Dinner in the Garden

table1Its my idea to eat outdoors for 120 days of the year at the very least.  I like summer food- grilled burgers, fresh corn and tomatoes, big salads with chicken.  I am at my most vulnerable for good potato chips, and ice cream, as well.  I am impatient for this first day of the outdoor dining season, and so sorry to see it end.  In Michigan we have a lengthy dose of “lets go inside” weather.  For this reason I will still be having dinner outdoors in October, with my blanket around me.  Just get me outside, under any and every circumstance.  Dinner in the garden is my idea of fine entertainment. This 22 foot long pine and steel table can handle lots of dinner guests with ease.  Pine is a very traditional material for American garden furniture;  it just requires upkeep.  Its traditional material aside, it has a decidedly sleek and modern silhouette.  It interests me how overscaled furniture has such strong visual interest.  This long  table suggests a lot of people, close together, having fun. table2

This old French faux bois table for two makes a different suggestion.  The old concrete is beautiful on this vintage slate terrace. It is the organizing element for a private and intimate garden space.  Ornament in a garden can create a mood, and set the stage-for what, we can only imagine.

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I so love white dining furniture.  It has a clean and crisp look.  What china, flowers and food would not look great on this table? Wood dining furniture finished in high gloss weather resistant paint dresses up dinner in the garden. This dining table is placed in a garden room defined by a white wood pergola.

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This English made wirework dining furniture is so beautiful for how it graces  the landscape in a soft and quiet way.  Even with no guests at the dinner hour, it enriches the landscape.  Sometimes the suggestion that dinner might be had in the garden is as important as actually having it.  Ideally, every design issue is answered in such a way that piques the imagination.   What can be imagined changes, and evolves-thus providing no end of interest. Landscape spaces that invite interaction are successful spaces.

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I have many clients for whom contemporary design is a big love.  This very contemporary dining suite is perfectly placed on a bluestone terrace dating back some 90 years.  Who would think this stately old terrace would be so right for this steel and glass furniture?  My client, whose imagination and sense of beauty is all her own.  Everything about her, as well as her garden,  can surprise me, and make me think differently. dining1

I design outdoor dining areas for clients regularly.  Sometimes I design tables;  this table is 10 feet long, with a white oak base, and top of Valders stone from Wisconsin, with white oak spacers.   It will handle company, just fine. It will weather, over the years, just fine.  Many an event will be experienced,  remembered, and cherished, over this table.   Some say that everything that really matters happens at the dinner table. If this is true, what possibilities suggest themselves,  given dinner in the garden?

Commercial Landscapes

comm1I live in a very urban area-there are endless buildings and paving of all descriptions.  Thus I am always admiring of any business that makes an effort to plant.  These  sassy boxes we did for a jazz club downtown out of exterior sign board board are very durable, and certainly did doll up the location. Even freshly planted, they look great.

comm21I did this planting outside a local art museum.  Public parks and the like come with land, and that land can be planted-but city businesses are typically located in an ocean of paving designed for cars, pedestrians, and delivery trucks.   It just takes some ingenuity and effort to put up  a little garden against  all the hardscape. Business owners tell me that any effort they make to dress up their businesses outdoors gets noticed.  My feeling is that the presentation of the business on the outside says a lot about how things are done on the inside.

comm3These window boxes were made to sit on a wall that divided the restaurant parking from the sidewalk.  The restaurant owner is an avid gardener herself, and she maintained these boxes herself. Her committment is obvious.  She was sure that people driving by were drawn in by the flowers-and the idea that she probably maintained her restaurant with the same level of care as she did her landscape. 

comm4Any landscape in an urban area is bound to attract attention.  These boxes get a new look every season.  The women who own this shop, Tender, have a considerable involvement in their community-its not hard to believe,   looking at the front of their store.  I really like the idea that they appreciate that the community at large keeps them in business-and they give back to that community by making trying to make their part of that community a little more beautiful.   

comm5This gated community made a big investment in a beautiful landscape, and lots of flowers, with me.   Anyone who lives there benefits.  The pots at the entrance have a much more residential, than commercial look; the plantings are at eye level to whomever passes under the port cochere.

comm2The landscape at my store is simple, and evergreen.  It allows me to change out the seasonal part of the planting, and still have structure.  What is most beautiful about this to my eye is how it is looked after.  It speaks to my respect for the natural world, and the people who come here.

comm7I had these boxes made of  heavy gauge galvanized sheet metal from a heating and cooling contractor- very reasonably. We set them up off the ground on steel ball feet.  The client was more interested in what would be in the boxes, than the boxes themselves.  He says the boxes are a constant topic of conversation between he and his clients. New clients say they were interested in what kind of business would plant outside their store in this way.  Even though the boxes are on the north side of the building, a lot of light is reflected from the street.  The choice of plant material and colors is very much his taste. I like businesses that take the inside, out there.

comm8This monochromaticplanting of Australia canna, red-leaved hibiscus, Gartenmeister fuchsias, and chocolate potato vine is a sophisticated statement-appropriate for an advertising agency. 

