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.

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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.

 

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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!

 

 

 

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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

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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.

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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.

 

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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

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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!

 

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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!

 

 

 

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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.

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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

 

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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.

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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.
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LABELS: Garden Design, Garden Design Details, Gardens, Patio Umbrellas Leave a comment

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!

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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?

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

 

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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…

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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.

 

 

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

The Problem with Outdoor Designers

There’s a villain in this tale.  It’s Target.  Yes, that big box store, who actively promotes its designer relationships and products is the bad guy of this story.  What’s worse though, and it still doesn’t absolve them, is that they’ve been unconsciously aided by us.

Take a look at this.

image via ActiveRain

It’s an old story.  A relatively unknown designer outside of design circles with a beautiful and considered product gets ripped off by a corporate giant.  It happens all the time.  Why? Because many designers- especially those who design products for outside and the landscape designers who use those products don’t have the cache that other disciplines do. We’re generally not well known outside of our own design communities.  We don’t have big media profiles. In other words, we are invisible to the public who won’t recognize the complete and total ripoff by Target of ModFire’s fireplace.

The core of the problem is that those of us who actually design for outside are outsiders. We don’t think about establishing ourselves in the media as a goal that will ultimately raise our profiles and expand our businesses.  Designers in other related (and some unrelated) disciplines have product lines (think fabric, furniture, and other garden ornaments) for outside, but few of us do. Fashion designers like Oscar de la Renta and Trina Turk have lines of outdoor furniture and fabric. Interior designers and architects do as well. Why? Because they recognize how much these products can add to their bottom lines and  they brand themselves from the get go as lifestyle tastemakers and we don’t. Why don’t we? Few designed environments add to the quality of life like those outside do.

Very few landscape or garden designers have a goal to be high profile enough to matter to beyond the immediate neighborhoods they work in. They assume that focusing locally is what will make them money and they’re right in the most immediate sense, but many are doing work that deserves wider acclaim, and don’t actively pursue it. We don’t reach out to national consumer media and pitch our best projects.  We don’t court the companies who produce the  products we use by going to events outside of our discipline. How many textile manufacturers or furniture would want to have a booth next to the much pile or tree spade at a landscape show? Not any.

We need to make our best work much more visible and recognizable to the public. Our names should be on products and we should be collecting the percentages paid from licensees instead those from other design fields.  We need to put ourselves out there– and not just as an offshoot of gardening.  We need to reach out to the larger design community and create relationships with other designers as well as with plants people and landscape specific suppliers. We need to be regarded as a design discipline in the same way as interior designers are. We need to foster relationships with the press and promote our work as design worthy–it’s not just about the garden and plants.  It’s about a beautiful and designed lifestyle that those elements are a part of.  We relegate ourselves to the backyard and miss out on so many opportunities with our own short shortsightedness. When we do step out in front there’s not enough recognition or marketing cache attached to our businesses or names because we haven’t set ourselves up that way.  We need to set our own bars higher in this regard.

Shame on Target for knocking off Brandon Williams who has worked and reached out to the larger design community.  They stole his ModFire product design, but even though it makes my blood boil, I’m not all that surprised.

As a side note…the subscribe button should be working now!–sc

 

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LABELS: business, Gardens 12 Comments

My Plant Picks in The New York Times

Of course I was absolutely thrilled to be in last Thursday’s Home section of the New York Times!  It was fun to think about what I would plant in a shady nook with deer.  It’s exactly what I have in my home garden.

Susan Cohan NYTimes

I was also delighted to be in the great company of Janet Draper and Riz Reyes.

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LABELS: Garden Design, Gardens, Planting Design, plants 2 Comments

Art as Inspiration in Philadelphia

I went to the Philadelphia Flower Show last Friday.  It was a fragrant, blooming balm for my winter starved soul.  There was, as always, inspiration everywhere.  This year’s theme was ‘Articulture’ and display and garden makers interpreted the theme broadly.

As I’ve said before, there’s a big difference between flower shows and garden and landscape shows that call themselves flower shows.  Philadelphia is a FLOWER power show and this year, in my mind, the floral designers trumped everything and everyone else.

Not a review per se, these are just a few examples of what I was inspired by this year…and why.

