A New Landscape For An Old Property

a new landscape (2)Last August I had the opportunity to consult on a landscape renovation for a lovely house and property dating back to the 1920’s. The current owners added a sizable addition to the back of the house, solved many of the problems that old houses are heir to, and had redone the interior to suit them. They were ready to tackle the landscape. A mixed planting of privet, viburnum and Annabelle hydrangea on the sidewalk was healthy, but disorderly.  The bark path was not centered on the front door of the house.

August 23 2014 (1)The landscape at the front door looked congested.  A pair of kousa dogwoods were placed in front of the windows.  The boxwood had been planted right next to the walk to the front door. This placement all but obscured the front porch.  Planted behind the boxwood, a run of All Summer Beauty hydrangea, and a longer run of privet. There was a lot going on here, none of it especially friendly to the architecture of the house. Shrubs and trees growing up and over the windows of a house-not a good look. A landscape that overpowers a house speaks to neglect.

a new landscape (1)A large block of Annabelle hydrangeas facing down the sun porch were planted in a little bit too much shade.  The bloom was spotty, and green. Carpet roses that had been planted in front of them were in altogether too much shade. In the left background of this picture, an old concolor fir that was just about gone.

a new landscape (3)An old blue stone terrace in the back was becoming overwhelmed by the plantings. All of the plants were robust and healthy.  The relationship of the plants to the terrace-uneasy. My clients wanted a terrace large enough to be comfortable both visually, and physically.

a new landscape (4)As in the front yard, there were a number of big old trees that were nearing the end of their lifespan.  Some had been severely damaged by lightening, and disease. Others had suffered considerable storm damage. Some were just at the end of their lifespan.

a new landscape (5)An informal perennial garden with a rock border had too many dirt spaces created from plants that had been lost. The garden did not have enough presence to be seen from the terrace.  The weeds were beginning to run wild. This is a very large property-where to begin?

DSC_8098We began with a plan. The landscape plan for the back was simple. The original terrace would be taken up, and relaid level. A border of old reclaimed brick would add a good deal of space to the terrace, and repeat the brick on the walls of the original house. the ground adjacent to the terrace would be regraded to slope away from the house, and would culminate in  long low brick seat wall, punctuated by wide steps that would lead to an upper level lawn.  The terrace garden would be planted with Nova yews, and boxwood. The trees that could not be saved would be taken down, and that upper level spot regraded to produce a large flat area suitable for touch football and the like. Flanking the lawn, a pair of triangular shaped meadow-like beds with multi trunked Himalayan white barked birch. If my clients liked the look of those shapes of long grass, we might at a later date formally plant it as such. The shape of these beds had everything to do with the unusual shape of the lot.  At the back of the property, the boulder wall would be redone in a curved shape.  Soil would be added above the wall to create 2 levels of plantings.  Above the wall, a mass of Annabelle hydrangeas that would cascade over the wall, backed up by a hedge of limelight hydrangeas. Hydrangeas would be in bloom from June through September.  On the lower level, an improved perennial garden.  Anchoring that garden at either end, a pair of the same birch. Last fall’s project-tree removal.

DSC_9551In April, we moved every shrub from the terrace garden out of harms way, and heeled them in. Given the cool rainy conditions, we also moved all of the Annabelle hydrangeas, privet and viburnum from the garden at the street, and behind the boxwood in front. The viburnums and privets would be relocated along the driveway to provide more privacy from the neighboring house. The Annabelles would go to the new garden in the back. By this time, the installation of the new terrace was underway. We were fortunate that the weather was perfect for transplanting. We got everything moved before it leafed out.  We moved well over 100 shrubs, and did not loose a single one.

May 11  2015 023The finished wall is 90 feet long, and features a staircase to the upper level.  This is the mid ground feature of the landscape.

DSC_0604We only had to add one pallet of rock to complete the new wall.  Better than 20 yards of soil were added behind that wall, and feathered into the existing grade going up to the rear lot line.  Loads of soil were used to level the lawn area.

IMG_0282Teddy and Beau got right in to the project. There was no keeping them out of the dirt.

DSC_0065In May, the landscape of the rear terrace was installed, and the ground leveled in preparation for sod.

DSC_0070A pair of fan shaped apple espaliers will eventually cover this large wall.

