The Home Stretch

I have not kept up as well as I would like with my spring plantings, but I am happy to report that this planting has prospered, and seems to be handling the fall well. I have not been here since late June, so I know this planting has been looked after.  I had the chance to stop by, given a landscape call in the area.  None of the purple dahlias in this mixed annual bed have succumbed to the mildew I have seen everywhere.  I expected nothing less; my client is an afficianado and expert grower of dahlias.  I have no other client that I would saddle with the time and trouble in a planting this extensive with lots of dahlias.  I did lend him a hand; the dahlias are companion planted with silver licorice, cirrus dusty miller, grey plectanthus and silver dichondra.  This supporting cast can hide trouble.     

The windowbox cardoons have grown considerably.  This box was planted with green and silver plants, punctuated by a few flowering plants.  It still represents that intent, going on 4 months later.

The rear yard fountain cistern is surrounded by boxwood-this will be a good look over our long winter.  For the summer, a mix of Euphorbia diamond frost, and white polka dot plant has grown in around that boxwood like a warm stole.  Both of these plants are so airy growing, they do not impact in any way the health of the boxwood.  This is a place that a permanent fixture in this landscape has an interpretation particular to a given season.  Next year, who knows what will take its place.  Given that it is mid September, I am pleased with this healthy and billowy look.  

The rear terrace with a view to that fountain has lots of pots.  The shade is fairly dense.  I usually plant these pots with a green and white scheme.  This year, a little dash of black/purple.  A coleus, a black calocasia, and some wine purple spikes provide a little out of the ordinary interest.  

This was my favorite planting of the season.  I knew this the second I finished it.  The wine spikes usually tapped for the centerpiece of a planting-I planted them on the edge.  The green and white caladiums I knew would round out.  Between the black spikes-a spiky tropical button fern.  It looked great today, with the morning sun filtering through the caladium leaves.  In my opinion, this is a very good looking pot.  The plants did all the work, you know.     

A grouping of pots with individual plantings have for all intents and purposes become a single entity.  The entire group seems to be coexisting peaceably.  I really like how the plants in wild places sort out their differences, and grow in to one another.  The conical boxwood sandwiched in between an explosion of lime coleus and a black calocasia underplanted with inky fingers coleus-this is a good scene.  There is a natural feeling here that contrasts with the stark lines and color of the vintage chaise.    

This intimate grouping of mid-century modern chairs designed by Richard Schultz has leafy company.  I could live here. 

This post needs to acknowledge my client’s passion for dahlias.  He winters over the tubers.  He does not plant them out until late June.  Every year I shrug, sure that they will never come to anything.  Every year, in the late summer, they come roaring skyward.  This very modest patch in a small garden is entirely devoted to dahlias. 

I will confess I buy giant dahlias for him when I see them looking good.  As much as he loves growing them, I can’t resist bringing one home for him.

He grew this gift of a white dinnerplate dahlia to perfection.  He knows what these showgirls require, and he delivers.  The best part-how much he nurtures, respects, and enjoys his garden.  Every inch of his property is taken care of.  He has tomatoes and eggplants on the driveway-thriving in pots.  He has rosemary plants-we winter them for him.  He loves his European ginger, his snakeroot, his hydrangeas, and his hellebores.   He is plain and simple-a gardener.      

Green and white with a dash of purple-this years planting scheme.  Does this mean the dahlia patch has only purple and white dahlias-absolutely not. The dahlia patch is not about a color scheme-it is about a love for dahlias.  Mid September, that patch is thriving.  Every place on his small urban property-thriving.  What does this say to me?  Gardener in residence.

Monday Opinion: The Drawing

No matter how well I communicate an idea about a landscape to a client, I need a drawing.  The drawing is a bird’s eye view of a property which in no way communicates the sculptural volumes that might bring an idea to life in a dimensional way, but it formalizes my thinking.  It helps me explain my idea, and all of the details of that idea.  For me, the drawing and the creating happen at the same time. Some clients take the drawing of the design, and install it themselves, or contract with someone else to do the work.  All of this is fine with me. I could make models, but I have too many design projects at any given time to make that idea practical. And truth be told, most clients want to feel comfortable that what they are getting has value, beauty, sensibility, and inspiration.  They want this much more than a drawing.    

A drawing is a series of lines put to a piece of paper.  A definition of a drawing includes the signature on a check, a couture designer’s gestural record of shape, a graph tracking any number of trends, the doodling most people do while on the phone.  It can be utterly simple, or amazingly complicated. Architectural drawings are incredibly detailed.  They are a map which details how a structure should be built.  Topological surveys, mortgage surveys, drainage plans, installation details-these are all highly technical drawings from which an idea can come to life.  There are drawing made by Picasso whose lines can be counted on one hand.  There are drawings by Albrecht Durer that involve thousands of intersecting and overlapping lines.

These drawings are not technical in nature.  They are emotionally generated, and emotionally charged.  A pencil, a charcoal or pastel stick-some line drawings are not so much about the shapes the lines describe, as the pressure placed on the medium.  My drawings are a skeletal and dispassionate version of a sculpture which I passionately believe will live and breathe.  Not art.  They are a means by which I can better express an idea.

I do all of my drawings by hand.  I find the time I spend creating the drawing influences the design.  There are times when in the process of constructing an angle or a space-I have a different idea.  I value an idea, no matter what time it appears. These hand drawn plans may not be as perfectly crisp or accurate as a drawing assisted by a computer,  but my hand made gestures speak volumes to a client.  There is a person governing that hand. 

