The Prep

As busy as we have been with landscape installation projects, we have a full roster of clients for whom we do fall container installations. We are happy to oblige. I understand wanting to change the pots out for the season to come. A summer planting that has declined, or not done well, or which has not measured up to expectation – it can be a relief to put that planting to rest, and move on. I have other clients who would prefer to move on to the fall when the summer planting is at its super nova best. Watching a container that has been a pleasure to experience the entire season go in to decline is a painful acknowledgement that the garden season has begun its long slide towards dormancy. Yet other clients like the fall season the best, and are ready for a new look as soon as the night temperatures drop. Not matter the reason, we are available to plant containers for fall. We try to treat the fall season with fresh eyes, and we like to represent the fall season in the most robust way possible. The summer season provides no end of plant material that is tall and vining, of medium height, of short stature, and of trailing habit.  I could make lists. But the fall season challenges anyone who plants a container to create a variety of levels, contrast, and volume. We look first at the construction of a centerpiece that might organize the entire arrangement. Our fall container pots sometimes feature centerpieces of a variety of materials that celebrate the end of summer, and the harvest. Constructing those centerpieces is in preparation for a fall container planting.

We rely in great measure on the height, volume, and color provided by cut stems of broom corn. The seed heads and drying leaves can provide a dramatic centerpiece to a fall pot. The broom corn we purchase is hung upside down from the moment we get it. That drying process up side down will challenge the effect of gravity – somewhat. This fall maturing crop was and still is grown for the production of corn brooms, but we value its bold good looks. Marzela has a gift for handling and arranging these heavy stems in a graceful way. Her centerpieces, no matter the materials, anchor the plantings we are about to do.  All of her materials are arranged around a stout bamboo pole, the length of which will be driven in to the soil in the pot. She has been creating centerpieces our installation scheduled for tomorrow, for the past 2 days.

Some summer pots have centerpieces that still look great.  I am thinking about the figs, the lemon cypress, the rosemary, the boxwood topiaries, and a whole host of dwarf evergreens. But other central players in summer pots will go down in concert with falling night temperatures. There are few fall plants that provide stature, and represent the color or the spirit of the season. So what other materials might be available? This is the long way of saying that not every centerpiece we do for a fall pot involves live material. In the interest of celebrating the fall season, we may assemble lots of materials that are not especially living, but are very lively visually. These centerpieces are a mix of all of the above. The bleached kuwa branches are a natural curly stem available to us in dried bunches. The preserved eucalyptus is a natural material that has been treated to last for months, no matter the weather. The white berry picks are as fake as fake can be. But they reference the natural world in a graphic way.

These centerpieces are slated for a specific pair of pots on a terrace that features a number of pots. The primary view is from a distance, so the creamy white centerpiece will read.

This centerpiece will be viewed from up close, so the darker colors and more subtle variations in color will be appreciated. A centerpiece of distinction, no matter the origin of the materials, can endow a fall container planting with with fall appropriate style and verve. I like the idea of endowing the garden with seasonal plantings that are vervacious. If you are a gardener like me, you understand that a garden and landscape is about a certain kind of earthy and unforgettable romance. I am a fan of bringing on the romance every season. The fall season coming up asks for a representation of the end of summer harvest.

fall centerpieces

preserved eucalyptus in butterscotch

fall picks

Of course every fall pot we plant involves living plants. All of our custom grown cabbages and kale are incredibly well grown. See for your self. They benefit from regular water and food, as they are growing fast this time of year. Our September weather has been unseasonably warm,. Once the temperatures cool, the leaves will color up dramatically, in shades of purple, pink, cerise, and white. Tuscan kale is a tall, all green variety that I hear is delicious to eat after a few frosts. Having superior quality plant material available to plant makes the process and outcome a pleasure all around.

The outer leaves of this cabbage variety, Osaka Red, will darken, and the center will turn a brilliant deep cerise pink, given some chilly weather. The look of the pots will evolve as the plants take on their fall color. If the early winter season is mild, these glorious and showy ornamental vegetables will look great in to December.

Each centerpiece has a photo tucked into it that shows which pot it belongs to, and what will be planted with it. That kind of planning helps to make a large planting job go smoothly and efficiently. But no matter the planning, seeing the work come together is always a pleasure. Pictured above is a trio of pots planted for fall last October. This year’s pots will feel just as fallish, but will feature whatever interesting materials Rob has purchased for the shop.

The Ruby Queen cabbage, the kale “Pinstripe”,  and broom corn are all looking good.

