A Big Loss

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASmall yards-don’t most people have them?  I would not ever describe my property in terms of its acreage.  I have a city lot, 105 feet on the short side, and 125.76 feet on the long side.  I am a steward  of 13,230 square feet.  One city lot and a half.  Just to put this in another perspective, the building that houses Detroit Garden Works is 9870 square feet.  The building that houses my manufacturing company Branch is big enough to easily house Detroit Garden Works, and plenty big enough to house my entire house and property – comfortably.  Though my landscape and garden has its overwhelming moments, it is not big.  as in sea to shining sea big.  The loss of a maple upwards of 80 years old in the front yard of the small urban property pictured above was a big loss.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe loss of a big tree that had organized, for better or for worse,  the entire front yard landscape of this small urban property, was a very big loss indeed.  The landscape had lost some of its reason for being.  Exposed for all to see from the street?  A pair of kousa dogwoods near the front door that were struggling from the shade of the maple.  A lack of any substantial landscape statement whatsoever on the right side of the front door.  A pair of yews flanking either side of the front door that tolerated the shade were all of a sudden overpowering and gloomy.  An architecturally noteworthy house looked lost at sea.  Unbalanced.  Utterly symmetrical architecture asks for an equally strong landscape.  The big bump in the front yard was asking for an answer.  The landscape-listing to one side.

pair-of-carpinus.jpgSmall properties advertise their problems in a big and graphic way.  It was not my idea to replace the tree in the front yard.  Why would I propose to repeat an idea that did little to enhance this small property in the first place?  I thought that a pair of carpinus that would flank and frame the front door, and a boxwood hedge on the right side that would answer the existing boxwood hedge on the left would bring some order to the landscape.  My clients were great gardeners, and keen about the landscape.  They liked informal, but orderly schemes.  They had long been retired, and were not so interested in a landscape that would require a lot of lifting and hauling.

front-door.jpgWe removed the struggling dogwoods.  They were so poor, I doubt anyone noticed.  The yews got transplanted.  In their stead, a pair of climbing hydrangeas.  The big leaves are a welcome leafy texture; they were not in any way bothered by the northern exposure.  Deep shade has few takers.  Hydrangea petiolaris is slow to get going, but it is amazingly shade tolerant.   The pachysandra may be the most ordinary ground cover on the planet, but it tolerates, and thrives, in tough conditions.  Lush and green on the ground plane is a good thing.

front-door.jpgWe kept the climbing hydrangea away from the front porch light fixtures-regular pruning keeps this climbing plant in bounds.  Few other vining plants can clothe a wall so elegantly.  We added a few pots to the front porch area-why not?  Though my clients were not able to handle big digging, they were able and willing to look after those pots.

winter.jpgThe columnar carpinus grew. They framed the view to the front door from the street.  They divided the the public part of the landscape from the private and personal part of their home-the front door.  Most happily, every other plant within their range was able to thrive.  The porch had a little light.  I do think that the nurturing of visually thoughtful relationships between shaded and sunny spaces in a landscape is crucial to good design. I believe it is even more crucial to small properties.  The sun and shade can provide lots of atmosphere in the smallest space.

view.jpgDirectly underneath the carpinus -dappled shade.  The pachysandra did not mind this irregular light.  It grew lush and thick. On the house side-a small sun zone.  Sun is inviting in a garden.  The light attracts the eye.  The interplay of sun and shade can provide so much interest in a very small space.  From the sun to the shade and back to the sun-this creates a visual rhythm in a landscape composition that lacks physical space.  Good design in small spaces asks for every base to be covered.  How long does it take to cover every base on a small city lot?  I am not there yet, so I can’t answer.

front-door.jpgThe loss of a very big and old tree presented an opportunity to celebrate a small front yard landscape in an entirely different way.  A change up in a small environment is a pitch no gardener sees coming.  I would encourage you to quit wringing your hands, and swing away.  As it turns out, my clients loved being freed from a maple that entirely dominated their landscape.  They were happy to have the opportunity to make the front porch details more important.

coleus-topiary.jpgI did plant their pots differently every year.  But no matter the scheme, I always planted non stop begonias.  Mr. B had a way with them that was extraordinary.  They grew for him.  I have never seen better.  Though he was always self effacing about his success growing them, I knew he brought his head, heart and experience to bear with them. The new landscape configuration was not maintenance free.  No landscape thrives without attention. But a thriving landscape gave him the go ahead to devote his efforts to growing on the plants in his pots.

yellow-begonias.jpgI want to say that his pots gave him immense pleasure and satisfaction. No matter what day I would drive by, the pots always looked perfectly tended and beautiful.  We took care of maintaining the rest.  I will say they had a rich and involved gardening life long before I met them.  I worked for them for many years, before they sold this property, and moved to the east coast to be close to their children.

walk-to-the-door.jpgThe changes we made in this landscape were over a period of twelve years.  I was happy for my part in this.  Their thoughtful thirty years gardening before me, and my twelve years of revisions made for an updated design that worked for them.

hornbeams.jpgThey sold this property several years ago.  Ill health and age triggered a change.  I understood this.  Landscapes and lives evolve.  They day they lost that old maple-a big loss.  The day they gave up this house and landscape, and moved away-a big loss for me.  Small properties, such as they are, have a big story to tell.  A big hearted landscape design on a small property- all about a story.

