A New House

I have a client with a new house under construction.  Now that the structure is out of the ground, I wanted to see the property.  We have had what is starting to feel like endless rain-the construction site of course was mud and more mud.  But that doesn’t faze me much-I am too busy looking at the spaces the house creates, and envisioning what could be there.  On the left of this picture, a three car garage.  On the right the large open space will be the front door.  I am unwilling to design a landscape from a drawing of a house-I need to see the mass of it.  I admire how an architect can visualize something which does not yet exist.  But since the landscape has to come last anyway, I would just as soon look at the house before I design.  The house is the major feature of a landscape;  seeing a building sitting on a pile of dirt makes that very clear.   

I will have to come back, once the soil from the excavated basement is hauled away. Right now I do not have the best sense of the lay of the land.  The back of the house faces a lake; preserving the views to the water will be an important aspect of the rear yard landscape.   

The lot had been empty for many years; this is the first house to be built on it.  This meant that there was very little in the way of existing plant material.  Luckily some mature and good looking plant material exists on one of the three lot lines.  A mulberry tree I will most likely take down.  I would guess it grew from a seed dropped by a bird.  I am fairly easy going about trees that drop twigs seeds and fruit, but the fruit of a mulberry is intolerably messy.  This picture was taken from a third story tower; the neighboring landscape is mature, and well looked after.  Unlike many lake communities that prohibit plant material over a certain height that might obstruct the view of the water, the landscapes in this community have been planted with privacy in mind.

The view straight out from the tower is spectacular.  There will be a good reason to walk up here and see what the weather over the lake looks like every day.  A natural feature as spectacular as this is well worth building around.

The neighbor on the opposite side has one of the most beautiful stands of mature carpinus I have ever seen.  I would never have thought they would tolerate living in a windy exposed spot, much less thrive.  My client will have a borrowed view in this direction that is quite beautiful.

It seems as though the rear yard slopes quite a bit before reaching the water. There is also quite a drop to the water from the seawall.  Dealing with the changes of grade – the sculpture of the ground- will be necessary ahead of any planting.  My instinct tells me how the ground plane is handled will be a very important factor in the landscape.    

Did I have a good sense of what the property would feel like before I saw it-no.  The experience of nature bears little resemblance to the experience of a technical drawing.  The things that make each property unique cannot so easily be represented in a drawing. I do make design suggestions for properties I have not seen, but I am uneasy doing that.  I have to see what the land feels like.

Planting For Events

We do plenty out of the ordinary garden plantings- given a special event.  Planning outdoor parties, and timely planting for outdoor parties don’t always go hand in hand.  Whenever a client asks for white tulips blooming for a mid-May outdoor wedding reception, I sigh.  Try as I may, I am no better at predicting when the Maureen tulips will be at their white peak than I am at predicting the outcome of a horse race.  Suffice it to say that I planted hundreds of pots of all kinds of spring flowering bulbs hoping some would be in bloom for our spring fair-not a one bloomed for the fair.  I have also stuck cut white tulips in water tubes into tulip foliage in the ground.  This is not cheating-this is going the distance to make an event visually memorable.  I had 3 weddings scheduled this spring- two on June 4 and and one June 19.  Several clients had graduation parties they planned to hold outside in mid June.  The spring did little to help me out; no end of cold and wet weather kept me from planting until I had no choice but to go ahead, and hope for the best.  Everything seemed to work out fine.  Late May and June is not an optimal time for a garden party in my zone, unless there are a lot of bulbs, and spring flowering annuals and perennials in place.  This client was hosting a wedding reception at home.  The Belgian oak boxes asked for a different kind of planting to celebrate that event.    

The fact is that no perennial, bulb, or annual planting will perform spot on and perfectly for an event.  I encourage my clients to use cut flowers to add to what is already going on. The florist’s rose known as Hollywood is the best white rose it has ever been my pleasure to use.  Though I order them up from my cut flower supplier, for all the world, they look and open like garden roses.  I order them to arrive several days in advance of the event, so I have time to condition them.  I recut the stems on a slant, and place them in room temperature water in a cool spot.  This encourages them to take up water;  proper conditioning can make cut flowers last much longer.  My plan was to add cut flowers to the annual planting. 

 I had planted the boxes with top grafted willow topiaries, and white caladiums.  Given a wedding reception, I stuffed stems of the roses, and white montecasino into the soil around the caladiums.  The pots looked dressed to the nines.  Hollywood roses last a long time out of water.  If the air temperature is cool, I stick the stems directly into the soil.  If the weather is hot, I may tube the roses.  Floral supply places carry pointed plastic tubes with perforated rubber caps that permit the stem of a flower to be pushed into an individual “vase”.  A rose can drink this small amount of water in a matter of hours, but often that is long enough.  The pointed end of the tube can be poked into the soil.  Once the reception was over, the roses are removed, and the caladiums grow on into the summer.   

The containers on the balcony were planted with white flowering annuals especially for this event.  A pair of white mandevillea vines were conspicuously green, but mandevillea likes heat to flower.  By June 19, we had had but a few really hot days, and night temperatures in the 50’s. But other plants made a little white statement. 

This box with its own antique scrolled iron panel is very friendly to a mandevillea planting.  The niche is warm, and protected from wind.  The vine will have plenty of places to wind around, and grow.  It will climb to the top of this panel in no time.  The placement was somewhat dictated by a giant downspout right in the middle of the wall.  Whomever designed this detail had utility on their mind-and not much else.  But as this balcony does not get any use in the winter,  the container helps to solve a visual problem. 

White salvia has never been a favorite.  But the new Cambridge series has more substantial and brighter white flowers.  The white Gallery dahlias have large flowers, as do the white supertunias.  Some white flowers I stay away from.  The blooms on white geraniums are so quickly spoiled by rain.  Plant them if you plan to wait on them regularly.