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.

 

Growing On

Picture this, from fifteen years ago. Nicole and Ross had a mass planting of yews original to their house right up against the foundation of the right side of the house, and enclosing the front porch. They had gotten large and leggy,  as yews frequently do. The house has a distinctively low and wide profile that was overwhelmed by all those yews. The house could barely breathe. The only other landscape elements existing were trees-a large gleditsia, or honey locust, and a very large and imposing American elm.

I told them we could move the yews away from the front porch and foundation, and plant them in a spot that would provide a little privacy from to their front porch and door without looming over them. I couldn’t wait to dig them out and move them. We also removed the concrete sidewalk that came from the drive, and ran along the near foundation to the front porch. We closed off that side entrance to the front door by moving one of the iron panels from the center front of the porch to the side. I envisioned a new walkway that would lead visitors to the middle front of the porch, placing them face to face with the front door.

There would be some private space in front of the porch. The trunk of the big honey locust  would provide a sculptural element.

 

The front yard was a large grassy area completely open to the street. Those yews were all different sizes and heights, but we hoped to groom and prune them to encourage them to grow better at the ground level in the future. In an effort to speed up the process, we installed parallel row of new and smaller yews on the inside, to hide the bare legs you see in the picture above. We planted boxwood next to the foundation of the house. This smaller growing evergreen would not overpower their low slung house or windows. Foundation plantings need to be respectful of the architecture that sits on that foundation. A landscape should feature the most prominent feature, not engulf it. The location of these yews had everything to do with a capped pipe sticking up out of the grass – flagged in the above picture.  It could not be moved or removed, so we landscaped to disguise it.

At the end of this renovation, we installed a stone walkway with concrete tiles, running in front of an old cedar adjacent to the drive. I placed and planted a fern leaf beech in the lawn, and a tricolor beech to the right of the picture window. It did not seem like much at the time, but growing time would favor what had been done.

A month ago they called.  Everything had grown a lot, and some things not so much-could I come and take a look. The boxwood had grown so much that the stone path to the front door looked and functioned more like bed edging. The big honey locust had gotten a lot bigger, meaning that moss had all but overtaken the grass and the stone landing in front of the porch. The tricolor beech had grown in handsomely.

The interior row of smaller yews had not fared so well.  The shade from the locust, beech, and the old yews had about done them in. Even though the original yews were as leggy as ever, they now completely blocked the view of the front yard.

The American elm is now of enormous size. It must be better than 80 feet tall, and the canopy casts an enormous amount of shade in all directions. To the left in this picture, a white pine that had also grown out over the lawn.  Behind the white pine, a huge branch of the honey locust hanging over the yews.

The south face of the yews was more than decent, as it had much better light. They had grown several feet taller, and they did a great job of screening the pipe.

But the house side view presented a much bleaker picture.Yews are amazingly shade tolerant, but there is a limit to what they can take. A number of the smaller ones had been pruned, or browsed to death by deer. The arborvitae at the end of the yews was in much the same shape-too much shade for too long had taken its toll. It was too big and in too poor a shape to make it worthwhile to move.

It did not take long to get those yews out. Nor did it appear that something was missing from the landscape. The shade has become a major element of the landscape. The trees and the shade-atmospheric.

The biggest surprise was the fern leaf beech.  That 4 foot tall tree had grown incredibly tall and wide in 15 years. It seemed like the landscape needed little beyond what the beautiful trees were already doing there.

The trees are large enough now to provide some privacy from the road, and frame the view out to the treed lot across the street.  There is a long view now from the house, out.  We did add enough soil to level the ground, and we seeded the area with a sun-shade grass mix. However, I feel sure that the moss will reclaim the area from the grass in short order.

We enlarged the sidewalk by 18″ from the drive to the porch terrace. Once we got close to the locust, we quit digging for a base for the stone. I had no intentions of cutting into the surface roots of the tree. We had some flagstone stockpiled at the landscape yard that was a pretty good match.  Once the surface of the stone ages, and the moss fills the gravel joints, it will be difficult to tell that the walk had ever been disturbed.

The view from the drive is inviting. The wider walkway makes it possible for two people to walk side by side.

The landscape lights were readily relocated, as were a trio of vintage concrete mushrooms.  They have taken on the job of screening the pipe in the grass.The tricolor beech, and a pair of vintage stone ravens on pedestals are beautiful and distinctive.

