When Color Really Matters

Aug 28d 892There are times when color is the most important element of a landscape design.  This building, circa 1880, had become home to a well known and cutting edge advertising firm-Harris Marketing.   Any commercial client in the design business is keen that the landscape reflect as much attention to design as possible.  What you see outside is a visual reflection of what goes on inside.  In this case, the architecture and materials of the building itself made the color issue a very important design issue.

2000-2001 145Though the building was large, and several stories high, there was very little land on which to landscape.  The building facade was comprised of brick of an astonishingly bright orange color, and stone.  In addition, the right of way space was paved in orange brick.  Any successful landscape design would need to address that color in a thoughtful way, and then create visual interest in a very tight space.  My first decision was to choose one plant element that would represent that brick color-a Crimson Sentry maple.  Since the right of way locusts were planted at regular intervals, and framed in brick, I planted a row of these columnar red/orange/brown leaved maples in the spaces between the locusts-this visually added the right of way trees, and the land in which they were planted, to my landscape design.   

2000-2001 148I rarely plant dark foliaged trees, as the color can be hard to work with, and muddy at any distance.  This siting places these maples close to the viewers eye, backed up by that bright orange brick; the color of those leaves worked well.  Large bottomless planter boxes made from corten steel served a dual purpose.  The eventual orange brown of the steel would make my color references stronger.  They also permitted me to make a grade change in a small space. They made a 3-D representation of the brick borders around the locust trees. This unexpected element catches the eye. 

Aug 28d 894I planned to plant hydrangeas in the boxes, and Sum and Substance hostas in the ground.  The greenish white flowers of the hydrangeas, and the lime green foliage of the hostas would contrast with those orange brown leaves in a sparkly way.  We lined the planter boxes with sheet insulation; once the ground would freeze in the boxes, I wanted it to stay frozen.  Too much freezing and thawing might hinder my chances for success with hydrangeas, whose roots would be above grade.

Aug 28d 890Making this long run in several boxes dramatically reduced the fabrication cost, and made transport much easier.  The boxes and hydrangeas would also screen the basement level windows, and window air conditioners from view.  Old buildings like this one a very difficult to adapt to modern air conditioning.  This fact did not need to be part of the public presentation of the building.

2000-2001 160A stripe of PJM rhododendron unexpectedly repeats the maple leaf color.  I think it is a good idea to be clear in executing what you are trying to achieve.  There would be no opportunity to explain to passersby what I meant.  If I need to explain the intent of a design, I need to rethink the design. 

2000-2001 150It would take some time for that corten steel to orange up.  Corten steel only rusts to a certain point, and then becomes stable. Once the hydrangeas matured, they completely screened the lower floor windows.  Though I would not ordinarily block light to the interior of a building, there were security issues that my client decided were more important.

2000-2001 156The finished landscape has a beat.  A lively rhythm, and attention to the color relationships established by the building and environment attracts attention-any business hopes for this.  I would have been happier for more evergreens given our climate, but my client reasoned that few people would be walking by in the winter.  The orangy brown boxes would make a statement to people driving by.  Any strong geometric statement would attract the kind of attention they were looking for. 

2000-2001 152
When this project was finished, I realized the white Annabelle flowers would make much of the white trim around the windows. I have yet to have a project that did not speak back to me when it was finished about something I had not considered.  I like this about what I do.

Sunday Opinion: At The Intersection

Yesterday was the last day for regularly scheduled hours in the shop until March 1.  I still come to work every day, but there is a change in the routine.  I am on an internal, diurnal, noctural, natural, subdural, under the weather schedule.  I am not looking out the window, I am looking in.  I don’t plan much. I put my watch in the drawer. I eat potato chips whenever I feel like it.  My mind wanders, and my hands are itching to make this, try that, hold whatever up to the light. 

I have design projects needing some resolution by spring.  All of them are in my mind; I like to let things cook before I put a pencil to paper. That cooking can take a long time; the long low heat makes for a tender stew with great flavor.  Things surface in no particular order-fine.  My reaction to the gardening season 2010 being in the distant future?  Spring can wait. In December I am still working furiously; this spills over into early January. Long about January 5,  I shift gears.  No more daily lists.  I sleep soundly and long. Were I a bear, I would Dylan Thomas my way resolutely into that good night.  The seasonal life suits me perfectly. I like very very on, and very, very off; I am not a big fan of a daily drip. 

My life changes during my late year streaming.  Do you not admire this lingo coming from an old girl? It so amuses me.  My concept of streaming is more stream of consciousness.  You never know what might float by.  January is time to give time to what surfaces, and see where it takes you.  It is about taking direction from something that hasn’t crossed my mind yet. A new year is firstly about second chances, and more importantly, about the future. The future is our most precious treasure.  As much as the present infuses my life with color, serious discourse, and energy, the future pushes me. My January is all about that future.  Rob is shopping for Detroit Garden Works holiday and spring 2010 as I write.  I have had 130 or so emails from him, loaded with photographs, in the past two days. January is a perfect time to take some ideas, and turn them into a collection for the shop. We talk plenty, seeds get sown , a plan gets buried in some good dirt-something good grows out of this. The winter lays me low; I am a growing girl, no question.  I do the best I can to live good naturedly over the winter.  Making topiary sculpture from natural materials, painting, designing new pots for Branch to build, repainting and rearranging the shop, reading, my spring design projects-I am terribly busy in an aimlessly good way. I need for nothing to be all put together right now. 

