A Favorite Client

harriet.jpgIt isn’t hard to identify the favorite clients.  The work you do for them-they appreciate it. They are not afraid to ask you to detail every step you went through to arrive at a recommendation. Once you provide all of the details, they respond, kindly. They think over everything you say, carefully. Better, yet, they are interested, and committed.  They are clear about what they like, and polite about what they don’t like. They are willing to weather any storm.  They can be persuaded.  But they know their own mind and life, and are not afraid to stand up for that. I don’t often visit this client, for whom I did a landscape for her new house some three years ago. We had cause to meet recently-a few new issues needed solving.  Her opening topic-a leaf that had fallen from her katsura espaliers.  That heart shape leaf falling on an under planting of boxwood-a cause for celebration. That randomly falling heart shaped leaf was the first topic of her day.  The beauty of nature was number one.  All else was a distant second.   How like her, to feel this way, and show it to me.  We spent a few moments, in celebration.

DSC_4381Celebration energizes and organizes all sorts of  expression.  The landscape is, in its most basic form, about defining spaces, directing traffic, and nurturing a love of nature.  As much as a home is a three dimensional representation of the story of the life of a family, the landscape is a story about how that home interacts with nature.  That relationship with nature is about a lot of things – materials impervious to weather, and the plants.  The shapes of spaces, and their dimensions. Color, and dimension.  Depth.  Places to be. What grows and lives in the landscape parallels a life some describe as a life well worth living.

DSC_4402This landscape just three years old.  It is starting to is take root, and become part and parcel of this property.     It will take a few more years to see what the landscape screens, what it frames, what it features, how it thrives,  and how it enriches this household. A mature landscape will take a good many years to achieve, but the early signs are good.  Establishing the landscape has been a battle.  Very heavy clay soil close to the water’s edge means the soil is usually saturated. We have had casualties.  But the peonies have taken hold, as have the climbing roses and the clematis.  Once a garden built on clay soil is established, it it long lived.

DSC_4378This favorite client took my recommendations about pots and benches, steps, porch stone-this was just the beginning..  This year she had a mind to change her color scheme for her containers. Lots of color, please.  Container design can take a last minute cue.

DSC_4366A meadow garden near the water was too tall, and too green.  Some of the beds got a subtle punch of color from the addition of mid height annual plants.  We planted a few low growing shrub roses-just to see if they would take to the placement. Any successful garden depends upon the willingness to experiment, and evolve. Tinkering is is the hallmark of every inventor.  Among that big group of inventors – gardeners.

DSC_4363My client’s property is overrun with rabbits.  Rabbits that treat her gardens like a lunch buffet.  Her sculpture collection of minks, foxes and dogs that inhabit the landscape are a personal signature. She may never defeat the rabbits, but her landscape is endowed with with her hope, interest and commitment. She is a favorite client, yes. The relationship is a regular pleasure, and routinely full of surprises.  She thinks about her landscape in a way that I never could.  It is hers.  I so appreciate that she thinks about every issue, personally.

DSC_4361water’s edge garden

DSC_4355bright colored containers

DSC_4398saturated color

DSC_4359a view of the garden

DSC_4347I have never seen streptocarpella thrive quite like this. Bravo, Harriet.

A Path To Somewhere

DSC_4037This terrace sits a number of steps above the surrounding landscape and garden. I would guess the terrace sits almost 3 feet above the ground plane.  There are plenty of places to sit. Lots of chairs with plump cushions make this experience of the outdoors comfortable.  I would choose being outdoors above any other place to be, like most gardeners.  Anyone who sits here has a great overview of all that is going on here.  A landscape structured around a sweep of old hornbeams, blocks of hydrangeas and boxwood framing, is softened by generously sized perennial plantings.  All of the pots and boxes help to bring the garden upstairs, and up closer.

DSC_3892Landscapes that are viewed from afar, or from up above, have their charms. The stray weed, or problem plant will not read all that well.  The overall impression is stronger and more lasting than any individual detail. My deck is five feet above the ground plane – I can take in the whole garden at a glance.   From a design perspective, the organizing idea may be much clearer from a distance.  A bird’s eye view of a garden looks much more like the landscape plan drawn on paper. For the same reasons, spotting problems with a design is easier, if that design can be seen all at once-in plan view.  The ground floor view of a landscape in three dimensions can be very different than a 2 dimensional drawing that describes it.

August 10 2014 (30)Immersion in a garden can be great.  All of the subtle details, the contrasts of textures, the relationships of one plant to another, and the flowers can be better appreciated up close.  I have spent lots of time over the years wading in to people’s gardens-to pull weeds, or dig plants that needed dividing.  Up close can also mean that bugs, disease and snakes become part of the experience. It is tougher to spot the ground hog burrows and ground bees nests. The whole point of layering a perennial garden is so that depth of the space can be appreciated from the perimeter. Gardens planted from a variety of plants close in height have a beautiful undulating rhythm, provided those plants mature at a height below eye level. Gardens planted with with plants taller than eye level need a way in,  or a place to step back.

