One Man’s Garden

galvanized wire bracket

We had dinner over the weekend a the home of a good friend.  Barry Harrison is a design principal with Art-Harrison, a interior design studio well known in my area.  In addition to their interior design practice, they manufacture a line of fine furniture.  Each piece is meticulously hand crafted and carved from fine hardwoods.  Interested to read more?    Barry is a highly skilled designer, cabinetmaker and wood carver, as evidenced in his own garden.  Years ago Barry spent some time at Ford Motor Company-he could draw an entire headlight assembly for a owner’s manual-free hand.  Think this part through-a freehand drawing of a headlight assembly?  His talents are extraordinary.  As much a designer as he is an artist, one part of Barry’s garden began with this simple part-a galvanized steel hook that would hold clay pots.

Barry lives in an urban neighborhood on a very small piece of property.  Every gesture he makes has to work-there is no room really for unresolved design.  This corner of his driveway is just a few feet from the garage doors, meaning he visits this spot every day, both going and coming.  The distance from the edge of his drive to the lot line at this back corner is 12 inches at best.  There was no option for screening plants in such a small space, but there was an option for a screen. 

cedar fence posts

This ingenious green screen began with four cedar posts, the tops of which he carved into a pair of guinea hens, and a pair of ravens.  There was enough space to sink the posts deep into the ground.  He engineered a series of galvanized metal plates and rods, which would hold the galvanized hooks shown the the previous picture.  

The terra cotta pots were planted with succulents, and hung on the galvanized steel rods.  The watering takes some time and attention, but the plants seem to be doing just fine.  He’ll store the pots in his garage, or bury them in leaves for the winter.  I admire this inventive and low tech screening that is also so great looking.  The plants seem to be perfectly happy-spilling out of the downside of each pot.   

His succulent wall is beautifully engineered-and beautiful to look at.  Once he waters the top row, the drain water serves to water the row below, and perhaps the row below that.  Given that the screen is only 6 feet tall, it can easily be handwatered.  The succulents are not asking for much.  


The rear yard is dominated by a gravel terrace, completely surrounded by water.  Though the width of the water is slight, the pool is 24 inches deep on 3 sides, and 36 inches deep at the far end.  This water depth, and the ability to swim in long runs, around and around, keep his koi happy.  Youy would never know that a city park was just the other side of the bamboo screening.  The structure at the far end of the pool serves a dual purpose.  From this side, the wood and copper fountain with copper jets does a great job of aerating the water for the fish.  This large, architecturally striking feature organizes every other element of the landscape.

garden sculpture

A single stone sculpture on the gravel terrace keeps a small space from looking cluttered. Easy maintenance perennials such as baltic ivy, petasites, angelina, creeping jenny and ferns makes the garden easy to look after.  The koi?  Barry has a 220 acre farm in Kentucky-the koi he raises there are cared for by his parents, and shipped to dealers and koi afficianados all over the country.

garden fountains

The fountain recirculates the water in the pool.  The placement of this feature on an angle to the corner of the property creates a small niche garden which features a series of pots, and some of Barry’s geode collection.  But the star of the show, at the end of a stone path-a cast iron cow. 

Even the smallest space in a garden can make a big impact.  An inveterate collector of vintage and antique objects, I am sure he spoke for this sculpture without hesitation.  This vignette is almost all of the way to another space-the garden shed.


Barry’s  fountain doubles as a garden shed, which holds most of his tools, pots and soil, in addition to the filtration system and fountain assembly.  This very utilitarian space is completely hidden from every vantage point in the rear yard landscape.   

screening an air conditioner

At the opposite end of the garden-the air conditioner.  The air conditioner is under this painted wood obelisk, yes.  One panel is hinged, and folds down, making service a snap. In the top of the obelisk-long handled gardening tools. 

The view out of the back yard-another view of that succulent wall.

evergreens in containers

The house and garage meet at an angle in the back, near a pair of doors.  A giant painted oak box with a steel tuteur is the only nod to the garden in a fairly large paved space.  Only Barry would think to faux shrink wrap an arborvitae in plastic, and place the steel tower over it.  Not one branch got broken when the pot was planted.  At some point, the plant will grow through the steel, and be trimmed flat.  Clearly he is fond of making a few big gestures on his small property, rather than lots of little ones.   

