A Favorite Client

harriet.jpgIt isn’t hard to identify the favorite clients.  The work you do for them-they appreciate it. They are not afraid to ask you to detail every step you went through to arrive at a recommendation. Once you provide all of the details, they respond, kindly. They think over everything you say, carefully. Better, yet, they are interested, and committed.  They are clear about what they like, and polite about what they don’t like. They are willing to weather any storm.  They can be persuaded.  But they know their own mind and life, and are not afraid to stand up for that. I don’t often visit this client, for whom I did a landscape for her new house some three years ago. We had cause to meet recently-a few new issues needed solving.  Her opening topic-a leaf that had fallen from her katsura espaliers.  That heart shape leaf falling on an under planting of boxwood-a cause for celebration. That randomly falling heart shaped leaf was the first topic of her day.  The beauty of nature was number one.  All else was a distant second.   How like her, to feel this way, and show it to me.  We spent a few moments, in celebration.

DSC_4381Celebration energizes and organizes all sorts of  expression.  The landscape is, in its most basic form, about defining spaces, directing traffic, and nurturing a love of nature.  As much as a home is a three dimensional representation of the story of the life of a family, the landscape is a story about how that home interacts with nature.  That relationship with nature is about a lot of things – materials impervious to weather, and the plants.  The shapes of spaces, and their dimensions. Color, and dimension.  Depth.  Places to be. What grows and lives in the landscape parallels a life some describe as a life well worth living.

DSC_4402This landscape just three years old.  It is starting to is take root, and become part and parcel of this property.     It will take a few more years to see what the landscape screens, what it frames, what it features, how it thrives,  and how it enriches this household. A mature landscape will take a good many years to achieve, but the early signs are good.  Establishing the landscape has been a battle.  Very heavy clay soil close to the water’s edge means the soil is usually saturated. We have had casualties.  But the peonies have taken hold, as have the climbing roses and the clematis.  Once a garden built on clay soil is established, it it long lived.

DSC_4378This favorite client took my recommendations about pots and benches, steps, porch stone-this was just the beginning..  This year she had a mind to change her color scheme for her containers. Lots of color, please.  Container design can take a last minute cue.

DSC_4366A meadow garden near the water was too tall, and too green.  Some of the beds got a subtle punch of color from the addition of mid height annual plants.  We planted a few low growing shrub roses-just to see if they would take to the placement. Any successful garden depends upon the willingness to experiment, and evolve. Tinkering is is the hallmark of every inventor.  Among that big group of inventors – gardeners.

DSC_4363My client’s property is overrun with rabbits.  Rabbits that treat her gardens like a lunch buffet.  Her sculpture collection of minks, foxes and dogs that inhabit the landscape are a personal signature. She may never defeat the rabbits, but her landscape is endowed with with her hope, interest and commitment. She is a favorite client, yes. The relationship is a regular pleasure, and routinely full of surprises.  She thinks about her landscape in a way that I never could.  It is hers.  I so appreciate that she thinks about every issue, personally.

DSC_4361water’s edge garden

DSC_4355bright colored containers

DSC_4398saturated color

DSC_4359a view of the garden

DSC_4347I have never seen streptocarpella thrive quite like this. Bravo, Harriet.