At the intersection of Routine Street and Invention Boulevard, there is never any question which route I will take.  Routine Street is at least 8 paved lanes wide, and goes on with nary a twist nor turn for what seems like a lifetime. This is not to say I am not influenced by the work of others-far from it. There are so many talented people out there whose work I truly respect and value. But January life is about turning what influences me inside out and upside down and running it down the block.  If I am able to explain how, and with what materials, and why I have done what I have done, I will. I know I will be moving on to something else today. What I did yesterday does not completely define me.  I would want to be a what will come next girl.  I also believe that if a person can teach, they should. Transmit what they can.  If people listen and try to reproduce my experiments, I am happy for this.  As I think my eye and my sensibility is unique to me, no one could take that from me. I do meet people in various design fields who never seem to veer off what someone else has dreamed up-this is mostly about a lack of confidence, not a lack of imagination. Rarely there will be someone who deliberately claims the work of others as their own; I feel sorry for them.  They have eliminated any possibility of satisfaction from their lives. How miserable a deed, and consequently, how miserable this must feel.

 Invention Blvd is an uncharted and unmarked two track known for its hairpin turns, narrow bridges, wildlife in the road and predictably foggy weather.  Does this not sound like the best fun?  I have written this post in fits and starts over the past two days.  That’s how things work for me, in January.

At A Glance: En Grisaille

DSC06056en grisaille: to paint in a limited palette, light in value, and monochromatic-usually grey

Emiles (4)


Henderson (2)

Hudas christmas 2006 (14)

Baidas1 (3)


Baidas1 (5)


True Blue

April 21 007
These startlingly blue hydrangeas make their appearance around Easter, where I live. When I spot these blue flowers, my heart skips beats, and then doubles them up.  This source of this arrhythmia-I do not live in a true blue zone. It shocks me to see this color in a flower. I have had gardening friends try to grow meconopsis-that breathtakingly beautiful Himalyan blue poppy-pitiful, their efforts.  Several years ago I happened to be in Texas at blubonnet season-wow.  Did not Lady Bird Johnson do a very good thing for the Texas highways?  Those four foot tall blue lupines one sees flourishing upstate in New York do not grow here.  Even the bachelor buttons grow leggy, and languish. My big blue comes mostly from the sky.  

Jan8 008I have grown serviceable, if short lived stands of delphinium belladonna and bellamosa, but blue is brief in my garden;  pansies, violas, lobelia, and phlox divaricata.  My big blue garden season is the winter. The combination of snow, sky, and dark turns everything in the landscape blue.    

Nov 22a 008Our climate supports many evergreens whose green needles have a distinctively bluish cast.  Frazier fir is a blue green color. The stately giant Concolor Fir is a pale blue grey.  The color stands out such that I have never known how to place them in a landscape where they seemed beautiful, and not theatrical-except at a great distance from the eye. 

DSC_0005Blue spruce is a very popular evergreen to plant, though I have never done so.  I find most properties I deal with are too small to carry that blue color convincingly.  When I think blue in a landscape, I think about mountains, hazy with evergreens, very far away.   These dwarf Serbian spruce are not quite as blue as the spruce in the background, but they quietly reference the color blue. 

Baidas   0018We have the blue of the sky and the water.  Michigan is home to the great, the medium, and the small lakes-all of them beautiful.  Years ago I never thought about water in a garden; I would not do without the color and the sound of water now. 

2008 Orley SUMMER 8-5-08 (11)I grow lots of plants that are blue green.  Rosemary, curly liriope, and variegated licorice-my favorite combination this past summer.  Planted in an English lead pot, set on a bluestone terrace-a modest celebration of blue.

Neil #8I do have clients who like their swimming pools Florida blue.  Fine.  She had such a thing for that blue, we painted the inserts in her steel boxes blue, to match the frames on her windows.  This may not appeal to everyone, but it doesn’t need to. I like seeing people pursue what makes them happy. 

DGW 2006_09_05 (1)Silver foliaged plants are a good source of blue.  This cardoon makes subtle reference to blue-as do lamb’s ears, achillea Moonshine, thyme lanuginosus, silver plectranthus, and so on.   Any number of non-hardy succulents make a bigger visual deal of blue-if drop dead blue pleases you. 

Hudas (14)Our natural blues are those moody grey blues.  This color is easy to work with.  White is great.  Red is striking.  Pink is sweet. Green is a natural. Yellow is friendly and outgoing. Lime green is cool and sophisticated. Orange and blue attract attention.  You get the idea.

sept5a 016

Atmospheric blue, whether it comes from the sky, the air, the lead, the water, the stone, or the light-these are my home town blues.