The Envelope, Please

landscape-plan.jpgOver the past few weeks, I have spent a lot of time shoveling out my office. I needed a shovel!  Suffice it to say that I went over every square inch of my office in person, with the idea that I needed to sort through and clean up.  Some plans from 20 years ago did not look all that good to me, several decades later. Why should they?  Client files so old I did not recognize the name-did I need those?  Files of inspirational pictures that no longer seemed very inspirational-did I need these? Piles of notes secured with rubber bands that broke when I touched them-I could no longer remember what I was thinking when I wrote them. A point of view changes over the years-hopefully for the better. Some things from the past don’t warrant saving. I reorganized all of my books to include this past year’s purchases. I swept and dusted. What I did not pitch I updated, rethought, and reorganized. Every plan has a file now. How I love the look. Clean, and organized. Why did I the pitch the records and drawings of certain older work? Any plan that seemed immature or unfinished, not interesting or not built-I pitched them. I am happy to be free of them. Vintage does not necessarily imply valuable. But this plan dating back to 2005 still looked good to me. I remember that the architecture of the house was elaborate – winged.  The center portion of the structure was parallel to the lot, and the street. A pair of east and west wings angled sharply away from formal structure of the center section.

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A residential landscape design needs to consider the siting of a home.  That house will always be the most important feature of a landscape, as it occupies the vast majority of the space. The landscape needs to respond to that. The architect clearly felt that a central entry space would be enhanced by wings at an angle. I was not consulted about the architecture-nor should I have been. My job was to come in after the house was built, and design a landscape that would scoop up that architecture, and detail an interesting and thoughtful relationship between the structure and the property.

landscape-plan.jpgThe front door was immediately adjacent to a tower that housed the stairs to the second floor. The wing of the house off the front door to the east veered sharply to the north.  The wing off the formal dining room to the west veered to the north at a different angle. The footprint of the house was complicated, and intricate. My instinct was to generate a landscape plan that would function like an envelope. An envelope, strictly speaking, is a paper structure designed to hold a letter. That letter may address a number of topics, many of which might veer off east and west as well as north and south.  An envelope – bear with me – is a an enclosure that houses a complex of written ideas.  The plain white envelope that encloses my gas bill is a case in point.  The driveway and landscape of the front entry encompasses with a singular gesture the complexity of the architecture. A white envelope. The paving design of the drive court still interests me.  The surface of the area immediately surrounding the front door area calls out the entrance-this area was to be blue stone.  The areas denoted by diagonal lines was to be concrete aggregate. The dotted areas indicate decomposed granite.

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The grade of this property was very high at the street. That grade fell from the street to the back.  My idea was to place the grade of the driveway at the same grade as the street. And the same grade as the front door. This would involve cutting into the existing land form, building retaining walls to hold back that soil so high, and ending with a route to the front door at grade -as noted in my drawing.  The day I drew this plan, I could imagine how it would be to drive into a steep property, with those hills looming over both left and right, retained by stone.  The driveway would be the next best thing to a trip through a tunnel.  Leaving the grade high at the street meant that a large house would sit down, and have some privacy from the road. A drawing of a landscape plan never rises to the level of a dream. That takes a plan, and a commitment to a thoughtful installation that has room for revision. Any landscape needs the time and opportunity to speak back. Landscape plans provide a place from which to approach a project. This  plan I saved, as it approaches some issues in a way I still think has merit.

landscape-plan.jpgOf course, the back yard sees those site lines from various wings of the house beginning to converge. There was no way to avoid this. The driveway garden with an allee of trees pushes way into the back yard.  The drive court adjacent to the garage entry is formal.  The landscape beyond is equally as formal, and parallel to that drive court.   The rear yard design was parceled into three rooms, each one accessed by a gravel path that began at the driveway, and would eventually turn and traverse the entire rear yard.  The is gravel path is parallel to the wings of the house.  The left wing features a large blue stone terrace that captures a series of intricate twists and turns taken by the architecture. A large portion of the yard off this terrace is a lawn panel. The transition space between the terrace landscape and the pool landscape-a triangular perennial garden.  The central room features a large fountain. The property behind this house is a large golf course, so the rear property line would never be a visual issue. The transition from the pool landscape to the formal garden is another triangular shaped perennial garden.  The right wing, which houses the master bedroom, features a formal garden on axis, and a pavilion with climbing roses and clematis.

