Backing Up The Front Door

Apparently I am still stuck at the front door; bear with me.  The architecture of homes in any given community varies widely. We are, after all, the land of the free and the home of the free speaking.  But one issue applies to all-the front door needs backing up with containers and plantings of sufficient scale to make a visible difference. This front door is overscaled and imposing; small non-descript containers would add nothing.  My rule: any container that does not contribute substantially and solidly is not the right choice.  Pass them by.  If smaller scaled pots appeal to you, consider some pedestals underneath them.  The big idea-get the pots, and the plantings close to eye level .  What you have to look down on, you won’t love so much. You will appreciate, and maybe love, what you see, eye to eye. 

As I said, not all front doors are created equal.  This home, symmetrical in every detail, has an awkwardly and asymmetrically placed front door.  The landscape which disguises that placement-and the overscaled single planter centrally placed, do not frame the door.  They do a different job; they both signal how to get to that door.  The container says ” Welcome.  Come up here; I will tell you where to go next. Visual maps-containers can be just that. 

Some homes are very large.  Though this door is massive, it seems quite intimate in scale given the overall size of the home-as it should.  Who wants to be intimidated by a front door, unless they are at the Met, or the Lincoln Memorial?  This series of four French Jardin du Soleil boxes provides weighty company to the door, and balances entrance to edifice. The v- shaped lead pots flanking the front door need not be so large; they are just two of six. The stair piers provide the height those pots need.  The planting height, topping out at just below the lanterns, frames a view without obstructing a single detail. 

Some front doors lie at the back of a roofed porch.  This makes the door hard to see.  15 years ago when I was renovating the shop building, the architect told me I needed front doors with glass.  He told me my clients would not feel comfortable opening a door into a space they could not see into, in advance.  Speakeasies and poker joints have solid doors with a peephole-retail stores telegraph their entrance moves, and thereby say welcome.  This front door is dark.  The planters flanking the porch are tall.  You can only see their topknots of white New Guinea impatiens from the street. As dark as the door might be, the landscape, containers and plantings arranged around that door are light. 

This front door is not so far from the city sidewalk.  A centrally placed rusty obelisk bisects that door-though the walk is short, there is a route around that obelisk that has interest. The obelisk, and its placement-on purpose. Pots on that walk would be obstructive, and not in keeping with the overall structure of the landscape.  Two urns on pedestals, widely placed to the sides, do a great job of saying welcome, gracefully. 

Some driveways slide by the front door.  A perpendicular drive up to a formal home-not the usual.  Beautiful containers can bring formality at the same time that they signal the slow down you are here zone.  These subtly exquisite French boxes, planted tall with arborvitae are the best version of a traffic light I have seen.  It can be of help, to picture yourself as a guest coming to your own home.  Containers, properly done, can give the visual cues you have in mind. 

This arts and crafts bungalow has a low slung profile, and a giant front porch. There are a number of shallow, and not so wide stairs to that porch. The stair piers are narrow. The placement of two cast stone Italian vases in the landscape adds width to that approach; the glazed French footed pots a top those stair piers are in scale with their greater base. More importantly, those pots do not need to be big-they are part of a bigger scheme that says hello.  The Italian vases, the French pots and their greater landscape, shoulder the work of saying hello.

A giant pair of Bulbeck lead egg cups flank this front door.  Not that you could make that out from here.  In the interest of addressing a proper scale, a planting in ground can strengthen the impact of a pair of pots from a distance.  Up close, the lead cups reads beautifully.  The lesson here?  There are multiple views to consider, in choosing containers.  The near view, the far view, the view from inside.   