DSC_0661A pair of Palabin lilacs on standard that had been on the terrace were relocated out away from the house, where they would have all the room they needed to grow to a substantial size. Old Palabin lilacs on standard are impressive.  Once the irrigation was installed, we were able to work on the finish grade.

DSC_0657Shrubs that had been relocated to various spots on the lot lines were outfitted with their own irrigation rings.  A property this large cannot be watered by hand.

DSC_0672The final step was to have the upper rear yard hydroseeded.  The grass seed is mixed into a slurry of recycled paper.  This acts as a mulch for the seed, and helps to make sure that the seed has the access to moisture that it needs.

DSC_0680We protected the trunks of the birch, and some newly planted spruce from any over spray of hydroseed with landscape fabric, although this turned out to be unnecessary.  The seed was very precisely applied to the ground.

DSC_0679A snow fence kept Teddy and Beau out of that upper level.  It would be a few weeks before the seed would germinate, and a while after that before the new grass could tolerate foot traffic.

DSC_0675The lawn in front was spot hydro seeded in those areas where the grass was thin. The boxwood from the rear terrace was replanted across the front of the house, for a simple and continuous look. Only four new boxwood were needed to complete the hedge.

DSC_0676The sun porch garden was planted with shade tolerant hostas, brunnera, and forget me nots, set in pachysandra. There is nothing here that is unduly tricky or fussy to maintain.  Both of my clients are busy professional people.

DSC_0684The shrub bed at the street was redone in lawn.  The kousa dogwoods had long since been moved to the back yard, where they would get a little afternoon shade, and have the room to grow large. The architecture of the house can be seen from top to bottom, and side to side. I like to think the austerity of it is in keeping with the period and style of the house.  The boxwood were backed off of the front walk, so the entire porch is visible. In celebration of that porch, a pair of vintage wood champagne crates were placed there, and planted with pansies. We managed to finish June first. They have a whole summer and fall ahead of them, to enjoy the change. I like leaving a landscape renovation at this point. Once my clients live with it, they may decide what they have now is enough. Or they may decide to take the landscape a step further. But for now, there are some good bones in place.

 

The Penny W. Stamps Lecture Series: Louis Benech

Are you familiar with the Penny W. Stamps Lecture series which take place at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor?  If you are not familiar with the Stamps School of Art and Design at the University of Michigan, their mission is simply as follows.

Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design

On September 20th, 2012, our School officially became the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design. It’s a significant landmark in our history — not merely for the way that a name shapes identity, but in the symbolic gesture that the naming represents. It is a gesture of thanks to a long-standing member of the A&D community whose generous financial support has helped make us who we are today and whose continuing support of programs and scholarships will shape who we will become, as an institution and as a community.

Penny Stamps graduated from this school in 1966 as Penny Witt. She’s an award-winning designer, a community leader and, along with her husband Roe, a dedicated philanthropist. The Stamps give to many causes — animal welfare, environmental organizations, homeless shelters — but higher education is something they are especially passionate about.

Penny Stamps has been involved with this school philanthropically, since 1998, providing initial funding for a then-fledgling lecture series. Later, when Dean Bryan Rogers came on board, she became involved with the school strategically, as chair of the Dean’s Advisory Council, providing key support as the school sought to re-envision art/design education in the 21st century.

During the last ten years, this school has been rebuilt from the ground up. It has been an ongoing effort to rethink and restructure what we do as an educational institution; to ensure that the work of creative makers is positioned not outside of but within the intellectual fabric of university life; and to create an art/design education that is responsive and relevant within a national and global context.

Over the last decade, Penny and Roe Stamps, among others, have provided the School with the financial resources needed to undertake such a task. By supporting such programs as the wildly popular Penny W. Stamps Speakers Series, WORK • Ann Arbor, a downtown exhibition space for undergraduate work, the Roman W. Witt Residency and Visitors programs, the Stamps Creative Work Scholarships, and a pledge that ensures the continuation of all these programs, the Stamps have provided a foundation from which we can continue to build a world-class art/design program here at the University of Michigan.

Impressive, this. The lecture series features people who have made a mark in their career in art and design.  I am so pleased to see that a landscape design comes under this umbrella. I am very pleased to announce that the Penny Stamps lecture slated for April 9 at 5:10 pm at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor will be given by the renowned French landscape designer, Louis Benech.  This is an event that we wholeheartedly support, and sponsor.