landscape-plan.jpgAs jarring as all of these angles seem, from a bird’s eye view, the reality on the ground would be much different.  The perennial gardens would soften the transition from one space to another. The design makes the most of all of the property available.

landscape-plan.jpgThe far east side of the property climbs steeply.  A four foot stone retaining wall would make that slope less steep. I still like the looks of this master plan.  If you are further interested in a closer look at the plans, you can click on each picture for a magnified view. I regret to say that this landscape never got built. Not every landscape plan comes to life. That’s life as any landscape designer knows it. But I still like how it addresses the architecture. I am especially pleased that I had the sense to specify a triangular block of taxus in the front yard, on axis with the front door.  This is my favorite part of this plan. This plan, I kept. The idea that a landscape is an envelope still intrigues me.

 

 

 

The Herding Dogs

Scotland  2015  8No discussion of sheep farming would be complete without a big nod to the dogs. A flock of 1100 sheep, living on hundreds of acres of hilly land, would be next to impossible to handle without herding dogs.  There comes a time when those sheep have to come in. The ewes are about to have babies. The sheep need to be sheared. The stray sheep from a neighboring farm need to get singled out, and sent home. Farming has its cycles. In and out is simple to write, but much more difficult to accomplish. Farmers who raise livestock need the herding dogs.  There are many different breeds of herding dogs, indigenous to many different countries, that make the work of rounding up and watching the livestock possible.  Though many of them, including my cardigan corgis, have been bred to herd, a lot of work is involved in training the dogs.

herding-dogs.jpgThe dogs at Easegill Head Farm are farm hands. The work that it took to train these dogs when they were pups is repaid 10 fold, when they grow up, and contribute. They help to make a business – a life’s work – viable.

working dogsTheir accommodations are farm style. Not especially luxurious. I have the feeling that even though they are not house dogs or pets, they are valued members of the family. They perform a service not possible any other way. Having seen Rob’s pictures, I have done some reading about these dogs.  They are trained to respond to various verbal commands – lots of them.  Up to 30, on this farm. They have incredible, virtually boundless energy. Nothing is right with the world for these dogs unless they are working.

border-collie-giving-the-eyThis border collie is staring down a group of sheep.  The dogs are very small, in comparison to the sheep.  And miniscule in comparison to a flock of sheep. Their ability to learn how to handle a crowd with a look is astonishing. I would not dream of challenging this dog, and neither do the sheep.

herding-dogs.jpgSome dogs work in groups.

454699-20140928_SheepDogTriOthers can manage a group all on their own.

herding-dog.jpgherding dog working

dog-and-his-flock.jpgOne dog managing a big flock

371903697Blue merle Australian shepard herding

willow-farm-sheep-dogs3Farm hands

Protector_of_the_sheepThis breed of dog is known as a Maremma.  They protect a flock from harm.  They work the night shift, making sure predators do not harm any member of a flock. This Maremma looks cool and calm, but I would guess he would go to the ropes defending his flock.

Cardigan_Corgi_Sept_1_2010_at_Elvies_-_pic_by_RobinVisitors to Detroit Garden Works are skeptical when I tell them that Cardigan Welsh corgis are herding dogs. How could a dog with such short legs keep up with goats, sheep and cattle?? Milo is actually lightening fast.  He can get down the driveway faster than a tennis ball I heave with all my might in a ball launcher. The short legs are a result of natural selection.  They nip at the feet of the animals they are herding. A cow that kicks after being nipped would clip a tall legged corgi in the head. I have explained this countless times.herding diagram
This hilarious drawing tells the tale.  Corgis have very short legs for good reason. They are small, and have short legs. They avoid trouble. This does not mean they do not excel as a herding dog.

