The Finished Landscape

landscape 2015 (4)This post is the last in a series of three about the renovation of a landscape. The fences and gates were finished just in time for our garden tour last Sunday. It is remarkable how much they contribute to the landscape. Though I say the landscape is finished, of course there are spots that could be improved.  But for now, the landscape has presence, and is healthy. The back yard feels like a secret garden-which is what my clients sought the most from their landscape renovation.



lead containers


landscape 2015 (3)The view from the driveway culminates in a peegee hydrangea on standard.


landscape 2015 (5)A 12″ tall retaining wall on the far side of the pergola made it possible to level the ground in this area.  The pergola is planted with the climbing rose “John Davis”.

landscape 2015 (6)The view of the yard looking north benefits from the landscapes further up the street.  The long view here is quite lovely, even though the setting is an urban neighborhood.

DSC_1861The south side yard

landscape 2015 (7)The tricolor beech has some companion plantings.


DSC_1865a small perennial garden

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landscape 2015 (11)

Q landscape (4)


landscape 2015 (9)The pergola from the front yard has gates and a fence to go with. Planted between the Venus dogwoods-hydrangea “Bobo”, and pachysandra.

landscape 2015 (10)Planted on the fence, sweet autumn clematis. The emerald green arborvitae are planted on the fence line, while the hedge of Venus dogwoods curves forward.  The two hedges overlap in a visually interesting way.

landscape 2015 (12)Emerald green arborvitae provide screening on the driveway side.

landscape 2015 (1)The gates

DSC_1873The generator is not screened from this view, yet.

DSC_1317at the end of the driveway, an old bench flanked by a pair of pots.

DSC_1226The end result – a simple formal landscape in front that makes much of the classic architecture of the house, and three beautiful and mature concolor firs. In the back, a very private landscape and garden that will only get better with time.



At A Glance: Scenes From The Installation

DSC_4804To follow are some pictures that detail the landscape renovation process for the property I wrote about yesterday. In establishing privacy close up on the terrace, and screening the generator from view, a new home was created for the lead fountain.

DSC_4768a scheme for the garage wall that involved centering the existing trellis, and adding a pair of candelabra style espaliers –  faced down with a double row of boxwood.

DSC_9557a custom made planter box from Branch Studio centered on the trellis

DSC_5022The new home for the lead fountain creates a mid ground layer of privacy up close to the terrace. Though not readily apparent in this picture, the boxwood curves around the back of the fountain.

DSC_5021privacy on the terrace on the south side

October 12 2014 (12)providing for good drainage

DSC_0076setting 11 Venus dogwoods on a curve-well out of the way of the power lines

pergolarestored wood arbor moved from the front yard to the entrance to the rear yard garden

October 12 2014 (18)gravel along the foundation in the front yard

DSC_1266a few favorite perennials

Q landscape (2)the last of the planting.  In this picture you can see that the boxwood backdrop to the lead fountain was planted on a curve that matches the curve of the Venus dogwoods. A few broadly brushed curves can energize a narrow, boxy space.

DSC_1220The existing lead boxes were moved onto the porch where their diminutive size and subtle detail can be better appreciated.  2 new custom boxes were fabricated and placed as “end posts” to the boxwood hedge across the front.  Their size is proportional, and scaled to the size of the porch. The indented, concave corners of the boxes is a traditional detail.

Q landscape (6)A new powder coated steel pergola has the same footprint as the sun room on the opposite side of the house, and features a gothic arch detail taken from the existing windows on the house.  The pergola is set level, true and plumb.  The regrading of the ground would come later.

new yewsNew yews replaced those that had been killed by the previous two winters.

a new lookAn updated design was beginning to emerge. Tomorrow, the finish.



The Renovation Of A Small Landscape

landscape renovation (5)Last September I consulted with a client who had just purchased a jewel of an old home on a small property.  Extensive renovations to the interior were just about done.  The existing garage had been enlarged, and a living space above it has been added.  The neighborhood is lovely.  All of the homes are in close proximity.  They had gone so far as to install a new blue stone walk to the front door. A new landscape plan had been proposed, but she was hesitant about it.  My advice to anyone seeking the services of a designer is as follows.  If you have any reservations, sort them out before there is any arrangement to start the work.  Right off the bat, I loved the lollipop crab apples in front, but I disliked how they covered the beautiful bow windows, and the view to the outside. Plants do grow.  A good designer will site plants such that they do not grow into the elephants in the front yard.

landscape renovation (9)A beautiful sun room was faced down by yews and boxwood that were not doing well, a kousa dogwood which was obviously unhappy, and a random collection of knockout roses. The bed line seemed out of touch with the arrangement of plants. Idea 2: if you have bed lines in mind, cut them before you plant, and arrange the plants to repeat that line.  If you plant before you have a bed scheme in mind, your job is tougher.  You may need to plant a series of plants that reinforce the shape you have established.  Bed lines are a very powerful visual force in a landscape. I always set them first, before I go on to a planting scheme.

