The Landscape Plan

Sept 6, 2012.jpgIn September of last year, a plan for a pool, pool house, and landscape was approved and awarded a permit to build.  Those drawings, and the concept for the pool house-time consuming to produce. There are ideas, drafts, and more drawings.  There are lots of meetings.  A client, with a Capital C.  An architect.  A pool contractor.  A building contractor.  And planning with a big P.  A big organizing idea is essential. These clients wanted a pool, and place to entertain family and friends.  This meant siting the pool near the house and existing terrace.  A home, terrace and a pool when sited properly make the flow of traffic in the space easy and comfortable.  The pool, pool house, and surrounding landscape needed a flat place to be, despite the existing slope from the yard towards the house.  Sloped sites are good for mountain climbers, hikers, and short visits.  A landscape that invites people to linger asks for a flat, or near to flat grade, to navigate.  To sit.  To congregate. The idea to create a level landscape with a close proximity to the house was the organizing metaphor for the design. A primary or seminal idea will provide a foundation that connects every other gesture to the whole.

Sept-13-2012.jpgOnce the space was graded flat, the construction of the pool began.  The soil that was available as a result of the excavation of the pool was repurposed on site in a spot that would afford the client more flat space.  These clients planned to spend a lot of time in the landscape.  They did not have the idea to view it from afar.  They wanted plenty of room for any activity that involved people.

November-2012.jpgOnce the pool walls were installed, the retaining walls that would hold back the sloping ground were installed. These concrete walls had footings installed down 42″ below grade.  This is standard in my zone.  A footing 42″ below ground means frost will not heave or damage the wall.  The wall has a purpose-holding back all of that soil on the upper level.

November-9-2012.jpgThe foundation for a pool house included the apparatus required for heated floors.  That came first.  The pool house itself would be constructed with solar panels on the back side of the roof that would heat the space in the fall.  Details like this makes a landscape in a climate like ours enjoyable early in the summer season, and late into the fall.

November-14-2012.jpgThe concrete retaining walls needed a skilled stone mason to transform them from the necessary to the beautiful.  Steve Templeton, owner of Templeton Construction, managed all of the construction with  grace, speed, and aplomb.  The dirt and disarray notwithstanding, these walls were beautifully conceived, and solidly constructed.

December-2012.jpgThe construction of the pool and pool house was an affair handled start to finish by my clients, and Templeton Construction.  My part?  I watched. My design work was long finished.  The landscape installation-to come.

 

March-25-2013.jpg

By the time that March of 2013 arrived, the big ideas were beginning to take shape.  Some parts of the landscape took place into the late fall months, notably the finish grading and seeding of the displaced soil.  The first order of business in the landscape was the installation of the large trees.  They had to be planted first, as once the rest of the landscape was finished, there would be no access for the equipment necessary to handle large trees.

April-2012.jpgBy April, the pool house was up; the interior was under construction. The pool was finished, and waiting for warmer weather.  The landscape comes last, as the heavy construction occupies just about every inch of the space around it.  Once the exterior was finished and the debris cleaned up, we were ready to begin.

May-2013.jpgIn May, the addition of soil, grading, and prepping of the oil to plant was underway.  All of the beds were graded to meet the grade established by the pool and pool house. The existing landscape needed to be welcomed into the new design.

June-2013.jpgOnce all of the woody plant material was planted, and an irrigation system in place, the project was ready for grass, perennials and annuals.

June-2013.jpgBy this time, my clients were more than ready to give up the construction phase, and move in.  Who could blame them?  A project like this takes a lot of time to plan and execute.  There are problems that require attention.  In this case, quite a bit of drainage work was done before the finish.  Heavy spring rains created delays.

August-2013.jpgThe day when all of the commotion dies down, and a project comes to a finish, is a good day for a client. From start to finish, 11 months.  It is a satisfying day for all of the contractors who contributed to the final outcome.

August-2013.jpgOf course with a landscape, there is no final outcome.  This was the beginning.  I find that big projects created from a few bold and simple ideas are easier to stage and execute.  A plan for the logical order of events helps make a project come to fruition with a minimum amount of lost, down, or wasted time.  But even more importantly, a simple plan that focuses on establishing spaces, and creating structure leaves the door open for the future.  Should a client have success with a new landscape, and become more interested, gardens can be added.  A grove of fruit trees might be just the thing.

