A Path To Somewhere

DSC_4037This terrace sits a number of steps above the surrounding landscape and garden. I would guess the terrace sits almost 3 feet above the ground plane.  There are plenty of places to sit. Lots of chairs with plump cushions make this experience of the outdoors comfortable.  I would choose being outdoors above any other place to be, like most gardeners.  Anyone who sits here has a great overview of all that is going on here.  A landscape structured around a sweep of old hornbeams, blocks of hydrangeas and boxwood framing, is softened by generously sized perennial plantings.  All of the pots and boxes help to bring the garden upstairs, and up closer.

DSC_3892Landscapes that are viewed from afar, or from up above, have their charms. The stray weed, or problem plant will not read all that well.  The overall impression is stronger and more lasting than any individual detail. My deck is five feet above the ground plane – I can take in the whole garden at a glance.   From a design perspective, the organizing idea may be much clearer from a distance.  A bird’s eye view of a garden looks much more like the landscape plan drawn on paper. For the same reasons, spotting problems with a design is easier, if that design can be seen all at once-in plan view.  The ground floor view of a landscape in three dimensions can be very different than a 2 dimensional drawing that describes it.

August 10 2014 (30)Immersion in a garden can be great.  All of the subtle details, the contrasts of textures, the relationships of one plant to another, and the flowers can be better appreciated up close.  I have spent lots of time over the years wading in to people’s gardens-to pull weeds, or dig plants that needed dividing.  Up close can also mean that bugs, disease and snakes become part of the experience. It is tougher to spot the ground hog burrows and ground bees nests. The whole point of layering a perennial garden is so that depth of the space can be appreciated from the perimeter. Gardens planted from a variety of plants close in height have a beautiful undulating rhythm, provided those plants mature at a height below eye level. Gardens planted with with plants taller than eye level need a way in,  or a place to step back.

DSC_3889A tall shallow garden without a place to step back is like having a seat at a movie that is too close to the screen.  That movie experience makes it impossible to focus, and make sense of any visual information. Up close to a field of sunflowers is the same visual experience as up close to a row of them.  There is no sense of the depth of the garden, unless there is an alternate way to view them.  These gardens have plenty of space to step back, and take it all in. The plantings are graduated in height.  For some, a grass walkway is all it takes to bring the garden up close.  For others, a walkway is a better solution.  A garden walkway makes it possible to enjoy a garden after a rain without risking soaking wet shoes.  Its easier to push a wheelbarrow or cart on a hard surface. For those that like to walk the garden in the evening, a path can help light the way.

DSC_3886This all around the garden walkway is a long one. A gravel path was an obvious choice.  A stone walkway of this width and length would be overpowering visually, especially given that it is set close and parallel to a large stone terrace. A decomposed granite path is simple to install.  We dug out 6″ of soil, and installed in its place 4″ of crushed limestone, and a 2″ top dressing of decomposed granite.  This was a very long and fairly wide walk.  We have 2 clients who like to cruise the garden, together. Four feet wide is a comfortable width for 2 people who are friendly with one another to walk side by side. So 40 yards of soil went to the compost pile at our landscape yard.

August 27 2014 (6)This property is notorious for retaining water. Before the landscape construction began, we did install a fairly extensive drainage system. Forty yards of gravel in place of forty yards of soil can’t hurt the drainage effort.  Decomposed granite is composed of granite chips, 3/8 of a inch and smaller in size.  The very small pieces are known as fines, and have the appearance of sand.  Once the gravel has been compacted, rain will wash the fines down, and help to interlock the larger pieces.  This water permeable walk is quote hard, once it has a little age. It would be easy to ride a bike here. It is a lot of work to haul stone and soil, but there is little in the way of materials.

August 27 2014 (10)The most expensive material is the edger strip. These 16 feet long by 4″ high aluminum strips keep the gravel where it is intended.  It also keeps the grass out of the walk. Just before the stone goes in, we use a layer of non-woven landscape fabric that is permeable to water, but discouraging to weeds.  If a decomposed granite walk goes through a garden, there is little need for edging.  We may mulch the perimeter plantings with the same stone. Perennials that seed in the walk may be welcome.

DSC_4043Once the granite is in place, we go over and over it with a compactor so the surface is firm, and level. Given the inch and a half of rain we had this afternoon, this path looks a lot more like gravel, and a lot less like sand. Gravel is a friendly material to use when there are irrigation valve boxes and heads set close to the surface.  We just go around them.  Given a little dry weather, my clients will be able to go around too.


