Narrow Fence Line Planting

In the suburban New York/New Jersey gardens where I do much of my landscape design work, fences are a part of the landscape. They become, by virtue of the height and length, a major landscape feature–whether intended or not. Creating a planting scheme to complement them depends on the fence and the homeowner’s intent for their yard and the shade sun patterns created by the fence itself.  The two examples below are stylistically different, but both are created in a very narrow space and require minimal care.

A hot, small space between a fence and a driveway can become a lush cottage garden that requires little water and simple maintenance.  For this small project I wanted the formality of the fence to be softened by the relaxed planting style. The white fence is a major player in the design  and a visual partner to bloom and foliage colors that are limited to yellow, blue and grey.

Perennials and Driveway fence

Yarrow and fenceFastigiate and dwarf varieties of plants are excellent choices for creating a layered interesting planting design in a narrow space. In the backyard below, the homeowner asked me for as much flat green space for three teenage boys to practice sports. Plants needed to be able to withstand errant balls and and occasional out of bounds play. The garden is less than four feet wide and is a straight line along the fence. It is layered to create four season interest and is composed of three plants:  fastigiate hornbeams (Carpinis betulus ‘Fastigata), a diminutive weigela–Weigla florida ‘Midnight Wine’ for color and spring bloom, and upright, narrow boxwood Buxus sempervirens ‘Monrue’  (Green Tower boxwood).  The maintenance consists of weeding and mulching when necessary and an annual prune for the boxwood.

Fence planting

 

 

LABELS: Gardens, landscape designer, Planting Design 4 Comments

Re-Making an Old Garden for a New Family

Often my landscape design clients I ask me to insert some contemporary flavor into an existing landscape. These renovation projects are similar to interior updates in that the new has to dovetail seamlessly with the existing. This family had a very traditional, overgrown and poorly maintained landscape that had no place for three active, young girls to be outside except the driveway, an in need of repair pool, and a too small patio. The house sits on generous lot that is also promontory with a steep slope up to the front door and an even steeper slope back to the rear property line.

Devlin Before Pix

Most people would look at this and say ‘What’s wrong with that? It’s beautiful!”.  On the surface it was, but on closer inspection there were many functional issues and I saw opportunities to open up sight lines, to create family and entertaining space as well as to make better transitions from one place to the next and technical options to correct erosion and drainage problems. I also saw a yard that when it was first designed, twenty-five years ago, had been well thought out–but was now way past its prime. The fireplace, for example, had been shored by someone up on the back end with 2 x 4’s where the footing had separated from the stone work. That was just a disaster just waiting to slide down the hill if not repaired or demolished. Boxwood hedges that defined several ‘rooms’ had been allowed to get too big and many had large dead sections or were riddled with fungus. Trees that had been smaller had now outgrown their sites, had dead wood, or were in two cases just dead. Every last bit of masonry had to be repaired…there were loose stones and steps throughout.

devlin pool afterAfter our arborist completed recommended tree work and removals, the pool renovation came first. We repaired the coping, re-plastered in a new darker color, added crisp, blue glass subway style waterline tile, added two bluestone decks and a ribbon around the pool. We demolished the tumbled down pergola to gain some square footage and open up usable space.  The very crooked fence was straightened out and the hillside above the now exposed stone wall was planted. New furniture was ordered that added to the contemporary feel of the space. An attempted water feature repair did not work on the old water wall so that will be the final piece added to the puzzle later this year.

Hydrangeas and water wall w pool

 

Camelllia espalier and pool

I met several times with the clients and their children to discuss what to save and what to demolish as well as what their ‘dream’ yard would entail.  The kids wanted a play space beyond the front yard swing. The adults wanted safe and usable pool space as well as a larger entertaining space. They also wanted a more contemporary feeling within the context of what was there.

An old dog run behind the garage that had a more gentle slope than the rest of the property was re-made into a children’s play area. The children hand painted curtains for their ‘stage’.

Devlin play area

Extra fence from the pool area was used to enclose it on the lower side and the chainlink fence that had contained the dogs was removed.  A simple balance beam was made from felled tree trunks, a playhouse/stage area with a new bright blue deck was built under the existing stairs and a slide added to the top. The remaining stockade fence was stained white to brighten up the shady area and a carnival silly mirror was added to it just for fun.

Charlotte on the slide

The final phases of the renovation ended up being the most problematic.  Almost all of the existing bluestone had to be relaid since it was incorrectly installed the first time. Retaining walls had insufficient foundations and were failing and were replaced.  The hillside below was stabilized and planted with native Carex to aid in soil retention.  The fireplace was demolished and new walls were added to a reconfigured patio.  The enlarged patio has a firepit and contemporary furnishings. The new seatwall has built in speakers and the steps to the pool have been widened as has the walkway to the adjacent courtyard.  A garden now visually links the patio with the pool decks.

Patio seating areas

A courtyard was turfed over and the boxwood hedges and plantings in the front yard redesigned.  A small, curved path at the driveway entrance was re-configured to allow for two chairs for adults who supervise the driveway bike and scooter riding.

Devlin front entry

Side walk to front

Sections of hedge were removed from each side of the walkway to unify both sides of the front lawn.  A scraggly pine was removed to allow what will be a beautiful Cornus kousa more light and room.  Boxwood were replace with those from other areas and were pruned into clean lined shapes. Nepeta and daylillies were transplanted from the driveway to add seasonal interest.  Plants were added to a side walk as well as to the driveway areas and new micro patio.

Devlin Driveway entry to patioThe best thing is that every time I visit there are bikes, hula hoops, pool toys and chalk art everywhere. What was once a problem space has become one that is loved and used.  I can’t ask for a better result!

chalk play

 

LABELS: Gardens, Landscape Design, landscape designer, New Jersey, Outdoor Furniture and Accessories 6 Comments

Garden Design Details: Container Planting

For me, it’s the end of container season.  I only plant them for a few clients. Planter design is not a core service of my landscape design practice because I find them to take as much time to prepare for and execute as any other planting design. In reality, that’s what a container is, a planting design executed in a very small, seasonal space. I do have clients who specifically ask me to design their containers and I say yes, but I just don’t overtly offer to do it.

