Good Days

There are those times when the garden has a good day.  Good all over. The late day sun slanting across the lawn, and the hydrangeas going pink-just good.  I poked my camera lens through the gate for this picture.  One of my favorite parts of my garden-I see nothing of the neighbors, and very little of the street.  The hydrangeas spilling over the lawn makes it all the more like a garden hideaway.

The fountain garden is back to being its serene self-post new drainage work, giant fountain repairs, all new herniaria-and a new bench.  I cannot tell this part of my garden was under siege until mid July. Buck is testing the waters already about shutting the fountain down for the winter-I am waving him off.

A client that needed a 9 foot long scroll steel bench right away for an event got mine.  Though I wasn’t so happy at the prospect of being without a bench until a new one could be made, no doubt I had a chance to tinker with the design.  I had the new bench made four inches taller than the original.  This is much more comfortable for me, and considerably easier to get in and out of.  I had originally planted herniaria under the bench; it was not happy with the shade.  A new planting of European ginger seems to be working out fine. This is a better place now.

This bed of beech ferns once had Helleborus Angustifolius as a companion.  Try as I might, they suffered terribly in the winter.  As this species blooms on old stalks, even the bloom period was unsightly.  After 5 years I gave them up for European ginger.  The planting is lush and thick.  I am so glad those gawky hellebores are gone.

The rose garden is much brighter in the evening than the fountain garden; I like walking up into that light.  The stone stairs have been in long enough to have acquired a little moss. 

The rose garden is a destination in the evening; a pair of chairs and small table make it a perfect spot to sit and rehash the day.  The grass got cut yesterday; the corgis appreciate this.  When the grass gets long, they look like they are swimming through it, rather than running over it.  I still have intermittent roses; the boltonia and Japanese anemone are in full bloom.     

Japanese anemone is one of my favorite perennials; I like single flowers. I especially like late blooming single flowers.  I also like that I do next to nothing to it except look at it. It thrives in this garden for going on ten years now. 

I pollarded my overgrown Palabin lilacs on standard; it scared me , how hard I cut them back.  For weeks, not a peep out of either one of them.  They are starting to look good to me.

I am not sure why this sunken garden has a feeling unique to my garden. It might be the quietest spot in the yard.  I am only one block from a 5 lane street.  The fountain and the sunken garden minimize that urban noise.   

On the driveway, the nicotiana mutabilis is still going strong.  It will send up giant new shoots all fall long; I keep adding stakes.   

The mum-ball is turning pink-can you hear me sigh?  It actually does not look all that bad with the purple kale.  The bloom period is actually not that long here-I already have plans to trim it back to a green ball once the flowers fade.   


This coleus is done growing; the nights are getting quite cool.  Hopefully it will last a while longer.  The shape is good.  Some days in the garden are just good.

Made By Hand


My crew superintendent bought a house some 5 years ago featuring a small garden overrun with vining plants. The sweet autumn clematis was threatening to completely engulf the back door. The porch steps were deteriorated and rickety.  A pair of giant wisteria were draped over and crushing a metal arbor never meant to carry such a load.  A few poorly maintained trees were kept company by overgrown yews, languishing spireas and countless daylilies.  It was perfect. He knew no matter what landscape came with the house, he would want to design and install his own.  He also had the interest in doing the work himself.        

Those deteriorated porch steps and an attached deck were replaced first with natural cedar.  How he learned to work wood I am not really sure, but people who are determined to do for themselves usually take the trouble to aquire the skills and tools that permit that.  The pergola was his next target; the sturdy cedar pergola will shoulder the load of the wisteria-and a newly planted pair of grape vines.  The wisteria in the back is making quite a comeback, after having been chopped to the ground last year.   He built forms for the 3′ by 3′ concrete tiles, and cast them himself.  He somehow persuaded his good natured spouse to help him set these tiles in the lawn.  The heft and scale of both the pergola and the tiles is so effective in this small space.      

