A rectangle is an easily recognizable 4-sided shape. Like circles, ovals, triangles, and parallelograms, they define or outline a geometric shape. This lovely home could be easily be sketched on a piece of paper by connecting a series of rectangles, triangles, squares and ovals. Every one of these basic shapes is created by the lines that enclose, or define it. A linear representation of the front door would look like a series of squares put together in such a way as to create a rectangle. This photograph, is its most basic incarnation, is a rectangle. The composition of the photograph is determined in large part by its 4 edges. Shade trees and evergreens are often described by the shape they most represent, as in “broadly pryamidal”, or “oval”. A two-dimensional shape expressed in three dimensions has its own vocabulary. A circle in the third dimension is a sphere. A cylinder is constructed from two circles and a rectangle. A rectangle in 3 dimensions is a box. A box may vary in dimension, but for design purposes, a box is a box.
Any landscape is confined by the edges of the property. A property may be a rectangle or a triangle, or a combination of many shapes. But in every case, a property has limits. What is visually available to your property is confined only by what you cannot see, but those places where you can plant have been drawn on a piece of paper known as its legal description. There is no need for a legal description of a property to dictate a landscape design. Most urban properties have ties to a slew of rectangles. That could be a street or city sidewalk. A driveway. A hedge of arborvitae planted by a neighbor. If you visualize what is within your design reach on your property, more than likely it is a box-and a fairly plain box at that. This property has a very beautifully done, asymmetrically curving bluestone walk. In renovating the landscape, I admired how that curving feature both countered and complimented all of the existing rectangular shapes. A pair of trees, a curve of boxwood, a curved French wirework bench sitting on a gravel double sided crescent, all respond to that generous and fabulous sweep of stone.
We installed a stone walk to the back yard very close to, and parallel to the garage. This side yard is primarily an efficient means to get from the front to the back. But the addition of the arbor to the foreground pots and bench helps to slows the eye. The parallel bed of ivy to the right curves and crosses over the path in the far ground. This creates a sense of anticipation for what might come next-just around the corner.
The rear property is very shallow, and long. It is most definitely a box. We had the idea to outwit that box. The circular firepit in the foreground is a strong visual stopper. It also strongly serves as a gesture that challenges the idea of a box. The narrow lawn that swings around the firepit terrace, widens, and curves back to the left behind a midground seating area directs the eye around the space. That curve is repeated on the right side; a privacy hedge of arborvitae is planted in a shallowly curving line. This rectangular space has been scribed with curving beds that do not reveal the landscape all at once.
A landscape that encourages the eye to focus on a particular feature slows down the pace of discovery. There is time to see and take in the relationship between the gravel terrace, the firepit fashioned from old granite setts, the cylindrical side tables and the circular contemporary chairs.
The wide grass path veers to the left, directing attention to a perennial garden, and terrace. A fountain set in the lawn is somewhat visible at this point. The curving lines, and furniture provide lots of interest to the midground space.
A large terrace is three steps up from the grade of the lawn. The lawn formerly ran right up to its stone retaining wall. The addition of the curved beds in lawn not only directs the eye to the steps, but they soften the large rectangular stone terrace.
One area of the terrace is simply furnished with a dining table and outdoor kitchen. The white painted pergola and trellis give the grill plenty of garden oriented company. This arrangement was solely the work of my client. She has a great eye, and is a pleasure to work with.
A pergola at the opposite end provides a beautiful transition from the terrace to an interior sun porch. A climbing New Dawn rose has gracefully draped itself over the pergola roof. Climbing plants rescue pergolas from their inherently boxy shape. A small scalloped bistro table and pair of chairs placed in the shade provided by the rose is a beautiful touch-again from my client. This part of the landscape is not apparent until you turn the corner, and are right up to it.
The fountain at one time had a home on the terrace. Moving it to the lawn plane, and curving a hedge of arborvitae behind it makes this narrowest part of the box seem spacious. There is actually very little space between the leading edge of the terrace and the lot line. The round fountain, and the accompanying curved landscape minimize that boxed in feeling.
The change of level in the rear yard gifted it with lots of built in interest. Though a space can be severely rectangular, that is not to say that the floor has to be flat. Layers of evergreens, or sculpted soil can focus attention on what is inside a space, rather than what defines, or confines it. Sometimes I will design from the center out to the edges of a boxy flat space, rather than from the edges out.
The very first work I did for this client years ago involved suggesting that her that a old spruce could be left intact the middle of her gravel drive. Yes, they are able to drive around it, and into the left bay of the garage. That spruce makes so much out of a small rectilinear drivecourt, as do the curving edges of the approach. The quite serviceable driveway is an interesting feature of the landscape. Out of the box, that is.