Turquoise Anduze pot

 

Turquoise pots and entry

Nobody ever taught me the rules of containers so I approach them in the same way I would any design. I lean towards structure planted with abandon in my garden design and my container plantings reflect that for the most part. Since the space and number of plants I can use is so limited, I am a ruthless editor.  I don’t personally love planters filled with lots of different kinds of plants. I think it makes a stronger visual statement to limit them in the same way I would any other design. The container above has four varieties in it, the one below three. In a really big planter I may use as many as five, repeated throughout the design.

Barn pots

My approach is the same as for any design–first decide on the primary structure and then build down from there. In a garden that may be a tree, a pergola, or a sculpture, in a pot, it’s the same–there has to be something anchoring it all.

Variagated willow and blue pot

When I shop for container plants,  I shop for all of  them at once, collecting special plants from a wide variety of sources. The process takes several days. If a specific request was made, such as the variegated willow standards in the pots above I will seek them out. Each season I limit the color palette which aids in later editing. This year my palette included chartreuse, deep green, salmon/apricot, white/grey and a very saturated purple.

Atelier Verkaint pots on seatwall

Most of the time I use the client’s own containers, but over the past few years I’ve been specifying them in larger designs so I know they will work within the context of the larger landscape that I have designed. Planters to scale and the right style for the larger context are details that make or break a project.

LABELS: Containers, Garden Design, Garden Design Details, Gardens, Landscape Design 3 Comments

Contemporary Tiles and the Middle Ages

Sometimes my mind connects the dots in unexpected ways.  I visited ICFF (International Contemporary Furniture Fair) in New York over the weekend.  You would think I’d be all mid-mod and forward thinking. But no.

I fell for these concrete tiles from Grow House Grow.  They are a new product for the company, frost proof and come a a wide variety of colors.

concrete floor tiles

My mind immediately went to the Middle Ages and the floor at Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. Since my images of that were lost in an iPhone debacle, I borrowed this one from Wikimedia to illustrate the point.

Floor Sainte Chapelle

Now to find a place to use the contemporary ones in a garden design!

LABELS: France, Gardens, Landscape Design, paving pattern 2 Comments

Magnolia Lust

As part of my job as a landscape designer, I regularly walk the growers and nurseries to see what is new and what looks good.  I learn about plants new to me that I may want to trial and try. Like many other designers, I get on a plant jag and have a love affair with a group of plants for a while and then move on to flirt with something else that catches my rather short plant attention span.  Today I have plant lust.  I was at the fabulous NJ wholesale grower, Pleasant Run Nursery yesterday and fell for Magnolia x brooklynensis ‘Black Beauty’ that is just now in bud.

Magnolia brooklynensis  'Black Beauty'I didn’t buy it because I didn’t know it.  I came back to the studio after laying out some plants on a project, poured a glass of wine, and had a ‘first date’ to find out more.

Blooming later than the masses of M. soulangiana that are in my neighborhood, it reliably blooms after the late freeze that sometimes causes magnolias to loose their buds and hence their bloom. It’s dramatic and different. It is hardy to Zone 4 and is a small tree reaching 15-20 ft (most say smaller)–a perfect size for small gardens and suburban lots. There is nothing not to like!

I think I will have a long term relationship with this tree and it will be the first plant added to my home garden.

 

LABELS: plants 1 Comment

Trials and Neglect in my Home Garden

I’m not a landscape designer who has a wonderfully designed garden that is a terrific advertisement for my craft at my home. I should, I live on a corner, but as I’ve shared here before it’s mostly a neglected mess with good bones and a rotating cast of plants. My home garden is quirky and in a constant state of flux. Since my landscape design practice is design only, I don’t have a crew I can ‘borrow’ for the big tasks, so they wait and are ignored for as long as possible. I’m mostly not very motivated to work in my own garden after spending my days designing beautiful ones for others.

This spring I wanted to do a major switch out of some elements in the garden to enable me to try some new plants and design ideas.  I grow plants to observe and trial that I want to try in my design work and I have limited space. That means every few years some have to go to make room for others.

cleaned out garden at hedges

Beyond my own neglectful gardening style, my garden is under siege. Deer, rabbits, feral cats, squirrels, chipmunks and voles and dogs who are allowed to pee on my plants are the culprits.  The yard is unfenced and I don’t water regularly or provide much in the way of added nutrients beyond compost and good soil to start with. Usually the plants that I take out are victims of their own success.  Over a period of  time they have proven themselves to me as worthy.  All have been in my garden a minimum of three full growing years  which is my loose time frame to trial a plant.

Here are my anecdotal notes on some of the plants which survived and thrived  and were removed yesterday to make room for others.  There is also a plant that I was sorry to see gone…I wasn’t ready to wave goodbye to it just yet.

Amsonia hubrichtii– I grew this from a 4″ pot and it became a monster–the one remaining plant was almost 4′ across and 3′ high.  It was never bothered by deer but it was also not a a plant I loved beyond the lovely light blue bloom in mid-spring.  Mine never had the brilliant fall color–just a dull gold.  The pests never bothered it.

Cornus alba ‘Elegantisima’–Grown from a big box cast off 1 gallon pot.  I loved the variagated foliage and the red twigs in winter, but it was too big even when coppiced regularly.  It is a vigorous grower and has a loose informal shape when left to its own devices. The pests left it alone completely. The image below was taken just after a freezing rain.

Cornus alba 'Elegantisima'

Vernonia noveboracensis–I like really tall perennials and I love this plant in the wild.  I’d rather have plants that don’t self seed everywhere in my garden since I don’t have time to edit them.  The exception to that is Verbena bonariensis.  As for the Veronia,  I don’t have enough room for this garden giant that thrives on neglect!  Over 6′ tall with violet blooms in late summer. I just got tired of it. No pest problems whatsoever.

 

Vernonia noveboracensis

Rhus typhina ‘Tiger Eyes’ and  Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Firetale’–These are paired together because I bought them as a pair.  The thought was to have the pink Persecaria grow up through the yellow leaves of the Rhus.  They did for one season.  I over romanticized the Rhus, it is a rangy looking thug. It looks fantastic in a pot though.  I can see why people fall for it and I would consider using it in a container.  It spread on its root stock into the lawn and other areas of the garden.  The Persecaria is supposed to be a thug…it’s a dud.  It didn’t thrive on my neglect and lack of ample moisture.  The good news is that neither were bothered by much of anything else.  The critters left both alone.

