Archives for 2012

One Thing At A Time

landscape renovation

Anyone who owns a home knows that house take lots of time effort and money just to maintain the status quo.  Upgrading to a new air conditioning system, springing for a new refrigerator, or replacing a hot water heater that has leaked all over the basement is all the more unsatisfying-can you imagine hosting a dinner party so your friends can gather around to admire your new furnace?  Any time now, I will need a new roof-an expense I have been dreading, and putting off, for almost 3 years.  Even more, I dread the thought of the damage to my garden from the installation.  The thought of old asphalt shingle bits, roofing nails and broken branches littering the ground-I try not to think about it.  The cost of a roofing job complete with the proper scaffolding that would prevent damage to the garden-beyond belief. 

landscape renovation

Renovating a landscape is not any different than updating the interior of a house.  It can be just as expensive, and just as inconvenient.  The before and after detailing the change in this contemporary landscape took but moments to record.  The actual job took plenty of time. The work involved repairs to the retaining walls, the regrading of the ground, the elimination of a row of weeping birch that had been planted at no small expense, and a major trimmimg and cleanup.  Time and money-not to mention the dirt and disruption. It’s easy to understand why most gardeners are more comfortable with the one thing at a time approach. Gardeners that rip out an entire landscape and start over are few, for obvious reasons.    

 The nuisance and expense aside, there are good reasons to tackle a tired landscape one project at a time.  A plan is just that-some marks on a piece of paper.  It is a map that is not so clearly marked.  A landscape lives and breathes, in every dimension.  Trying to make a living community fit a preconcieved notion on a piece of paper-the translation can be very difficult.  A smaller project with a smaller scope gives the designer or gardener a chance to look over the initial moves, and decide if a change of plans might be in order. I call this letting the project speak back.      

My projects tend to order themselves  such that the earthwork and drainage comes first, the structures and hardscape comes second, and the planting last.  Each of these phases can happen out of order, if an existing area is being renovated.  Each phase is a layer that compliments and enriches the initial concept.  This idea- from my friend and colleague, Patrick Zaremba.  He sees his work as a layering of materials, objects and plants that work in concert-creating over time a landscape experience that is beautiful.   

landscape design

It takes a great deal of time and skill to layer a perennial garden to successfully represents different seasons, textures, heights, and bloom times.  A good landscape takes the same sort of time and effort. This pool terrace was years in the making.  The pool and pool deck is raised above the existing grade.  The existing ground dropped dramatically from the back of the house.   (I take no credit for this ingenious treatment-the pool came long before me.)  The trees were planted after the pool was installed.  The size and diameter of the trunks of these trees indicates how long ago that was.  For several years we planted fiber pots of varying sizes and shapes, trying to find a scheme that wouldwarm up, but not clutter what was already beautiful.

The furniture and pots are new this year.  They add another layer to a landscape which is old, and sound.     

landscape design

The steel pots sport large birds of paradise, and are underplanted with caladiums.  The stone bowls are planted with dwarf alocasia, and a mix of caliente geraniums.  This lush look is a strong contrast to the geometry of the furniture and pool.  The furniture is properly overscaled, as the space is large.  

solenia begonias

The plantings add a lot of color to a scheme which is primarily black white and grey. 

There is not all that much to this layer.  Just enough of a gesture to make a difference. 

When I first saw this pool and terrace, I thought it looked a little too spare.  The architecture of the house, the pool deck and walls were beautifully designed in the 1970’s.  This landscape had great bones.  As solid and effortless as it looks, what it took to level the ground to accomodate a pool and terrace of this size was considerable.    

This walled terrace affords my client great privacy, even though the pool deck is far above street grade.  A pair of pots on the dining terrace invites the landscape inside, without sacrificing that privacy.  A small gesture has made a big difference.     

container gardening

Considering one thing at a time in renovating a landscape can be all to the good.