The view from the street will be greatly improved once their arborist comes to cut the dead wood out of the locust, and the suckers from the base of that incredible elm.  The lower trunk of that elm is spectacular, and will easily be seen from the walk and the street. I know my clients will continue to take great care of all of their trees. The healthy American elm is ample evidence of that.

 

One View At A Time

The rear south side of this yard is the last leg of the landscape renovation that has been going on here for a number of years. It is a good way to work-tackling one view at a time. The time to let the landscape speak back is time well spent. It is very hard to visualize what a two dimensional design drawing will look like, fleshed out into the third dimension with plants. After 30 years, I am able to visualize what is to come fairly well, but I have been surprised plenty of times. The surprises that dismay me are equal to the surprises that delight me. No one who keeps a landscape bats 1000. Nature can and does throw a wicked fast curve ball. But in this case, the curve ball was a new 2 story garage on the neighboring property. The building is located very close to the property line. My client realized she would have to add screening, to make her view of it less prominent.

The only plant of any size on that side is a beautiful older tricolor beech. That tree is providing a lot of shelter from the neighboring view up high. Some of the lower branches have died, or been cut back out of the way of the grass path. In an effort to provided some screening at a lower level, we added a pair of 2 1/2 inch caliper tricolors. All three trees will eventually will grow together as one. The original tree had a decided lean to it, so the new trees will help to provide some ballast on the back side. Deciduous trees are a great choice for providing screening that needs to be tall. The trunk of a tree takes up next to no room at the ground level, and the branches, twigs and leaves filter out an unwelcome view up high.

We planted four columnar katsura trees on either side of the beech conglomerate. Planted as fairly small trees, they will grow skyward at a fairly fast rate. The upright heads will grow together, and make a handsome hedge high above the ground. Why the upright yews near the fence? This variety can easily grow to six feet tall. The color and texture of the yews is quite similar to that of the neighbor’s arborvitae. Once the yews reach the height of the wood fence, the two evergreens will take over some of the screening job in the winter. Why yews instead of the matching variety of arborvitae?  The yews will be much more tolerant of the shade cast by the katsuras.

Emerald Green arborvitae do grow quite tall, but once they get to fourteen or fifteen feet, the growth slows down. They also become susceptible to damage from heavy snow loads. It is easy to compare the height and scale of the deciduous trees to the Emerald Green arborvitae in the above picture. Only a deciduous tree will completely screen that two story garage.

 

From the opposite side of the yard, it is easy to see how prominently the neighbor’s new garage figures in this landscape. The katsura trees will fill in the gap between the beech, and a maple in the neighbor’s yard. Small urban properties present a particular challenge to the landscape design. The ground space is limited, and the views to neighboring properties are many. Some years ago we addressed the screening on the east-west axis. The six foot tall hedge of Green Mountain boxwood pictured on the left of the photo above, was planted directly adjacent to the leading edge of the terrace.  A screen that is planted near to the space to be screened does not have to be that tall.  If my clients are on their terrace, that space is private. From inside and upstairs, a hedge of Venus dogwood screen the view into the rear neighbor’s yard.

 

Venus dogwoods top out at about 20 feet tall. Tall enough to blur the view of the power lines, and the next door neighbor’s yard. Note that the tree closest to the lot line in in the curve still sits proud of the power lines. There are few things more discouraging than having the power company trim a tree away from the lines. They are concerned with keeping the power corridor clear, not making artful or judicious pruning cuts.

The dogwood has a loose and graceful habit of growth. They do not provide a solid green wall. The property to the west was fairly well covered within 3 years of planting.

The boxwood provide a solid screen six feet off the ground plane. The high and low combination of the dogwood and the boxwood do a great job of providing a small yard with some privacy.

We did plant arborvitae at the end of the driveway. They extend into the rear yard the length of the garage wall opposite to them. This place is not a place to linger. It is a hallway connecting one place to another. The solid and lush evergreen wall makes for a simple and quiet transition from the driveway to the private part of the landscape.

One day, many years ago, an effort to provide for screening and privacy for another client via the landscape looked like this. The neighbors house sits quite a bit higher that this property. The row of large round yews behind the new trees were transplanted there from the front yard of the client’s house. A group of densiformis yews were planted on the slope above the stone wall.

Not so many years later, this side garden is entirely private, courtesy of a group of the columnar carpinus “Frans Fontaine”. The neighboring house has just about disappeared from view. Even in the winter, the densely twiggy structure of the trees provides good screening.  Deciduous trees, especially of the columnar form, are a great choice for creating a walled garden.

 

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