He dug the hole for this fountain himself-last year.  That hole sat, until he finally decided that it might be good for someone else to pour the concrete shell.  Albaugh Masonry was happy to oblige, and go on to side the pool in steel; he was half way to a fountain. In the meantime, he installed a fence of cedar boards run horizontally around the back yard.  His design takes relatively inexpensive materials and makes something unusual and beautiful from them.  Columnar serviceberry-or Amelanchier ’Cumulus’, is a perfect scale for screening a small space.  They take up little room in the yard, and provide great screening for his second story windows.        


The fountain is an amazing piece of work.  Not only did he design it, he built wood forms, and cast the pot and pedestal in concrete. He tells me this is his first foray into concrete sculpture.  The form was constructed entirely of straight pieces of plywood, some of which were sealed with duct tape.  The pedestal has a wide base that sits on the fountain basin floor that tapers as it rises out of the water.  The interior of the fountain pot is an exact replica of the outside. The pedestal is tall; water falling from the rim has a long way to go to the surface of the pool .  This makes for lots of visual action.
This fountain reservoir is very shallow; the sound of the water from the jet hitting the surface makes for lots of splash, and really great sound.  I see he must have thought this all through.  Deep water in the reservoir would absorb the enegy of the water from the jet; it would have less action.  No photograph can convey the sound that water in action makes, but the sound coming from his fountain is strong and musical.   

The pergola is small; there is just room for a table and four chairs.  But what makes the space so effective-beyond the pergola itself, is the switch of paving materials.  The brick under the pergola sets the space apart from the rest of the yard.  Cozy.

The view out is more than entertaining.  It is well put together, and satisfying to the eye.  I am sure that at the end of the day, most landscape professionals have no interest in a landscape that demands lots of their hands on attention. If you do all of your own gardening work yourself, it’s important to consider the maintenance.  This back yard has a pergola, a fountain, a lawn, a terrace, landscape and pots-all working together in a graceful way.  There is a lot here to enjoy.     

Today was the first time I had seen the yard in a long time.  As you can see, it was a very rainy day, and we were in the neighborhood.  How he transformed a disheveled jungle of a garden into this lovely space-I was very impressed.   


He is thinking of extending the screen porch visible on the far right up to the back doors.  Sounds like maybe a sleeping porch is in his future.  I have no doubt he will build the porch addition himself. It is impossible not to admire people who make things happen with their own two hands.

The Fountain Vase

A recent project about which I have written several times finally came to a close. The centerpiece of the landscape design-a fountain of generous proportion and clean lines.  My clients have a decided interest in contemporary design, and an equally decided interest in classically symmetrical spaces.  The right mix would serve them well.  I am lucky in that both of them are articulate, and interested in being involved in the process. A contemporary landscape with reference to classical design-my intent. 

The last part of the landscape to be finished might be my favorite part.  The fountain basin, clad in acid washed steel with a limestone coping set at seat height, and a fountain vase forged of the same acid washed steel- is the strong and simple foreground element to the focal point of their property-a beautiful golf course.  The dark blue-black surround,vase, and pool interior reads in stark contrast to the softly green background. 

A 3-point leveling system of bolts in the bottom of the vase made it possible for Buck to level that pot after he installed it.  Should you use a pot as a fountain, setting that pot level is the most important part of the installation.  Water always sits level; should your installation be askew, it will be obvious.  The action of the jet water hitting the surface is producing clearly concentric circles; the vase is level.

A pair of cast stone pots on hand cast concrete pedestals- identical in shape but smaller than the fountain vase- flank the fountain.  A limited palette of shapes and colors speaks to massing a central idea. One idea, sufficiently explored. Contemporary landscapes ask for serious editing.  

On the ground plane, the central portion of this landscape is spare. A concrete aggregate terrace, concrete pedestals, ad the decomposed granite are variations on a same materials theme.  Four trunky and columnar trees are set in a level lawn  plane.  The rest of the story-the golf course.

