Renovating A Landscape

In my last essay, I spoke to the importance of determining what you need from your landscape.  This informs a new landscape, a landscape project, or a landscape renovation.  This client has been a client a good many years.  The boxwood parterre planted in the center of a bluestone terrace began life as plants just 15 inches tall.  A central fountain pool featured a small sculpture.  The landscape has changed a lot over the past 20 years.  Some years ago, the stone walls and planters at the far end of the terrace were installed based on a visit my client made to South America.  The fountain sculpture was replaced some years later by a very fine 19th century American cast iron fountain.  There were changes afoot.  All during this time, the boxwood was growing.    

At a certain point, this boxwood parterre had grown so large that the roses began to struggle.  As I have said before, a landscape never comes to maturity and stands pat.  Equality, stasis in the garden-not likely.  The strength of every element ebbs and flows-given the moment and circumstance.  That fluid community that loosely describes a landscape involves a great number of relationships that are always changing.  This part thrives and grows, at the expense of some other part.  A giant tree can pass away, leaving an entire garden community below wringing its hands.         

This beautiful 19th century American cast iron fountain was perfect for this landscape, but much overscaled, and much too important for the existing pool.  My client has a great eye, and thinks things through thoroughly.    Her strength vis a vis the landscape is an ability to plan for the future-one great move at a time.  Last summer, she let me know that the boxwood parterres, grown way out of bounds, had greatly diminished her available terrace space. She was ready to make a change.  Elements in a landscape have a lifespan.   

I think I am a good designer, but I would be telling you a tale if I were to say I designed on my own.  My clients say things, point out this or that-they enable me to design in a meaningful way.  They look at and live with that garden every day.  A designer whose pet look is evident in every project-in my mind, a failure.  Great design is about the results of a relationship, a conversation. My client knew better than I that the boxwood parterre had peaked-what would I suggest?

It was agreed that a larger fountain pool would better do justice to her lovely fountain.  I did manage to persuade her that a properly porportioned surround for her beautiful American fountain should be steel, and finished with degraded paint.  The fountain, and pool surround-we could suggest visually that both elements came together.  Some of the details of that surround we engineered in wood, and sent out to a skilled machinist to make. The steel pool surround weighs just about one ton.     

The paint finish was another story.   I primed the steel.  I sanded the primer off irregularly. I was interested in obtaining a reasonable reproduction of old paint.   

The final paint surface in the studio looked uniformly cream colored, butI knew the winter weather would work its magic. 

The boxwood parterre so long a fixture of this landscape is gone.  The terrace has that spacious feeling back again.  The fountain pool was poured 18 inches below grade; that portion of the pool, and the concrete pedestal for the fountain will be coated with black pool paint.  This will make the water surface reflective.  There is a plan for water lilies in the pool.  One the pots are put out and planted, and the furniture in place, the renovation will be complete.

The fountain surround will get a final paint finish emphasizing the soft grey and cream color you see here on the bowl.       

The last detail-the dark frame you see in the above picture.  A large terrace, or even a driveway, can benefit visually from a change in materials that breaks up the space in an interesting way.  A detail like this also serves to separate the brand new stone surface next to the fountain pool from the original stone.  This deters the eye from making comparisons.  In this regard I need not have worried; Albaugh Masonry did a superb job of making what was new look very much like the original. After I fill this frame with dirt, I am thinking of planting a very low growing plant that would tolerate foot traffic-perhaps Isotoma Fluvialis.  Other choices could be just as good looking.  This moment in a project is such fun.

Designing: The Inviting Landscape

Our spring is taking her own sweet time turning on the lights and opening the door.  Was it not amazing to be outside in the 77 degree weather on Sunday without so much as a bud showing green on any woody plant?  A hoticultural twilight zone is what we have going on now.  That day, my tulips at home breached the surface of the ground, and went on to grow up 4 inches.  They are ready to get going-just like every gardener I know.  If you have issues with your landscape, I am sure you are wringing your hands over which way to go.  What lane will you choose?   

The very first order of business is to think long and hard about what you want your landscape to do for you.  There are lots of choices.  It could provide refuge from a frenetic world or a stressful job.    It could provide an environment for your kids to play.  It could be a laboratory for your tinkering; growing this plant from seed or nurturing that 3″ hellebore seedling can be incredibly rewarding.  Teaching your kids how to grow beans and potatoes-this has to be equally rewarding.  It could provide your family with home grown food. It could satisfy your longing for roses, or your lust for geometry. It could enclose you, provoke you, challenge you, amuse you, or knock you over.  How do you know what you want, and what you need?  Make a list, and edit.  Throw out all the 3 rated wants, and focus on the 8, 9, and 10 rated wants. This essay intends to address only one want-an inviting landscape.  The soft, fluid, and colorful landscape pictured above-inviting.  

Landscapes that invite provide places to be, and places to sit.  Places to linger, places to talk.  Engaging places.  Inviting landscapes accomodate company.  Though this picture says much about structure-a table, a bench, the geometry implied in a series of espaliers in lead pots, what engages the eye the most are the flowers.  Flowers soften structures in friendly way. 

Pots at the back door say first up-here is the door.  Secondly, they say hello, and welcome.  This landscape without the pots would be fairly austere.  Though glass permits a view through, glass in the landscape is not transparent-it reads black from outside.  Should you wish your landscape to invite, soften the appearance of that black glass as best you can.    