The Garden Designer’s Roundtable: Sculpture In The Landscape

sculpture in the landscape

This month’s topic engaging the Garden Designers Roundtable-sculpture in the landscape.  Like any form of art, what constitutes sculpture is in the eye of the beholder.  An ancient tree, or a specimen espalier can be a sculpture.   An uprooted tree stump, a geode, sculpted soil seeded with grass-I am very democratic when it comes to what constitutes sculpture.  I truly believe that whatever a passionate gardener chooses to designate as garden sculpture is in fact garden sculpture.  The home any gardener makes for a sculpture speaks much to what that sculpture means to them.  This particularly imposing bronze sculpture of a bear perched on a beaver’s nest was purchased by a client who loved and appreciated it.  The sculpture asked for a landscape to go with.  Garden sculpture can be placed wherever, but it needs a home.  In this case, a waterfall and pond.  A waterfall backdrop comprised of tons of rock.  Lots of dwarf evergreens.  A raft of old and large tree stumps.  A stumpery was a perfect place, a home, for this this sculpture.  Sculpture in the landscape needs a carefully and generously designed place to be.

limestone garden sculptures

A landscape is a living sculpture.  A constantly changing, and evolving sculpture.  This sculpture was carved by a person from a natural material-stone.    This hand carved stone bust spent a good deal of the past umpteen years underground.  The process of bringing it back into the light? A simple placement on a steel pedestal.  In a garden.  Into an orderly and linear landscape.   This astonishing stone sculpture is all the better, presented with the butterburrs, and the boxwood.   The landscape company makes for a living experience.  Material.  Sculptor.  garden.  experience.  A good and on going experience.   

This contemporary sculpture involved regrading and grassing a steep slope.  At that steepest moment, we amassed a flock of rocks that held the slope.  The relationship of the concrete legs, the steel, and that congestion of  rocks-engaging.  Interesting.    

siting sculpture in the landscape

This classical sculpture is set back in a field of groundcover.  Garden sculpture can set the mood in a garden. A garden with atmosphere is a lovely garden indeed. A simple space provides breathing room.  The figure is integrated into the shade garden under the canopy of an old beech. 

garden sculpture

There is no need for a garden sculpture to be big, expensive, or otherwise imposing. The only requirement?  Great sculpture invites interaction.  Reaction. engagement.  This very small lead frog organizes a surrounding garden of considerable size.  All the color notwithstanding, this diminuitive sculpture organizes one’s experience of this garden.  A rich experience-memorable.   

garden sculpture

There are those containers that I would describe as sculptural.  A one of a kind expression.  Containers call for a planting that respects that.  The containers you choose for your garden-sculptures, each and every one of them.  This particular glazed terra cotta container-strikingly textural and of a beautiful color.  The blue succulents are similarly textured, but quite contrasting in color. Eaxch element is visually stronger, given the other.

siting garden sculpture

This cast iron dog, one of a pair of bloodhounds forged by Alfred Jacquemart in France in the 19th century, they guard my home.  They sit on simple concrete plinths.  Kept company by some old picea mucrunulatum, hellebores, hostas, and sweet woodriff, they are firmly planted in my landscape.  They have a home that seems natural and fitting to me.  No matter the weather or the season, they successfully engage me day after day.  How so?  They belong here. 

Contemporary sculpture asks for lots of space.  Contemporary sculpture to my eye is much about striking graphics.  Unusual forms.  A serious dialogue.  Astonishing materials.  Room to view, lots of room to appreciate-they ask for this.  The placement of this sculpture in the lawn permits physical as well as visual interaction.     

contemporary garden containers

These hand made concrete pots with snake detail are very sculptural. The planting?  Simple.  Contrasting in texture.  The care any gardener takes in the presentation and planting of a pot makes a statement about sculpture.  The care you take placing and siting a sculpture says much about what that sculpture means to you.  Anything in the garden that means much-fuss.

garden sculpture

This hand carved limestone gothic portrait, once a part of a wall, is unrelated in period and origin to the old half round plinth.  I placed one on top of the other.  My client split them up, via a mirrored wall.  Her instinct was to separate them, over the existing landscape.    Her placement took the appreciation of that sculpture to a level that was unexpected, and exciting.sculpture in the landscape

This sculpture involving urethane spheres studded with plastic grass is placed in an elaborately constructed 19th century French urn.  That placement- delightfully unexpected.  The attending modern containers with sculpturally styled plantings provide a lot of company to that nervy plastic expression.  I can imagine a lot of lively conversation over that sculpture.

garden sculpture

Placing sculpture in the landscape is all about providing a really good home.  A believable home.  A provocative home.  A caring home.  An unexpected home.  A visually challenging home.  No gardener places a sculpture in a landscape that does not mean much to them.  Should you be a gardener with a sculpture you wish to place in your landscape, be clear about what that sculpture means to you.  Make a meaningful and thoughtful place for it, in your landscape.  A clear and deliberate placement makes a strong statement.       

I invite you to read how other members of the Garden Designers Roundtable approach art and sculpture in the landscape.  They are a lively and articulate group of landscape designers.