Rhus and Persecaria

 

The plant that bothered me to remove was a prized Styrax japonicus ‘Emerald Pagoda’.  Two years ago when the 17 year cycle of cicadas had them chomping leaves and creating garden mayhem everywhere–except my town, my young Styrax was the only plant  in my garden that was attacked. I decided to watch it and hope for the best.  I didn’t get my wish and it sadly went to the compost heap yesterday.

So what is going to take the place of everything I removed?  Plants I’ve never grown before…

LABELS: Gardens, Planting Design, plants 5 Comments

Garden Visit: Filoli

My visit last week to one of the great American gardens, Filoli, in northern California, was a revelation in many ways.  I have wanted to visit since I first saw pictures of it years ago. The garden was designed in the early 20th century by its original homeowners with a team of architects, artists, and horticulturists. There is no known master plan yet it has survived largely in tact which is a rarity for American estate gardens of this size and scope.

Filoli

Sometimes my travels are guided by my desire to experience specific places firsthand. My trip to Marrakesh and Majorelle was one of those. Standing in a place, in real time and feeling the human factor and scale is important. At Filoli it is very important.  As big as the garden is, it feels intimate.  There is a succession of garden rooms unified through the use of specific plants as well as how they are used.

Filoli Yews and Boxwood Hedges

Thinking about what a design might have looked like in plan view and then ‘feeling’ it out on the ground makes me think about the power of great design. For me, a photograph can never replace the human experience.  The intersection between the man made and the natural interests me as a landscape designer. Ultimately what I design are places for people. Filoli is definitely a garden for people.

Filoli Gardens

In landscape design terms, I want to see what the designer(s) intended from my own 5’7″ viewpoint. Being in a place and noting how the site was honored or not, how I am directed to move through it by plants and paths, how I experience hidden, surprise and obvious views, by noting the themes and repetitive motifs, by seeing how the elements all hang together allows me to grow and stretch as a designer.  These visits are my master classes, learning from others firsthand, yet through my own lens of experience.

Cherry trees at Filoli

Pansy parterre at Filoli

Of the many gardens I’ve visited, none use the axial views better than Filoli. They are strong and thoughtful, directing views and embracing the surrounding California landscape.  It is both very symmetrical and not at all.

Filoli Axial view through gateFiloli axial view through the gardenFiloli axial view with tulips and yewsFiloli Axial view with brick walk and stepsFiloli Axial view from bench

Filoli as a designed space is overwhelmingly about rectangles–on the ground plane as well as on the vertical plane. There are very few curves…an arch here, a round fountain there or a boxwood ball. Even the famous cylindrical yew towers read as rectangles.  Although traditional, it doesn’t feel dated or outmoded.

Filoli rectagular garden

Filoli pink and blue garden

The rectangles are softened with exuberant plantings in calculated and calibrated color palettes.  They are punctuated by clipped and trained plants. There are pollarded sycamores and espaliered fruit trees as well as a beech hedge and cascading varieties of wisteria. The hundreds of yews are the stars of the garden.  The plants are used design elements at Filoli.  They are equal players defining as well as decorating space.

Yews at Filoli

Filoli pollarded trees

Filoli view from hilltop

I was happy to spend a day in great company, walking and talking in this remarkable garden. It exceeded my expectations and I felt as if I cheated our late out of the gate spring in New Jersey with a few days of bloom and sunshine on the California coast.  Visit if you can.

LABELS: California, formal gardens, Garden Art and Antiques, garden visits, Gardens, Landscape Design, Planting Design, San Francisco, Travel 13 Comments

Green Gardens

Green is a thing. Right now it’s a missing thing. It’s what I miss most during winter and what makes me smile first in the spring–those small green shoots pushing up through frigid earth. I’ve been thinking about making flowerless gardens. Gardens that are mostly green. Gardens that rely  on scale and texture and subtlety of hue and maybe some skilled pruning.

Princeton garden

In New Jersey, where I practice landscape design, this may prove to be more difficult than it is in warmer climates where there are bolder choices and plants with immense architectural leaves. Many of the images here are from gardens I’ve visited in the south–Miami, Dallas, and New Orleans.  All are interesting to me and there are no flowers in them.

Dallas Conf Day 3 024

Whatever broad bold foliage we have here the deer seem to love …like hostas, so I’ll find a substitute of some sort. Broad strappy foliage is easier to find–grasses have that in abundance. Subtle transitions of green along with texture will create the primary interest beyond shape.

Vizcaya green parterre Scale and shape and texture become much more important when color is limited. Finding companions that work with each other and can stand visually on their own and help define space is challenging with flowers–without it’s crucial.

South Jersey + New Orleans Garden District 026

Finely textured plants can disappear with out something with muscle to play off of. There can still be drama, but it’s more mellow (pun intended). These gardens don’t have to be formal and clipped, they can be loose and natural or somewhere in between.

Jungles Coconut Grove

Creating a planting plan that will be interesting in four seasons yet not be totally without seasonal specific floral interest will be a challenge–most of the plants I love anyway have super cool foliage and interesting bloom. Choosing plants for foliage and texture is usually where I start a planting design, after the permanent structure of the garden has been figured out. Bloom, however beautiful is secondary and fleeting.

Winter Park Garden

So for now, while the land is frozen in white and snowy limbo, I’ll just have some green dreams and wait for opportunities to reveal themselves in the upcoming spring landscape design projects.

 

 

LABELS: Garden Design, Gardens, Landscape Design, landscape designer, Planting Design 10 Comments

My Award Winning Garden Design

Last fall, I entered a garden I designed in New Jersey in 2015 APLD International Landscape Design Awards in the Planting Design category. It was awarded the highest honor, a Gold Award. To be honest, I knew the value of the design, but since it is the antithesis of current planting trends, I was really pleased. Current trends in planting design seem to require ornamental grasses and meadow-like qualities. This garden has neither, but that doesn’t make it unsustainable or unfriendly to all  but deer.