A walkway asks for a landscape of interest on both sides.  Avoid a walk with a garden on one side, and lawn on the other.  This makes a walk a border, rather than an experience. Lawn has its place.  Lawn that is utilitarian, and has a beautiful shape is as muich a part of the landscape as the trees.  Treat your guests to a garden tour before they get to the door.   A welcoming landscape encourages guests to arrive at the front door, smiling. 

Terraces are a hard surface of a certain dimension  laid on the ground plane.  They make for a surface that is navigable.  Though stone, brick and gravel are hard surfaces, they are natural surfaces.  They make it easy for groups to congregate.  Your son’s softball team and all of the attending parents, a fundraiser attracting lots of guests, a neighborhood group coming for lunch, a graduation party with friends and family-a terrace gives every guest a firm footing.  Beyond that, a terrace can be landscaped such that people feel welcome.  When I sit down on a terrace, I want plants at eye level.  This makes me feel comfortable, and welcome. 

Some very contemporary landscapes make much of what I would call an immature and shallow call to the idea of alienation.   As if alienation were a goal a gardener should seek. Nature portrayed as alienated-oh please. Nature is involved up close in the lives of all of us.  Great geometry-I am on board with this idea.  Want to make your modern  landscape inviting-introduce a plant element that waves in the breeze.  Great modern landscapes can be as inviting as any cottage garden-just different. Clean, clear, and in motion; this modern terrace is inviting.   

This established landscape is all about providing a comfortable place for friends and family to congregate.       

This new landscape is just about ready for those softening elements that will make this space inviting.

Sunday Opinion: Making An Overture

I know, this Sunday Opinion post is better than 24 hours late-sorry!  My weekend was packed with the best sort of thing- lots of company. That would be people, convening, over the garden.  Our first spring event ever at the shop, in celebration of our 15th anniversary, was a success.  What makes me think this?  We had lots and lots of people come-maybe more people that had ever been in the shop before-all at one time. There wasn’t a parking space for blocks.  Old friends yes, but many new people as well.  We made an invitation, and people came. All the gardeners who came-this made for the best part of the weekend. My friends in the nursery business who brought plants to sell-Bogie Lake Greenhouse, Julie’s Floral, Bordine’s Nursery, and Wiegands Nursery-it was great to have the chance to go public with those relationships so important to me and my business.

Everyone with whom I spoke to especially liked that other garden businesses were welcome and represented at my place.  Why would I leave them out?  Gardeners are willing to drive great distances for great plants.  Gardeners shop everywhere they can.  They know what is out there.  They know who does what well.  This place has swell dwarf conifers, and this place grows stellar geraniums, and this place specializes in water plants, and that place grows great fruit trees, and yet another place specializes in rare perennials or wildflowers. Want a tree-go here.  Should you want to see an important collection of rhododendrons and azaleas, go here.  Other garden businesses are not my enemy, they are my community.

Detroit Garden Works specializes in certain things.  We go to great length to represent fine ornament for garden.  We stock container plants that we love.  We stock plant material for the garden and landscape of size and age.  We are by no means a full service nursery-we specialize in the process of how a garden and landscape gets put together; we specialize in design.  We are good at that service that I call coaching. We do not grow-we buy what is well grown.  You were invited to meet those growers and landscape professionals I treasure. Great landscape professionals-you came to check out my choices.  It made for a great weekend. Many many thanks.

I intended to make that point about community at our spring fair-not one person missed that.  A business has that opportunity-to speak up about what they believe in; I took it.  To that end, a great garden takes a lot of work.  A great garden asks for some shopping around-and a lot of travel.  Should you be interested in doing that great thing on your own, shop at the farmer’s market before I get there.  Go lots of places, trust your eye.  Figure out what matters to you.  Read my essays-I am open about how I design, what I look at, what influences me, where I go-what stymies me. I have not one secret up my sleeve.  I only have my point of view. I promise to never make you work too hard to find out what my point of view is.  Take it, or leave it-no harm, no foul.  Absorb what you have a mind to, and move on.  I might help you-your choice.  It is your garden to own. We are all in this gardening thing together-are we not? Should you catch me in the shop, I am happy to tell you that point of view, face to face, as best I can. 

 A person interested in design on a more comprehensive basis-I do that too.  I can take a new house just finished sitting on a mound of dirt to another level.  Whatever problem I might see that I cannot handle, there is someone in my community I can direct you to.  My idea is about better landscapes.  Gorgeous gardens.  Better communities.   I want to be a part of that.  We are not the be all or end all-we are part of a group that helps people to have a landscape or garden or both-better than they thought they could have it. 

I am keenly interested in landscape and garden design.  However that happens, whether I am involved or not-enchants me.  Great landscapes are much more about thoughtful and enduring relationships than they are about lindens, or classical Italian terra pots.  About saying hello, and happy to meet you.  And then, about listening.  Later-planning.  Later yet, about older and solid relationships.  The lesson of the spring fair?  Any relationship is all about making an overture.  My design clients-I need to be sure I am inviting them to share in that process.  I need to be available.  In the shop-we need to be sure to issue regular invitations.  If you are a gardener, we intend to scoop you up, and invite you over.

I could not be more pleased about the response to my invitation to stop by and celebrate.  Thanks so very much.

At A Glance: The Saturday Fair

What a blast!  We had plenty of evidence today that our garden community is strong.  We had hundreds of visitors-wow!  Thanks to each and every one of you who came out today. A special thanks to you Kathe.  I am very pleased to have had the chance to meet you face to face. Today-a perfect moment.