Anyone who owns a home knows that house take lots of time effort and money just to maintain the status quo. Upgrading to a new air conditioning system, springing for a new refrigerator, or replacing a hot water heater that has leaked all over the basement is all the more unsatisfying-can you imagine hosting a dinner party so your friends can gather around to admire your new furnace? Any time now, I will need a new roof-an expense I have been dreading, and putting off, for almost 3 years. Even more, I dread the thought of the damage to my garden from the installation. The thought of old asphalt shingle bits, roofing nails and broken branches littering the ground-I try not to think about it. The cost of a roofing job complete with the proper scaffolding that would prevent damage to the garden-beyond belief.
Renovating a landscape is not any different than updating the interior of a house. It can be just as expensive, and just as inconvenient. The before and after detailing the change in this contemporary landscape took but moments to record. The actual job took plenty of time. The work involved repairs to the retaining walls, the regrading of the ground, the elimination of a row of weeping birch that had been planted at no small expense, and a major trimmimg and cleanup. Time and money-not to mention the dirt and disruption. It’s easy to understand why most gardeners are more comfortable with the one thing at a time approach. Gardeners that rip out an entire landscape and start over are few, for obvious reasons.
The nuisance and expense aside, there are good reasons to tackle a tired landscape one project at a time. A plan is just that-some marks on a piece of paper. It is a map that is not so clearly marked. A landscape lives and breathes, in every dimension. Trying to make a living community fit a preconcieved notion on a piece of paper-the translation can be very difficult. A smaller project with a smaller scope gives the designer or gardener a chance to look over the initial moves, and decide if a change of plans might be in order. I call this letting the project speak back.
My projects tend to order themselves such that the earthwork and drainage comes first, the structures and hardscape comes second, and the planting last. Each of these phases can happen out of order, if an existing area is being renovated. Each phase is a layer that compliments and enriches the initial concept. This idea- from my friend and colleague, Patrick Zaremba. He sees his work as a layering of materials, objects and plants that work in concert-creating over time a landscape experience that is beautiful.
It takes a great deal of time and skill to layer a perennial garden to successfully represents different seasons, textures, heights, and bloom times. A good landscape takes the same sort of time and effort. This pool terrace was years in the making. The pool and pool deck is raised above the existing grade. The existing ground dropped dramatically from the back of the house. (I take no credit for this ingenious treatment-the pool came long before me.) The trees were planted after the pool was installed. The size and diameter of the trunks of these trees indicates how long ago that was. For several years we planted fiber pots of varying sizes and shapes, trying to find a scheme that wouldwarm up, but not clutter what was already beautiful.
The furniture and pots are new this year. They add another layer to a landscape which is old, and sound.
The steel pots sport large birds of paradise, and are underplanted with caladiums. The stone bowls are planted with dwarf alocasia, and a mix of caliente geraniums. This lush look is a strong contrast to the geometry of the furniture and pool. The furniture is properly overscaled, as the space is large.
The plantings add a lot of color to a scheme which is primarily black white and grey.
There is not all that much to this layer. Just enough of a gesture to make a difference.
When I first saw this pool and terrace, I thought it looked a little too spare. The architecture of the house, the pool deck and walls were beautifully designed in the 1970’s. This landscape had great bones. As solid and effortless as it looks, what it took to level the ground to accomodate a pool and terrace of this size was considerable.
This walled terrace affords my client great privacy, even though the pool deck is far above street grade. A pair of pots on the dining terrace invites the landscape inside, without sacrificing that privacy. A small gesture has made a big difference.
Considering one thing at a time in renovating a landscape can be all to the good.
This month’s topic engaging the Garden Designers Roundtable-sculpture in the landscape. Like any form of art, what constitutes sculpture is in the eye of the beholder. An ancient tree, or a specimen espalier can be a sculpture. An uprooted tree stump, a geode, sculpted soil seeded with grass-I am very democratic when it comes to what constitutes sculpture. I truly believe that whatever a passionate gardener chooses to designate as garden sculpture is in fact garden sculpture. The home any gardener makes for a sculpture speaks much to what that sculpture means to them. This particularly imposing bronze sculpture of a bear perched on a beaver’s nest was purchased by a client who loved and appreciated it. The sculpture asked for a landscape to go with. Garden sculpture can be placed wherever, but it needs a home. In this case, a waterfall and pond. A waterfall backdrop comprised of tons of rock. Lots of dwarf evergreens. A raft of old and large tree stumps. A stumpery was a perfect place, a home, for this this sculpture. Sculpture in the landscape needs a carefully and generously designed place to be.
