On June 1, my landscape superintendent Dan and I walked through a project we had been working on since mid April, and decided we were done. A whole lot of work got done in those 6 weeks. To follow are pictures of how that project looked this morning, 6 weeks later. And following this, the story of that renovation.
Last August I had the opportunity to consult on a landscape renovation for a lovely house and property dating back to the 1920’s. The current owners added a sizable addition to the back of the house, solved many of the problems that old houses are heir to, and had redone the interior to suit them. They were ready to tackle the landscape. A mixed planting of privet, viburnum and Annabelle hydrangea on the sidewalk was healthy, but disorderly. The bark path was not centered on the front door of the house.
The landscape at the front door looked congested. A pair of kousa dogwoods were placed in front of the windows. The boxwood had been planted right next to the walk to the front door. This placement all but obscured the front porch. Planted behind the boxwood, a run of All Summer Beauty hydrangea, and a longer run of privet. There was a lot going on here, none of it especially friendly to the architecture of the house. Shrubs and trees growing up and over the windows of a house-not a good look. A landscape that overpowers a house looks like neglect, even when a property is being very well looked after. Funny, that.
A large block of Annabelle hydrangeas facing down the sun porch were planted in a little bit too much shade. The bloom was spotty, and green. Carpet roses that had been planted in front of them were in altogether too much shade. In the left background of this picture, an old concolor fir that was just about gone.
An old blue stone terrace in the back was becoming overwhelmed by the plantings. All of the plants were robust and healthy. The relationship of the plants to the terrace-uneasy. My clients wanted a terrace large enough to be comfortable both visually, and physically.
As in the front yard, there were a number of big old trees that were nearing the end of their lifespan. Some had been severely damaged by lightening, and disease. Others had suffered considerable storm damage. Some were just at the end of their lifespan.
An informal perennial garden with a rock border had too many dirt spaces created from plants that had been lost. The garden did not have enough presence to be seen from the terrace. The weeds were beginning to run wild. This is a very large property-where to begin?
We began with a plan. The landscape plan for the back was simple. The original terrace would be taken up, and relaid level. A border of old reclaimed brick would add a good deal of space to the terrace, and repeat the brick on the walls of the original house. the ground adjacent to the terrace would be regraded to slope away from the house, and would culminate in long low brick seat wall, punctuated by wide steps that would lead to an upper level lawn. The terrace garden would be planted with Nova yews, and boxwood. The trees that could not be saved would be taken down, and that upper level spot regraded to produce a large flat area suitable for touch football and the like. Flanking the lawn, a pair of triangular shaped meadow-like beds with multi trunked Himalayan white barked birch. If my clients liked the look of those shapes of long grass, we might at a later date formally plant it as such. The shape of these beds had everything to do with the unusual shape of the lot. At the back of the property, the boulder wall would be redone in a curved shape. Soil would be added above the wall to create 2 levels of plantings. Above the wall, a mass of Annabelle hydrangeas that would cascade over the wall, backed up by a hedge of limelight hydrangeas. Hydrangeas would be in bloom from June through September. On the lower level, an improved perennial garden. Anchoring that garden at either end, a pair of the same birch. Last fall’s project-tree removal.
In April, we moved every shrub from the terrace garden out of harms way, and heeled them in. Given the cool rainy conditions, we also moved all of the Annabelle hydrangeas, privet and viburnum from the garden at the street, and behind the boxwood in front. The viburnums and privets would be relocated along the driveway to provide more privacy from the neighboring house. The Annabelles would go to the new garden in the back. By this time, the installation of the new terrace was underway. We were fortunate that the weather was perfect for transplanting. We got everything moved before it leafed out. We moved well over 100 shrubs, and did not loose a single one.
We only had to add one pallet of rock to complete the new wall. Better than 20 yards of soil were added behind that wall, and feathered into the existing grade going up to the rear lot line. Loads of soil were used to level the lawn area.
A pair of Palabin lilacs on standard that had been on the terrace were relocated out away from the house, where they would have all the room they needed to grow to a substantial size. Old Palabin lilacs on standard are impressive. Once the irrigation was installed, we were able to work on the finish grade.
The final step was to have the upper rear yard hydroseeded. The grass seed is mixed into a slurry of recycled paper. This acts as a mulch for the seed, and helps to make sure that the seed has the access to moisture that it needs.
We protected the trunks of the birch, and some newly planted spruce from any over spray of hydroseed with landscape fabric, although this turned out to be unnecessary. The seed was very precisely applied to the ground.
The lawn in front was spot hydro seeded in those areas where the grass was thin. The boxwood from the rear terrace was replanted across the front of the house, for a simple and continuous look. Only four new boxwood were needed to complete the hedge.