 

The Shape of Things to Come

landscape-plan.jpgAs Susan Cohan, a very talented and skilled American landscape designer would say, a great landscape design is about making a space work.  It works for the client.  It works for the plants selected.  And it solves problems. No where is that more evident than designing for a very small space.  A very small property means every square inch needs to work.  This very small front yard needed a decently sized driveway, and a graceful way to get to the front door from both the sidewalk, and the drive.  It needed to ground a house that was very tall.  It needed to provide a place to watch young children playing on the drive.  It needed to provide ongoing visual interest – every bit of which was exposed to the street. It needed to accommodate a client’s interest in a fountain in the front yard. ellipse.jpgI thought there needed to be a single strong shape which would organize every other element in the landscape.  An ellipse seemed a natural choice.  The shape of the front yard was a very shallow rectangle.  An ellipse would make the most of that natural shape in a more interesting way.  An elliptical shape that touched the north side of the driveway, and reached across to the south side would provide a means to reach the front door.  It would also permit a way to walk the garden that had no beginning and no end. aluminum-edger-strip.jpgFrom the driveway, one ring of the ellipse would be a gravel path that would lead to the front door.  That path would also encourage walking through the space.  The gravel ellipse was wide enough to accommodate a bench, wherever the client might want one.  An interior ellipse of grass would make it possible to view the garden, and the fountains from a number of different vantage points. landscape-design.jpgThe fountain Buck built was actually a pair of fountains.  Each was fabricated as a half-ellipse.  Anyone approaching the front door would walk through the fountains.  Anyone coming to the front door from the driveway could follow the gravel path, or take the fountain view route. Rows of boxwood and yews matching the curve of the ellipse would give the garden some winter interest.  As for the perennial garden, there are but a few plants.  The inner ring is a collection of peonies, faced down with alchemilla mollis.  Once the peonies mature, they will form a lustrous large leaved interior hedge taller than the boxwood.   landscape.jpgThe fountains are the center of interest to the design, and they are front and center.  We did eventually move them back off of the sidewalk a bit, just so the space would breathe better.  The interior garden would mature at the same height as the fountains. This height was a direct response to the height of the house.  I planted yews in the ellipse closest to the house-who would want to block the views from inside out with anything taller?  Eventually we would plant a DeGroot Spire arborvitae on either side of the from facade of the house. limestone-steps.jpgThe lower step to the front door needed to describe that ellipse that governed the shape every other landscape element.  Scott Albaugh from Albaugh Masonry did a great job of this.  In a very small space, the details matter so much. Our shapes were by no means perfect.  But they were accurate enough to be convincing.  At this stage in the installation, the ellipses read in a graphically strong way.  Once the landscape was planted, that shape became much more subtle. landscape-plan.jpgThe day a landscape is installed is just that-the first day.  Given some time for the plants to mature, that ellipse describing the horizontal ground plane will be softened by the height and the sprawl of the plants. landscape-plan.jpgThis design looks different from different vantage points.  Changing the visual channel is easy; there is a path. gravel-path.jpgAny guest getting out of the car in the driveway could find their way to the front door.  They might take the long way-or the short way, in bad weather.  This design is intended to make the garden accessible and friendly to people.  Though just about every idea can be seen from the drive or the street, the elliptical path invites a stroll through. new-garden.jpgWhat can readily be seen now will not always be the case. The outer ring of this garden will mature at a height of 4 to 5 feet. Roses, shasta daisies, Russian sage, Little Lime hydrangeas-the height of these plants will provide a little mystery and privacy to the inner ellipse.  The border on the sidewalk-moss phlox and lamb’s ear. landscape-design.jpgI will be very interested to see this garden when it has a few more years on it.  Hopefully it will be a small space that has something interesting going on.

Coming Up Roses

the-rose-garden.jpgIt was 9 degrees below zero when I drove to work this morning.  I could tell.  The crunch of the snow underfoot was deafening.  I had to keep blinking to keep my eyelashes from freezing to my face.  Though I had all manner of winter gear piled on, my face stung from the cold.  The corgis always dawdle in the driveway before they pony up to be loaded into the Suburban.  I am ordinarily very patient about this.  I like that they have a happy life-and their happy life means a minimum of interference from me.  I am ok with hanging out until they are ready to be loaded up for work.  Loaded up?  Corgis have really short legs.  I give the both of them a big leg up.  I tell myself that loading and unloading two fifty pound dogs twice every day helps keep me in good shape.  I treasure this illusion!  This morning, their dawdling annoyed me.  It was too cold to be outside.