Korean Letter Forms Philadlephia Flower ShowThe sheer size and bold graphic quality of this floral display just wowed me.  Floral designer, Michael O’Neil, AIFD was inspired by ancient Korean letter forms and created a contemporary mediation using bamboo and bloom.  I am inspired to be more fearless in my design choices just by seeing this.

Philadelphia Flower ShowAnother floral design company, Pure Design, inspired by Noguchi, made me think about the poetic quality of plants.  There was a FB discussion about how this chilled those who believe a plant has a soul, but I thought it spoke to simplicity and certain aspects of human’s harnessing of plants for their own desires.

Moda Botanica

In past years, I have been really enthusiastic about Moda Botanica‘s displays.  Except for this soft and super romantic floral sculpture I didn’t love their ode to Storm King this year.  With that said I went back and looked at this twice. It distilled the essence of what I do as a landscape designer down to some very basic ideas. The combination of texture and color as well as natural and artificial was visually powerful for me.

Miniature floral display Philadelphia Flower Show

The current trend for all things gardening in miniature was elevated to an art with this blue ribbon winning display inspired by Grounds for Sculpture by Margareta M. Warlick.  Less then one foot across, its geometric simplicity and attention to detail is a great reminder about how important editing is to the design process.

These are personal picks.  For a more general overview, Garden Design has started to post some images I took for them while at the show on their Facebook page.

 

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LABELS: Flower Shows, Gardens, inspiration, Philadelphia Flower Show 1 Comment

Andre le Notre: Four Hundred Years Strong

I’m taking sides with Andre le Notre.  Four hundred years ago he was practicing a type of landscape design that is still valid and revered today.  It’s handmade, skillfully practiced, and incredibly beautiful.  It is the antithesis of today’s trend towards natural gardens.  Many consider this type of garden to be unrealistic, unsustainable, and old-fashioned.  I disagree.

Andre Le Notre's Versailles Gardens

I’m tired of the so called ‘new’ perennial gardens with all of their blowsy grasses and prairie leanings.  I’m all for pollinators and habitat, but understand that there is more than one way to achieve healthy garden environments for all inhabitants. I wonder why it took the Dutch, visiting our vast waving plains, to show the world that a miniaturized, hyped up version of the same could be had at home.

The Lurie Garden in high summer

I have a profound reverence for the work of designers like Piet Ouldof and Gilles Clement, but as a designer, their naturalistic  ‘new’ style  old doesn’t make my heart sing.  I find that when I visit these gardens I love to look at them, but don’t really want to be ‘in’ them beyond a good ‘look’.  The style isn’t really all that new at all.  Ellen Biddle Shipman and Beatrice Farrand, as well as many others, were making intensive American perennial plantings throughout the last century–what’s different now is the mix of plants, the size and shape of the beds, and the tendency to want and believe it to be ‘maintenance’ free.  Is that because most of today’s gardeners don’t have the skill or time it takes for something else?  What will these gardens look like in 400 years?  Will they hold up like Le Notre’s?

Turf parterres at Versailles

Michael King argues in his recent post Never New Gardening that the so called ‘new’ has become not much more than a ‘look’.  To my eye, the ‘look’ of the turf parterres and the whimsical topiaries in the Orangerie at Versailles are contemporary…they’re just not wild.

Gardens are made things. It’s not outdated to include planted elements that require a gardener’s hand beyond cutting them down once a year, dividing drifts of plants and pulling some weeds to maintain a design. I don’t support the use of small backpack, gasoline powered trimmers of any variety, but wonder why with the current movement for all things handmade and artisinal that gardeners haven’t taken up the cause with more hand driven pruning?  Is it lack of skill or interest?

Did lopers and hedge pruners and rakes get forgotten?  Is it because it takes time to learn the methods and when to put those into practice? Or is it because any intervention is seen as an affront to the sustainability of a garden?  Andre le Notre’s gardens are 400 years old this year, what’s more sustainable than that?