August-2013.jpgNew landscapes, whether big or small, benefit from a plan that prioritizes what needs to happen first.  A plan that asks for a lifetime’s worth of landscape development to be installed all at once puts a big burden on the client.  Once the installation is finished, my work is done.  But the work is just beginning for the client.  I like them to have the opportunity to decide whether they would like to take things further.  After they catch their breath with this phase, that is.

August-2013.jpgOnce the structure of a landscape is installed, it may speak back in a way that a designer and the client did not anticipate.  There may be surprises, second thoughts, or new ideas.  There may be something that does not work out.  Better one problem to solve, than a long list of problems to solve.

August-2013.jpgI think it is important for clients to experience success in maintaining a project.  A landscape design and installation is no better than the maintenance it takes for it to prosper.  They might decide they like the landscape that is doing well enough to do more.  A big perennial garden might be just the thing, providing the timing is right.  Not everyone would want as much to care for as I have.  Not everyone would want as little to care for as I have.  That degree has to emerge.  Better that the first part of the project creates a structure which can stand on its own.

late-August-2013.jpgThe degree to which a client is willing and excited to take ownership at the end of a project is no small measure of the success of the design.

 

 

Garden Designer’s Roundtable: Transitions

stone-stairs.jpgTransitions broadly refer to change.  A change in status, as in child to teenager.  as in working person to retiree.  As in winter into spring.  The moment in the garden which is neither winter nor spring, neither summer nor fall, neither fall nor winter-these are transitory periods.  Change of any kind implies challenge and uncertainty.  As a designer, I am routinely asked to address the change from one level to another.  If you have ever climbed a steep set of stairs, you know how much effort is involved to make the transition from one level to another.

stone-stairs.jpgA beginning college course in calculus is just that-a beginning.  Advancing from one level of proficiency to the next is greatly helped by a friendly transition process.  The effort it takes to move to the next level-considerable.  Steps in the landscape were invented to make that transitory experience as easy and as interesting as possible.  When I am in New York, and zooming up an elevator, I wish for a transition from the first floor to the 28th floor with some grace and style.

bluestone-stairs.jpgSometimes long flights of steps from one level to another  are unavoidable.  I try to make that trip as visually interesting as possible.  This makes the transition from one level to another an experience-not a chore.

transition.jpgThe transition from the public landscape to the private and personal landscape can be brief and substantial-as in a wall.  A hedge.  A gate.

slope.jpgA subtle transition in grade can be dealt with in a number of ways.  Short flights of steps endow a long and gently ramped soil, with a little lively punctuation.

brick-porch.jpg
The walk to the front porch is traveled by good friends, family, and UPS.  The front porch-a formal transitional space that gives friends, family, and delivery people a moment to collect themselves.  A little time to compose themselves.  A little time to shed the cares of the day, and focus on the moment.  I like big wide and ample  porches.

slate-stairs.jpg
Any transition from one level to another asks for an inventive solution.  An invitation to move from one place to another-both physically and emotionally. The time it takes to make a change from one place to another-transitions in the landscape need to be big and generous.  Transit implies a movement from one space to another.  That transit space needs as much patience as any other space in the landscape.

sculpted-ground.jpg
A steep slope  is not so friendly to people.  Some slopes can be addressed with steps.  Some slopes can be addressed with soil graded into tiers, and grassed. Any transition in the landscape needs to be addressed thoughtfully.   Imagine yourself at that transitional moment.  Design with that moment in mind.

I am keen to read what other members of the roundtable have to say about transitions-please join in!

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT

Mary Gallagher Gray : Black Walnut Dispatch : Washington, D.C.

Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT

David Cristiani : The Desert Edge : Albuquerque, NM

Jenny Peterson : J Petersen Garden Design : Austin, TX

 

 

Designing: The Inviting Landscape

 
Our spring is taking her own sweet time turning on the lights and opening the door.  Was it not amazing to be outside in the 77 degree weather on Sunday without so much as a bud showing green on any woody plant?  A hoticultural twilight zone is what we have going on now.  That day, my tulips at home breached the surface of the ground, and went on to grow up 4 inches.  They are ready to get going-just like every gardener I know.  If you have issues with your landscape, I am sure you are wringing your hands over which way to go.  What lane will you choose?   