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This giant office complex announces the location of its entrance with a glass and steel canopy, and a pair of large brick planter boxes. The boxes lend a human scale and friendliness in contrast to the intimidating size of building.  If you patronize a business that makes an effort to maintain and plant their exterior space, let them know you like it. I know I am pleased and encouraged when people comment on my place.

Bringing the Garden Upstairs

I have a few clients that challenge me to be the best I can possibly be-this client is right at the top of that list.  Her design ability-whether it be interiors, or parties and events,  or gardening-is superb. She could have easily founded a  School of Design-had she had any inclination to do so. She and her husband live in a beautifully overscaled modern house with a beautifully high pitched roof, and overscaled high-pitched  dormers. (This is a landscape designers description of architecture; bear with me.)

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To drive into the impossibly small front drivecourt, you would think the house was sited on a postage stamp of land.  But in fact, the house is sited on a steep ravine, and hangs out over a rear yard that widens, and goes on to embrace the river. It is a big property, with incredible aerial views.

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She loves gardens and flowers.  Flowers and more flowers.  She is a master chef-so any plan for her has to include acres of basil, and the like.  OK-the challenge here-to plant a perennial garden stuffed with roses and other perennials, in a flood plane-courtesy of that river.  The first order of business was a lot of drainage, and rear yard grading. When her son got married, we had to install floors in the tents and stepping stones between them at the last second-which we did.   The perennial garden ramps up to a curvy modern swimming pool.  So far so good.3

I met her when I was young-so I had no problem moving every tree and every shrub within two days of my first work there.   There were trees, shrubs and perennials placed poorly, and too many boulders. But that house was a jewel-perched out over a beautiful piece of property.  The house-a beautifully designed tree house.4

A house sited in the crowns of trees-how beautiful.  But what if you love to cook, and grow flowers, and want to sit with your garden and family  around you?5

The house already had a giant deck all across the back.  Stairs to the lower level had a small landing-perfect for pots. The lower level under this deck-dark, and intimate. My only suggestion-windowboxes.  And lots of pots. 6

We built and hung two giant windowboxes-off the deck, at the railing height.  There is a whole symphony of flowers in those boxes every year-every year a new arrangement. The pots we outfitted with automatic irrigation-there are too many pots for one family and one hose.7

I heard my client tell someone recently  I had brought her garden upstairs for her. I had neither the words, nor the clear conscious intent to do this-but I realized when I heard her that she was exactly right.

8As I said, she is a client that encourages me to be the best I can be.  I am a very lucky designer.

Decomposed Granite

gravelThere are some landscape materials I cannot get enough of.  Decomposed granite is a material comprised of pieces of granite 3/8ths of an inch across, and smaller.  The smaller pieces are known as “fines”.  The fines sift down in between the 3/8 inch pieces, and interlock the decomposed granite.  This makes for a surface that delivers that beautiful sound with every step that says garden, dead ahead.  Decomposed granite looks like sand when it is delivered.  I have taken plenty of panic stricken phone calls from clients.  But once it is laid down, graded, compacted and washed, it is a surface that won’t give no matter how high those heels are.  I have no love for asphalt as a surface; does it not seem like a symbol of all those places we have paved over without cause?  Concrete is a great material, as long as it is used with architecture that asks for it.  Concrete aggregate is beautiful for modern or contemporary landscapes-I hate to see it used by a client who really wanted gravel, but was too afraid.  My mentor and dear friend Al Goldner, told me once his only regret as a designer was that he was not bold enough; be bold!  

gravel1Decomposed granite, properly installed, makes for a driveway impervious to tire marks.  In this landscape, the driveway flowed seamlessly into paths for  a vegetable and cutting garden.

gravel2A driveway of decomposed granite requires an expert installation.  GP Enterprises does these drives for me.  They are so careful to install with a careful eye to grade and drainage.  They compact the granite with the same machinery that compacts asphalt. 

gravel42Decomposed granite makes a great mulch for comtemporary landscapes.  This landscape did not ask for mulch-that granite completed a thought. 

gravel5Decomposed granite can finish a formal planting, as well as a contemporary one.  It is clean, fresh, and crisp.  It is easy to make shapes, and moves; it does a great job of giving the eye a place to rest.

gravel7I have done many a terrace in decomposed granite.  It is a clean surface, not so demanding of attention as stone. This garden makes much of the pots and the furniture-the granite is a quietly beautiful  surface. It is the color of nature, a texture that celebrates all that is set on it. 

gravelbThis material is useful for more than driveways and paths.  Some plantings need a special space of their own.

gravel9Wherever people may be in a landscape, I wonder if this surface will play a part. The granite did a great job of featuring the stone from the 1920′s original to this garden. 

Some materials are so versatile, which makes decomposed granite  a major player in my palette of hard surfaces.  Great for driveways, friendly to plants-amazing how it can work in contemporary landscapes as well as vintage ones.