Lee Hill Farm 3

The garden’s underlying structure of boxwood hedging and pyramids gives it definition. My client specifically asked that I not use any ornamental grasses as they felt they were too ‘beachy’ looking.  The 7800 square foot garden was originally built in the 1920s when the 15 acre property had a working greenhouse and two full-time gardeners. The bones of that garden remained: stonework in disrepair, heaved brick walks, and a leaky concrete pond.

pots et al 010

pots et al 009

Lee Hill Farm 1 Before

The homeowners wanted to re-imagine the space in the spirit of the original, but with lower maintenance and an eye towards family use and deer resistance. A new stone wall was built to create a level terrace on the west slope with new gravel paths and existing brick walks that were excavated and re-laid linking to existing steps.

pots et al 011

rumson, harding, westfield, scranton 039

Lee Hill Farm 9

Planting beds were edged with recycled steel and damaged stonework was repaired. Millstones from throughout the property were inserted into the relaid brick paths to indicate transitions. The homeowner repaired the pond with salvaged parts; inexpensive off the shelf, steel arbors were added to support climbing roses; and drip irrigation installed.

Lee Hill Farm 6

Planting plans from the 1940s were available and indicated that the original garden had a color palette of deep blues and pinks punctuated with seasonal yellow and white accents. They were the inspiration for the new seasonal bloom sequence that starts out predominantly blue, white and pink; changes to white, yellow and pink; and back to blue, white, and pink. The historic property had been documented as General Lafayette’s winter headquarters at some point during the Revolution. Boxwood hedges and repeating pyramids are a nod to formal 18th century French gardens. That they are also deer resistant and provide winter interest was also considered. An organic maintenance plan was put in place–the evidence of this is the seeded areas between the natural bluestone slabs which as long as they are ‘green’ are mowed and left to their own devices.

Lee Hill Farm 5Lee Hill Farm 8Lee Hill Farm 10

The finished garden is lush and sensual with abundant bloom and textural interest.  It is a traditional garden that was never meant to be ‘naturalistic’, but it was, and is meant to be of its time and place and I’m very grateful that it has received an award as acknowledgement that it’s okay not to follow the trends.

Photography by Rich Pomerantz and Susan Cohan.  All rights reserved.

 

LABELS: Garden Design Details, Gardens, Landscape Design, Planting Design 19 Comments

Design vs. A Sense of Place

I’m not an architecture critic.  I am someone who loves great architecture both contemporary and historic. In my work as a landscape designer part of my focus is to create landscapes and gardens that surround the attendant architecture in such a way that the design partnership between them is timeless and seamless.  As a designer this may seem counter intuitive, but I believe that the best design has a sense of place and that my hand in that should be less, rather than more, visible.

Last week I visited Frank Gehry’s new building for the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris.  It is a tour de force of glass and structure.

Gehry's Fondation Louis Vuitton from streetFondation Louis Vuitton Paris

It stands alone in the Bois de Boulogne. Its sail-like architectural exoskelleton is remarkable, but it is a single design statement that has little or no relationship to its surroundings. I have seen his buildings and structures in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, and now Paris, and in each and every case they dominate rather than caress.

In an urban environment with competing architectural statements like the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles or the IAC building viewed from the High Line in New York (both below), this isn’t so obvious. But in the Parisien forest park, the building is very beautiful, but it is not of the place it’s in and that bothers me.

Gehry Disney Concert Hall LA copyGehry IAC building in NYC

I admire the imagination and innovation in Gehry’s work. The buildings themselves are structures of great beauty. I enjoy the intellectual challenges that his architecture presents me with, but what I now don’t like is how they don’t sit on the land with ease.  Even through the viewing prism of Lurie Park in Chicago the Pritzker Pavillion sits above it, alone and lofty as a single statement.

Gehry Pritzker Pavillion Chicago

I believe it is our responsibility as designers and architects to embrace and celebrate our surroundings, and so, while I admire Gehry’s vision and virtuosity, as well as the power his buildings have to draw admiring crowds and challenge the status quo I wish they would also honor the land they are on.

LABELS: American Architecture, Gardens, Travel 5 Comments

Garden Travel: Back and Forth

Next week I’m travelling again. This time on a search for garden antiques and vintage in the markets in Paris and parts of Belgium. I am continuing on to Rome for a few days of play after that. For the first time in many, many years, I won’t be taking my laptop with me.  I’ve traded the bulk and weight for my camera stuff and a tablet, so please follow my Instagram account for what I see and off the cuff inspiration.

I’ve also been waiting a while to post about a visit to Vizcaya when I was in Miami in November so here it is.  I was enchanted.  For a landscape designer, like me, who finds inspiration in classicism and order, this garden was sublime.  Inspired by Venice, yet built in the tropics, it transcended my expectations–which were high to begin with.  We arrived in the rain which magically stopped when I went out to the garden.

vizcaya main parterre

Lush and green, in November, Vizcaya was largely flowerless which did not detract from its interest.  Layers of texture, geometric forms and varied stone and stucco create the depth.

Vizcaya Levels of geometry

Interesting uses of repeated geometric shapes–circles, triangles and rectangles on both the horizontal and vertical planes create cohesion and draw the eye through the garden.  A single pop of color creates a focal point.  Great editing is what makes great design, not piling up detail upon detail just to have them.

Vizcaya Symmetry

The same view from a few steps over takes the asymmetric organization of the previous view to one of almost perfect symmetry.

Vizcaya mashup of traditional and local materials

Celebrating Italian gardens and Floridian materials using coral stone, native limestone and juxtaposing them with Italian terra cotta and antique statuary and urns.

vizcaya secret garden

I’ve often thought that any garden style can be interpreted within the context of a specific region or plant group.  A formal planting in the secret garden using cactus, grasses and agaves for structure and interest.

Vizcaya inside the summer house

Last but not least was the summer house with views of the Grand Canal–a conceit if there ever was one complete with gondola moorings.  This structure has been damaged during the Florida hurricane season and needs repair, but still had incredibly beautiful mosaic floor and lattice work.

There was much more to see, and if getting away from the cold dreary winter is on your list…Vizcaya fits the bill perfectly.

 

LABELS: American Architecture, Antiques, Garden Art and Antiques, garden visits, Gardens, Miami, susan cohan, Travel 1 Comment

A Year beyond Miss R…

When I become this inconsistent, something is going on.  What has it been?  Life and work. Yes, Miss R has been part of that mix, but 2014 has been an odd year. It’s been an awakening of sorts. I love to write, but there are things that are more important to me than that.  I’ve rediscovered my three happiest places –at the drawing board, indulging my gypsy feet, and my newest obsession, photography.

I made a yearlong commitment to be the President of APLD and I wrote some interesting (I hope) stories for Garden Design magazine. I organized a European Objects and Oranments tour for designers that will happen the end of January. I fulfilled a twenty year long dream of going to Morocco and along the way something had to give and Miss R was it.  Here’s a rear view mirror of the year…in pictures of course!