I have always liked white cleome, but this dwarf version called Spirit white is completely at home in a container.  Soon there will be white angelonia, and lanai white trailing verbena.  In another month, it will be the perfect accompaniment for a garden event.  June the 19th, it looked perfectly fresh and lively.

There are lots of great choices in white flowers-everyone has their favorites.  The not so often used white polka dot plant is a great supporting cast plant-it is best in shade.   It looks great with white caladiums. If you want to use it in full sun, as it is planted here with white dahlias, be sure it gets enough water.   Variegated licorice does a similarly wonderful thing for white flowers; its cool blue grey foliage makes white look especially crisp, fresh-and very festive.

A Favorite Day

It could be my most favorite day of the gardening year has nothing to do with me.  In early summer every year, Melissa comes to prune, weed, and otherwise do whatever my garden needs to look great. She and her sister Mindy run a business-M and M Flowers.  Their company ought to be named M and M Landscape Management.  These two women do a lot more than plant flowers.  Their idea of landscape maintenance is within a stone’s throw of perfection. They are expert in plant care.  They can spot a problem instantly-whether it be a tree, a flowering shrub, or a boxwood. They can replace, renovate, or add to just about anything in a garden.     

The level at which they are able to prune and otherwise maintain a woody landscape is unsurpassed-truly.  They are a gifted and utterly professional pair supported by well trained and efficient crews.  The day they come to trim my landscape-my most favorite day of the gardening year.  

Their formal pruning begins and ends with the horizon.  They drive stakes into the ground, and run lines utterly level.  Completely and unequivocably level.  My landscape is criss-crossed with level lines before any cutting takes place.  My job is to get all of my boxwood to grow as best I can.  The day Melissa comes to trim, I know I will see the results of my work, growing.  Boxwood and yew hedges take years to grow into a shape.  For this, I have patience.

Eight hours later, the 6 of them are gone.  The yard is spotless.  For one day every year, I have no weeds.  The boxwood and Hicks yews speak to a geometry close to my heart. The densiformis yews are loosely pruned, and look lush. 

Though my front yard slopes down to the sidewalk, the boxwood are absolutely level with the horizon.  I cannot really explain  why these precisely rendered shapes opposed to a natural slope are so dear to me.  Everyone has their own personal and specific idea of beauty-this is mine.    

The sidewalk level boxwood has been in two years.  They are just beginning to represent an idea about a change of level.  You can see in this photograph that the upper level of boxwood is precisely shaped.  The lower level needs another year or two to catch up.  That pruning is soft, as the growth is not there yet.  I have little patience for most things.  But for a landscape growing, I have nothing but patience.

Early this Sunday morning I was busy looking, and taking pictures.  Saturday after work I walked everywhere, but was too tired to photograph.  Were the work of doing this maintenance and pruning to fall to me, my landscape would never look like this. Melissa is much better at this than I. Better yet, she comes to shovel me out and get my landscape in shape at the end of my grueling spring season.  She puts enormous energy and time to my property when I am just about spent. 

Needless to say, my tour this morning delighted me. My work is completely focused on all of my clients-via the landscape company, and the shop. I have an idea to provide anyone who approaches me with a gardening experience that is beautiful, and successful.  This is hard work, and rewarding work.  The past six weeks have been work at an incredibly intense level.  This Sunday morning, my place looked beautiful.  Thanks, Melissa.  

My rose garden is not anything that would rate a picture in a book, but it pleases me plenty.  The space is really all about boxwood hedges, and Thuja Nigra.  Melissa deadheaded the roses, put the climbing rose arms blown down by wind back up on the wall, and weeded the gravel. She staked the roses.  She trimmed the curves in the arborvitae, and properly trimmed the boxwood.   My take on my visit this morning?  I do so hope heaven looks exactly like this. 
This view is much more about an answer to my very busy life, than a statement about formal landscapes.  This serene view satisfies what I need from my garden.  What you need from your landscape-this is the first question.

I was out in the middle of the street this morning, dancing around.  Taking it all in-taking pictures.  Thanks so much Melissa.

A Deep V


My neighbor down the street has quite the landscape going on.  I stopped by yesterday when I saw she was in the front yard working.  I told her I really liked the garden.  I will say she did not quit edging and weeding while we talked-how like a gardener.  But I do think she was pleased by my interest.  Gardeners are born with the willingness to share gene.  Hers is a small but very striking garden.  Trees and shrubs are entirely symmetrically placed on axis to the front door-as is a wood arbor keeping a pair of red climbing roses aloft.  But the most visually compelling element are the pair of triangular shaped beds that make for a deep V, intersected by the walk to the front door.  

I will say I have never seen landscape beds cut in this shape.  These diagonal lines are very strong and exciting.  The formal geometry of my garden is much more traditionally and quietly laid out in squares and rectangles.  These are bed lines that zoom, zoom. How they looked immediately made me long for a project where I might experiment with this shape. 

The gardens are a mix of perennials and annuals-I see a lot of confidence here in plant choices-it is clearly a collection of those things she likes best. Red flowers are a dominant theme-there are red roses, geraniums, and a pair of continus on either side of the front porch. We did talk a little about it.  She told me that working in the garden was a great stress reliever.  But I could tell she gardened for the sheer joy of it.

It turned out that she was a docent in my garden years ago, when it was on the Pontiac garden tour; we had plenty to talk about.  I do so appreciate that she has turned the better part of her front yard into a garden.  I drive by twice every day, so I can keep up with what is going on.  I told her the neighborhood was lucky to have her.  We have our share of abandoned houses with the grass a foot long; this I hate to see.  

Her garden makes me feel good.