The Painted Border


Repainting this concrete floor has gone on for over a week now.  I am hoping to finish up quick.  A container from England is sitting in customs; we need to be ready for that delivery. The four color green ground of this painted rug needed a border.  The base color is a dark chocolate.  Though I knew where I wanted to go color wise, I needed a texture that was unlike the texture of the ground.  Contrast is not strictly confined to color.  Though I had the best time signing the floor with loops of paint in a steady stream from my stir stick, I wanted a different texture for the border.  A clear definition of the edge.

The border is entirely painted with drips.  Those of you who read this blog regularly know dirt follows me around.  It is always under my fingernails, and in my sock tops.  As a painter, I know anything I wear will sooner or later show evidence of the painting process.  I am likely to have paint on my shoes, my hands my face, and my hair.  It is a life condition-I have no other explanation.  Paint drips usually land on me.  My plan-the paint would drip on the floor, and not so much on me.   

I was after a gravelly texture.  It seems like it ought to be the simplest thing in the world to get paint to drip-it happens unbidden all the time.  But regular drips, not too fast drips, not too big drips-this involves paint at a perfect consistency.  Thick enough to permit multiple drops, but thin enough to deposit small and civilized gravel-like shapes.  This part was work.  It will be a good thing when this floor is covered with the great things we have coming for spring.  My globs, lines and blips tell the tale.  3/8 inch and down decomposed granite is remarkably uniform.  My painting is anything but.    

But a paint card laid is a paint card played-there is no mopping up.  I could work another two weeks to erase any evidence of my hand, but why would I want to?  My approach to landscape design is formal-whether the result is traditional or contemporary.  I favor landscape design that emphasizes structure and utility.  Distilled design that makes a clear statement.  But I do understand that the most formal design on paper is subject to wind, weather, grade, hardiness, and all manner of unforseen caprice.     

It may be what I like the best about this painting are those capricious places. A loop of green paint might find its way out there, should the muscles fueling my hand unexpectedly flex.  An inadvertent flex might end up being my favorite part.  My advice?  If you want to paint a floor, make a plan, lay it out, prepare for any eventuality, and then go for broke. The same applies to a garden.  Plan your heart out.  Then go for broke. 

Those irrepressible blips are a personal signature.  When I sign a check, or a document, or a letter; when I design a landscape, I sign my name on the dotted line. My signature on the dotted line is not a guarantee of perfection-it is a vote of my confidence in my work.  What I do confidently is anything but perfect.  But it might be interesting.

The Border

I have been painting the border of painted concrete floor in the shop the past few days; the word “border” is on my mind. The language of the garden-a special language that crosses over national boundaries and may span centuries.  To whit-a verge refers to an edge in the garden, deeply cut with an edging spade.  A verge also refers to the shoulder of a road.  This is primarily a British term.  I greatly admire British gardens and gardeners; I equally like their use of language.  When I am edging a bed, the idea that I am creating a verge lends great dignity and creates excitement about what amounts to plain hard work.  I know how to amuse myself, when I am working.  A well cut verge is not so unlike a precipice that you could fall into, and break an ankle.  A passionately cut and serious edge on a bed.  Sharp clean edges make for a beautiful presentation. I fancy the grass border pictured above on this walk qualifies as a shoulder of a modest road-a grass verge.  The grass also forms a border for a luxuriant bed of variegated Krossa Regal hosta.  This plant is so textural and lyrical in appearance, a quiet setting would seem to display it to best advantage.  In this case, a border of grass.

This hedge of limelight hydrangea, bordering a hedge of lilac, itself bordered by grass, borders a road.  A border? A border is a line or a mass that visually indicates a boundary.  This border of three plants in three heights forms a boundary.  It screens a private garden from a public thoroughfare. This landscape border is on the verge of spilling over onto the roadway.  OK, I have a very active imagination.   

This boxwood, punctuated by crabapple standards creates a border which separates the public presentation of the landscape from private garden.  There is no reason why the landscape which faces the street need be an entirely public landscape.  This border creates a boundary.  Should you drive by, you are visually privy to what exists planted on the streetside of the boxwood.  Should you be an invited guest, you are also privy to what is planted on the house side of the border.  I like the idea of making friends especially welcome with a landscape experience all their own.    

My fountain brings me great pleasure.  A concrete affair faced in Valders stone, it needs a border that separates it from the grass.  Grass clippings in the pool-not good.  A border of herniaria replicates the look of the grass, but needs no mowing.  The Valders stone is a border which protects the herniaria from the chlorine in the fountain.  Some borders are about visual definition; some borders are about protection. 

