Saturday, December 27, 2008

My Friend Flickr

I’ve been updating and redesigning the 2009 edition of my design portfolio. I needed to edit some images beyond the abilities of my very basic photo editor and I have absolutely no patience when it comes to photo programs. I wanted something simple, free and immediate, so I Googled ‘free photo editing program’ to see what was available and was directed to Picnik, which in turn lead me to Flickr. It was serendipity--I was able to continue with my Web 2.0 adventures and organize, edit, upload and share my images as another arm of my social media experience.

I’m not be the most organized when it comes to cataloging my images and I have amassed hundreds of photos over the years. Like many other landscape designers, the beauty shots of my work have to be taken during the height of the design/build season when gardens look their best. I usually don’t have the time or energy to catalog them immediately—I’m too busy running around hither and yon in May and June to do that too!

Now five years old and owned by Yahoo, Flickr can make a single image or group viewable by the entire web, to a pre-designated group(s) of viewers or to no one else but me. I am in the process of cataloging all of my images and uploading them in groups. It's a great project for the winter and will make it easy to direct a potential client to more than is presented in my portfolio CD.

Even though, Flickr makes image organization and editing a snap, what I think is really useful is the other ways I've started to use it. Right now all of my photos are available to everyone, but there are times when I want to make individual images available to specific people for a purpose. I can notate a photo explaining to the viewer what it is I want them to see. Here’s an example--the photo is unremarkable in every way and not something I would use for a portfolio piece; but when the notes are added it becomes a valuable tool for communicating with a client.
Click here.

Flicker enables me to create of sets of photos which I stream or upload to other websites, communities and within my own social media pages. Play with Flickr and see what it can do. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then Flickr makes them worth even more.

Monday, December 22, 2008

My Last Minute List--Any Gardener Would Want These

My father loved Christmas, he believed in Virginia's Santa. When I was small he created magical surprises and taught me to find joy in the holiday. Every year he would wait until Christmas Eve to do his shopping and decorate the tree.

In that spirit, I'm offering my last minute list to Santa's gardening elves. To keep the surprise tradition, you'll have to go here to find out where to get 1 through 9, you already have No. 10.

I know I've been urging everyone shop locally, but these things aren't available locally--I checked. My list isn't a donate to your favorite charity, altruistic peace on earth kind of list--we all want that. It's simply things--small (a packet of seeds) and generous (a rain barrel) in the spirit of holiday wish lists. In the spirit of American consumerism, spend some money, let's get that economy moving!

1. An organic soil test
2. Compost tea fermenting kit
3. Certified organic seeds
4. Tools from Red Pig forge
5. Certified organic fertilizer
6. Recycled pimped out whiskey rain barrel
7. Rescued paper notebook (I'm giving some of these this year)
8. Haws watering can (I've wanted a big one for years)
9. A salvaged iron gate
10. Garden help for one day from each of you!

Happy & Safe Holidays to all. Enjoy you and yours...they're the greatest gift of all.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Postcard Power!

Several days ago, two boxes, weighing 78 lbs were delivered to my studio doorstep. They weren’t holiday gifts--next spring’s postcards had arrived!

The 2009 Postcard is a departure w/a white background and new tag line

I have produced a postcard for all but one of the past six years. 2008 was the only year I didn’t use one because I flirted (erroneously) with glossy magazine advertising instead. It was not as successful as my previous postcard campaigns. Expensive lesson learned.

There are marketing specialists out there who say that postcard mailings don't yield enough results. I think it depends on the postcard. If it looks like just another advertising gimmick filled with too much information on too small a space--I agree with the marketers. Whenever I visit someplace new, I buy a postcard. When I visit a museum, I buy a postcard. People collect postcards. I try and make a postcard that people will keep.

Every year the choice of photograph is the most wrenching task. That photo will become the ‘face’ of my studio and the one I use on all promo pieces for that year. The 2008 postcard’s layout and graphics have been changed to be in visual sync with that on the website. Some of you may have noticed that all of my on line avatars are similar to the photo of the garden you see above. That isn’t an accident or me being lazy. Image/brand recognition is the goal.

