silver king begonias, watermelon pepperomia and pink polka dot plant- Persian Shield in the center
silver king begonias, watermelon pepperomia and pink polka dot plant- Persian Shield in the center
A small property is uniquely suited for the creation of a landscape that can be fully charged with an atmosphere and aura all its own. In a small space, every gesture is deliberate, apparent, and personal. Nothing escapes a keen eye. The scale of a small space is a scale a single person can easily become part of. The experience of a beautiful small landscape is compelling, as every element is geared towards interaction. A small space can be readily absorbed and savored. This landscape is about the relationships between shapes, both green and not. How the color of the roof, the window boxes, the blue stone walkway, and seasonal plantings is a cohesive visual discussion of color. The mix of materials is interesting, no matter the season. It could be seen in a matter of minutes, but many visitors told me they lingered there an hour or better, enthralled by the experience of it. Four gingkos, under planted with boxwood, frame the view to the window boxes, and gently guide visitors towards the front door, which is hidden from the street.
Large landscapes and parks can be awe inspiring. Even overwhelming. Large landscapes can be exhilarating. If poorly done, they can be pushy, boring, or tiring. Some large landscapes are designed such that only one area is experienced at a time. This in recognition that overscaled landscapes can be as easily off putting and impersonal as they are grand. A beautiful small landscape is an opportunity to intimately become part of, and experience the garden. Small spaces can be difficult to design edge to edge, and floor to ceiling, but the rewards are great. In this front yard landscape, the change of levels creates a three dimensional sculptural quality which can be enjoyed in every season. The low wall that traverses the width of the property is a visually friendly way of differentiating public part of the landscape from the front door. The unusual placement of this front door on an angle from the street makes the front door garden more private, in a very modest way. The boxwood hedges which terminate in yew spheres is a transition space, an exterior foyer for the front door, if you will. The natural growing multi stemmed dogwood and gingkos contrast with the precisely trimmed arborvitae and boxwood.
In the summer, a very beautiful low stone wall is obscured by a seasonal in ground planting. This planting of blue chalky fingers succulents, helichrysum icicles and cirrus dusty miller is my most favorite choice ever. The cool color is crisp, and echoes the color of the stone and the steel of the window boxes. In the winter, that wall is an architectural feature that is friendly to the style and period of the house. The upper level features a vintage wood bench at one end, and a modern bistro table and stainless steel chairs at the opposite end. I like the nod to the period of the house, and the corresponding nod to my client’s more modern taste. In a small space, there is the opportunity to create an interesting tension which comes from the juxtaposition of one aesthetic, and another.
The window box is a combination of plants whose forms and color are not the usual. To my eye, the planting is both sophisticated and unusual. This has everything to do with the taste of my clients. I have worked for them for years, and the relationship which has come out of that association shows.
The driveway garden is home to a number of terra pots planted with vegetables and herbs-all appropriately placed close to the kitchen door. The stepped evergreen screening limits the view of the garage from the street.
A low granite wall capped in limestone separates the driveway area from the rear yard proper. A higher wall of the same material and design at the far side is a beautiful feature of this yard. The planting of columnar red maples in front of this wall is purposeful. The narrow gray trunks do not obscure the wall from view. The canopy of the maples adds another, taller layer of screening from the neighboring garage.
Though the rear yard is a rectangle, the landscape is a celebration of the square established by a square fountain in the center, a square picture frame of lawn, and a square arrangement of Winter Gem boxwood. In order to maintain that square, a double row of boxwood was planted on the north and south side, and a single row of boxwood on the east and west side. Behind the boxwood to the south, a pair of pear espaliers are under planted with a white variegated hosta. The pears provide fruit, and screening of the service area between the wall and the garage. Each boxwood is individually pruned into a spherical shape, courtesy of Melissa and her crew from M and M Flowers. Those round shapes, and the round shapes of the Irish moss compliment and contrast with the dominant square geometry. The dirt space between the fountain boxwood and the Irish moss is deliberate. Every element of that fountain centerpiece has room to breathe.
On the west side, a hedge of arborvitae screen the property behind, the phone pole, and the electric lines. Limelight hydrangeas are planted as a hedge between the arborvitae and the boxwood. The limelights are limbed up to just below the height of the boxwood. The foliage of the Limelights do not interfere with the growth and health of the boxwood. A hedge of topiary form hydrangeas helps keep both the hydrangeas and the boxwood happy – in a small space. Underplanting arborvitae is always a good idea. With age, they thin out at the bottom. An old crabapple visible at the far left of this picture is kept trimmed up to permit a view through from the house.