The Shape of Things to Come

landscape-plan.jpgAs Susan Cohan, a very talented and skilled American landscape designer would say, a great landscape design is about making a space work.  It works for the client.  It works for the plants selected.  And it solves problems. No where is that more evident than designing for a very small space.  A very small property means every square inch needs to work.  This very small front yard needed a decently sized driveway, and a graceful way to get to the front door from both the sidewalk, and the drive.  It needed to ground a house that was very tall.  It needed to provide a place to watch young children playing on the drive.  It needed to provide ongoing visual interest – every bit of which was exposed to the street. It needed to accommodate a client’s interest in a fountain in the front yard. ellipse.jpgI thought there needed to be a single strong shape which would organize every other element in the landscape.  An ellipse seemed a natural choice.  The shape of the front yard was a very shallow rectangle.  An ellipse would make the most of that natural shape in a more interesting way.  An elliptical shape that touched the north side of the driveway, and reached across to the south side would provide a means to reach the front door.  It would also permit a way to walk the garden that had no beginning and no end. aluminum-edger-strip.jpgFrom the driveway, one ring of the ellipse would be a gravel path that would lead to the front door.  That path would also encourage walking through the space.  The gravel ellipse was wide enough to accommodate a bench, wherever the client might want one.  An interior ellipse of grass would make it possible to view the garden, and the fountains from a number of different vantage points. landscape-design.jpgThe fountain Buck built was actually a pair of fountains.  Each was fabricated as a half-ellipse.  Anyone approaching the front door would walk through the fountains.  Anyone coming to the front door from the driveway could follow the gravel path, or take the fountain view route. Rows of boxwood and yews matching the curve of the ellipse would give the garden some winter interest.  As for the perennial garden, there are but a few plants.  The inner ring is a collection of peonies, faced down with alchemilla mollis.  Once the peonies mature, they will form a lustrous large leaved interior hedge taller than the boxwood.   landscape.jpgThe fountains are the center of interest to the design, and they are front and center.  We did eventually move them back off of the sidewalk a bit, just so the space would breathe better.  The interior garden would mature at the same height as the fountains. This height was a direct response to the height of the house.  I planted yews in the ellipse closest to the house-who would want to block the views from inside out with anything taller?  Eventually we would plant a DeGroot Spire arborvitae on either side of the from facade of the house. limestone-steps.jpgThe lower step to the front door needed to describe that ellipse that governed the shape every other landscape element.  Scott Albaugh from Albaugh Masonry did a great job of this.  In a very small space, the details matter so much. Our shapes were by no means perfect.  But they were accurate enough to be convincing.  At this stage in the installation, the ellipses read in a graphically strong way.  Once the landscape was planted, that shape became much more subtle. landscape-plan.jpgThe day a landscape is installed is just that-the first day.  Given some time for the plants to mature, that ellipse describing the horizontal ground plane will be softened by the height and the sprawl of the plants. landscape-plan.jpgThis design looks different from different vantage points.  Changing the visual channel is easy; there is a path. gravel-path.jpgAny guest getting out of the car in the driveway could find their way to the front door.  They might take the long way-or the short way, in bad weather.  This design is intended to make the garden accessible and friendly to people.  Though just about every idea can be seen from the drive or the street, the elliptical path invites a stroll through. new-garden.jpgWhat can readily be seen now will not always be the case. The outer ring of this garden will mature at a height of 4 to 5 feet. Roses, shasta daisies, Russian sage, Little Lime hydrangeas-the height of these plants will provide a little mystery and privacy to the inner ellipse.  The border on the sidewalk-moss phlox and lamb’s ear. landscape-design.jpgI will be very interested to see this garden when it has a few more years on it.  Hopefully it will be a small space that has something interesting going on.

Sunday Opinion: Scale And Proportion

cad-drawing.jpg
Whenever Buck does a CAD drawing for a project, or an object, he includes a drawing of Man 01.  For those of you who do not do design drawings on a computer, CAD stands for computer assisted design.  This line drawing of a man who is 6′ tall is stored in his computer as a “block”.  Buck has thousands of blocks stored in his computer. Those blocks are stored drawings of shapes and forms he uses over and over again.  Pasting a block into a drawing means he does not have to draw that portion from scratch.  An entirely new shape will require a drawing from start to finish.  A complicated design for an object to be made can take many hours to draw.
man-01.jpg
I have watched him translate an idea into a precisely rendered drawing. Who knows how long ago it was that he learned the language of this two-dimensional design program.  It must be a long time, as his fingers fly over the keyboard of his computer faster than my eyes can follow.  I see lines drawn to precise lengths that connect to other lines, which finally, and exactly, describe a form.  Down to the last 1/64th of an inch.  Given a specific engineering inquiry, he can design to 1000th of an inch. This level of precision isn’t an issue for you and I.   What purpose does the man01 block serve?  This 6′ tall idea of the height and volume occupied by a man is size that is easy to recognize.  6′ tall isn’t short, but it isn’t tall, either.  Man01 is a average size guy.  When man01 is standing next to a planter box we are thinking of building, I have more than the dimensions of that box.  I have  a size and height that is familiar to me.  I can compare the size of the man, to the size of the proposed box.