I use postcards in a variety of ways—as direct mail pieces, as promotional pieces at events, as informational pieces at other businesses, as client leave-behinds, and as alternative business cards. Each of those functions is described below along with a gallery of prior cards.

This year I printed 6000 cards and will mail out 5000 of them in early April—hopefully to arrive on the first warm Thursday. Why a Thursday? I want potential clients to look at the card right before they start to think about using their properties over the beautiful spring weekend. This is late in my design cycle for the season, but I found that mailing any earlier in my zone 6 climate just doesn't do the trick. I invest in a well vetted demographic mailing list in addition to my own that will yield 50 phone calls that in turn will yield 4-5 projects. These projects help to fill up my summer and fall design calendar.

The 2005 postcard--this one generated some great projects

Now before you say, “That’s all?” I will also get calls next spring from people who have received previous year’s postcards and had saved them. People toss business cards and mailers, as I said previously--they save pretty postcards. I actually walked into two new clients' kitchens last year and each had multiple cards tacked up over a workspace or posted on the fridge. Next thing I know they’ll be selling them on Ebay.

At the special events I participate in, from flower shows to show houses to charity auctions, the postcards become a promotional piece. They are the souvenir visitors pick up when they tour through a show house garden. When tied to a trowel, the postcards become a gift certificate for a charity to be auctioned or raffled. Every time I’ve donated my services for a cause the purchaser of the item has become a client.

2006 Postcard--not as successful because it did really show a 'garden'--just plants. Did get a good project though...

I’m very lucky to have a local upscale garden center that doesn't provide design services as a source of referrals. I give them postcards each year in February—they in turn give them out to clientele who ask them for design service recommendations. I have through the years received more referrals from this than any other single source other than my website.

2007 Postcard--My least favorite because I succumbed to a cliched image--shame on me!

Not every new client has received a postcard, so when I meet with someone new, I hand them a postcard instead of a standard business card. The image on the postcard helps to clarify what they can have on their own property and they usually turn it over and read the laundry list of services. This simple process often that adds to their mental list of what they’d like me to do but maybe hadn’t considered.

2004 Postcard--the first one

So here's to postcard power--another useful landscape design studio tool.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Short Story...very short.

Last night is snowed a bit. This morning it misted. Before 6, it was warm when I went out to walk the dog. N0w, at almost 9, it's colder. Here's what happened.

Lacecap on Ice

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Web 2.0 Ballroom

Before I begin again, let me put some things in perspective. I learned to type on a typewriter--a manual one. I’m no more tech savvy than the average person who texts via cell phone, answers email and orders stuff I don’t need on-line. With each new Web 2.0 site I interact with, I have to take time to learn its nuances. I get cocky, make mistakes setting up my accounts and then have to spend more time trying to get them the way I want them. It is an evolutionary process, but the beauty is that once the work is put in, Web 2.0 takes on a life of its own. That’s why they call it viral. People have started contacting me via social media for information, the traffic on my website is up almost 40% over the same time as last year. The amount of time visitors spend on my website is longer and I’ve been able share my experiences with people active in other media. I’m learning a whole new way to roll out my welcome mat.

One of my life philosophies was summed up best by Kurt Vonnegut, “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.” Well, I’m dancing. I am increasingly fascinated by my own Web 2.0 ballroom experience. This parallel universe operates in real time, in nano second time delay, and in its own time. As I’ve blogged, branded, talked and tried, I’ve developed new relationships with people—some of whom I actually know in real time. Even though it’s a massive cyber party, it’s still driven by and about people.

My new dance card partners are Twitter, land8lounge, and Flickr. Sometimes these three twirl around the ballroom together. If I load my photos from Flickr to my folio in land8lounge they will post to Twitter. Imagine one big social media dance with me in the center—the belle of the ball for just a moment.

