Why You Should Plant For Spring

payne_7-07_27plantforspring6Spring flowers have that spring-fresh texture and color guaranteed to shake winter off of you, and your spirit. No summer flowers have the blue of clear sky blue pansies, and blue lobelia.  Alyssum, the crisp white smell of spring, also comes in lavender, red violet, and purple.  Ornamental kales, cabbages, Angelina sedum and coral bells have robust texture and leaf color.  Lettuces, parsley, and gold oregano hint of the vegetable garden to come. Yellow and vanilla butterfly marguerites are quite cold tolerant, as is the chartreuse leaved Persian Queen geranium. Annual phlox performs beautifully, blooming on into the heat of the summer.  Violas come in all kinds of colors, and bloom profusely. Fresh cut pussy willow twigs, yellow twig dogwood, and artificial grassy stems provide scale and height.  Pots of hyacinth, daffodils, and tulips can also be popped into a pot for their duration.

plantforspring5Spring is a season like no other. Give some time to enjoying it. Spring pots are a perfect for a collection of lettuces that will spruce up your salads. A collection of spring pots also helps considerably to stave off the impulse to plant summer pots too early. Most summer annuals despise cold soil and cool temperatures.  For everything, the right season.  Plant your spring. 


Can you find the driveway in this picture?

dsc_0004dsc_0010This very small urban property has a big idea about landscape.  The gravel driveway on the south is mirrored to the north by a grilling terrace, which becomes a walkway to the street.  The large sunken ellipse, edged in brick, is presided over by an old shagbark hickory, a young pin oak, and a vintage American birdbath.   This landscape is as beautiful as it is utilitarian. It is ample proof that no space is too small for a big design idea. Even on the next to the last day of the Michigan winter, its bare bones look good.

Imagine This

ardmoor_2007_coburn_7Years ago I was part of a crew planting a landscape for a local church.  The designer was very old-school about proper placement of landscape materials.  He once remarked to me that if the best looking day of a landscape was the day it went in, the designer deserved a ticket and a heavy fine for not having educated his client about the difference between theatre, and landscape.

dsc_00602008_balames_landscape_8-12-08_6But here I was planting trees very close to the foundation of the church.  Once the trees were planted, he went to each tree with shovel, and tilted them ever so slightly away from the building.  When I protested that the trees were crooked, he said, “Imagine what this will look like in twenty years.  It will seem that the trees were here first, and the church emerged from this grove, pushing the trees ever so slightly outward.  The house of God, nature, history-do you get this?”  I did.

dsc00001I make it a point to try to imagine how I can make the landscape appear as though it came first, and the house, the walls, terraces, and driveway, came later.

turt_lakeDesigning the landscape such that you drive through it, makes the landscape appear as if it came first, and therefore the more important element.  This sits the drive down on the ground, visually. It makes the transition from the street to your home an experience.  Imagine this.

Designing Driveways Part 2

debroahsdrive1Few of us have the luxury, opportunity, or headache of designing a drive from scratch.  My home was built in 1930, and had a gorgeous brick driveway; this became mine in 1994.  Over the years the drive had heaved such I could only broom the snow-not a good option in Michigan.  I took up the old brick, with the idea of replacing it with a concrete brick made by Unilock in a pattern called “Copthorne”- in exactly the same configuration and pattern. Unbelievably, there was a concrete foundation under that old brick-I still do not understand how it ever drained. The original garage is part of the basement of the house. I understand now why I have a huge steel trench drain inside the basement door, which is tied into the house drains.  In order to insure good drainage to the street, I now have to take a step down into my garage.  This I do not mind, as I love my old house from start to finish.


My driveway is a full 28 feet wide when it meets the street. In 1930, there was a fountain in the center of that approach. An owner in the 1940’s must have driven a giant Buick that he kept smashing into the fountain. I am sure in a fit of exasperation, he cemented over that “bollard in a fountain costume”. Whatever unknown great designer narrowed that drive to barely 10 feet halfway to the house, and then expanded it back out again near the garage, I salute you.  I have an hourglass shaped driveway-why not? I am sorry I cannot say that I designed it myself. I have a lavishly over scaled welcome home feature at the street, and a narrow transition that requires careful driving to get through.  I call that the “slow down, you are home now” checkpoint.  This opens up again at the garage/basement entrance.
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