I suspect 2015 will be just as sporadic for Miss R as I’ve already made commitments for more travel to wander and to speak at various events (roughly in order)–to Paris, Brussels and Rome; to Detroit and San Francisco; to Toronto, Baltimore and Chicago; and finally back to Washington, DC. Phew!  If you are in any of those places and want to try and meet up, email me and I’ll do my best!  In the meantime, Happy New Year to you and yours!

 

 

 

LABELS: Gardens, Paris, Travel, Washington DC 5 Comments

Garden Travel: Architectural Swoon in Miami Beach

It’s no secret that I’ve been exploring Art Deco forms as inspiration for garden designs. I’ve always been drawn to the geometry and order, even when I started my career as a jewelry designer. Many of the preeminent decorative styles of the early 20th century have this type of order – Bauhaus, DeStijl, Viennese Secessionist (Josef Hoffman’s work is another swoon), Art Moderne and Art Deco and they still draw me in. When the opportunity to visit Miami Beach after the APLD Landscape Design Conference in Orlando last week I jumped at the chance.  There was much more than this going on, including visits to several Raymond Jungle’s projects and Vizcaya, which I’ll write about in the coming weeks, but oh, those buildings in Miami brought me joy.

Each morning, before my companions were up I set out at dawn to take pictures–many of the buildings are on the beach and face east–I wanted the morning light.  Here are just a few of hundreds of these gems.  I think about taking the graphic quality of these facades, laying them down flat and using them in plan view as a starting point for planting beds and paths–I don’t think literally.

Miami Art Deco Jefferson Road McAlpin Ocean Drive the Carlton The Crescent The Kent

Villa Paradiso

The LeslieThe Shepley

The Congress The Tudor

LABELS: American Architecture, Gardens, Miami, Travel 4 Comments

Garden Design Details: Stone at Skylands

I hadn’t visited Skylands for about ten years, and never in the fall.  I went hoping to see the last of the fall foliage and instead found stonework that was interesting in its scope and full of ideas.

Skylands Pillar

Formerly an estate developed in the 1920s, it is now the New Jersey Botanical Garden and its stone American Tudor mansion  is better known than the gardens as a popular site for weddings.

Skylands steps to water feature

The stonework at Skylands is incredible and impressive…even if much of it is in need of repair.  There is both formal and rustic stonework and sometimes dressed stone is juxtaposed with natural, dry stacked with mortared.

Stone pillar and farm wall SkylandsStone entry and built in bench Skylandscurved stone steps SkylandsStone wall with rustic steps Skylands

There were two stone features in particular that I loved and was inspired by.  The first, a window box clearly displayed the hand and skill of the mason who made it.  I’ve never seen one like this and would love to be able to duplicate it in some way.

stone planter Skylands Stone planter detail Skylands

The other was some bluestone flat work done to surround a planter.  The stone radiates out from the central point of the circle, with angular cuts.

radiating bluestone paving Skylands

Skylands is a place that mostly stands still.  A new crabapple allee that had been planned when I was last there has been planted, but the site still screams that it is underfunded and under appreciated.

Crabapple allee Skylands

I was one of seven (I counted) people there on a sunny afternoon, and one of them was mowing the lawn.

LABELS: dry stone walling, fall, Gardens, granite, New Jersey, patio stone, paving pattern, rock work, Stone, stone work 2 Comments

Garden Design Details: Fall Beyond Foliage

I had some rare time in between landscape design projects and clients last week and as I’ve been meaning to take my new camera lens out for a spin, I stopped by Frelinghuysen Arboretum in Morristown to search out some of the details of the season.  The focus of this public park is plants…not necessarily design although it has its designer-y moments.  I go here when I need a plant fix.  I send my landscape design students here to photograph and learn about plants just as I did years ago when I was learning.

Winding path Frelinghuysen Arboretum

Grasses, asters, Japanese anemones and Monkshood were at their peak and the large swaths of hardwood foliage astound, but there are many other details that can make a landscape’s planting design special in the waning warmth and long low light of autumn. Sometimes they are stalwart summer hanger’s on and sometimes they are plants whose season is now.

Semi spent bloom Heptacodium

The almost spent bloom structure of a Heptacodium miconoidies (Seven Sun Flower) has beautiful open structure and pale pink color.

Branches Acer japonica

I’m a sucker for contorted branches of a Japanese maple silhouetted against some foliage ‘stained glass’…

Autumn fern

The gold and russet fronds of Dryopteris erythrosora (Autumn Fern) in a woodland setting adds some unexpected living color to the ground plane. Mostly the oranges of fall are fallen from above.

Nicotiana sylvestris

The late blooming native Nicotiana sylvestris (Woodland tobacco) is a giant in most gardens but so worth it in terms of drama.  One of my personal favorites, and easily raised from seed, it takes forever for this plant to appear, and does smell a bit like an ashtray…remember those?

Pinus bungeana

Pinus bungeana‘s (Lacebark Pine) exfoliating camo bark.  Who wouldn’t want this in their garden?  I don’t see this tree in commonly in the trade or used enough in gardens.  In fact, I’ve only ever seen one once in a residential garden where I kept it from being cut down!

Aconitum and Anemone japonica

Lastly, as I said in the beginning the Aconitum and Anemones were at their peak.  So pretty reaching for the light.

 

LABELS: fall, Garden Design, Gardens, Planting Design, plants 5 Comments

Garden Design Inspiration: Architectural Details in Chicago

When I was in Chicago in August, speaking at IGC about landscape designers and their potential relationships with garden centers  I took a day before and a day after to explore the city and meet up with friends.  I’ve been to Chicago regularly over the past five years and have seen and written about its wonderful gardens and street plantings, but this time I went in search of something else.  Architecture.

Chicago reinvented itself after the great fire in 1871, and many of architecture’s greatest design minds have lived or worked in the city. Three who formed the basis of the way we think about buildings now –  Henry Richardson, Louis Sullivan and  Frank Lloyd Wright experimented in Chicago in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Carson, Pririe, Scott

 

I was somewhat surprised to see that Sullivan’s Carson, Pirie, Scott building is now a Target, but given that company’s commitment to design it made sense.

