What Ages Well

As much as my age can be irritating and inconvenient to me,  the age of my landscape is suiting me  just fine.  I do think it is as good looking as it has ever been.  Even better, no one could possibly be enjoying it as much as I do.  We have had a cool summer; even my lawn looks like a lawn, and not field grass.  Buck obligingly hauled the ladder out into the middle of the road, so I could take this picture; I am sure my neighbors were amused.

aug-17-042For the better part of six years I did nothing to this yard except bark the existing perennial beds, and mow the grass.  It took all my energy to handle my work-or so it seemed.  I am embarrassed to say that somewhere along the line I got an anonymous postcard in the mail:  “It is hard to believe that a person whose career is landscape would have weeds six feet tall in her front yard”.   No matter the delivery, the person had a point.

aug-17-026But perhaps even more importantly, I was ignoring the fact that whatever I did at home would need time to come of age-and that perhaps I would want to still be around to see that.  Planning my own landscape was agonizingly slow. I had no problem designing for others; I was a wreck designing for myself.  Slow turned out to be fine; who can do everything at once anyway?  Getting started-that was the key.

aug-17-029The one hundred Hicks yews across the west and down the north side came first. Given the slope of my property from the south to the north, time would prove to be an essential element.  The hedge is 4 feet tall on the south side, and nine feet tall on the north side-but every one of them is level with the horizon.  This hedge took eight years to grow in.

aug-17-045The boxwood was even slower growing;  the 18″-24″ plants I put in the ground were already seven years old when I planted them.  The shaggy densiformis yews are the newest evergreen addition; they have only been in four years.  I like all this evergreen; I can successfully maintain it. I knew I could never devote the time needed to a big perennial garden-why come home and be frustrated about what isn’t done?  Two giant blocks of Limelight hydrangeas, and 6 pots of flowers give me perennial garden pleasure, in a manageable form.

aug-16a-023I planted this city-mini allee of Yellow Butterflies magnolias for Buck-he loves yellow.  The boxwood is a big evergreen groundcover.  The petals falling on this boxwood is one of my garden’s best spring moments. The mini-boxwood strips in the foreground-this year’s landscape project.  The slope of the ground here made it difficult to mow the grass.  The magnolias have grown considerably, and the shade they cast was not optimal for lawn.  Wall stone behind them retains the soil, and in a few years, will be invisible.

aug-17-050The magnolias were planted to frame the view to the side yard.  It is hard arrange a long view on a city lot, making visual use of the neighbor’s mature elm adds much to the illusion of distance.

aug-17-060The big Yew hedge divides my public landscape, from the house landscape.  The big pots are centered in front of big panels of windows; I have good views from inside.  The ground is carpeted with herniaria glabra-rupturewort.  This plant grows like thyme, but is much more water tolerant.


The herniaria has no need for as much water as the flowers in my pots; the granite gravel handles that problem for me. This garden is in progress.  I haven’t a clue about how to finish it, I do have the patience to wait until something suggests itself.

Fifteen years into this landscape project, I realize inertia is the most difficult problem I ever have with it.  Once I put a burst of energy to my doing nothing state, and get going, things happen.   Once  in motion, I tend to stay in motion. Though I once thought it would be forever to see what I had in my mind’s eye come alive, it  didn’t.  Best of all, it has been worth the wait.

Celebrating the Long View


This client had an existing landscape notable for its good bones. Sited on a small urban lot, it had good screening from the neighboring properties.  But what I liked the best were the long bluestone walkways.  The view from the sidewalk was marked by a beautifully done walk, flanked by four boxwood parterres. Though they cannot be seen in this picture, lindens and yews do a great job of enclosing the property at the sidewalk, and focusing the eye on the long view to the porch.  I could not have done this better.  My only addition, a pair of hand carved concrete pots with just enough of a contemporary feeling to provide some compliment to the architecture of the house.  The striking color of this house transforms it; this is the hand of her interior designer Ann Heath, whose design firm Duncan Fuller does better than beautiful work.

views5Another long bluestone walk set parallel to the house runs  almost the entire length of the rear yard.  The boxwood you see in this picture had been planted parallel to the walk.  I dug every last one of them up, and replanted them in runs perpendicular to the walk.  Why?  The walkway strongly makes a description of that north/south direction and dimension-planting boxwood next to it doen’t make it stronger, or more interesting.  Replanting the boxwood perpendicular to the house, encourages visitors to the garden to slow down, and view the gardens.  The boxwood is associated with the gardens now, and makes those areas stronger visually.  The walk needed no such help.

views1Each end of that walk has its center of interest.  A beautiful hand made Italian terra cotta pot on a pedestal can be viewed from the dining table at the other end.  Guests entering the garden from the south see the dining table centered in their view.  This announces the location of the terrace, and presents that table as a sculptural element, in addition to its function.

views9The terrace furniture is kept company by a number of planted pots.  These pots help make the larger garden an integral part of the terrace.  The Palabin lilacs on standard are a crisp contrast to the profusion of the garden and pots.

views6This long view is inviting; the boxwood placement invites lingering.  This is much the same idea as a wedding coordinator instructing the bridal party how to take their time getting down the aisle.  There is no need to rush.

views10I have talked plenty about how much presence and personality great pots can add to a landscape.  They help to create a sense of intimacy on a terrace.  They are just plain good to look at.

views7The bones of a garden are so important.  This arborvitae screen at the end of this walk, and the walk  itself ,are always there, functional and well-designed. This structure will be transformed by weather, season and light; there is interest there.  In this landscape, the supporting cast members along the way make this garden much more than just about getting from one place to another. 

views11It’s impossible to tell that I am standing in the soccer lawn, taking this picture.  This small property has spaces for a whole family. Limelight hydrangeas back up the garden, and help keep the soccer ball on the lawn field, and out of the garden.

views3The short south side walk is decomposed granite.  Window boxes of painted galvanized sheet metal run the entire length of what is a sun porch. This part of the garden is viewed primarily from inside; the flowers in the window bring a whole other dimension to the interior space.  These Persian Queen geraniums bloom profusely in this sunny protected spot. Fragaria “Lipstick” carpets the ground under the boxes.

views12For anyone who might love flowers and lots of them,, this garden is a delight.