DSC_3889A tall shallow garden without a place to step back is like having a seat at a movie that is too close to the screen.  That movie experience makes it impossible to focus, and make sense of any visual information. Up close to a field of sunflowers is the same visual experience as up close to a row of them.  There is no sense of the depth of the garden, unless there is an alternate way to view them.  These gardens have plenty of space to step back, and take it all in. The plantings are graduated in height.  For some, a grass walkway is all it takes to bring the garden up close.  For others, a walkway is a better solution.  A garden walkway makes it possible to enjoy a garden after a rain without risking soaking wet shoes.  Its easier to push a wheelbarrow or cart on a hard surface. For those that like to walk the garden in the evening, a path can help light the way.

DSC_3886This all around the garden walkway is a long one. A gravel path was an obvious choice.  A stone walkway of this width and length would be overpowering visually, especially given that it is set close and parallel to a large stone terrace. A decomposed granite path is simple to install.  We dug out 6″ of soil, and installed in its place 4″ of crushed limestone, and a 2″ top dressing of decomposed granite.  This was a very long and fairly wide walk.  We have 2 clients who like to cruise the garden, together. Four feet wide is a comfortable width for 2 people who are friendly with one another to walk side by side. So 40 yards of soil went to the compost pile at our landscape yard.

August 27 2014 (6)This property is notorious for retaining water. Before the landscape construction began, we did install a fairly extensive drainage system. Forty yards of gravel in place of forty yards of soil can’t hurt the drainage effort.  Decomposed granite is composed of granite chips, 3/8 of a inch and smaller in size.  The very small pieces are known as fines, and have the appearance of sand.  Once the gravel has been compacted, rain will wash the fines down, and help to interlock the larger pieces.  This water permeable walk is quote hard, once it has a little age. It would be easy to ride a bike here. It is a lot of work to haul stone and soil, but there is little in the way of materials.

August 27 2014 (10)The most expensive material is the edger strip. These 16 feet long by 4″ high aluminum strips keep the gravel where it is intended.  It also keeps the grass out of the walk. Just before the stone goes in, we use a layer of non-woven landscape fabric that is permeable to water, but discouraging to weeds.  If a decomposed granite walk goes through a garden, there is little need for edging.  We may mulch the perimeter plantings with the same stone. Perennials that seed in the walk may be welcome.

DSC_4043Once the granite is in place, we go over and over it with a compactor so the surface is firm, and level. Given the inch and a half of rain we had this afternoon, this path looks a lot more like gravel, and a lot less like sand. Gravel is a friendly material to use when there are irrigation valve boxes and heads set close to the surface.  We just go around them.  Given a little dry weather, my clients will be able to go around too.

Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind

August 16 2014 016I have searched the picture files of my home garden in vain for a recent picture from just this angle.  I have plenty of pictures of the ferns on the lower level, the staircase to the rose garden, the boxwood flanking the stairs, and the fountain.  But nothing regarding how this change of level was handled.   I suspect I have no pictures, as that change had stopped working.  I had stopped seeing it.

July 20 2013 (29)From the upper level, the dark mass behind the boxwood hedge and lilac on standard was a row of yews-taxus densiformis.  Those yews were the lower part of a green wall that defined the upper level garden as visually separate from the lower level.  The Princeton Gold maples shielded the view from one garden to the other on the upper level.  I am not sure how long those yews have been there, but I am guessing 15 years anyway. They were a plain dark green backdrop for all else that was planted from both sides.  Gardeners can be timid about dividing or walling off their landscape spaces.  I see lots of landscapes that line up along the periphery of a property, but fewer that describe or make a statement about the interior spaces.

new-retaining-wall.jpgI do have pictures of that upper wall from the year 2000. It had just been finished.  The Palabin lilacs on standard which were there when I bought the house were baby lilacs on standard.  Still there was a considerably hilly drop to the lower level.

adding-another-wall.jpgTwo years later I added a second terrace.  The lower level would be flat and navigable, as would be the upper level.  The 1.5 inch caliper Princeton Gold maples were planted ahead of the construction of the lower wall. It was easier to roll the trees up to that level on a ball cart, as opposed to heaving them over a newly installed wall.

landscape-and-pool.jpgThe boxwood got planted, the arborvitae on the upper level were growing away, and the fountain pool was under construction.  Yet, I have no pictures of the yews that I planted on the edge of the upper level.

August 16 2014 003It was just 2 weeks ago that I took a good look at those yews.  While they were pleasantly green from the upper level, they were bare twigs and tufts of green at the top from the lower level.  As a stop gap measure, I planted a row of liriope spicata, in the hopes they would cover those bare legs. It took but a short while longer to realize that the liriope would languish in the intense shade, and I would still be looking at sticks.  The yews had become too big, and worse yet, they were not a good candidate for renovation.  The maples had grown considerably, and shaded the entire area.  By this time I was more focused on this spot than I had ever been. It did not take long to dig those yews out.