I met up with landscape designer, Helen Weiss and her daughter, for an evening and went on an Art Deco walking tour. I was surprised to be thinking about how the interlocking and sleek geometry of that style could be re-interpreted as garden designs.  Not literally–but as contemporary planting schemes or path layouts or even as ways to prune and hedge.  I am sure something from this inspiration it will surface as I work through design ideas I’ve been experimenting with.  It’s all a part of the process.

Detail Art Deco Chicago Elevator door Chicago Board of Trade Tile detail Chicago Window detail Chicago

LABELS: American Architecture, Gardens Leave a comment

Garden Visits: Princeton

I visited gardens yesterday in Princeton, New Jersey. The tour was arranged by the New Jersey Landscape and Nursery Association (NJNLA) and featured four very different gardens by designer Bill Kucas.

What struck me about these outdoor spaces was that their details is what really made them interesting. In each space the features beyond plants were detailed beautifully, but when I asked about what made the spaces personal, that had been left up to the clients. In each space, with the exception of the one still being built, the choice of furniture and accessories beyond what the landscape designer had envisioned is what finished them and made them useful, wonderful places for people. Is a patio or deck really a place for people if there’s nowhere to sit or gather? Too often landscape designers stop at the plants and hard surfaces and leave the finishing touches up to the homeowner when the total vision should include all of the accouterments. Our interior design peers would never leave a space unfurnished!  None of this in anyway detracted from the day…even the predicted rain held off until we were leaving the very last one.

By far, my favorite detail of the day was a balcony with thin brick or roofing tiles set on edge.  It was finished with a rectangular copper gutter above and containing Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata).

Balcony floor

Additionally, there were other beautiful masonry details in each garden.  The pier below was unusual in that it combined stone, wood and concrete – each as its own detail but unified in the end product.

Garden pierWall fountain bluestone and brick paving detail

There were multiple seating areas in each space. Each had furnishings and accessories appropriate to the design and surrounding architecture.  There was contemporary furniture from Design within Reach and vintage Smith and Hawken at one site; Restoration Hardware dominated another; a third had a collection of antique and vintage pieces.  All of these ‘additions’ helped define the personality of the space and were lost opportunities for the designer to ‘finish’ the project through space and or furniture planning.  It’s true, sometimes clients want to do it themselves, but often they want to collaborate and don’t have access to the ‘To the Trade’ options that designers can provide.

DWR table and chairsFireplace Princeton

Pergola and marriage of materials

Lanterns in treeNow it’s back to work creating gardens and landscapes instead of being a ‘tourist’ in my own state on a busman’s holiday!

 

LABELS: Garden Art and Antiques, Garden Design Details, garden visits, Gardens, landscape designer, New Jersey, Outdoor Furniture and Accessories Leave a comment

Riding in the Backseat around a Curve

Miss R has been in the backseat all summer. Pretend you are on a roadtrip and listening to a story on the radio…the pictures will come after we reach our destination.

In a twist of weather related events and wonder, my landscape design business and my commitment to being the national President of APLD has taken all of my time, leaving little extra for regular blog posts.  Although I feel a nagging sense of ‘it’s been too long’, I’m happy to have my priorities straight and to be able to see my garden and landscape design work come alive. I always feel that the work I do has the power to create profound changes in people’s lives so I put that work before all else.

As a designer I’ve always worked in series, exploring ideas until I feel they’ve come to some kind of satisfactory conclusion for me intellectually.  The thing is though, is that I’m not always aware that a series is developing.  I experiment with ideas and some prove to be fleeting, while others stick around for further clarification. So on to part two of the backseat story.

I had planned a blog post based on some images I had been collecting on my iPhone when POOF! all were lost in a technological glitch.  No, I didn’t back up regularly then, I do now. So in going through what’s left via downloads from Instagram and Facebook, I noticed a thread of thought that’s been percolating into a full fledged idea.  It’s one I want to explore more fully when the opportunities present themselves.  Not all ideas work for all solutions.

I extol my students with the made up commandment ‘Thou shall curve with purpose and grace, thou shall not wiggle all over the place” when explaining how best to design using arcs and curves.  I tend to design with a hard straight edge and soften that with abundant  plantings marrying the geometry with the natural. It works on suburban lots of limited size and is simpler to maintain than lots of curved edges which become obscured overtime.  I didn’t realize I was having a love affair with curves until I started looking back through my images this year.  Here is the progression…

Turf parterres at Versailles

The Orangerie at Versailles in January while I was there just charmed me with its curved geometry and ease of maintenance–other than the topiaries just mow the lawn and cut back the hedge.

Then I was in New York and this long shadow caught my eye.

Sprial ShadowWhile shopping for plants for clients in a green house I whooped with excitement when I found a whole bunch of escargot begonias.

escargot begoniaThat lead to the design for a showhouse garden…

Blairsden Brocade progress shot and completed…

Blairsden completedAnd still yet a project that is currently being built distills those curves into a much simpler form.

Landscape plan curved hedges

These are ideas I want to explore further and evolve.  I guess with all of my time dedicated to straight lines that I really I don’t have any trouble with the curve. I just a bit of trouble finding time to post!

 

 

 

LABELS: Creative Process, Design, Gardens, inspiration 1 Comment

Garden Color Inspiration: Green

It might seem counterintuitive to add more green to a garden, but lately to my landscape designer’s eyes, green looks like it should, fresh and new.  (Go ahead, groan at that word use!) Two years ago, a version of green was the color of the year, but it was largely ignored by outdoor designers–perhaps we think we have the corner on green with our plant palettes.

Via Veranda

These greens aren’t the citrus based hues that have been screaming at us for several seasons as both accents and plants, but the deeper and more complex matte greens of the forest floor and canopy.

via Acanthus and Acorn

Green has been showing up in interior magazines and blogs and on the runway for a while now.

Via Apartment Therapy

Via Andrea Pompilo

Green has long been used on fence panels and trelliage, but it can also color furniture and accessories.

Green box planter

Via Jardins du Roi Soleil

It can be new looking and  surprising choice in a landscape adding a layer of complexity to the already existing organic greens that are there.

Some greens to play with… Green palette Left to right Farrow and Ball/Calke Green, Ralph Lauren/Campbell Green, Benjamin Moore/Amazon Moss and Sherwin-Williams/Shamrock.  All of these can be mixed as an exterior stain or paint.