Twitter is fun, fast and fascinating. I flirted with it briefly this past spring, but I just started using it with any regularity. I’m floored by the amount of information that streams through in small bites. Since I communicate via text with many of my contractors and clients anyway, I can now Twitter them from my phone and PC. I follow a few people, blogs and websites and am followed by fewer people. It sounds like it could be vaguely creepy, but its not. If someone wants to follow me, Twitter will send me an email to confirm and I can decide if I want them on my cyber trail or not.

Using Twitter yesterday, I recommended a book to a friend who Twittered that he was vacuuming and then I viewed and was blown away by two amazing photos by fellow APLD member Greg Corman. The photos were streamed to Twitter when he posted them on land8lounge—the first was of a forest of Dragon’s Blood trees and the second, a stone wall in Yemen. All of this happened in 140 character tidbits. Twitter is a rich and varied experience--a moveable feast. A new friend, Chris Heiler from, and I are both APLD members, have real time friends in common, yet we’ve never met face to face. We Twitter. When I post this blog entry, since I’ve figured out how to make one of those tiny url’s, I’ll Twitter.

Next on my dance card is land8lounge. It’s a hip, hybrid professional/social networking site for and by landscape architects and designers. The wealth of information, visual inspiration, advice and international content alone is worth the time spent setting it up fully. My folio page was up for less than an hour when two people I knew in real time found me. I set up a group for APLD in a snap, streamed Miss Rumphius’ Rules, and was discovered by other members. I suspect I will spend more in the lounge than in other places.

As far as Flickr goes, I needed to crop some photos into squares, my photo program stinks and wasn’t letting me do it. Flickr provided the solution with ease. I had previously tried Google’s Picasa and didn’t really like it. I haven’t been able to upload the photos to Miss Rumphius yet, I get a funky message that I’m doing something wrong on that score or else Yahoo doesn’t want to play with my Google based blogger. I haven’t done much more with Flickr yet other than to edit pix to use in my updated portfolio, upload to land8lounge and to create sets of photos. I needed to do that anyway since my photo files are a disorganized mess spread over 3 different photo programs and various CDs. The fact that others can see my photos is kind of like cleaning the house when company is coming. You want to put your best foot forward. I want to explore setting up group portfolios on Flickr for people I know from other places so we can share images, ideas and connect visually.

I don’t think all of this is for everyone and I believe that eventually I’ll find some things more useful than others, but right now I’ve stopped being a wallflower and I’m dancing along on happy feet with my Web 2.0 ballroom partners.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Under foot. A stone carpet.

A grey project for a grey day.

This is part of the project I've been updating here, it started with design work last spring and is now the last build of the season. The photo below shows a partially completed stone 'carpet' in the larger patio. What you see is a snapped salt & pepper granite ribbon border, random granite flagstone interior with a detail of 4 x 4 salt & pepper Belgium block. This is obviously before it's been cleaned up.

The stonework is taking a very long time due to the difficulty of working with the granite. It will be fits and starts now due to the weather window closing--rain and cold have dogged us all week long.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Further Adventures with Web 2.0 Marketing

As those who read my introduction to this subject on November 23rd already know, I am attempting to use Web 2.0 and social marketing sites as part of the marketing mix my landscape design studio uses.

The rest of the mix includes the website I've had since day one that has been updated every year with one major overhaul last year, participation in the regional show house circuit, past participation in the state Flower & Garden Show (too expensive), direct mailing of picture postcards, a CD portfolio given to every perspective client, and referrals from clients, local garden centers and contractors.

Boy oh boy, I didn't know what I was getting into with the cyber stuff. Not only does it take time, there's a plethora of options out there.

Firstly, I started writing regularly here again. I love to write so I don't count it as work.

I already had a Facebook profile, now I have a company page as well with 4 fans! I managed to create a live feed from this blog to my profile, but I haven't figured out how to get the feed to work on the company page. I posted some portfolio photos in both places and I joined the APLD group on Facebook, since I'm an active member of the association.