The sun porch garden was planted with shade tolerant hostas, brunnera, and forget me nots, set in pachysandra. There is nothing here that is unduly tricky or fussy to maintain. Both of my clients are busy professional people.
The shrub bed at the street was redone in lawn. The kousa dogwoods had long since been moved to the back yard, where they would get a little afternoon shade, and have the room to grow large. The architecture of the house can be seen from top to bottom, and side to side. I like to think the austerity of it is in keeping with the period and style of the house. The boxwood were backed off of the front walk, so the entire porch is visible. In celebration of that porch, a pair of vintage wood champagne crates were placed there, and planted with pansies. We managed to finish June first. They have a whole summer and fall ahead of them, to enjoy the change. I like leaving a landscape renovation at this point. Once my clients live with it, they may decide what they have now is enough. Or they may decide to take the landscape a step further. But for now, there are some good bones in place.
The very best part of doing containers for clients at the last of a landscape installation for a new house is the chance I might be able to to come back the following year. The opportunity to come back means I can watch, and be part of how that landscape settles in and prospers. The summer container planting comes around once a year, every year. In the best of all possible worlds, the process of the landscape design and installation results in a relationship that is on going. Planting seasonal containers is ongoing. I was happy to be invited back. The John Davis roses, which were part of the original landscape installation, are just about to the roof of the pergola, this June of year 3.
Any new landscape comes with troubles. What you thought would be perfectly happy in this spot refuses to perform. What seemed like a reach takes hold like you never imagined. Anyone who gardens knows trouble-and how that trouble can be difficult to foresee. This property fronts on a lake. The very heavy clay soil refuses to dry out. We had no end of troubles, getting this landscape to take hold. It is difficult, and takes time, to establish plants on a clay based soil. In the middle of year 2, a daunting year 2, we were making progress. Year two was not my favorite. It just had to be lived through. But once the plants take hold, they go for broke. Year 3 is looking good. Along this path to the side yard, each Rozanne geranium is the size of a small shrub. The astilbes are loaded with flower spikes. The yews have settled in, and are lush and dark green. And the roses-well, you can see for yourself.
John Davis is a climbing rose which is incredibly vigorous and long lived. If pink flowers are to your liking, this rose will reward you with steady growth and lots of roses. I have a client withe John Davis roses that are better than 20 years old. It is undeniably hardy-bear in mind these roses on planted on the lake side, and subject to terrific winds and cold in the winter. Our last two winters were fiercely cold. I see damage to plants everywhere from those vicious winters. These roses never skipped a beat. Planting this summer annual container next to this John Davis in glorious bloom-what a treat.
This landscape has begun to come into its own. I did not know this, until the moment I got there with a truckload of flowers for the pots. The best part of spending the day here planting the containers here was the pure pleasure of experiencing a landscape and garden that has rooted in and has settled down. Everything is breathing, regularly. There is new growth on every plant, from the yews, to the Venus dogwoods, to the Himalayan white barked birch, to the hydrangeas-to the columnar red maples. The landscape is thriving. The heart of it is beating regularly, and strongly.
The boxwood dots in the lawn have put on a lot of weight. That dark green I see everywhere is a healthy green. How is my client managing a landscape on soil that does not drain? She manages, as she tends to the landscape. Her thoughtful work is obvious. The views from the second story deck was beautiful. That beauty is not of my doing, some three years after the original installation. It is hers. All a garden needs is for someone to take ownership, like she has.
I did plant lots of containers for her today. She wanted orange geraniums, and nasturtiums. I planted them wherever I could. Next week I will plant her cutting flower boxes. We have had incredibly cold and rainy weather. I have postponed planting the zinnias and the sunflowers until next week.
The wet meadow is loaded with amsonia Blue Ice-it is in bloom now. The shadier portions are planted with species monarda, and northern sea oats-Chasmanthium latifolium. The fact that it seeds is all to the good. That wet meadow will dry sometime soon. Cleome and sonata cosmos will provide color in this garden all the summer season long.
Willy’s garden is presided over by a big group of columnar red maples. Their foliage is lush this year – finally. The hostas are fanning out. In the front of the house, the peonies were full of blooms. The birch are growing. The katsura espaliers leafed out beyond all belief.
All of the containers featured orange in one form or another. I was pleased that this urn was stuffed with annual plants in a relaxed fashion. My crews do an amazing job of arranging all the plants that are scheduled to go into a container in a lively, lovely, and unpretentious way. From the start.