The view of the frame of decomposed granite surrounding the fountain is available only to my clients-from upstairs.  From the public view via the golf course-you might miss all the action going on; this I like. The best of contemporary landscapes do not lecture; what they have to say requires  a thoughtful and inquisitive viewer.       


These clients of mine-they made this.  I speak a few languages, and I can interpret; this was my part.

Sunday Opinion: Imagination And Precision

I owe the idea for this post to Nanne; she commented a few days ago about a sculpture of mine she thought exhibited imagination and precision.  What about it? Imagination may be defined as the ability to form a mental image of something which does not yet exist in any other form other that a thought.   No one will ever hire me to write a dictionary, or teach a course in philosophy, but the word imagination does suggest an activity that floats like a cloud above that stormy sea I call the Sea of Execution.

I am in the process of a series of sculptures about the landscape I believe no one will ever hire me to build.  Why would I do this?  I like making things, whether they be terraces, pinetums, bouquets, or paintings.  But more importantly, the idea of designing an object that could represent the landscape free of responsibility to make it work, live and go on growing seemed like so much fun.  At the top of my top ten list of mistakes gardeners make-and this includes me-is the expectation that a plant will obligingly represent an idea.  An idea about space, beauty, gardens, or  landscapes.  My Honorine Jobert anemone flowers are making me pretty happy right now, but my happiness is the last thing on their blooming minds. They have their own agenda; I just get to tag along.  They do not look the same as they did last year.  They are older; the summer weather is different this year. Nothing stays the same with them; what stubbornly stays the same is my effort to get them to represent  my design.  The lilac planted right next to the kitchen window in hopes that the fragrance will fill that room does not account for the 20′ rangy shrub that comes with that fragrance.  A perfectly good plant in the wrong spot is a product of the idea that design will prevail over biological destiny.  Junipers pruned into spirals, cloud pruned boxwood, stick like burning bushes with a thin frosting of leaves on top, my pollarded Palabin lilacs on standard-they tell a story much like a fairy tale.  Giant shrubs pruned down to half their mature size to fit a space-not so sweet a tale. Making these sculptureswould circumvent all of the frustration of imagining a design, and making it work; it would never have to work.

Every landscape designer has design work that never escapes escapes the page, and breathes. Pieces of that work may go on to become part of another project-like my sculptures.  Or it gets the saucing up it needs to really taste good. Every design relationship is precisely that-a relationship.  Maybe the design work has not met its intended yet. Perhaps it wasn’t worth a hoot anyway, and I should feel relieved I was never asked to transform a pig’s ear of a design into a functional landscape.  

 But I do know that the sum total of my imaginative worth needs a different measure than the the sum total of my bank account.  If I spent every day of the next 100 days giving my imagination free rein, I would still have just as much of it available to me on the hundredth day as I do today.  You need and should have this confidence in what you imagine, as you will need that energy to transform an idea into a living space.  Some ideas won’t stand for being transplanted into a landscape. It is good to know this beforehand.  The day comes when what I have imagined has to settle up precisely with what and how it will work.  The best design work in the world cannot circumvent this.  Once I buy plants in fulfillment of a design, my bank account does get involved.   Putting money to something only to find that it will not or does not work is no fun at all. 

Some issues are a matter of inches.  A bench 4 inches inches higher may be more comforatble; 8 inches is the difference between a garden and a sunken garden.  A tree planted 8 inches above grade may thrive or die, based on soil and water conditions.  A  garden gate off center by 7 inches will always look wrongly placed. A step riser taller than 8 inches is a pain to negotiate.  Paying attention to inches implies a certain precision.   

The sculpture of plastic grass that Nanne referred to in her comment was very precisely constructed.  The materials made it possible for that to work.  Had they been covered in sod-oh my.  I guess I try with my design work to make big simple gestures, as the plants that I will ask to be a party to what I imagine need the room to be what they do best-grow.  The big surprise of the construction of my sculptures-they do need to work.  I am stopped dead, trying to imagine precisely where to take them next.