This formally clipped yew hedge is a border clearly delineating this driveway. This is a dicey move in our zone; road salt can severely damage yews.  Should you be thinking of bordering your drive with an evergreen, look at your salt habit.  The junipers planted on this slope, so beautiful in their winter color, a spectacularly generous border bewtwen the lawn plane, and the driveway plane.  This simple border tells you everything you need to know about the elevation of the house. 

Perennial borders-no one does them better than the Brits.  My zone 4to5 makes me reluctant to invest too much in a perennial border.  I had lots of space here-so half of it went to a hydrangea border.  The hydrangeas, rugged and dependable.   Given the design of the border, the lawn reads as a road, a generous path to somewhere.  In this case, a pergola.  Yet to come, a focal point at the end of this grass verge which would encourage travel.  I think one of the most important elements of landscape design involves how to encourage people to travel through, and experience that landscape.  

This low and so beautifully constructed wall is a border, a retaining wall, between one level and the next.  A change of grade asks for a boundary.  A change of grade requires steps.  I like to signal that one level is ending, and another level is to come.  I like moves in a landscape that are clear and easy to read.  Clear and confident moves are beautiful to my eye.    A crisp verge-how I love this.

A Few Good Things


There are a few good things that help me survive the winter.  What are my top ten?  If you live in a climate like mine, you know how hard it is to keep warm.  The first 50 degree day in spring will feel like a heatwave, but today a 7 degree day and a 50 degree workplace is chilly.  Good gear is essential. I have no problem finding fleece, a warm down jacket, a decent headband hat and gloves, but keeping my feet warm has always been a headache.  I’ve tried them all-moonboots (remember those?? Unbelievably, you can still buy them.), insulated boots of every description.  The only boot ever to keep my feet warm-sheepskin lined boots.  I bought mine a size larger than my shoe size, and I wear them without socks.  Socks make them fit too tight; any tight fit is a sure route to cold feet. I trade them out for warm and dry sheepskin lined slippers when I get home, courtesy of my number two best defense against the winter-my radiators.  My old house has a steam fired boiler.  My heat is even, and makes no noise, beyond an occasional clanking.  I had the chance to switch to forced air heat when the original boiler gave out-I am so glad I resisted.  Steam heat is such a comfort. My boots spend the night on the radiator.  My slippers spend the day there, and are warm and ready when I get home.  If this sounds silly and self-indulgent, you are right. 

A friend bought me a Kuerig coffee make last winter just before I had a knee replaced.  This machine is a winter luxury.  I can brew a single cup of fresh coffee, whenever I please.  Ordinarily a two cup in the morning person, I like a cup of coffee on a midafternoon midwinter day.  My routine might seem a little involved, but in the winter, I have time.  I brew a cup of plain hot water, which heats up my cup.  I put a generous amount of milk in the bottom, and brew a large cup of French roast coffee.  It is good to think there is something about winter that is luxurious-I have hot milky coffee in the afternoon.

Time-the winter is a good source of free time.  Time to think, muse, read, rest.  Just knowing I could take a nap in the afternoon is a luxury.  Spring, summer, fall and early winter, every day is jam packed with work.  Some days it is a wonder that I stay awake all the way through dinner. My office has an airport style lounge couch-If I had a mind to, I have a place to snooze.  Not that I do, but I could.

Having a winter season is a very good thing.  I do not think I would adapt very well to a profession demanding the same level of involvement all year round.  I am glad I am not weeding and deadheading, or watering pots.  I am glad the snow is too deep to walk in the yard-who knows what I might see out there that would make me wring my hands.  I like being too busy, and then too unavailable to get busy. 

Certain scents recall the garden-I like being able to reminisce with a little spritz.  The garden provides me with every imaginable smell during the season-part of the worst of the winter is that lack of olefactory stimulation.  My friend Julie bought me a bottle of Dirt cologne  for Christmas.  It is called dirt, no kidding.  It has been engineered to provide a substantial whiff, and quickly fade.  Though I was dubious, it did in fact smell like the most delicious compost I have ever smelled.  How do they do that?  I recommend it, should you be a gardening shut in right now. 

Google images-the winter is a perfect time to bleep that up.  Try dahlias.  Try English gardens, antique garden ornament, vintage washtubs, labyrinths, heirloom seeds, stainless steel garden tools, jute twine, ornamental trees, brick, hellebores, garden benches, groundcover, contemporary Dutch landscape design, landscape lighting, Sceaux, belvederes, crop circles, succulents, Longwood Gardens, topiary, hardy roses, asparagus roots-you get the idea.  Should you see an image you like, investigate further.  It’s snowing outside-take the time; click on.  Learn something new.