I am very stubborn about taking the time for a plan to develop.  I like to see homes or buildings out of the ground before I commit myself to a plan.  Most of the the time I spend designing happens in my mind, in the course of the day.  Just before I wake up.  Monica has learned to distinguish those times when I am looking at her, but actually somewhere else.  I rarely put a pencil to a piece of paper before I have reviewed and determined a point of view in the abstract. 

Ideas that help to design a garden can come from lots of places.  A picture in a magazine.  A comment from a friend.  A favorite color.  I subscribe to lots of design magazines.  I read them twice, then I rip out any page that still appeals to me.  I don’t need to know what I like about anything I see at that moment.  The time will come when that picture will inspire a particular design.  But nothing helps my creative process so much as the drawing.  It does not need to be finished or fancy.  It needs to have rhythm.  I cannot explain this very well, but what you are thinking needs to come out of the end of your pencil as a drawing.  No gardener plants ideas.  They plant living things appropriate to or in celebration of an idea. 

None of my clients like to draw for me.  Sometimes I insist.  I learn more about how a client feels about a space by seeing their drawing of it, than I do talking to them about it.  Their drawings are about clearly expressing spaces and shapes; this is an art of a different sort.  In just a few lines, they express to me what they hope for, what they need, what they expect.

People’s signatures interest me.  They are usually highly individual, and beautifully gestural.  A signature is a drawing that has been developed and practiced over a long period of time.  Most signatures are very confident, and sculptural.  Your garden bears your signature-so does mine.  I might not really be aware of what my signature is-who thinks throught the process of signing a check or document?  I do what I do-you do what you do. That expression-it is a drawing you could do at a moment’s notice.  A design for a landscape should have that same immediacy and confidence.  My advice-do not second guess your signature.  Just sign, and build.

My drawings sign-sorry- assign spaces, places, accessibility, movement, rhythm.  They are simple maps, detailing what I hope will be a good journey.  That line drawing at some point will become something else entirely.  A place to live.  A place to grow food.  A place to cut flowers. A place to be.  A place to entertain friends and family.  A mini-soccer field.  A place to relax and read.  

My advice?  Blow up your mortgage survey to a scale you can easily study.  Draw the beds and spaces you have, the best you can.  Draw your ideas and dreams over top of what is existing.  Look at the picture this makes.  Make lots of marks with your pencil.  Draw lots of lines before you ever put your shovel to the dirt.  Your drawing may turn out to matter more than you ever thought possible.

At A Glance: A Certain Dahlia

Michael and Mattias came Saturday for the presentation of their landscape master plan.  There was very intense conversation for two hours.  But they thanked me in advance; the meeting was preceded with a half dozen white eggplant, and a half dozen red peppers from their garden.  Ant the most amazing dahlia bloom is has ever been my pleasure to meet.  The color, the structure, the size, the luminosity-well, see for yourself.

Night Light

Rob has been putting in some very long days.  He doesn’t quit until the daylight is gone.  He sent me an entire group of pictures about his 9 o’clock dinner hour.  Rural France is not in any way lit like my neighborhood at night.  The light is intense, but just every so often.  The dark is punctuated by the occasional light.  I cannot imagine having dinner outdoors only inches from the road.  Public American landscapes are all about medians, curbs, and most importantly, big spaces.  Big segregated spaces.  Rural French landscapes are about a very close relationship between travel, commerce, farming, neighborhood, and the natural landscape.  It is a small country.  Dinner on the edge of the road-a unique experience.         

 The lamp illuminating the striped tablecloths-just enough light to make the space cozy.  I have mixed feelings about landscape lighting.  Lighting for safety’s sake is a given.  Stairs, doorways and sidewalks are spaces that get used regularly at night need to be well lit.  Lighting the landscape is so easy to over do. The best light-natural light. Sunny, overcast, early late, stormy-natural light is much about climate and weather.  What comes next is about artifice.  How much artifice is too much, and how much is just right?       

Up lighting gives every element of the landscape a theatrical look-as in the the drawings and paintings Degas did of dancers in the theatre.  Down lighting, expertly done, believably replicates the the light of the moon.  In this picture, all of ther light is coming from the top down, or from the side.  Up lit trees have a very theatrical and unnatural look to them.  I light my pumkins in my pots at Halloween-it gives them an extra measure of holiday creepiness.  At the Christmas holiday, I pull out all the lighting stops.  We have more dark than light, and our natural light is likely to be about grey and overcast.  

Rob’s pictures are provocative.  Perhaps uneven lighting creates an exciting atmosphere.  Very bright street lighting is about providing safe passage, but has that carnival, rather than theatrical look to it.  Black shapes, and long shadows are visually striking. The CFL’s-or compact flourescents are cool to the point of being cold.  The CFL’s,  in combination with incandescent lighting-the French are doing such innovative work with combining the two.     

Artificial light is not one bit like the light from the sun.  This is not to say that one source of light is better than another.  Just different.  This lit doorway has a lonely but starkly beautiful look.  This is a landscape experience of a different sort.  Rob has a big interest in lighting.  I am sure I will see the results of this evening in France somewhere is his winter and holiday lighting schemes.   Rob’s late evening in France was as much about the light as the place.  The deserted streets in the evening is much different than in my neighborhood, where there is activity almost all night long.  Every season I vow to spend more time thinking about how a landscape can be beautifully lit.  This is not to say I do not consider the lighting-I have a contractor whose point of view and skill I really like.     

The warm light illuminating this building comes from within.  The green walls appear all the more blue, given the compact fourescent light from the street. The green walls, blue shutters, and orange light-vivid.

This is the mayor’s office.  The warm yellow orange light from the interior spilling out into the street is comforting.  The contrast of light and dark is graphic and moody. 

The sign designating the Rue Pietonneire is still visible, even in low light at the end of the day.  Haunting, this.