The last of what I have to say about containers at the front door-some choices may not work so well, but a lot of choices do work.  I love these Kenneth Lynch lead round containers.  The choice of the architect, they beautifully echo the tower window with the round detail.  I admire that they in no way impinge on an appreciation of the architecture.  What would I have done?  I have not thought about it.  I have my own home where I can do as I please.  A client’s point of view is very important; people have reasons for their choices-you just have to ask.  Were they ever to ask how I see this, I would tell them.  But for now, I just plant them. No designer can really rescue you.  Trust your own eye, and use it. Photograph that front door, and take that photograph with you, when you are shopping for pots.  Should you feel you need help, ask. There may be someone out there that could look at your pictures, and answer in a way that makes sense to you.

Sunday Opinion: Miss Dirtiness


Every living thing has various incarnations-some of these states of being have names.  My corgis go by many names, depending on the circumstance.  Howard, for example, lives, eats and breathes just how I imagine anyone named Howard would.  He takes his job very seriously.  He never misses a day’s work; he is somewhat humorless where dealing with the public is concerned.  He is a dignified and serious dog of very short stature. So sometimes, Mr. Howard.  But when he comes inside with every bit of detritus from outside stuck to his fur, I call him Hoover.  When he is racing around in jubilation after breakfast in the morning, I call him the head pupathon.  When he looks worried, Mr. Bebe.  When he does crack a rare joke, I call him Mr. Pookiness.  Milo might be Clowndog or Hambone, depending on how hard he is trying to get someone to play ball with him.  Milo So Sweet-I name the day, and talk to him.  His human name is a good one, as I am convinced he is really a little person in a dog suit.  The two of them-the dodies.  Don’t ask where that word came from-I have no idea. The Dod-ies-so be it. 

Miss Dirtiness-that would be me. It is under my fingernails better than 250 days a year.  My clothes and shoes have that sepia-toned vintage look; the washing machine does what it can.  When it comes time to clear the plates after dinner, there is the clean table which was underneath my plate-and the fringe of bits all around that somehow managed to slide off. Some of the food on that plate, I probably ate with my fingers that had gotten only a cursory wash. It is enough to make Buck raise his astonshingly expressive eyebrows. My steering wheel, glasses, computer keyboard, and camera, my socks- all have that telltale aura of grime. As my grandmother said, a peck of dirt before you die.  So I was surprised last week at my own considerable dismay at the sight of dirty water coming out of the tap.  Rob had left me a note from the night before-check the water.  I ran a three gallon vase full of water-very unappetizing.  

 I am telling a tale-unappetizing doesn’t begin to describe my reaction. The greasy film on top of the water had a greenish cast. Dark bits in suspension-what were they?  After an hour, not much had settled out.  I emptied out the vase at the end of the day; the dried dirty grime in the bottom of the vase the next morning did not dissolve when I tried to rinse it out the next day-shocking.   I was appalled.  It was revolting, that dirty water.  Needless to say, I made my coffee with bottled water.  It took an entire day of calls to the water department to finally get an answer.  A contractor working on the road construction near the shop had hit the water main. It took another day for them to fix whatever, and flush the hydrant.  For three days, I did not have clean water.

A few weeks ago at a dinner party, I had occasion to talk to a professor in nutrition from the University of Michigan; we had a spirited debate going about organically grown food.  I protested to her than no study has even shown that the consumption of organically grown food resulted in healthier people who lived longer.  She replied-the people in this country have access to clean water. Clean water, she said. This skews the organically grown food studies.  Though I was dubious that night; today I have a different take.  Miss Dirtiness stands on the side of clean and drinkable water. No doubt clean water was on my mind the other day.  I regularly have it to drink, to wash in, to cook with.  I do not want to, nor am I competent to, discuss the science of clean water, but suffice it to say, I have never been made sick by dirty water.  Today I understand that clean water is not a given, it is a mission-a committment. What I once thought was about food, may be about clean water.

 We have had a fair amount of rain this week.  What water is falling through the sky to the ground-who knows what it might pick up in the atmosphere.  But every spring, I see plants clearly being nourished by it.  Our rain this morning cleared; we have sun now.  Everywhere I look, I see healthy plants growing lustily.  A big part of that-clean water.