DSC_3107The back yard had a privacy fence, and a row of bradford pears. The trees had not been tended to much in recent years, and were in poor condition.  A new blue stone terrace had been set at the correct height out the rear doors.  The ground dropped dramatically to the fence line. I spent a lot of time looking over those trees. Could they stay? My clients previous landscape proposal called for keeping these trees.   My clients were happy with the neighborhood, but wanted some privacy in the rear yard. But these trees?

DSC_3116Landscapes can get away from a property owner so fast.  Plants die from this or that. Trees deteriorate. Other trees grow out with abandon-the result not so desirable. There are gaps, and spaces that contribute to a weary and untended look. My client brought lots of treasured garden ornament with her to this new home.  They needed a home.

DSC_3130A new lawn went a long way to banish the blues.  But the space was asking for a landscape that was beautiful, and functional.  Small properties are great for lots of reasons.  I love that my city lot and a half is manageable.  But a small space means there is no room to fudge.  Every square foot needs to be part of a plan that works.  A good designer listens to a client-first and foremost.  They need to design to the client they represent. Occasionally they need to step out, and suggest a different approach. Next a designer, or a gardener designing for themselves, needs to draw the landscape from edge to edge. That drawing is a benchmark.  The reality is where the spade meets the dirt. What works out on paper needs a sure hand to interpret the intent of the benchmark, once the landscape is being laid out, or underway.

DSC_4772The  over anxious landscape company before me sheared the backs off of these trees, with the idea that arborvitae would be planted under the power lines. I will say I have never seen this done before. I believe this is why my client contacted me. I could not imagine how trees in poor health to begin with would take to this kind of pruning. Nor did I believe arborvitae would prosper in the one wedge of sun they would get at noon every day.landscape renovation (6)Once the Bradfords were gone, it became obvious that the wood fence needed repair.  We shored up the leaning panels, and covered the deteriorated pickets at the bottom with a new cedar reinforcing board.

landscape renovations (4)Of course we painted the fence. That was easy and fast, given we had no obstructions to work around.

landscape renovation (4)The garage wall was big, and bare.  A trellis panel from the previous owner was set in the corner, to hide the electric service. My client placed her charming lead fountain in front of the wall.  Charming as it is, the wall overwhelmed it.  This wall needed a new idea. And the fountain needed a smaller more intimate location.

DSC_3109A generator is a big appliance which is not so great looking. In a small yard, they seem gigantic. The idea to celebrate it with a giant graveled area edged in granite block did not seem like such a great idea. Both the wall and the generator area needed some green relief.

DSC_5256Once my client approved the new plan, we set the bones of the front yard. We added a small gravel path from the walk to the drive.  And we designed a large steel pergola some 20 feet long which would be a better scale for the house. The new pergola would balance the sun room on the opposite side. The older wood arbor would be completely refurbished, and relocated to the entrance of the smaller and more intimate rear yard.  That structure will be beautiful in a space where it can be better appreciated.

landscape renovation OctoberWe did replace winter damaged yews, and boxwood.  We added more boxwood, in a formal square.  Between the boxwood and the yews at the sidewalk-a row of Little Lime hydrangeas. The new front landscape is respectful of the beautiful concolor firs, arborvitae, and the low wall at the walk.  We were underway with the renovation.


On Tour Tomorrow

July 18, 2015 (16)I was in the garden early this morning. Early enough that the dew still covered every surface.  The agreement to be on a garden tour is just the beginning.  Of course you want every moment in the garden to mean something, and make a good case for that meaning. The planning starts months ahead, long about when you see what did not survive the winter, and later, when you go to plant the pots.