A wild garden on the north side of the back yard is full of hellebores, snakeroot, hosta, solomon’s seal, european ginger and ferns, among other things – this a much more relaxed ode to shade. This garden was on our recent garden tour to benefit the Greening of Detroit. I was pleased about how many people truly enjoyed it. The best part of this landscape-all of the care my clients lavish upon it. Every detail is of concern. Small properties help make a lavish hand possible, and visible.
In early June, I published an essay about the garden to come in the front yard of Detroit Garden Works called “Color Scheming”. A dahlia named cafe au lait I had read about on Gardenista had gotten my attention. It did not take long for me to decide to organize and design the entire garden around that coffee infused with cream colored dahlia. My grower managed to obtain and grow on 30 of them for me.
The dahlias got planted in the big garden beds in front of the shop, along with a white dinnerplate dahlia, white and lime nicotiana, and lots of purple and bicolor angelonia. The window boxes were planted with lots of different flowers that I imagined would feature the color and form of that extraordinary dahlia. The first cafe au lait bloomed today. The color is everything I had imagined-smoky, creamy, a beige based utterly pale pink . I cut that stem, and set it in lots of different places in the window boxes – just to see how and if the colors I had chosen for those boxes would compliment a dahlia that I had never seen before. The following ridiculously large number of pictures is a sign of how pleased I was.
The coffee and white dahlias are just coming on now-there are buds showing all over the big in ground planting. As I have said before, any response to color is a highly individual and emotional response. I am delighted with what I am seeing. The excitement over the coming of the dahlias is one of many reasons why I enjoy gardening. Some days, everything going on in the garden is all good.
Lots of people ask me about how I work with color in the garden. How I decide on a color scheme for a container. I have tried to write about my process, but I always have the nagging feeling that the discussion falls short. Frustrating, this. Though I know that any creative process cannot be quantified, or reduced to a step by step, I would teach, if I could. I had occasion recently to view a video of a TED talk, thanks to Buck. TED, if you are familiar, is a forum for presenting speakers who have something to say about ideas worth spreading. Interested? www.ted.com. He keeps up better than I do-about what there is out there to learn. Her had me listen to a talk given by Joi Ito.
In March of 2011 he was interviewing for the directorship of the MIT media lab. Late that night, a magnitude 9 earthquake struck off the coast of Japan, just several hundred kilometers from his wife, children and family. In the terrifying hours that ensued, he discovered that he could not reach his family. Nor was any government or news agency broadcasting any information about the damage to nuclear reactions by the earthquake. Frantic for information about his family, and for all the other families besieged by a disaster of this scale, he went to what he knew. The internet.
In the following hours and days he contacted friends, hackers, scientists and families and put together a citizen science group he called Safecast. Over the next few months this group of amateurs with no scientific or governmental standing managed to invent a process by which to measure the radiation levels. They put geiger counters on the ground; they measured the radiation. They made available at no charge information that people could use. Information for anyone for whom this earthquake had devastatingly personal consequences.
In his talk, he speaks eloquently of how his drive to get the information he wanted and needed was enabled by the internet. The volume of information out there that can be accessed is limitless. The internet allows people who have similar interests to meet digitally. His discussion of how the internet makes it possible for citizens of certain groups to meet and solve problems which transcend any map or country interested me. Most certainly passionate gardeners are citizens of a country all their own.
Joi Ito went on to discuss in simple terms the process of learning. What stood out to me the most? “Education is something that someone else does to you. Learning is something one does to/for oneself.” I like this idea. In fact, I like it a lot. If anyone would ask me what was most valuable part of my college education, I would have to say that I learned how to learn about what interested me. Of course the world has changed immeasurably since 1970.
One can access an seemingly limitless amount of information with a computer or a smart phone. Anyone can learn whatever it is that they truly want to learn. As far as developing a personal sense of how to user color in containers-I did not study this in school. I was interested enough to learn. That learning process, which is still ongoing, and still of great interest to me, was all about the doing. Plenty of color combinations did not work out so well. But their is as much to learn from those combinations that do not work out, as there is from those that do.
How people perceive color is very personal. What appeals to my eye may not appeal to yours. But that is not the point. Anything you see that interests or intrigues you may encourage you enough to learn what you need to know to express your own ideas. To understand what color relationships appeal to you as a gardener is all the fun of it.
Mr. Ito’s talk was very interesting. Want to watch it for yourself? http://www.wimp.com/wantinnovate/
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.