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Classic French design is crisply and dispassionately edited.  But the work of Louis Benech is not only clearly of French origin, it goes beyond to be work uniquely of his own invention. I admire how he reads the lay of the land so gently, and designs in concert with nature.  His love of plants equals his love for great design. His design is always thoughtful, and never imposing.

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His work contrasts his love of geometry with his big love for the natural world.  The images of his work are readily accessible on line, but the chance to hear him speak to his history, outlook, and profession is a rare opportunity for anyone with a big love for the landscape to experience in person a lecture from a giant in 20th century landscape design.

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To Follow is from The Penny Stamps Lecture series website.

Watch and Work

April 9, 2015

Louis Benech

Renowned landscape designer Louis Benech has carried out some 300 park and garden projects around the world including at the Tuileries, the Elysée Gardens and the Quai d’Orsay, Pavlovsk’s Rose Pavilion (St Petersburg), and the Gardens of the Achilleion (Corfu). He has also worked for organizations such as Hermes, Axa and Suez.  With each of his projects, Benech combines a desire to create long-lasting and aesthetically pleasing gardens with respect for a site’s history and ecosystem, while also considering its future upkeep. At the heart of his work is one simple idea — a garden is an artificial construction with elements of nature. It has to bring pleasure to those who experience it and a break in their life. A recipient of the Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur and Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres, Benech is now working at the Palace of Versailles on a contemporary garden for the Water Theatre Grove.

With support from Matthei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum, Deborah Silver and Company / Detroit Garden Works, and the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Unless otherwise noted, all programs take place on Thursdays at 5:10 pm at the historic Michigan Theater, located at 603 E. Liberty Street in downtown Ann Arbor, and are free of charge and open to the public.

Should you be within driving distance of Ann Arbor in Michigan, I would encourage you to attend the lecture coming up April 9 by Louis Benech. I am sure it will be more thank interesting to hear him discuss his work. The photographs in the book  Louis Benech: Twelve French Gardens are lovely. But to hear a designer of this caliber speak about those photographs and that work is an experience not to be missed.  April 9, at 5:10.  The Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The Landscape At Lee Hill Farm

Lee Hill FarmI have a very good friend, Susan Cohan, who also happens to be an extraordinarily talented landscape designer. Her firm, Susan Cohan Gardens, is based in Chatham, New Jersey. She is well educated in the arts and design. Her history is varied, and rich. Mind you, this previous bit does not in any way address the length and the breath of her experience and expertise. She has a keen eye, a well developed point of view, and a huge passion for the landscape. In my opinion, her passion for every aspect of the landscape is awesome. We met during her 2014 tenure as President of the APLD. The APLD is a national association of landscape designers that has members in almost every state. They work tirelessly to improve the quality of landscape design among their members, and they work to inform the public about landscape designers with experience and talent who would be worth consulting on a landscape project. From the beginning we were professionals and associates, with a relationship that grew to regularly debate the issues regarding landscape design.  Now we are friends. The result of that friendship – she got on a plane, and came out to visit me for 4 days this past February. Those days flew by.  She is delightfully interesting, serious, and genuine, not to mention fresh, direct, and personal.  How I love all these things about her!  I was so pleased to hear that she had won a Gold Medal award in the 2015 APLD competition for planting design. I want to share that award winning design and installation. I  greatly respect how she approached the work, and brought a project to bear fruit, from the ground up.

Susan Cohan DesignHer clients had purchased a beautiful old house and property.  Many of the structural elements of the garden – walls, and walkways – were in a considerable state of disrepair. In Susan’s estimation, a renovation of the property would have to begin with repairs. A good designer lays out the issues, and details the journey. Her client committed to this aspect of the restoration. Any successful project is a result of a rapport between a designer and a client. It was agreed that the old walkways, steps, and some walls would have to come out, and be redone. Another wall was slated to be built.