CAD-drawing.jpg (7)

Anything that Buck makes at Branch, requires a drawing.  He has the drawings for our stock products stored in his computer.  The company that laser cuts our steel, or the company that rolls our steel in multiple dimensions, require those drawings to program their computers to cut or roll to our exact specifications.  Building an object successfully that involves a number of different people and operations doesn’t happen via a breakfast meeting or a conference call.  What is drawn on the page is an exact template for what will be built.

people-in-the-garden.jpgBuck makes those drawings with the help of a computer program programmed to precisely, and mathematically describe a form.  He drives the bus. He tells the computer what he wants to see. The many years he spent as an architect required a working knowledge of how to translate a design into a drawing.  Not just any drawing.  A drawing that would spell out to a contractor exactly how to build a house,  a stadium, a heating system, a plumbing plan, or a fruit cellar.  A bell tower, or a topiary form, or a bench.  But rest assured, a mathematically precise rendering of an idea of an object does in no way indicate that an object will be beautiful.

Dorothy-and-Don-Farmer.jpg

Man01 is a gesture in a beautiful direction.  The proportion of a planter box for the garden is a key element of its design.  How a person would relate to the dimension and proportion of that box, whether standing or sitting, will influence how a gardener eventually views, and reviews, that form.  Every person has an idea all their own about what is beautiful and of interest.  Each person likewise has an idea of what doesn’t move them.  This makes garden ornament very difficult to design.  One way we broaden our appeal is by offering different sizes.  Comparing a set of possible sizes to the mano1 block helps us to decide what to build and what not to build.  The computer is a tool that helps with the decision making process.

in-the-garden.jpgMan01 is a symbol on Buck’s drawings for scale and proportion.  Woman01 is a scale I sometimes ask for from Buck.  5.5 feet.  But no matter the gender,  human scale is an element that should inform landscape design.  A good feeling for the scale and proportion of a property, the plants, and the people can produce visually interesting relationships.

friends-in-the-garden.jpgFriends for dinner in the garden is great fun.  Friends comfortable in the garden is an important part of design.

Tuesday Opinion: Rhythm

Someday I will  plant a giant circle of deciduous trees.  Or a square. or a rectangle, or an irregularly shaped enclosure of trees.  Most of the trunks will be too close together.  There may be one entrance, which is also an exit.  There may be an entrance and a separate exit.  There may be one entrance, and several exits. There may be one entrance on axis, and other oblique entrances. No matter the shape, the canopies of the trees will create a tent.  Inside the tent, there will be a bench, or a collection of benches.  The garden on the outside of the tree tent will be inviting and friendly.  The inside of the tree tent will be plain.  Just grass, and a place to sit.  I would visit the tree tent every day, every season, year round.  Maybe very early, before work.  Maybe late in the day, after work.  Maybe more than twice a day.   Why would I want such a garden? A daily garden?  For the sake of rhythm.

Like most gardeners, I am tuned into my garden at specific times of the year.  The first signs of spring.  The spring trees blooming.  The planting of the spring-and the summer pots.  The roses coming on.  The late summer garden.  The fall, and finally the winter.  These moments are an intense experience.  The hellebores in full bloom make me feel dizzy, my focus is that intense.  Other times, I barely notice what is in front of my eyes.  I have this issue to attend to, or that.  The delphiniums may be sending up a strong second flush that I barely acknowledge.   Up and down-that would be me in the garden.  Miss topsy-turvy.  Would that I could be more consistent and less scattered.

On and off is not my favorite place to be.  A lengthy “on period” means I can establish a rhythm.  It is not so tough to imagine this.  In simple terms, practice makes perfect.  Those times when I am focused on the garden, day to day, my garden benefits.  The 2 months I spend planting summer pots-I am quite sure the last of those pots are the best.  Once I have gotten into a rhythm, there is flow.  I stop thinking about what to do, and just do.  Stating and stopping and starting up again in the garden shows.  A design may appear disjointed, or fragmented.  Or even worse, careless.

A regular rhythm is like a pulse, like a heart that beats regularly.  Repetition sets the stage for a rhythmic expression.  The big idea here-anything you attend to, or practice every day establishes a rhythm.  Once you have a rhythm going on, a beautiful expression is not far behind.

As for my tree tent-I imagine it as a place to recapture that sense of rhythm.  A place that can store momentum.  Of course the tree tent is an idea that could exist only in my imagination.  Maybe the real solution is to figure out how to keep the door to imagination propped open.  Today I have a large Christmas tree to decorate. It is a project I have not done before. I have assembled a collection of materials-they will be looking at me.  And my crew will be looking at me. I am sure I will be trying out different arrangements, stopping and starting, until that certain state of mind that I call rhythm gets switched on.