LABELS: color, Garden Design, Gardens 5 Comments

Travel Inspiration for gardens in The Designer

The summer issue of The Designer, APLD’s quarterly design magazine is out.  In the editorial is a piece I wrote about my trip to Morocco last winter and how the patterned surfaces found everywhere there have continued to influence my landscape design work.


What isn’t included there are some of the detail images of that still come to mind when I start to design a garden or, specifically a planting plan, so I decided to share them here. I take dozens of detail images for future reference where ever I go, but seldom share them. They’re my reference material and often don’t make much sense to anyone else out of context–these do I think.

Brick wall with windows Fes

Iron window detail Marakesh

Tile fountain museum of Fes

La Mamoumia Hotel tile detail

 

LABELS: Garden Design, Gardens, inspiration, landscape designer, Morocco, Travel Leave a comment

The Revived Garden Design Magazine

Sometimes I almost get what I wish for.

When it folded two years ago, I lamented the demise of Garden Design magazine. In that piece, I also made a wish of sorts — If we, as a design discipline and community, want to be taken seriously, then we need to support publications at all levels of the marketplace, not just those that cater to the weekend warriors who relegate us to the DIY sector. Landscape design and landscape architecture are serious, complex disciplines that can inspire within and without. 

Well, Garden Design is back in a new version, as a quarterly book-a-zine.  In the interest of full disclosure, I have been working with them behind the scenes as an advisor and contributing editor since the new publisher bought the title and all of its archives. I felt that if I was going to wish for it, I had better be a part of the change I believe in.  It might seem odd to write a review of something that I’ve had a hand in making, but that’s what designers do..view things with a hyper critical eye to how to make those things even better.

Garden Design Magazine

Although it’s not perfect, Garden Design does live up to its title and celebrates American landscape and garden design in a way no other publication on this side of the Atlantic even attempts. Overall, the first issue is a wow. It has a new cover design, a larger size and is bound like a book.  With 132 ad free pages, I can’t argue with the content, it’s rich and varied and there’s plenty to read and look at. It is wide ranging geographically and many of the images are drop dead gorgeous. Inspiration for all types of gardens and outdoor spaces are included and there is a fantastic regional section at the back of the book. Best of all, it focuses on design as an entity that is important to the ultimate success of any outdoor environment.

As it evolves, the magazine’s editorial voice and art direction needs to be clearer.  The details it presents both in photo editing and  typographic/layout design need to be tighter and much more consistent.  It also needs to focus on the flow of stories from one to another.  The desire to show everything needs to be tempered by a clear and sharp editorial knife that supports the publication’s ‘voice’. I learned these lessons first hand (and the hard way) working on other publications. Sometimes, less is more, sometimes not. The trick in editing and laying out a magazine is to make sure that every little bit ads to the reader’s new found or rediscovery of the content and that each story stands on its own yet leads logically to the next. Consistency in design is as true in magazines as it is in gardens. Knowing what to leave out is as important as what is included – sometimes more so.

So with all of that said, the revitalized and revived Garden Design is worth the cover price and needs the support of American design enthusiasts and I’m certain that it will only get better from the high bar it already set for itself over time. When that happens will I will have gotten exactly what I wished for.

LABELS: Garden Design, Gardens, Landscape Design, magazines 3 Comments

Garden Design Details: Retro Patio Umbrellas

I’m tired of market umbrellas. Patterned or plain, they all look the same.  Outdoor umbrellas used to glamorous. My shady inspiration today came from Coastal Living’s cover story a few years ago and a garden designed by A Blade of Grass near Boston that was a 2013 APLD Landscape Design Award Winner .

coastal living cover

13-136 R-Pete Cadieux-Brookline Residence #3

There are a few companies that are making beautiful retro style umbrellas – the kind you would have found in mid-century Palm Springs or Palm Beach.

 

Black and White retro patio umbrella

 

 

 

 

 

Santa Barbara Umbrella Company‘s square Regatta umbrella in black and white.

blue retro umbrella

 

California Umbrella‘s classic round patio umbrella comes in dozens of color options.

purple umbrella with fringe

Santa Barbara Umbrella’s fringed round umbrella in violet and white and has all kinds of color options.

red and white striped umbrellaCalifornia Umbrella’s peaked umbrella in red and white stripes is also available in dozens of colors.

Images via Coastal Living, Association of Professional Landscape Designers, Santa Barbara Umbrella Company, California Umbrella Company.
LABELS: Garden Design, Garden Design Details, Gardens, Patio Umbrellas 2 Comments

Spring Frenzy!

It’s been one of the most jam packed and crazy springs in recent memory.  Perhaps it is because winter seemed never ending in New Jersey and it still hasn’t really warmed up! As happens every April, I get so busy my days are a roundabout where one seems to blend into the next and somehow, it all gets done.  This spring, in addition to working with some existing and incredible new design clients,  there have been several other major things going on.

Susan Cohan APLD backyard garden plan

I had the opportunity to visit Washington DC (so many blooms…so many people!) during its famed cherry blossom season to work on a piece for Garden Design magazine which is publishing again in 10 days! Hurry up and subscribe to that!

Cherry Blossoms in Washington DC

I finished up and sent out plans for a landscape designers buying trip to Paris and Brussels next January.  Ongoing info and updates for that trip can be found here.

I designed and helped install a show house garden for the Mansion in May with my New Jersey Chapter of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD) of which I’m national president…

Garden at Blairsden

And I managed to get some sleep…even though it doesn’t seem like there would be time for that!  What I didn’t have much time for is Miss R, so I hope you understand if I pop in and out this spring without my usual regularity!

LABELS: American Architecture, Gardens Leave a comment

A Tale of Two Garden Sphinxes

Imagine my surprise, while visiting Hillwood Museum and Gardens, when I saw this sphinx at the entrance to the formal gardens.  There are four of them.  I’ve seen them before, in bronze at Blairsden–the house that is also the location for a garden I’ve designed for APLDNJ for this year’s Mansion in May.

The sphinx at Hillwood…

Sphinx at Hillwood Washington DC

The slightly different but not all that much sphinx at Blairsden.

Sphinx at Blairsden

I don’t know a lot about these types of sphinxes, but the similarities are remarkable don’t you think?