Lee Hill Farm
Repairs are not that much fun. Fixing what is broken does not necessarily result in something new and exciting. Just what was, before it was broken. But an old property with beautiful walls and walks may not need something new.  A repair and renovation that goes on to become a landscape better than her client thought she could have it-that’s very new and exciting! Repairs can be lengthy and tedious. These before pictures of Lee Farm which Susan sent me do not tell the tale of the days and weeks of work that would be involved to make the hard structures of this garden whole again.

vintage stairsEvery place has its own aura. A feeling. An atmosphere.  Recreating and restoring a sense of place relies on a sure hand. How Susan approached this project tells me she has a gift for the concept of the genius of the place. This property had a long history that deserved respect.  I am sure she steeped herself in the ruination, before she put a drawing, a hand, or a shovel, to the ground.

old gardenThe heaved and crumbling brickwork and the grass challenged stonework did not faze her.

Susan Cohan GardensThis view of a landscape long neglected makes clear that a lot of work needed to be done. Landscape projects that are really good address the land, the history, the client, the structures, the furnishings, and the plants. Like a play having six acts, this project would build on itself.

redoing the stoneworkThe restoration of the hard structures took lots of time.  Lots of hard work. Lots of supervision, and even more discussion. The pace of this work took so much more time than these pictures would indicate. This picture of a degraded walk, some hand tools, and a person tells a story. A beautiful project takes a vision, and work to follow that is skilled.

Lee HillOnce the hard structures were restored, the replanting of the landscape would involve an arrangement and plant list that would convince.  A beautifully planted garden is a joy.  But this garden had to be true to the history, the aura, and the meaning of this property of great age.  I think Susan did a great job of thinking through a plant list that was not limited to what perennials were available at the time the garden was built.  It was a plant list that served and recalled the original spirit of the garden.

the stoneworkThe fountain needed repair. The stone terrace was relaid, on level ground. The brick walks were redone. The millstone was level in the center of two brick walks, intersecting at right angles. The planting had begun.

Lee Hill Farm small fileYears later, this landscape evokes the spirit of the past, courtesy of lots of skilled design help from the present.  These pictures, which Susan submitted to the APLD competition, tell a certain story.

Lee Hill Farm Photo #4Her hand is a subtle one. It takes great experience, confidence and skill to plant a landscape that gives the land, the history and the plants center stage. I can see she is interested here in a landscape that seems natural and appropriate. Genuinely believable. Flowing.

Lee Hill Farm Photo #2On one level, the planting design for this project was meant to evoke the spirit of the original garden. But that design goes on to other levels. More interesting and thoughtful placement. More variety, or better performing cultivars. Designed spaces. The plant choices and the colors echo the original garden, but have relevance in the present.

Lee Hill Farm Photo #5The original iris still have a place.

Lee Hill Farm Photo #8the sweep

Lee Hill Farm Photo #9a long line

Lee Hill Farm Photo #10the layered view

Lee Hill Farm Photo #7The matching hedges of the same cultivar of peony is a way of illustrating how the design is as important as the plant choices.

Lee Hill Farm Photo #6The peonies, arbor and fountain are the strong and simple organizing feature for a constellation of perennial borders.  In May, the peonies hold forth much more strongly than they would have, had they been planted singly in a number of different places. At this moment, this view is drenched in the history of the original landscape in a visually compelling way.  It is also a very strongly designed space.

Lee Hill Farm Photo #2This is an award winning project-as well it should be. This picture tells the tale-everything seems right and rings true to the setting.  As for Susan Cohan, should you have a great passion for the landscape, and live within 100 miles of her, contact her.  She is a landscape designer I greatly admire. Interested in reading further about her?

Susan Cohan Gardens

 

 

The Envelope, Please

landscape-plan.jpgOver the past few weeks, I have spent a lot of time shoveling out my office. I needed a shovel!  Suffice it to say that I went over every square inch of my office in person, with the idea that I needed to sort through and clean up.  Some plans from 20 years ago did not look all that good to me, several decades later. Why should they?  Client files so old I did not recognize the name-did I need those?  Files of inspirational pictures that no longer seemed very inspirational-did I need these? Piles of notes secured with rubber bands that broke when I touched them-I could no longer remember what I was thinking when I wrote them. A point of view changes over the years-hopefully for the better. Some things from the past don’t warrant saving. I reorganized all of my books to include this past year’s purchases. I swept and dusted. What I did not pitch I updated, rethought, and reorganized. Every plan has a file now. How I love the look. Clean, and organized. Why did I the pitch the records and drawings of certain older work? Any plan that seemed immature or unfinished, not interesting or not built-I pitched them. I am happy to be free of them. Vintage does not necessarily imply valuable. But this plan dating back to 2005 still looked good to me. I remember that the architecture of the house was elaborate – winged.  The center portion of the structure was parallel to the lot, and the street. A pair of east and west wings angled sharply away from formal structure of the center section.