There are as many great ideas for a beautiful garden here as I have seen on on properties many times this size.  Unlike a property which is defined by its boundaries, it’s hard to tell where unlimited creativity and imagination of this caliber might decide to go next.     


Permanent Structures

Most landscapes have basic structures, as in driveways and walkways.  This under construction landscape project features site specific architectural elements that address certain needs. The lower portion of this steel fence will soon be hidden by a row of yews matching the lakeside planting.  This fence and gates enclose a dog run, and were specifically designed to keep a local population of coyotes out. The horizontal vineyard bar in the top portion of the fence repeats the branch motif of the privacy fencing on the lot line.  The plan for the garden includes drifts of shade tolerant perennials, and lots of groundcover.  A single pot that splits up the gravel path through the garden is tall enough to keep the dog from rummaging through it.  A tall planting will be visible from outside the the run.    

cane bolt handle

Though the fence has a specific purpose, that does not mean it can’t be designed for some visual interest.  A cane bolt is a long piece of steel that goes down into the ground.  This keep one of the two gates in a fixed position.  The bolt needs to be lifted up to release the gate.  The handle on this bolt is not only easy to grasp, but it is friendly to the eye. The curves echo the circular staircase which connects the lower level terrace to a second story terrace. There are lots of structural elements in this one area of the garden-not the least of which is a covered porch with stone-clad columns.  I like iron and steel as a material in the landscape, as it can be very light and airy looking, as well as strong and stury.   

steel fence

The top of the fence culminates in an iron shelf.  I have never designed a fence with this feature before, but I have never designed with coyotes in mind either.  The shelf will hold rectangular wire baskets, with summer plantings.  Apparently coyotes do not grip and climb-they leap over fences.  The hedge of flowers 6 feet in the air will be much tougher to leap over that a fence.  The double hedge of yews is 6 feet wide.  Any coyote hoping to get in here will have to get up a full head of steam, and leap 8 feet in the air, and sail a considerable distance before they land.  I am by no means sure this will work, but it’s my best effort and securing the space.  Not to mention that I think flowers on top of the fence will look great.

garden pergola
Landscaping a lakefront property poses challenges relating to the view of the water.  Most people who live on lakes prize their views of the water-that seems only natural.  The placement of trees are restricted in some communities, so no neigfhboring views are compromised.  This pergola will be planted with roses and clematis, and perennials in the gravel.  The steel structure will not only be softened by the plantings, but it will eventually provide shade underneath from a source alternate to a tree.  Even when the plantings mature, they will never obstruct the upstairs views of the water.   They will frame specific views from the terrace and library.  Between the pergola, and the neighbors iron fence, a hedge of small growing trees will screen the lot line.   

wood arbor

Hard structures in the landscape can take many different forms, and are built for all kinds of reasons.  Some structures are built whose primary utility is a personal expression about beauty.  I enjoy this part of gardening as much as I do the plants, as I value seeing the evidence of the human hand, and the hand of nature, in concert.   

cast iron fountain

English cast iron fountain

garden dining

decomposed granite terrace

antique French iron gloriette

garden gates

steel garden gatesfaux bois arbor

concrete faux bois birch log arbor

alfresco dining

garden dining table and chairs

fountain pot

fountain and antique Doulton face pot overlooking the lake

antique faux bois

antique faux bois bird cage

stucco wall

stucco wall with integral shelves

stained concrete pots

acid stained concrete pots

garden furniture

garden furniture

bluestone terrace

dining terrace

stone walls, pergolas, fountain and terraces under construction

antique faux bois

antique French faux bois garden bench

wood pergola

wood pergola

Valders stone

This fountain is one of my favorite things about my own garden.  I built it with money my Mom left me 10 years ago.  It reminds me of her, as she was an avid gardener who also encouraged me to take some time off now and then-you know, maybe go to the beach.   It provides me with a place to unwind, and take a little time off.  In addition to the history behind it, I like the look and the sound.  I like to get in it when it’s hot.  This is a big structure in my small garden that gives me a lot of pleasure.