Milo.jpgOver the course of the day I downloaded scads of pictures on my Iphone to my computer.  A day when it is really too cold to be outdoors is a really rare day.  A day confined to the inside is not my most favorite day, but confining circumstances can make for some unexpected pleasure. Pictures that I took in June of this past year-I was looking at them for the first time.  The roses-how beautiful they were.

griffith-Buck-roses.jpgThere are those gardeners who would choose to pass by a planting of roses.  Too much trouble to grow.  Too much a symbol of the history of gardens.  No doubt rose bushes are just about the most ungainly and unattractive shrubs ever to grace the earth.  But I would not want my garden to do without them.

griffith-buck-roses.jpgI only grow a few roses.  Carefree Beauty, and Earthsong, bred by Griffith Buck.  Jeannie Le Joie-a miniature climbing rose.  Eden-a large flowered climbing rose.  And the English bred shrub rose Sally Holmes.

miniature-climbing-roses.jpgThe most of the month of June is a delight to this gardener.  The roses play no small part in this.  I love the flowers and the fragrance.  On a freezing January day that keeps me inside, the memory of the roses comfort me.

miniature-climbing-roses.jpgthe roses in June

roses-in-June.jpgCarefree Beauty

june-roses.jpgThe roses in June fuel my love for the garden, year round.  On this astonishingly cold and discouraging day, I like the idea that my 2014 gardening season will be coming up roses.

rose-bud.jpgA rose is a rose

rose-season.jpgEverything will be coming up roses.

The Garden In December

December-garden.jpgEvery gardener’s circumstances are different, but our December is notable for the coming of the cold.  No matter what year it is, my plan for the holiday and winter garden at the shop has to include an element that is warm.  The lighting is warm.  Sparkly or reflective materials can be warm.  The sentiment of the season can be warm.  Rob says the shop garden this year is cozy.  As in yard after yard of thick fir garland.  Concolor fir, noble, silver, Douglas, balsam-fir is a very sturdy and long lasting green outdoors.  The garland was loosely wrapped with grapevine garland.  The contrast of the bare vines and the lush garland   The window boxes have fir blankets.  The windows have fir hats.  It was 14 degrees this morning when I took this picture, but the garden looks warm.

winter-window-boxes.jpg

The window boxes are stuffed with mixed greens.  As the mixed greens are long and lax, we do a few rows of noble fir at the bottom of the greens to support the entire arrangement. Noble fir is very stiff and strong.  Winter weather can be fierce.  Snow, wind, ice and various mayhem from the sky can take a toll on a container garden one would want to last until March.  Making an arrangement sturdy and strong is more than half of the work of it.

warm-winter.jpgThe centerpieces are composed of red bud pussy willow, ochre eucalyptus, a few springs of metallic gold eucalyptus, and a ruff of gold sinamay. For good measure, a dollop of sugar pine cones completes the look.  Given that the building is large, and the garden is mostly viewed from the street, or from a car, the materials are over scaled. A smaller pine cone would not have much impact given the scale of the building.

holiday-container-arrangement.jpgOver the summer, these Belgian blue stone plinths supported Italian terra cotta pots with boxwood spheres.  Winter arrangements in my zone ask for pots that are frost proof. Though boxwood is generally hardy in pots, I would be uneasy about an extended period of low temperatures.  We have had an uncharacteristically cold late fall-12 degrees overnight is much more like late January than early December.  This garden would have a very bleak look, but for its winter dress.

holiday-container.jpgWinter gardens are for viewing from a distance.  It is unlikely anyone will be lingering here for long.  Big, warm, and simple gestures go a long way towards banishing the winter blues.  A design which gives the illusion of warmth is appreciated when the weather is so dreary.  Decorating the garden has its benefits.  It feels good to have something to do that at least approximates gardening. And it is nice to have something good to look at while the garden is dormant.  This garden is just about ready for the snow.

warm-winter-decor.jpgThe fir hats over the windows are composed of garlands that are attached to bamboo poles.  Garden has a natural tendency to fall, swoop and swag.  If you want a straight and orderly appearance, a bamboo pole will keep all of the clippings in line.  The poles are then wired to the pediment.  I like this construction technique for mantels too.

wrapped-tree-trunks.jpgMy favorite part of this winter garden are the garlands and grapevines on the tree trunks.  Deciduous trees have a very spare and sculptural look during the winter.  These over sized scarves that puddle on the ground make the trees look protected and warm.

Detroit-Garden-Works.jpgThere are those places yet to finish.  These urns need something.  The pots need some lighting.  A favorite part of this winter project is the ability to work on it as time and inspiration permits.  Last January I had the basic idea for the garden.  I ordered boxes of grapevine garland, for the building, and the trees, and for Rob’s steel hanging spheres.  Taking the time to let a garden space speak back is my idea of luxury, and part of the great pleasure of the doing.  I may still be tinkering with this 2 weeks from now.  There’s no rush.  Winter will be with us for a long time.

garden-in-December.jpg
Warm and cozy sounds good.