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A residential landscape design needs to consider the siting of a home.  That house will always be the most important feature of a landscape, as it occupies the vast majority of the space. The landscape needs to respond to that. The architect clearly felt that a central entry space would be enhanced by wings at an angle. I was not consulted about the architecture-nor should I have been. My job was to come in after the house was built, and design a landscape that would scoop up that architecture, and detail an interesting and thoughtful relationship between the structure and the property.

landscape-plan.jpgThe front door was immediately adjacent to a tower that housed the stairs to the second floor. The wing of the house off the front door to the east veered sharply to the north.  The wing off the formal dining room to the west veered to the north at a different angle. The footprint of the house was complicated, and intricate. My instinct was to generate a landscape plan that would function like an envelope. An envelope, strictly speaking, is a paper structure designed to hold a letter. That letter may address a number of topics, many of which might veer off east and west as well as north and south.  An envelope – bear with me – is a an enclosure that houses a complex of written ideas.  The plain white envelope that encloses my gas bill is a case in point.  The driveway and landscape of the front entry encompasses with a singular gesture the complexity of the architecture. A white envelope. The paving design of the drive court still interests me.  The surface of the area immediately surrounding the front door area calls out the entrance-this area was to be blue stone.  The areas denoted by diagonal lines was to be concrete aggregate. The dotted areas indicate decomposed granite.

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The grade of this property was very high at the street. That grade fell from the street to the back.  My idea was to place the grade of the driveway at the same grade as the street. And the same grade as the front door. This would involve cutting into the existing land form, building retaining walls to hold back that soil so high, and ending with a route to the front door at grade -as noted in my drawing.  The day I drew this plan, I could imagine how it would be to drive into a steep property, with those hills looming over both left and right, retained by stone.  The driveway would be the next best thing to a trip through a tunnel.  Leaving the grade high at the street meant that a large house would sit down, and have some privacy from the road. A drawing of a landscape plan never rises to the level of a dream. That takes a plan, and a commitment to a thoughtful installation that has room for revision. Any landscape needs the time and opportunity to speak back. Landscape plans provide a place from which to approach a project. This  plan I saved, as it approaches some issues in a way I still think has merit.

landscape-plan.jpgOf course, the back yard sees those site lines from various wings of the house beginning to converge. There was no way to avoid this. The driveway garden with an allee of trees pushes way into the back yard.  The drive court adjacent to the garage entry is formal.  The landscape beyond is equally as formal, and parallel to that drive court.   The rear yard design was parceled into three rooms, each one accessed by a gravel path that began at the driveway, and would eventually turn and traverse the entire rear yard.  The is gravel path is parallel to the wings of the house.  The left wing features a large blue stone terrace that captures a series of intricate twists and turns taken by the architecture. A large portion of the yard off this terrace is a lawn panel. The transition space between the terrace landscape and the pool landscape-a triangular perennial garden.  The central room features a large fountain. The property behind this house is a large golf course, so the rear property line would never be a visual issue. The transition from the pool landscape to the formal garden is another triangular shaped perennial garden.  The right wing, which houses the master bedroom, features a formal garden on axis, and a pavilion with climbing roses and clematis.

landscape-plan.jpgAs jarring as all of these angles seem, from a bird’s eye view, the reality on the ground would be much different.  The perennial gardens would soften the transition from one space to another. The design makes the most of all of the property available.

landscape-plan.jpgThe far east side of the property climbs steeply.  A four foot stone retaining wall would make that slope less steep. I still like the looks of this master plan.  If you are further interested in a closer look at the plans, you can click on each picture for a magnified view. I regret to say that this landscape never got built. Not every landscape plan comes to life. That’s life as any landscape designer knows it. But I still like how it addresses the architecture. I am especially pleased that I had the sense to specify a triangular block of taxus in the front yard, on axis with the front door.  This is my favorite part of this plan. This plan, I kept. The idea that a landscape is an envelope still intrigues me.