There are many places on this planet where a supply of clean water is little to non-existent.  One serious and immediate consquence of natural disasters can be the disruption of a clean supply of water. The agony of Haiti-so many people with no clean water to drink. Please do not fault me for an in depth overview of that disaster-I am not able.  But I did agonize about that impossibly hot and humid island culture, enduring no source of clean water for drinking.  Shocking.  Whether I drink the water, bathe in it, water my garden with it, put cut flowers into it ,or observe it in a lake or stream or fountain, clean water is essential to the health of every living creature. I may be a Miss Dirtiness, but I have a Miss Stewardia in my repertoire-we are not owners, we are stewards.

 I am watching with as much dread as every other American, the oil spreading across the surface of the Gulf of Mexico towards the Gulf states. The case of the dirty water in my vase from a jostled water main-this disaster a trillion zillion times my momentary trouble. This country is full of good people who not only understand the science, but will commit to what it takes to deal with disaster. 

God willing, a good number of them are all ready working, or are on their way to the Gulf.

At A Glance: The Tulip Community

Boxing Up World Expression

My office windows look out onto a series of window boxes.  The box right behind my desk is, as you can see, a magnet for wild life.  How MCat manages to insert himself between the flowers and the glass without so much as a petal being ruffled-I have no idea.  These old factory windows are cloudy with lime, but I have a view, none the less.  On a lark, I planted World Expression tulips in them last fall. 

The lark part has to do with plants (in this case bulbs) surviving a winter boxed up. Few plants like to live over a winter with their roots above ground.  The repeated freezing, thawing and heaving wreaks havoc; all any plant wants over the winter is to sleep deeply, and undisturbed.  Had I been a better gardener, I would have lined the boxes with sheet insulation first-in an effort to keep the freeze consistent once it came. I just buried them deep, mulched them, and kept my fingers crossed.  

World Expression is one of my favorite tulips.  The plants develop surprisingly fast, considering how large they are.  When I am in the mood to contemplate the miracle that is nature, tulips instantly spring to mind.  From a brown orb barely an inch and a half in diameter comes a plant whose luxurious leaves grow in excess of 14 inches tall; the flower and stalk take the plant to 28 inches or better.  Miraculous.  I understand that giant trees grow from tiny seeds, but tulips grow up and hold forth in the blink of an eye.  In the beginning the flowers are small; the red flames are really pink,  the  white ground is a yellow ivory. 

Tulips open in an immature stage; watching the flower grow and change color dramatically is one of their charms.   It may take better than a week for that pink to go red, and longer than that for the white to whiten all the way up.

We had a very mild winter; the tulips in the boxes are amazingly good.  The box with the maximum amount of exposure to the snow, sun cold and wind tells the story of that exposure.  A few bulbs only sprouted undersized leaves.  Others of them produced undersized plants and flowers.  But by and large, there is quite the show going right now.

As I wrote a long time ago, I grew up without TV-weather was my idea of a one hour drama, movie, or news flash.  Buck will watch the weather on TV, but has a very narrow range of tolerance for anything venturing very far from 70 degrees and sunny. I like all kinds of weather-a spring rain is a favorite.  What it does for all those things coming to life and growing is beautiful to behold.

Just after the rain, equally as beautiful.  I do have a fondness for bi-color flowers; how tulips flame is particular to their species.

The flowers quadrupled in size over a period of 10 days; I began to worry they would flop over to the ground.  Though the flowers are huge, they are remarkably weather resistant.    

The 80 degree wind yesterday-fierce.  I worried every petal would be blown into the street. I need not have bothered; most every flower survived just fine. 

Now is such a good time to decide where in your garden some tulips might be just grand.  I have 3 yellow tulips at home in my wild garden-the walnut sized flowers have been there for 15 years.  I am thinking I do not want to miss this part of spring ever again.