The very first order of business is to think long and hard about what you want your landscape to do for you.  There are lots of choices.  It could provide refuge from a frenetic world or a stressful job.    It could provide an environment for your kids to play.  It could be a laboratory for your tinkering; growing this plant from seed or nurturing that 3″ hellebore seedling can be incredibly rewarding.  Teaching your kids how to grow beans and potatoes-this has to be equally rewarding.  It could provide your family with home grown food. It could satisfy your longing for roses, or your lust for geometry. It could enclose you, provoke you, challenge you, amuse you, or knock you over.  How do you know what you want, and what you need?  Make a list, and edit.  Throw out all the 3 rated wants, and focus on the 8, 9, and 10 rated wants. This essay intends to address only one want-an inviting landscape.  The soft, fluid, and colorful landscape pictured above-inviting.  

Landscapes that invite provide places to be, and places to sit.  Places to linger, places to talk.  Engaging places.  Inviting landscapes accomodate company.  Though this picture says much about structure-a table, a bench, the geometry implied in a series of espaliers in lead pots, what engages the eye the most are the flowers.  Flowers soften structures in friendly way. 

Pots at the back door say first up-here is the door.  Secondly, they say hello, and welcome.  This landscape without the pots would be fairly austere.  Though glass permits a view through, glass in the landscape is not transparent-it reads black from outside.  Should you wish your landscape to invite, soften the appearance of that black glass as best you can.    

A walkway asks for a landscape of interest on both sides.  Avoid a walk with a garden on one side, and lawn on the other.  This makes a walk a border, rather than an experience. Lawn has its place.  Lawn that is utilitarian, and has a beautiful shape is as muich a part of the landscape as the trees.  Treat your guests to a garden tour before they get to the door.   A welcoming landscape encourages guests to arrive at the front door, smiling. 

Terraces are a hard surface of a certain dimension  laid on the ground plane.  They make for a surface that is navigable.  Though stone, brick and gravel are hard surfaces, they are natural surfaces.  They make it easy for groups to congregate.  Your son’s softball team and all of the attending parents, a fundraiser attracting lots of guests, a neighborhood group coming for lunch, a graduation party with friends and family-a terrace gives every guest a firm footing.  Beyond that, a terrace can be landscaped such that people feel welcome.  When I sit down on a terrace, I want plants at eye level.  This makes me feel comfortable, and welcome. 

Some very contemporary landscapes make much of what I would call an immature and shallow call to the idea of alienation.   As if alienation were a goal a gardener should seek. Nature portrayed as alienated-oh please. Nature is involved up close in the lives of all of us.  Great geometry-I am on board with this idea.  Want to make your modern  landscape inviting-introduce a plant element that waves in the breeze.  Great modern landscapes can be as inviting as any cottage garden-just different. Clean, clear, and in motion; this modern terrace is inviting.   

This established landscape is all about providing a comfortable place for friends and family to congregate.       


This new landscape is just about ready for those softening elements that will make this space inviting.

Black And White

Looking out the window yesterday, I was crushed by what I saw.  Snow falling at a rapid rate.  Nor did it quit-hours later there was still snow falling.  Wouldn’t you think that after all the snow we have had in the past 5 days, that nature would be out of snow?  Are not the snow reserves in the upper atmosphere completely depleted?  Is nature not exhausted from her nation wide, days long snow and ice dump, and needing to scale back, or take a nap, or something?  Is she not getting a little bored with all the white everywhere, and thinking to switch on some other type of weather?  Change the channel, maybe?  I have places where the 30 inch tall boxwood has a snow top hat over 36 inches tall.  Yes, the snow came spectacularly wrapped in a wind package.     

It’s not as though I have no tolerance for winter weather-after all, this is my 60th winter in this zone.  But the volume of snow we have had has wrought a remarkable change in the landscape.  That every crisp angle and shape is blurred-an ordinary consequence of the Michigan winter.  But the volume of white in the landscape is making every other still struggling to survive color go black.  I can always tell when the temperatures get very cold-my yews at home will go black green.  Today they make a black hedge with a few white specks.  Boxwood is a lighter green color-this boxwood has gone black from the sheer volume of white engulfing it.  In spite of my exasperation with the current weather,  I am noticing that the extreme contrast between black and white is painting a graphically stark and pared down picture of the design of the landscape.      