Copper-moving-her-sheep1-3-29-14working cardigan corgi

p1280669x_lh1cardigan corgi working hard

farm dogs on flickrThe herding dogs have my respect. They make a certain kind of farming easier. They are a very important part of the agricultural landscape. A herding dog who can guide a flock to a specified location without alarming or upsetting them is a very valuable asset to a farmer, no matter whether they raise ducks, goats, sheep, or cattle. Good relationships between people and nature have existed for centuries, and take a lot of different forms. Every gardener has a relationship with nature.  Spoken, or unspoken.  The dogs pictured above make me think about how great gardening is not so much about the spoken language. It is about a bred in the bone need to work. A great love of nature.  And a pair of hands looking for work.

corgis-in-winter.jpgMy corgis are not taking the long winter so well. They like a working life.  This picture of them sparring-they are not happy with a lack of work. I get this.  Our hope is that spring is not far off.

 

Easegill Head Farm, Cumbria

Stay Lambing Live in CumbriaI suspect it is a rare person who looks for and finds a place to work while they are on a trip, but but nothing surprises me to find out what constitutes  a holiday for Rob. Easegill Head Farm in Cumbria belongs to a family that raises sheep.  They have a guest cottage available for anyone who would be interested  in staying, and participating, in the routine of the farm. This farm was featured in a very popular 5 part series filmed by the BBC in 2011, called Lambing Live.

birthday 2I had lots of questions to ask when I first saw his pictures.  What do the colored dots mean? The color on the backside of a ewe indicates which ram is responsible for her pregnancy.  How do they possibly keep track of this?  During mating season, each ram has an identifying color repeatedly applied to his chest. This is a farming version of kiss and tell. Color on the front of a ewe indicates how many babies she is carrying.  A pregnant ewe needs extra food.  A ewe with multiple lambs coming needs lots of extra food.  What is Rob doing with an orange bag? The sheep recognize a feed bag, and will follow anyone who is carrying one. His main job, separating the ewes with 1, 2, or 3 lambs on the way.

Swaledale sheepTheir prize sheep are known as Swaledale sheep.  They are found throughout the mountainous regions of England. They are one of three distinct breeds associated with sheep farming in the Lake District. They can be identified by their curling horns (both the males and females have them), their off white wool, and the white markings on their faces and around their eyes.

Scotland 2015  11As a breed, they are noted for their ability to thrive in exposed locations with inhospitable winters.  In general, they do not need to be raised indoors, but for lambing time. The ewes are exceptionally good Moms, and look after their lambs. A ewe who does not become pregnant will, on her own, go back to the original ram for a second mating.  Extraordinary, this.

Scotland 2015  8Their flock numbers around 1100 now.

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The sheep farmers in the area all have the right to graze their sheep on what amounts to common land.  Each farmer takes responsibility for culling out the sheep that belong to a neighbor, so they can be returned to their rightful owner.

birthday 3Looks like this trip suited Rob.

Scotland 2015  10The landscape, the sheep, and the moody winter weather-this had to have been an unforgettable experience.

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Scottish ponies

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easegill-head-farm.jpgin case you would like to visit…

 

Scotland In February

snowdrops in Scotland  February 2015Rob likes to get away for a few weeks in the winter, before our garden season starts to stir.  His choices are always interesting. They never involve a warm or tropical place.  A decision to visit England’s lake district in Cumbria, Wales, and the Isle of Skye in Scotland sounded lovely-but in February? There were a few days while he was gone when Michigan was warmer than Scotland, but his photographs are proof positive that the natural landscape – even those in cold climates in February – have a presence that transcends the seasons. These snowdrops in bloom-in the woods in England’s Lake District. Rob’s visual chronicle of these natural landscapes, barely edited by the demands of agriculture and travel, have a haunting beauty I won’t soon forget.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

Wales February 2015Along the Brecon-Monmouthshire Canal, in Wales

Wales February 2015  2These man made canals were used to move frieght, before the invention of the railroad.

Wales 2015  4Brecon and Monmouthshire Canal

Walescanal in Wales

wall in Scotland 2015in England’s lake district

Scotland 2015  4on the Isle of Skye

Scotland 2015  12the lake district

fence posts Wales 2015fence along a canal in Wales

Scotland 2015 5the Isle of Skye

Scotland 2015 3the lake district

birthdayHe looks to be perfectly happy and at home in Wales, don’t you think?