I now have a LinkedIn profile with 115 contacts, belong to several landscape design oriented groups including two additional APLD groups on that site. There's a live blog feed from here there also.

Landscapedia has been incredible. They listed this blog, making me a featured designer as well as having one of the funkiest forums around. My profile there has gotten over 450 views in the past week alone. Now you might say that's chicken feed, but its 900+ more eyes who've seen my name and work.

Now to support all of that, I've been working on updating my PowerPoint portfolio to upload to Slide Share and will make a PDF CD version to hand out to potential clients. I created a Flickr account to organize and share my images and registered with Twitter.

If you look a bit down and to the right you'll see links to my LinkedIn profile, Technorati favorite options for this blog, and an option to bookmark it on Do it all to help the cause! It's a good thing it's slowing down because all of this takes time, time, time.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Design with Discipline, Plant with Abandon

I have always had a fondness for the clean lines of formalism. To my eye its geo-organization looks contemporary and fresh. I know there are a many designers who would rather die than design something with a formally organized space--they think it's rigid, unnatural and outdated. Worst of all, they think it's easy--just make a geometric shape, fill it with some flowers, and presto, it's a formal garden. That way of thinking gives these highly considered garden spaces a bad rap.

Clean lines and unexpected formalism out side of the education building
at the New York Botanical Garden

Formal gardens can be current, relevant and engaging. There are two schools of thought on traditional formality. One is an adherence to a classical garden style updated with a scale suitable to today's architecture and lower maitenance requirements and the other juxtaposes the reverse formalism of today's naturalistic planting style with formal structure to create something altogether different. Parterres can be filled with blowzy perennials which soften the hard lines of these gardens.

The second idea will be demonstrated in the design plan to the left. This garden will be installed as part of the VNA showhouse at Sheep's Run in Rumson, NJ in spring 2009, and has been developed as part of a much larger formal estate plan. This small niche garden will be viewed from a screen porch on the short side, a library and an expansive terrace on the long side. The other two sides open to adjacent the landscape. The axial pathways, circular resting places and focal points are extremely formal and geometric. The four enclosed evergreen parterres will be planted with very loosely structured perennials or annuals.

This type of garden doesn't work for every site, nor does it work for every garden owner. Depending on the plants used, formal gardens can be sustainable. For example, I have used low growing native evergreen grasses and other plants with a compact growth habits as a substitute for the ubiquitous clipped hedging plant. With careful planning, the maintenance of the geometric structure becomes less cumbersome, the garden's need for water can be significantly lowered, and native plants can be incorporated.

Following the same design idea, below is a different plan for an entry to a classic residence in Short Hills, NJ. The owner wanted something that would work with the traditional lines of the home yet echo her inclination to blend contemporary ideas within the traditional framework. The garden also had to be appropriate for a very conservative neighborhood.

The resulting garden (sorry no good pix yet) is deceptively simple. Rectilinear boxwood groups are staggered to provide planting pockets for naturalistic perennials. These informal cottage style perennials are planted in complete symmetry on either side of the entrance underscoring the geometry of the design. The Pennstemon digitalis 'Husker Red', Lirope muscari 'Pee dee Ingot', Veronica spicata 'Sunny Border Blue' and Alchemilla mollis are usually associated with more informal gardens and they worked to meld the two styles together.

This isn't to say that a more controlled formal style isn't also clean and modern. The photo to the right shows an extremely classical entry. The architecture and details are remarkably similar to the residence in the project above and both gardens have different takes on formality. The photo was graciously provided by Chris Heiler at Fountainhead Gardens in Michigan.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Very Cool Web Honor!

Landscapedia has been cool enough to make me their featured designer for December. When fellow APLD member, Michael Franklin, first asked me, I told him I was honored that he even asked me.

I first learned about this online community for gardeners and landscape professionals in summer issue of the 'The Designer', Association of Professional Landscape Designer's quarterly journal.

So, check it out let me know what you think!