast in the south of France.  The balance between formal structure and wild plantings is something I try to achieve in my own designs.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

le pavillion de galon gardens
View through the garden to the chateau

The gardens have been recognized by the French Ministry of Culture and Environment as ‘remarkable’.  I agree.

Garden at Le Pavillion de Galon
Wild and clipped juxtaposed
the gardens at Le Pavillion de Galon
A planted spiral interspersed with olive trees
The long low light

Let’s go and have lunch!

Lunch in the garden