I cannot really convey with words what it meant to walk on to a property with a landscape wrought by a relationship with a very special client that seems happy in most every regard. I ws so pleased with everything I saw. My working life right now is busy-jammed packed and intense. Most days I am up at 4:30 am, and drifting home at 6pm. This seasonal planting settled me right down. Thanks, Harriet. This landscape is growing just as you would want it to. I am sure I heard that growing going on.
Are you familiar with the Penny W. Stamps Lecture series which take place at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor? If you are not familiar with the Stamps School of Art and Design at the University of Michigan, their mission is simply as follows.
On September 20th, 2012, our School officially became the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design. It’s a significant landmark in our history — not merely for the way that a name shapes identity, but in the symbolic gesture that the naming represents. It is a gesture of thanks to a long-standing member of the A&D community whose generous financial support has helped make us who we are today and whose continuing support of programs and scholarships will shape who we will become, as an institution and as a community.
Penny Stamps graduated from this school in 1966 as Penny Witt. She’s an award-winning designer, a community leader and, along with her husband Roe, a dedicated philanthropist. The Stamps give to many causes — animal welfare, environmental organizations, homeless shelters — but higher education is something they are especially passionate about.
Penny Stamps has been involved with this school philanthropically, since 1998, providing initial funding for a then-fledgling lecture series. Later, when Dean Bryan Rogers came on board, she became involved with the school strategically, as chair of the Dean’s Advisory Council, providing key support as the school sought to re-envision art/design education in the 21st century.
During the last ten years, this school has been rebuilt from the ground up. It has been an ongoing effort to rethink and restructure what we do as an educational institution; to ensure that the work of creative makers is positioned not outside of but within the intellectual fabric of university life; and to create an art/design education that is responsive and relevant within a national and global context.
Over the last decade, Penny and Roe Stamps, among others, have provided the School with the financial resources needed to undertake such a task. By supporting such programs as the wildly popular Penny W. Stamps Speakers Series, WORK • Ann Arbor, a downtown exhibition space for undergraduate work, the Roman W. Witt Residency and Visitors programs, the Stamps Creative Work Scholarships, and a pledge that ensures the continuation of all these programs, the Stamps have provided a foundation from which we can continue to build a world-class art/design program here at the University of Michigan.
Impressive, this. The lecture series features people who have made a mark in their career in art and design. I am so pleased to see that a landscape design comes under this umbrella. I am very pleased to announce that the Penny Stamps lecture slated for April 9 at 5:10 pm at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor will be given by the renowned French landscape designer, Louis Benech. This is an event that we wholeheartedly support, and sponsor.
Classic French design is crisply and dispassionately edited. But the work of Louis Benech is not only clearly of French origin, it goes beyond to be work uniquely of his own invention. I admire how he reads the lay of the land so gently, and designs in concert with nature. His love of plants equals his love for great design. His design is always thoughtful, and never imposing.
His work contrasts his love of geometry with his big love for the natural world. The images of his work are readily accessible on line, but the chance to hear him speak to his history, outlook, and profession is a rare opportunity for anyone with a big love for the landscape to experience in person a lecture from a giant in 20th century landscape design.
To Follow is from The Penny Stamps Lecture series website.
Watch and Work
April 9, 2015
Renowned landscape designer Louis Benech has carried out some 300 park and garden projects around the world including at the Tuileries, the Elysée Gardens and the Quai d’Orsay, Pavlovsk’s Rose Pavilion (St Petersburg), and the Gardens of the Achilleion (Corfu). He has also worked for organizations such as Hermes, Axa and Suez. With each of his projects, Benech combines a desire to create long-lasting and aesthetically pleasing gardens with respect for a site’s history and ecosystem, while also considering its future upkeep. At the heart of his work is one simple idea — a garden is an artificial construction with elements of nature. It has to bring pleasure to those who experience it and a break in their life. A recipient of the Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur and Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres, Benech is now working at the Palace of Versailles on a contemporary garden for the Water Theatre Grove.
With support from Matthei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum, Deborah Silver and Company / Detroit Garden Works, and the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.
Unless otherwise noted, all programs take place on Thursdays at 5:10 pm at the historic Michigan Theater, located at 603 E. Liberty Street in downtown Ann Arbor, and are free of charge and open to the public.
Should you be within driving distance of Ann Arbor in Michigan, I would encourage you to attend the lecture coming up April 9 by Louis Benech. I am sure it will be more thank interesting to hear him discuss his work. The photographs in the book Louis Benech: Twelve French Gardens are lovely. But to hear a designer of this caliber speak about those photographs and that work is an experience not to be missed. April 9, at 5:10. The Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor, Michigan.