A landscape is a living sculpture. A constantly changing, and evolving sculpture. This sculpture was carved by a person from a natural material-stone. This hand carved stone bust spent a good deal of the past umpteen years underground. The process of bringing it back into the light? A simple placement on a steel pedestal. In a garden. Into an orderly and linear landscape. This astonishing stone sculpture is all the better, presented with the butterburrs, and the boxwood. The landscape company makes for a living experience. Material. Sculptor. garden. experience. A good and on going experience.
This contemporary sculpture involved regrading and grassing a steep slope. At that steepest moment, we amassed a flock of rocks that held the slope. The relationship of the concrete legs, the steel, and that congestion of rocks-engaging. Interesting.
This classical sculpture is set back in a field of groundcover. Garden sculpture can set the mood in a garden. A garden with atmosphere is a lovely garden indeed. A simple space provides breathing room. The figure is integrated into the shade garden under the canopy of an old beech.
There is no need for a garden sculpture to be big, expensive, or otherwise imposing. The only requirement? Great sculpture invites interaction. Reaction. engagement. This very small lead frog organizes a surrounding garden of considerable size. All the color notwithstanding, this diminuitive sculpture organizes one’s experience of this garden. A rich experience-memorable.
There are those containers that I would describe as sculptural. A one of a kind expression. Containers call for a planting that respects that. The containers you choose for your garden-sculptures, each and every one of them. This particular glazed terra cotta container-strikingly textural and of a beautiful color. The blue succulents are similarly textured, but quite contrasting in color. Eaxch element is visually stronger, given the other.
This cast iron dog, one of a pair of bloodhounds forged by Alfred Jacquemart in France in the 19th century, they guard my home. They sit on simple concrete plinths. Kept company by some old picea mucrunulatum, hellebores, hostas, and sweet woodriff, they are firmly planted in my landscape. They have a home that seems natural and fitting to me. No matter the weather or the season, they successfully engage me day after day. How so? They belong here.
Contemporary sculpture asks for lots of space. Contemporary sculpture to my eye is much about striking graphics. Unusual forms. A serious dialogue. Astonishing materials. Room to view, lots of room to appreciate-they ask for this. The placement of this sculpture in the lawn permits physical as well as visual interaction.
These hand made concrete pots with snake detail are very sculptural. The planting? Simple. Contrasting in texture. The care any gardener takes in the presentation and planting of a pot makes a statement about sculpture. The care you take placing and siting a sculpture says much about what that sculpture means to you. Anything in the garden that means much-fuss.
This hand carved limestone gothic portrait, once a part of a wall, is unrelated in period and origin to the old half round plinth. I placed one on top of the other. My client split them up, via a mirrored wall. Her instinct was to separate them, over the existing landscape. Her placement took the appreciation of that sculpture to a level that was unexpected, and exciting.
This sculpture involving urethane spheres studded with plastic grass is placed in an elaborately constructed 19th century French urn. That placement- delightfully unexpected. The attending modern containers with sculpturally styled plantings provide a lot of company to that nervy plastic expression. I can imagine a lot of lively conversation over that sculpture.
Placing sculpture in the landscape is all about providing a really good home. A believable home. A provocative home. A caring home. An unexpected home. A visually challenging home. No gardener places a sculpture in a landscape that does not mean much to them. Should you be a gardener with a sculpture you wish to place in your landscape, be clear about what that sculpture means to you. Make a meaningful and thoughtful place for it, in your landscape. A clear and deliberate placement makes a strong statement.
I invite you to read how other members of the Garden Designers Roundtable approach art and sculpture in the landscape. They are a lively and articulate group of landscape designers.
Deborah Silver is a landscape and garden designer whose firm, Deborah Silver and Co Inc, opened its doors in 1986. She opened Detroit Garden Works, a retail store devoted to fine and unusual garden ornament and specialty plants, in 1996. In 2004, she opened the Branch studio, a subsidiary of the landscape company which designs and manufactures garden ornament in a variety of media. Though her formal education is in English literature and biology, she worked as a fine artist in watercolor and pastel from 1972-1983. A job in a nursery, to help support herself as an artist in the early 80’s evolved into a career in landscape and garden design. Her landscape design and installation projects combine a thorough knowledge of horticulture with an artist’s eye for design. Her three companies provide a wide range of products and services to the serious gardener. She has been writing this journal style blog since April of 2009.