Renovation Phase II


Plenty of work was involved in getting to this stage, but the main planes of both terrace and lawn have finally been established. Stripping off the existing struggling grass would be the last step, as soil was needed to flatten that space.  The length of time between adding dirt, and putting down sod needed to be minimal, given 2 dogs who love their yard. Edger strip was installed 8″ from the stucco wall the entire perimeter of the yard. It was my intent to feature that wall with a landscape planting that would not obscure it in any way.  It also makes mowing easy, and eliminates the need for a string trimmer.

renovation81We needed a riser for the one step down into the yard.  A 14″ wide by 9′ long piece of 1/4″ steel, buried, and snugged up against the new wall would do a clean and simple job of it.  Once that steel was installed, the decomposed granite would be leveled right to the edge of the terrace. We adjusted the grade as the base of that step to make the transition to the lower level an easy one.


I planted a small grove of Venus dogwoods in the lawn.  The tree trunks have small and discreet circles of soil around them, to he[p avoid damage to the trunks from mowing the grass.  It interests me that trees with large circles of soil or bark or flowers around them look “landscaped”.  Trees planted in lawn look like a park.  A “park” has a very different feeling than a “landscape”; small details like this can have big visual impact. As  I hate being at the design mercy of a lawn mower or trimmer run amok,  I try to find solutions for practical issues that help make aesthetic decisions maintainable.


The finished landscape,, with new sod, is simple and very clean-lined.  The wall looks great. The columnar carpinus will grow together, and provide a dense green enclosure, perfect for celebrating something yet to come.  A sod topped bench?  A sculpture?


I like planting 25 gallon size columnar carpinus.  They seem to recover from transplant shock faster; they fill out quick.  Someday I do want to plant a hedge of them with the trunks impossibly close together, but in this case, the spacing is what it needs to be.

reno4This view from the new terrace is my favorite.  There is a simple overall shape, which unexpectedly drops down in the center to a lower plane. What is brick in the upper terrace reverses to granite in the lower; this is  a change in material that does not interrupt the big organizing idea, but makes it more interesting.


One more element is yet to come; I hope to install it next week.  Can you imagine what that might be?  For sure, I will keep you posted.

Under Renovation

This charming and architecturally distinctive house was in search of a landscape; this much my client knew.  A member of the design community herself, she had spent a lot of time renovating the interior. She was ready to renovate the outdoor spaces.   A designer always needs to pay careful attention to the architecture; this is a given.  But this house had certain unique and compelling features.


The Spanish style of this house came with a beautiful and intact tile roof, and old concrete stucco painted white. The brick terrace was in considerable disrepair, but the brick itself was old and good.  The remains of a previous landscape seemed neither here nor there. Some poorly performing rhododendrons and azaleas struggled in the blazing sun and no doubt highly alkaline soil.   Add to this a noticeable slope from the house to the center of the rear yard, and more importantly, my client’s interest in strong clean modern lines; I had plenty to think about.  Small urban properties make their own demands.  Not the least of these is that every gesture needs to be right.  Small spaces are unforgiving of mistakes, or leftover unresolved areas.  The mistakes made in small spaces seem to be so much larger than those made in big spaces.  No room for error, as they say.

So we piled up the good brick, and ripped out all the ailing plants.  In the meantime I was looking for a graceful expression that also felt strong and simple.  I had my answer in the wall.


I was completely enamored of the white stucco wall that completely enclosed the rear yard. Completely overrun with trumpet vine, and various other weedy plants, that wall was still so architecturally strong and interesting I could not help but make it central to the design. My client carefully and completely repaired all the shaling stucco, and repainted it-the transformation to the entire space was striking.

This old wall was certainly deserving of attention.  Infilled in 2 spots with old iron grilles, it was completely unique and unusual in its design.  Surely the hand of a particular person, I have never seen a wall designed like this.  While walls make beautiful landscape features, whatever their height or material; I had considerable excitement about this wall.  Though quite old, it had strong and unusual lines that could be interpreted in a number of ways.

Cleaning out a space takes plenty of time, as does proper grading.  I planned to enlarge the existing terrace to fill the entire space off the rear door and French doors.  As the original U-shaped brick terrace had a unfriendly slope to it,  I decided to create a step off, into the yard.  The best move: a new stucco wall, built at seat height, to set the terrace apart from the rear yard space, that could also provide casual seating for guests. This new wall would integrate the new landscape into the old; it seemed  natural to repeat that stucco feature.


The happy result are two distinct and level spaces.  The terrace and a rectangular grass space friendly to the dogs, and in distinct contrast to the terrace surfaces.


To come, a U-shape of columnar carpinus, mulched in gravel, which would answer the brick shape on the terrace; the center of the terrace we did in gravel.

A terrace entirely of brick would have overwhelmed the space.  Sometimes switching materials can make a big space read read in a more friendly way.  No home needs a parking lot for a terrace, even though a big terrace is great for furniture, dining and entertaining. We are at a good stage here.  Two rectangles at right angles to each other are ready for the finishing touches.