At A Glance: The Library

My last post about the restoration of the paper mache cherubs included the above picture.  The cherubs aside, I had a number of comments about my library, and requests for more information about it.  As the last time I wrote about it was in 2009, I think it is fine to address it again. I have loved books my entire life. My Mom saw to that. The gardening books I bought in my twenties were focused on the horticulture of perennial plants. The library in my thirties expanded into woody plants and shrubs. I have a well worn copy of Michael Dirr’s book “The Manual of Woody Landscape Plants”. I am quite sure I read it cover to cover multiple times. And I still use it as a reference. Landscape design drove my book purchases in my forties, and in my fifties.  I collected books about landscape design, both historic and contemporary, in countries other than my own. The additions to my library from my sixties are dominated by monographs of specific landscape designers whom I admire. Don’t get me started on the names of those designers. It would be a written wave.

But that is what a library provides. Volumes of the printed word and photographs that can answer questions, inform planting schemes and teach good horticultural practices. They tell the story of the history of the garden, and their designers. Books are a window into history, and the work of others. My library informs my practice, but better yet, it informs my life. Landscape and garden design is my profession, and my clients have the right to expect that I have a well rounded education. I find that what I read informs my work. A good garden book is a busman’s holiday for me. I make a point of researching and buying new books every year. Reading the printed page is an absorbing and compelling activity I would not do without.  Yes, I have read all of the books in my library. Some several times over. Ursula Buchan’s book “The English Garden” I have read at least 4 times.  She is a great writer.

I have arranged my library as follows. All of my books are organized by topic. The very top shelf is populated by garden reference books. I have been gardening long enough to not need those books so often. But a ladder can get me to any volume I want to consult. I go up there more often than you would think. That said, I do use the internet to research horticultural topics. That was a source that was not available to me when I I first started collecting books. I can say that a good many articles on line are poorly thought out and barely skim the surface.  I like my books.

All of my books are organized by topic. The plant reference books are at the top of the bookshelf. Other reference books? Stone in the landscape.  Brick in the landscape-and so on.   I have other sections organized around gardens and landscapes by country.  Pictured above, a slice of my books on Italian gardens.  That section includes books referencing medieval Italian gardens, villa gardens, historic gardens-and contemporary Italian gardens.

The French section is wide. For obvious reasons. French landscape design, from formal French gardens to French country gardens is a force to be reckoned with.

The English landscape design section is long enough to acknowledge it is an important precursor to American landscape design.  Jenny Blom’s book “The Thoughtful Gardener” is outstanding.

I do have a shelf section devoted to design with a particular point of view.

A run of shelf space for American gardens and landscape designers-of course.

This lower self is as much about botany as it is about nature photography.

A library is a good place to spend time. All of those pages can inform a life. Can you tell I love my library? Of course I do. Read on about the value of a library, if you wish. February is a gardener’s reading month. Yes?    

In Consideration Of All Of The Views

Creating beautiful views in the landscape is an important component of good design. Those views are not exclusive to the outdoors. The frames around windows and  glass doorways provide an ideal opportunity to create interesting views of the landscape from inside out. This is the most compelling reason there is to avoid foundation plantings that grow tall and obstruct the view out, rather than frame or enhance it. Foundation plantings? Any planting that is cozy with that place where a house comes out of the ground is considered a foundation planting. I grew up in a suburban neighborhood in the 1950’s, where every house had shrubs and trees lined up tight to the base of the house. I am sure the idea was to soften that hard structure emerging from the ground with plants. This is a fine idea, as long as the plants don’t overpower what they were intended to augment. Dead center to this large window and pair of French doors is a large container. I plant it tall and lavish enough to provide an obvious focal point from the garden that can be enjoyed from inside the room.

The pot is not a foundation planting; it is at least seven feet away from the house. It is however, the star attraction out that window. I plant it for summer and most definitely for winter. The view out that window in those seasons are just as important as the views from outside. Providing room and airspace is key to a good landscape design. Even the arborvitae in the center background of this picture was planted a good five feet off the foundation. How it hugs the house now it friendly, not threatening.  There are no views from the inside out there.

At least twenty feet away from the window are a collection of much taller plants. They not only provide a garden like backdrop for the pot planting from the indoor view, they provide some privacy from the street. This means the blinds can stay up. The outside view of this pot is a feature of the walk to the front door. Anyone who gets within six feet of the front door has has a pot left and a pot right to see. It is an unexpected view, as the street view does not reveal much beyond the top section of mandevillea.  The pot also screens the maintenance opening in the boxwood hedge from this view. On the far side of the boxwood is the hose, piled up in a messy heap. No one sees that but me.

The house is symmetrical from north to south. A corresponding set of doors and a window provide an identical view out from this room. The same pot, the same distance from the foundation, on axis with the center window, repeats the gesture made to the north.  A repetition of interior views means there is an opportunity for the exterior view to form a strong and consistent exterior axis. Would that I could take a photograph looking left and right at the same time. Only a drone could visually convey this axis established by two pots placed parallel to the house, but a person coming up the walk can take it all in with a blink of an eye.