LABELS: Antiques, Art, Garden Art and Antiques, Gardens, Travel, Washington DC Leave a comment

Garden Trends: Rattan Seating

I first noticed this emerging trend in Paris at Maison et Objet in January. Rattan furniture is back. As a material, it’s been out of favor for a while, but in the 1940s and 50s it was popular and chic. The new rattan is lyrical and colorful and doesn’t include the large scale banana leaf prints that gave it the feeling that it belonged on a porch in Malaysia somewhere.
Rattan Chaise

Rattan chair Maison et Objet

These pieces will be at home with a wide variety of contemporary, transitional and traditional styles. The best part is that rattan pieces are available at all price points and a wide variety of colors making them a stylish option for many, many gardens, patios and decks.  Here’s a small selection.  Top to bottom:  Crate and Barrel’s Kruger Dining chair, David Francis’ Aura chair, David Francis’ Stockholm chair, Ikea’s Holmsel chair, and Safavieh’s Shenandoah Blue chair.

Crate and Barrrel Rattan David Francis furniture David Francis Stockholm Chair

Ikea Holmsel chair safavieh blue rattan

 We’ll be trendspotting at Maison et Objet 2015 on next January’s Antiques and Ornaments Tour for landscape designers.  If you want info on that trip, please email me susan at susan cohan gardens dot com.

LABELS: Gardens, Outdoor Furniture and Accessories Leave a comment

Garden Trends in the Mall

Mall stores like Restoration Hardware, Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel have made major investments in outdoor furniture and accessories, so I went to the mall to see what was new. Catalogs just don’t do it for me, I can’t see and touch the quality.

The only one of the three that had anything interesting was Crate & Barrel.  On trend as far as lifestyle and color, their selection made the neutrals at Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn seem dreary and tired. The pieces are very fairly priced for the level of quality. Here’s what I liked.

Vertical Pots Crate and Barrel

Colorful ceramic pots with iron hangers. Brightly hued ceramic bird houses.

Ceramic Birdhouses

From more of a merchandising perspective, bold pops of color combined with black and white.

Pops of colorAn entire gardening section with well designed tools and accessories.   I was disturbed though to find plant labels very similar to ones I had seen on Etsy. Not sure if the knock-off was intentional or not as it was a simple graphic idea.

Garden Tools and Potting Bench

My favorite piece of furniture this season is the classically inspired cast aluminum Union dining chair that comes in a matte charcoal finish or red!

Neutral color palette

union-red-dining-arm-chair-with-sunbrella-red-ribbon-cushionI can’t wait for things to warm up and get some pops of color outside!

LABELS: Containers, Gardens, Outdoor Furniture and Accessories, Trends Leave a comment

The New Garden Design

The new Garden Design magazine promises to be full of inspiration and ideas for all of us.  I lamented when the previous one stopped publishing so I’m happy about this. Their primary focus is now American gardens and designers–not just the ones on both coasts either.  How do I know this for sure?  I’m a Contributing Editor.  That doesn’t mean I’m giving up my landscape design practice, it just means I have another outlet to express my love of  great design.

Garden Design

It is going to be a beautiful book like publication without any advertising and printed on beautiful paper.  It will be sold in garden shops and individual issue or annual subscriptions are available.

No, I’m not going to leak any stories!  You’ll have to wait until May and read it.  Until then, my latest piece is up on their website.

LABELS: Garden Design, Gardens, Landscape Design, Planting Design, plants 8 Comments

Spring Bulb: Asphodelus fistulosus

I don’t usually write about plants I haven’t grown, but I’m so starved for spring I started looking through some images thinking to do a post about early spring bloomers.

Asphodelus aestivus Vobulis

Instead I found some lovely images of  Asphodelus fistulosus (Hollow stemmed asphodel) from my trip to Morocco in January.  It took a bit of sleuthing to figure out what this plant was…I hope I’m correct!  It was blooming everywhere in Volubilis, a Roman ruin, in the northeast near Fes and made me so happy to see it thinking that spring wouldn’t be far away at home.  Boy was I wrong!

Asphodelus aestivus close upAsphodelus aestivus with ruins Vobulis

It is a weed there, so beware here, several states list it as a noxious weed and it is prohibited! There were piles of it pulled out from unwanted spots. A member of the lily family, it has a long bloom season and is shorter than Eremurus and much less showy, but pretty nonetheless.  I don’t think it will be hardy in most of NJ since it’s listed as hardy to -0 and this winter we had a few days below that!

 

LABELS: Gardens, Morocco, plants 2 Comments

The Designer’s New Look…no not Dior!

The Association of Professional Landscape Designers‘ quarterly magazine has just re-launched. It has been re-designed and re-imagined and I think it looks really, really great.

Read it here and subscribe for free.  If you are a landscape designer then you should really consider becoming a member of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD) if you aren’t already.  Here are a few reasons why I’m happy I did. For the next two weeks (March 15th-April 1st) you will get three months additional membership at no extra cost if you join by April 1.  Tell ’em I sent you!

Here’s the reference to Dior if you’re interested…

LABELS: APLD, Gardens, Landscape Design 2 Comments

Garden Antiques Shopping…next winter!

Anyone who has hung around here for a while knows that I love antique and vintage garden ornament and furniture.  I buy things for my landscape design clients and often, what I’m buying has been found in Europe.  Since this never ending winter has been excellent for real and armchair travel, I’m planning an introductory buying trip for a small group of landscape designers next winter.  Not the most glamourous of seasons, but that’s when we have the time to go.

The trip will be short, between seven and ten days, and will take us to the antiques and vintage markets in Brussels, Antwerp and Paris. We will be working with local specialists and shipping will be coordinated for all purchases.  It will be less expensive to ship as a group than individually and we will be able to make shipping container minimums. There will be some garden related side events and free time to explore the cities with each other or solo.

Paris Flea Market vignette

I did a simple day scouting expedition (on Friday when the markets were mostly closed since that’s when I had the time) while I was in Paris to see what I could find easily. Even  partially open, there were treasures to be found.

There were plenty of mid-century pieces to be had also but they weren’t my focus that day.  I saw Willy Guhl planters and chairs, wire furnitur, signage and ornaments as well as all sorts of cool small items that could be re-used in a garden such as the boules Lyonnaise balls that I bought to use as container ornaments.

So if you think you might be interested in a trip like this, let me know via email susan at susancohangardens dot com and I’ll keep you in the loop as the plans progress.

 

 

LABELS: Antiques, architectural salvage, folk art, Garden Art and Antiques, Gardens, Paris, vintage Leave a comment