Perhaps the very best time to look at whether the design of a landscape is working is when it is reduced to its black and white bones.  Every sculpture, pot, fence or other inanimate object has a shape that is unmistakable.  The shape and size of this brown pot makes a far stronger statement than its surface decoration.  When I look at pots for a specific spot, I consider the shape and proportion first, and its color or surface decoration second.  The most gorgeous pot in the world will not look like it-placed in the wrong spot.  I am getting a lot of visual help from the snow here.  It blankets the ground, and every other horizontal surface.  There is no grass, water, flowers, dog toys, bugs, leaves or birds to distract me. I can see the form, as it is all that is there to see.  I suddenly realize why people photograph objects with a white background.  To better see the object, yes?  It may be that the ability to design has something to do with being able to see like this-in spite of all the extraneous noise.  Winter is an incredibly quiet time in a garden, in more ways than one.            

These wirework plant stands have details that could be lost, depending on how they are planted. The round shape will persist no matter what-making them a great choice where they can be viewed in the round.  Against a flat wall seems like a less than optimal placement for this piece.  I can clearly see the relationship of the round object to the straight wall of an iron fence.  Celebrating what an object does best means looking long and hard at that object, and its relationship to a place.  A fence creates an implacably strong shape and visual direction.  Perhaps that is why serpentine walls and brush fences are so visually compelling.  They are so unlike our intellectual idea of a fence.  Trees planted close together so as to make a fence is an unexpected experience of a tree.     

The placement, shape and mass of every object in a landscape-live or not creates visual relationships.  Symmetrical relationships are calming, orderly and dignified.  Asymmetrical relationships are dynamic, fluid, rhythmic. These concrete pots at the shop were placed to make efficient use of the space in which they are stored-not to look beautiful. The snow is so deep, the true shapes are obscured.  The rectangle in the foreground is buried in snow.  All I can really see here is the relationship of the black shapes to the white shapes.  That relationship makes a description of depth.  The mass of white in the foreground narrows to a ribbon of white that moves back in space diagonally to the grey- white in the far background. I see like this routinely. Seeing like this enables the ability to compose.      

Every woody plant has an overall shape.  Individual branches have their own shape, line and texture.  Now might be the best time to look at trees and shrubs, should you be looking to add one.  Should you want a dogwood worse than you need the size and shape of a dogwood, at least you know up front what the issues are; I am assuming you have covered the horticulktural bases.  Deciduous shrubs that have been pruned into balls and squares tell all on a black and white day.  You can decide if that style of pruning is what you want.  My pollarded Palabin lilacs looked beautiful this morning.  Another gardener might not warm up to that woman generated shape; natural, it is not.  


The stairs to the kitchen door are not only obliterated from view, they are buried under a drift that is amazingly deep. But the shape and the directional quality of the yews is apparent.  This hedge has panic grass planted in front of it; I never see this view in the summer.  I might some day want a different look, that does not obstruct the hedge, and its relationship to a magnolia and a kousa dogwood.  I can see what the change would look like.  More simple.  Maybe visually stronger.  Could it be that this part of my garden has so much competition for attention going on that it is not as good as it could be?

This contemporary limestone V-shaped bowl had a leftover wreath from the holidays on top.  That wreath has proved to be an excellent snowcatcher.  That snow gives me an excellent idea about what a single species summer planting might grow up to look like.  It furthermore tells me that if I plant every plant vertically, rather than turning the rootballs of the outermost plants outward, I will end up with a stiffly vertical mature shape.  Is this what I would want?   It also tells me that a minimally trailing plant will best illustrate and preserve the view of the geometry of the pot. 

My picea mucrunulatum came with the house; they were planted on either side of my front walk.  As I know them to be slow growing, and wider rather than tall, I moved them both to a spot on the drive where they had plenty of room to grow and mature without restriction.  I never do one thing to them-except look at them.  That was a good move.  This black and white day reminds me what a beautifully complex texture they have. 

Cardigan welsh corgis have very short legs.  Milo’s might be 8 inches long.  The snow depth is much more trouble for Milo than for me, but he is good natured about it.  Corgi cum rabbit, he is these days.  His only complaint is that I am reluctant to follow him out there.  I finally had to get out there-before he completely disappeared.  The overnight forecast?  More snow.