There will be those who read this post who think that it takes an army of gardeners to maintain immense gardens like le Notre designed. Gardens with structure take skill and time to maintain–just like any other.   In fact, they are simpler and less labor intensive to maintain than some of the new perennial gardens.  Do the math.  Versailles has approximately 2100 acres and 80 gardeners. That’s roughly 26 acres of care per gardener.  The 6.73 acre High Line in New York has 9 gardeners and hundreds of seasonal volunteers to help with cutting back and cleaning up each year.  Just counting those on the staff roster that’s  approximately 3/4 acre per gardener.  So which is actually more labor intensive? The numbers speak for themselves.  Both can be organic.

Then there is the argument of scale and cost. Dial back Versailles to the average suburban lot and these gardens become do-able with less.  The new perennial gardens really need space to work well.  Not every town will allow an entire front yard to be taken over by a meadow, and in the eastern hardwood forest where I live and work, that meadow would soon become a forest without constant vigilance to eradicate self seeded volunteer trees.  I’m not saying that the selection of plants is what’s at issue here, it’s a design and maintenance issue.  I like the evergreen bones of structure in gardens like Le Notre’s- especially in the winter.  In truth, in high summer I love a meadow, newly mowed and or fields of wheat or wildflowers and many of the new perennial gardens have elements of evergreen structure.  In my own work I blend the two.  Create structure as a sculptural and architectural elements and and plant lushly.

Le Notre was born in the Tuileries where his father was a gardener.  He was surrounded by generations of skilled practitioners and learned by doing.  Imagine the gardens we could have if we get up from our screens, get outside and really learn our craft.  Imagine the gardens we could have if we really trained those who we hire to maintain them instead of just giving them a backpack blower and some power trimmers?  An apprenticeship program is not a bad idea.  Work and get paid to learn from a master and then work to become the master.  Le Notre, born to a gardener, learned his craft and became someone who worked for kings and whose work has survived for 400 years.  Who of us can say the same?

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LABELS: formal gardens, France, Garden Design, Gardens, Landscape Design 12 Comments

Garden Visit: Jardin Majorelle

I first read about Jardin Majorelle in Marrakesh, Morocco in the early 1980s in a fashion magazine story about Yves St. Laurent.

Jardin Majorelle

YSL and his partner Pierre Berge had bought the property, saved it from demolition, and set about restoring it. From the first brilliant blue photo I saw, I knew I wanted to stand in and experience this garden, not just look at it in pictures.

Noon shadows Jardin Majorelle

Originally designed and built in the 1920s by artist Jacques Majorelle who painted its walls blue and its details brilliant shades of yellow, green, orange and red off set by chalky tones of turquoise and green.

Shade house Jardin Majorelle

He collected plants in his travels and opened his garden to the public.  By the end of his life, however, he had to sell it and it deteriorated to the point that it was going to be leveled for a new Marrakesh hotel.

fountain and garden Jardin Majorelle

For me, Majorelle is about the interplay of color, water and light. It is less about its collection of 300 plants.  Their grey Mediterranean tones are counterpoints for bursts of bold, sun kissed color.

Jardin Majorelle Marrakesh

St. Laurent was born and raised in North Africa. He didn’t move to Paris until he was 18.  The light, color and texture of this place was as much a part of who he was as the rarefied world of the couture in Paris.  He often lived and worked at here until his death in 2008.  There is a simple memorial dedicated to his memory.

YSL memorial Majorelle

Having been warned, I went very early, before the tour buses arrived, and the garden got crowded.  I stayed for several hours watching the light and shadows.  I was transported by Majorelle’s joyful interplay of art, gardens, and fashion. Go if you can.

Pergola Jardin Majorelle Colored pots and reflecting pool Jardin Majorelle Jardin Majorelle

 

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LABELS: Design, fashion, Gardens, inspiration, Morocco 5 Comments

Garden Travel: Patrick Blanc’s Wall at Musee du quai Branly, Paris

How many green walls can boast about looking this good at nine years old…in January?  Easily found about two blocks from the Eiffel Tower, Patrick Blanc’s green wall, completed in 2005, on a Jean Nouvel designed museum, has held up beautifully.  I’ve seen so many crappy green walls that I was totally delighted when I turned the corner and saw it.

Musee du quai Branly

pedestrian with green wall

wall detail Musee du quai Branly

blanc green wall detail

Mahonia on green wall Musee du quai Branly

 

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LABELS: Gardens 7 Comments