GazonUA : Dirt Simple : Detroit, MI



Tour Day

 the garden cruise

Our 5th annual Garden Cruise to benefit the Greening of Detroit was yesterday-all day.  I was relieved that the sky was overcast, and there was a breeze to go along with those temperatures in the low 90’s.  I had gone to the farmer’s market on Saturday-I like to do some cut flowers in my yard, and at the shop.  Krystal, from Julie’s Floral, was happy to oblige.  I liked the white and green zinnias.  Buck was a very good sport-watching me fill his prized stainless steel double boiler with flowers. 

the garden cruise

The garden was as ready as I could make it.  The Garden Cruise used to mean that I would pick up and dispose of every stray maple helicopter, and worry over the lack of bloom in the roses.  For the 5th cruise, I was happy to get 85% of the weeds and detritus, and I didn’t worry one bit about the roses.  Why should my roses look any different than anyone else’s right now? 

the 2012 garden cruise

The centerpiece for the dining table on the deck-6 bunches of Krystal’s short white snapdragons in a terra cotta bowl.  I could not resist the white sweet, and the cippolina onions-they were so beautiful.

container gardening

My container color scheme at home this year was very different than I have ever done before.  Chocolate and silver foliage.  Pastel colored flowers.  Grey foliaged and brown foliaged begonias, and pepperomia.  After I planted, I worried that it would look terribly dispirited or just too moody, but I have decided I like it.   


container gardening

I especially like how it features the color and shapes of my Italian terra cotta.  Some pots have no trailers at all.  There were more comments than usual this year about the pots.  Thinking through the visual relationship between a pot and its plants is an important part of good container design. 

I do not plant a lot of flowers in the ground.  These two narrow strips on the driveway are enough for me to explore a color and plant scheme.  The coleus caught my eye first thing this spring.  The feathery juvenile foliage has a great texture, and the color is beautiful. Color Blaze Velvet Mocha is a new proven winners selection.  I can attest to the fact that the growth is vigorous, no Japanese beetles have bothered it, and it is well on its way to the advertised height of 24-36″.  My color scheme began with this gorgeous orangy brown newcomer. 

That tawny chocolate is repeated in the sweet potato vine, and the terra cotta.  Adding silver to the mix made for a strong contrast.  The 3D osteos feature steely white flowers that have a grey cast to them.  They have been no match for this summer’s heat.  When cooler weather returns, I will see many more flowers. 

The wall and driveway look all the better for this chocolate colored hedge. 

I almost never use green foliage, and foliage other than green together, but this I like.

2012 garden cruise

The tour was very well attended-305 gardeners for the tour, and 94 for the reception.  I have posted pictures of the reception on the Detroit Garden Works page, should you be interested.  I could not be happier about the turnout. We will be able to present a better than 10,000.00 check to the Greening of Detroit.   

By later in the afternoon, the heat was starting to get to all of us.  Anyone at my garden after 3pm was invited to cool off.  I liked seeing my garden put to really good use.  To all of you who helped make this event such a success, all my thanks.  Will we do a tour in 2013?  Absolutely.   








The Fifth Annual Garden Cruise

Should you be so inclined, you can get up tomorrow, and go.  Our fifth annual garden cruise-a tour we sponsor to benefit the Greening of Detroit, starts at 9, and ends at 4:30.

We put on a reception afterwards-a light supper, summer style beverages as in gin and tonics, and French white wine, and the lively company of other garden afficianados.

100% of the proceeds from the sale of the tickets goes to the Greening.  That money helps fund their educational and summer employment programs.  They have an idea about a better city, and we support that idea.  100%.

All of the 7 landscapes on tour are very different-each the product of a person with a passion for the garden.  Each is chock full of interesting moves, and delightful decisions.

It is one of my most favorite days of the garden season.  It is the only summer day I am home all day.  I like seeing and talking with the people who tour. I like hearing what they have to say about my garden, and I am happy to share anything I know about the plants, or the design.

Afterwards I will join lots of other people at the shop-the seventh garden on our tour-to talk about what everyone has seen.  The nicotiana garden in the front is unbelievably beautiful-and fragrant.

Each gardener puts their best foot forward-and their best effort into creating a garden experience.  Should you decide to go, I feel confident you will be glad you did. 

We will be at the shop at 8 tomorrow morning, for those who want to get up and go.  A cruise ticket is 35.00.  A ticket with the reception-50.00.  We can take your payment info by phone, and email you the ticket.  Or you can stop by.

Hope to see you.







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