Much of what keeps a community, or a landscape workable is about transport.  These vegetables need to get to market before they go bad.  Those M and M peanuts-bags of this candy get shipped all over the country. You and I need to get to work; we require transportation from one place to another. A drivecourt can be a very utilitarian landscape feature-but that does not mean it needs to be an endless expanse of hard surface like the parking lot of a gorcery store.  A drivecourt facilitates transport-but it can have its own 15mph zones.  This drivecourt-I designed and built a water feature with three jets-as big as an SUV. This takes one attention away from the floor and provides some interest at eye level. The cistern is placed in the drivecourt such that it directs both physical and visual traffic.  Only days away from having the water lines hooked up, the soil brought up to grade, a boxwood skirt and flowers to finish, I only hope the music of the water running will transport them, the moment they get home.   

Establishing some structure in a garden has much to do with traffic.  How will you get from one place to another. This river front property is owned by clients with older parents and family.  A motorized cart provides transportation from the front of the house to the water.  Gravel walks large enough to accomodate that vehicle were essential to everyone being able to enjoy the outdoors. 

A fenced vegetable garden with raised beds was  high on the list of their requests.  They entertain family and friends, and cook-passionately.  The ability to grow their own summer vegetables and fruits was important.  Much of their family life and tradition revolves around the exchange and community of the dinner table.  This is an old world attitude that I like and respect.  The south side of this new addition had the best sun.  The design issue-how to combine a working vegetable garden, a means by which materials, people and tools could be transported in a beautiful way.  I designed this garden immediately adjacent to a covered porch, home to seating, and an outdoor kitchen. The best part of designing is that occasion when you have a client keenly interested in that process.  The deisgn of this garden gate, an exact replica of my client’s grandfather’s vegetable garden gate in Italy.  I will say this gate is my most favorite detail in the entire landscape.   

Six raised beds provide lots of space to grow.  I have yet to meet a passionate grower of food who thought they had plenty of space to cultivate.  The curved end boxes provide visual relief from the expected rectangular boxes one usually sees.  A series of wood tables that have been in the family a long time can be set up for a dinner party-in the garden.  I heard a party last weekend resulted in an impromptu bocce game.  Though by no means does this space approach a regulation court, it has the advantage of not looking like a regulation court.  Company on the porch and in the garden-a pleasure.  The center space is large enough to permit the acrt to pass through, without looking like a road.

My clients have to deal with a considerable deer population.  When they are not entertaining, portable screens sheild the garden from the porch.  Lacking this, deer would use the porch as their roadway to the garden. Hardware cloth set below garde and up to the bottom of the Belgian fencing keeps out smaller intruders.

Curving a section of 4″ by 6″ lumber is no mean feat.  Each of the bottom four boards have 90 parallel cuts perpendicular to their length, side by side.  The cuts-each the width of the saw blades, is called a kerf. The saw removes small parallel slices of wood from the board.  After soaking the boards overnight, Steve, my landscape superintendent, was able to bend their 4 foot sections into place. 360 cuts all together.  The top section, comprised of a series of smaller chunks of wood perfectly fitted together to form the curve-made my Steve’s brother-a carpenter, cabinetmaker, and shop teacher.  This painstakingly contructed detail makes a world of  visual difference to the end result.   

There are times when lawn is suffient to permit traffic, and gathering. traffic  The firebowl, set on the opposite side of the porch from the vegetable garden, is set at seat height so guests can congregate without the need for additonal seating.  All the these spaces in proximity and easily accessible to one another makes entertaining easy.  There are places to be, and places to move to.

The large lawn plane which spans both the old property and the new one, is finally finished; we have planted the boxwood buttons. A large party which is planned for late June-tables will be set over top of the boxwood-what fun.  This very long rectagular space can easily accomodate a tent if need be-with a dressy floor already in place.  The view from the upstairs balcony is lovely.  

The decomposed granite walk traverses the entire back of the property.  Its strong shape helps to knit the old house and propert yto the addition and new property. There is a strong sense that every architectural and landscape element has always been there.  There is no evidence of spaces being stitched together.   

This was a long and large project; I am on the verge of finishing.  I think my clients are pleased to have spaces that will be completed by friends, family, dinners, bocce-and growing tomatoes.  I like landscapes that invite people to partake of them.