August 16 2014 004The light that came through once the yews were gone was considerable.  Seeing into the upper garden from the lower was a shock-but a pleasant shock. As a landscape ages, it changes-that’s obvious.  It’s the devil to predict how and when a garden will ask for a little renovation.  But I can say having those yews gone was a breath of fresh air. For the first time in many years I am looking at some bare dirt in my landscape.  What now?  I am certain I do not want to plant back anything that will grow tall.  I like the glimpses I am getting of the upper garden.  It could be that any change from what once was will be welcomed.

August 16 2014 006These ferns and European ginger on the south side of the stairs will benefit from the additional light.  Both of these plants tolerate quite a bit of shade, but they will thrive with more light. The view of the neighbor’s fence behind an old arborvitae that has shed its lower branches is not so swell.

August 16 2014 013It seems like I have a chance here to create a new intermediary garden, between the two older ones.  Milo went right to this spot first thing when he got home Friday.  We are both looking at it with fresh eyes.

Off The Beaten Track

pot-in-the-lawn.jpgEvery gardener is used to seeing containers placed on hard surfaces.   On either side of a front porch.  On a set of steps or walkway.  On a terrace. But containers can fit right into a spot in the landscape.  We have worked in several places this week where containers were placed in the midst of the ongoing landscape. I like what I am seeing. Placing pots in the garden is an unusual placement, but unusual can be a good. The first rule of good design is to not take any rule as set in stone.  Some of the most beautiful landscape designs I have seen break every rule.  By this I mean, they break every rule, but do it convincingly.  A great heart, and sure hand always trumps following the rules. I worried myself for days, given the decision to place this pot in the middle of the lawn in the rose garden.  Once the deed was done, I wondered why. The placement seemed right.

pot-in-the-garden.jpgThis container is set in a landscape bed.  A clematis has climbed and wound itself around a tall steel container.  A bed of pachysandra, angelina and hens and chicks has been inter planted with with Persian Queen geraniums, euphorbia, and trailing annual verbena. The look of this garden is better than good. I like how the introduction of annual plants into the landscape, and the perennial clematis climbing the side of a container have created a look in which the container has become an integral part of the landscape. The annuals planted in ground-so charming, and so successful. This planting is not mine-it is all Jane’s.  Clients can be a great source of inspiration. They know their gardens backwards and forwards.  Their decisions are based on a daily exposure. This corner is invariably burned by salt in the winter, so a summer/seasonal planting helps keep this spot luxuriant.lemon-cypress.jpgA container set in a landscape bed is one way to create a focal point.  This tall concrete pot planted with a lemon cypress, euphorbia, and petunias gives meaning to a landscape comprised of arborvitae and pachysandra.  I like the ground cover growing up over the base of this planter. It looks as though the container has been there a while, and belongs there. in-the-garden.jpgA pot gracefully placed in a landscape can add another dimension to an outdoor space. Landscapes which offer many dimensions continue to interest the viewer.  A pot placed in the landscape is a mark made by a designer.  That said, I treasure the individual statement of a landscape above all. Some landscapes I see are all about a gardener in charge with a strong point of view.

Chicago-figs.jpgWe usually remove the grass underneath a container, excavate the soil, and replace that soil with gravel.  The insures that the container drains unimpeded. Trimming the grass around the container is an extra step, maybe even a nuisance.  But for the gardener that appreciates the small details, a placement like this is a pleasure. A pot placement in the landscape can be a temporary solution to a bigger problem.  In this case, a tree directly behind this group of containers died this past winter. The tree, and its stump was of a size that replacement will not be easy. The pots draw one’s eye away from the empty space. Given this placement of pots, a much smaller tree could be planted which would eventually fill that void.

shade-pot.jpgA container in the landscape takes on the same sculptural quality as a birdbath, armillary, or sundial.  The small footprint of any of these ornaments makes them easy to tuck into a small space that needs some visual interest.  This client has a particular fondness for pots in her borders. This pot is set on a short concrete plinth.  That small amount of additional height keeps the bottom of the pot in view, despite the ground covering geraniums.

in-the-landscape.jpgThis French glazed pot is of considerable size and stature.  It has been placed in a bed of myrtle facing down a stand of mature trees.  Pink and red mandevilleas growing on a simple trellis made of bamboo stakes makes a considerable statement by late summer. This spot, minus the pot, would be too sleepy looking for this client.  Every gardener wants something different from their garden.

herniaria.jpgThe landscape in the front of my house features two fairly large patches of herniaria.  This spot asked for something short that would require little maintenance-it has done very well there. Years ago I set a pair of French glazed pots at opposite ends. A garden ornament which represents the end, or boundary of a garden is called a Herm, 0r a term-as in terminus.  Though I have since moved the Russian sage in favor of a simpler arrangement, and switched out the French pot for a concrete pot with a yew topiary that can sit in this spot all year round, the idea is the same. The placement of containers can be anywhere there is a need.