Those plants that might tolerate my hot dry and poorly lit house-I call these house plants.  Make the rounds-check out what is available.  Every one of your local greenhouses would welcome your winter visit.  What is out there that you might grow? If you are like me, and welcome the winter off from the responsibility of making something grow, the opportunity to say no is a good thing.  Look at those pothos, and just say no. Save yourself-for the alyssum.

Books-my winter is about researching and reading them.  I buy new books. This one-Private Gardens of Connecticut-is really good.  I make a point of rereading whatever of my books I can- every winter.  I remember a lot of what I read, but every time I get an old book down off the shelf, I see what is pictured or written there in a different way.  My books are the strongest evidence that I have that I have evolved, and continue to evolve, as a gardener.  The words are the same.  The pictures are in exactly the same sequence as they were 5 years ago.  But what I see when I read changes over time.  Is it snowing?  Reread.

One of the very best things about winter-having time to watch the corgi channel.

A Signature

We are into the maelstrom phase of the spring redo of the shop.  It seems like everything has been moved, washed, and otherwise made ready to make friends with what what is on its way here.  Ourt first container from Europe-in customs in Romulus as I write.  Some months ago I wrote about a concrete floor that I had painted to resemble a “tapis vert”.  Lierally translated from the French, a tapis vert is a green carpet.  It is to my mind the most elemental version of a garden.  Every garden bears the signature of the garden maker.  A group of plants are arranged, have a form, that comes from human hands.  Though a wild meadow studded with poplars may not seem to have a signature, it does.  Certain and specific species thrive there.  The placement of the trees has everything to do with how seed is dispersed.  The most natural wild place has a signature, no matter how subtle.  Milo was a baby when I painted the floor with my representation of a lawn edged in gravel; he could not wait for the barricades to come down so he could go lie on it.   

Five years has taken its toll.  Lots of traffic from both people and objects had dulled the colors.  There were places where the paint had simply worn away.  Since spring is all about fresh, a fresh take on the floor seemed in order.  Moving everything to the sidelines was a big job, as was a thorough cleaning.  The paint needs every chance it can get to stick.  Howard decided to pitch in and help Pam with this. 

The floor got washed twice, and hand dried, in an effort to remove as much grime as possible.  The cleaning of this building is a full time job.  Dirt, plants and water get tracked all over.  Last time, I painted with floor with Benjamin Moore exterior 100% acrylic paint in a satin finish.  Acrylic paint is much harder than latex; the paint finish is washable, but not too shiny.  This time, I decided to use the acrylic version manufactured by Porter Paint.  We use this brand on all our painted furniture that goes outdoors, and on the extira board panels in the Jackie boxes we make.  Porter paint is a paint of choice for sign painters.  It is extremely durable outdoors.  This floor gets plenty of abuse-every muddy or wet day in every season, someone is bringing what’s on the ground across this floor.  Durability is important. 

What particular green to use as a base coat-I spent plenty of time stewing over that.  As the previous painting featured a green leaning towards yellow, I decided to change to a grass green.  Fern green.  A green not yellow, not blue.  Just green.  You cannot tell the temperature from this picture; the building is cold this time of year.  Big and drafty and a fortune to heat, we keep the temp down and out coats on-usually somewhere between 50 and 55.  This means the paint dries slowly, but I cannot imagine taking on a project like this any other time of year.   

The chocolate border is a paint color called “afternoon tea”.  How appropriate to the time of year.  Have you ever picked a paint color that had a name you did not like?  I haven’t either.  The person whose job it is to name paint colors-they must be bursting at the seams with ingenuity, and endowed with a stellar vocabulary.  Two base coats were applied-this part took 3 days.  Letting the paint dry enough is essential.  I do like to apply a second coat as the first coat is just barely shy of being dry.  I believe this makes the top layer stick better.   

The texture of the green ground the first time around came from a series of stokes meant to have a grassy feel.  I am sure I applied 3 additional colors over the ground.  Ths time I had something different in mind.  I wanted to apply the paint as if it were being written rather than painted.  This meant thinning the paint down until it ran a bit.  All of the paint was applied with a paint stir stick, not a brush. 

My paint stick was just inches above the surface while I was writing-this was a tough position to maintain for long.  But it was great fun.  That paint stick was a cross between a baton, a light stick and a pen.  Sometimes I would draw, sometimes I would sign.  I shook the stick on occasion like Milo shakes off the snow.

What did I write?  Whose names did I sign?  You will have to decide for yourself, come March.

The border-tomorrow.