July 18, 2015 (31)That comittment to put your garden out there is one part bravado, one part luck, one part a benevolent mother nature, and 100 parts work.  I try to mitigate those circumstances with my clients as much as I can for the Greening tour. Monica Tabares from the Greening staffs every garden with two people. Detroit Garden Works springs for tee shirts for all of them, including the shop staff, so every tour person remembers that this event is all about the work that the Greening does.  This year means 28 people – the morning and the afternoon shifts – will be staffing the 7 gardens on tour.  Monica has told me in years past that the tour docents are volunteers from the Wayne State dental school.  I never asked about how that came to be, but I appreciate all of those students who take time on a Sunday to help make the experience a good one for all.

July 18, 2015 (18)Both crews from Deborah Silver and Co pitch in. We handle this and that.  We are available to replace plants that have gone down from whitefly, or add new grass in spots that need it. And we send tickets to the tour and reception for every client who agrees to put their garden on tour.  Some enjoy the day at homer meeting fellow gardeners.  Others leave the garden in the capable hands of the Greening people, and go on tour themselves.  Others yet are willing, but able to keep a comittment in another place that day.

July 18, 2015 (9)Every landscape that is on our tour belongs to people for whom the garden is a way of life.  Every tree, shrub, perennial and seasonal plant gets in the ground is a result of the belief that stewardship of the environment is a pleasure, a joy, and a responsibility.  The Greening has been all about that belief, since 1989.  They have planted in excess of 90,000 trees in the city of the Detroit since their inception.  They sponsor urban farms.  They teach people how to care for trees, and grow food.

July 18, 2015 (23)They are a self sufficient non profit organization. Meaning they have staff who apply for grants, and raise money.  I sit on their board, but after my first board meeting I knew that I would never catch up to their history and long range plans enough to be of any use to them. So 8 years ago Rob and I decided to put on this tour, all of the proceeds of which would go to the Greening.

July 18, 2015 (27)The money we have raised usually goes to those programs that cannot be funded by grants – programs that rely on donations.  One of those programs involves hiring young people with not so much opportunity to obtain a job.  The Greening pays them to water newly planted trees, and tend vegetable patches.  I have had occasion to hear about what an impact this experience has had on young people who were so fortunate to participate in this program. Of course I like the idea that young people become exposed to the work, and the satisfaction that gardening provides.

July 18, 2015 (67)I can barely remember my life before I grew plants, and gardened. I would want to do what I could to pass that along to others.  Especially young people. My generation will need young people to grow peonies, and heirloom tomatoes, and as many trees as they can mange. Suffice it to say that this is a cause near and dear to my heart.

July 18, 2015 (8)Monica W, the manager of Detroit Garden Works, Deborah Silver and Co, and the Branch Studio, organizes the reception we hold after the tour at the store. She furthermore organizes all of the ticket sales, so soon after the tour we have a check available to the Greening.  It is an amazing amount of work on her part to make it all seem effortless. Though she is very much behind the scenes, she is the unusual combination of the work of an engineer, and the work of a compassionate and caring person.

July 18, 2015 (49)As for me, my garden will be on tour for the 8th time tomorrow. I am happy with most everything I see.  The delphiniums that bloomed their hearts out in early June are suffering from a fungus brought on by the cold and rainy early summer.  I have no plans to replace this plant, or disguise it.  I am a gardener, and I have plenty of trouble in my garden.  It comes with the territory.

July 18, 2015 (51)I have talked with every client who has a garden on tour tomorrow. To the last they are concerned about this bad spot, or that plant that is not performing, or some boxwood still showing signs of damage from last winter.  My job near the time of the tour is to suggest that no garden on this tour is a show garden.  They are gardens that belong to real people.  People with kids, jobs, and lots of other responsibilities. Our tour is a chance for people who garden to see what other people who garden do.  This tour is about exchange. My garden is for all to see what it is –  tomorrow.

July 18, 2015 (50)Though some parts of my perennial patch are not so swell, other places look fine to my eye.  I have no doubt that every person who visits my garden tomorrow will remember the good things.  None of them will hold my failures against me.  Why would they?

July 18, 2015 (59)After years of trying to get herniaria to take hold in this garden in the front of my house, I grassed over it.  The grass looks great, and is easy to keep. I am happy to come home, and not have to weed the herniaria.

July 18, 2015 (5)If you are able to come on our tour tomorrow, I would encourage you to do so.  We have 7 really beautiful landscapes and gardens for you to see.  If you are too far away to be here – I will post pictures of all of the gardens next week. So looking forward to the tour tomorrow-this is my news.