Creating views out of any interior windows asks for a good space between the window and the view. The boxwood is part of the exterior view.  From inside, one’s line of site passes over them.

I am fortunate to have a front door whose upper half is glass. There is a view out that door that has plenty of interest in the foreground and mid ground space.  As for the background, the street sign across the street is a sign of urban living. But the rest of the view is remarkably green.

The view in to the front door is accompanied by, and celebrated by, the landscape. The pots at the front door with lemon cypress stuffed with lime and variegated licorice embraces the house number. I like this. My corgi Howard is too old to navigate the back stairs from the driveway up to the kitchen, so I pick him up and drop him off at the front door every day. There are 3 sets of two steps, separated by long runs of flat walk. He is a dawdler, so I have a chance to enjoy the view. Landscapes that are designed such to provide interesting views for the people who visit and live in them are landscapes I admire.

The view out the kitchen door is framed to the right by a mandevillea in a pot. The views out is substantial, given the strong design of that element in the foreground space. The mid ground space here is a perennial garden. The background space tells the story of living in a neighborhood. I have lost the maples in the tree lawn. I plan to replant with trees that will be happier in a confined space. At one point I will be standing here, to determine the placement of those trees. One rarely has design control of the background. My advice?  Make the foreground and mid-ground views as strong as possible.

The view in, approaching the side door, is a welcoming view.

The view out here is all about perennials and roses. Yes, those roses, boltonia asteroides, and anemone Honorine Jobert were planted close to the foundation of the house. They have created a filtered view out. Perfect for a bathroom window. The arborvitae in the background have screened all but the very peak of the house next door. The planting is a better privacy solution than a blind. The large pot planted with a multi-trunked birch and carex provides the interest in the mid ground space. This pot will go on to organize the entire view of this garden in the winter. Providing for views from the inside can make the long winter season more tolerable.

The outside view is the strong view. But there are still subtle views out to the Japanese anemones all along this south side. It won’t be long before all the blinds go up for the duration of this season. That pot is centered on that bathroom window. It is also centered on the stairs coming up into this garden.

That same pot anchors yet a third view, from the sidewalk looking in. Small properties do not imply limited landscape design opportunities. All the possible views are there for your consideration.

 

Holiday Garnish

A holiday garland is an especially festive and personal garnish to an outdoor holiday display. There are few parameters and no rules about what constitutes a garland, but for the fact that it has length and continuity such that it can hang from something. A garland does for a winter garden what a vine does for a summer garden. Vines grow up, and garlands hang down, but the big idea is the same. I am sure that vining plants were the inspiration for the first winter garlands, aren’t you? Every garden has a place for something that climbs, or something that drapes. Vines and garlands take up no room on the ground plane, but they can endow the airspace with so much visual interest. A new gardening season asks for a new approach. That every gardener in a northern zone is about to turn to the winter, some talk about garlands might be useful. Most of the garlands we do are placed over the front door, but they are equally at home attached to an arbor, pergola, a gate or a fence. A garland can wreathe a large window, or a favorite garden sculpture. They can be wound around a lamp post, or the trunk of a favorite tree. A garland can also be pooled on the ground around that same light post or tree. Think winter scarf, stole, wrap, or boa. We begin with a simple mixed fir garland custom ordered in advance from our farmers market, to which we add additional greens. A mass of greens has a quiet and substantial look. Any number of other materials can be added to that length of greens. If the garland is to be lighted, I like winding a spiral of grapevine that stands proud of those greens.  It provides a perfect place to attach the lights. If we add cluster LED lights, we attach them to the underside of the grapevine.  There is no need to be looking at those wires during the day. An underside installation directs the light down onto the surface of the garland. Lights buried in the greens of a garland gives an uneven and not entirely satisfactory night time appearance.

Once we have lighted and adorned a holiday garland, it takes most of us to pick it up, and load it in the truck for delivery.  Evergreen garlands are heavy. The needles weigh next to nothing-but the woody branches to which those needles are attached weigh a lot.  If you are able to make your own garlands from scratch, wire together short evergreen tips that have a lot of needles, and not so much wood. Anything that gets added to a garland adds more weight. Really heavy garlands drape beautifully-thanks to that phenomena known as gravity. That weight also requires a thoughtful and secure installation.

We are fortunate to have a truck that can hold and spread out a 25 foot garland on the floor. All the work that goes into attaching all of the garnish to that long length of evergreens does not need to be flattened.  What we arrange in the stock room that is three dimensional needs to get to the job with all of that dimensional quality intact.

This garland took a number of people to unload and hang. Your garland project may not need four people.  You may be able to construct a garland all on your own, and hang it on your own, start to finish. Any gesture in the garden and landscape, no matter the season, that features the work of a pair of hands greatly interests me. The clear evidence of the human hand is what makes the work visually compelling.

To follow are a number of pictures about the installation of this particular lighted garland. We have been constructing garland for this client for the past 10 years.  I am happy to say that this year’s garland is exuberant.

 

  Happy holidays!