Saturday, January 31, 2009

Showhouse Season V, Issue 3, Early Decisions

As I said in Issue 2, this is going to be a formal garden. The garden's official name for the showhouse journal and website is 'A Formal Invitation'.

The 'invitations' are implied the the garden's design. Its layout allows views from the adjoining rooms--Invitation No. 1. Entrances to the garden from three other areas of the property--Invitation No. 2. A table for rest and relaxation or a place to enjoy a bottle of wine--Invitation No. 3. A sculpture or fountain as a focal point/feature of interest--Invitation No. 4. Beautiful containers filled with very detailed plantings--Invitation No. 5.

The choice of which style of containers (shown in burgundy on the plan to the left) to use is important in this garden because they will set the tone on the second layer of design ideas. If I choose to use black Medici urns, the garden will not have the modern welcoming feeling that I want it to have. For me, too much formality feels pretentious, rigid and stogy. Mixing it up will give this outdoor space a sense of being in the present rather than the past. I have a fondness for terra cotta planters. They're timeless, their matte finish contrasts and completments many type of foliage and flowers.

For a few years I have been using and recommending Seibert & Rice terra cotta. They are worth every penny. The quality is flawless. Seibert & Rice are local importers who have a keen eye for great design. Depending on the style, these pots can lend a formal or an informal feeling to the garden. Although I haven't made a final decision yet and I've previously used all of the ones pictured below. They could work again.

The Hartford Pot by Guy Wolff--a great simple pot

The Olive Oil Urn--I've filled this urn with Cannas--Wow!

Lemon Flower Box--Great for herbs near a kitchen door

All photos are used with the permission of Seibert & Rice.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Miss R. is Angry

Do people refer to their interior designers as their cleaning services or maids? No. Do people refer to fashion designers as seamstresses? No, again.

Then why do people insist on calling a landscape designer, a landscaper? Not just in conversation, but also in print and on the web. I am not the one who mows your lawn, or blows your leaves, or mulches your garden beds. I am not a landscaper.

I design thoughtful outdoor spaces that compel you to spend more time outside and enrich your lives. I design gardens that delight your senses and bring you joy. I design. I don't mow, blow or mulch. I am not a landscaper, I am a landscape designer.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Gardens & Couture..Kindred Spirits?

This week's couture shows in Paris reminded me how much I love fashion. Specifically, I have long been an admirer of the creative tour de force that is the Paris haute couture. Experimental, hand made by highly skilled artisans, and fitted specifically to each client, these one-off creations are not dissimilar to fine garden design.

Like custom-made Parisian garments, a well designed landscape is created specifically for one client, space and time. A haute couture garment is made from the best materials available in the world and is as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside. With the same underlying philosophy, a well designed and constructed garden depends on what the onlooker can't see -thoughtful use of the highest quality plants and materials, healthy soil, and skilled planting and hand crafted construction.

Each made-to-order couture garment is fitted specifically to its owner just as a custom garden is designed in response to specific site conditions and is unique to that piece of land and its owner.

With the right client, as with those who buy couture, a designed garden is celebrated for its intrinsic seasonal beauty, creative use of materials and artisinal craftsmanship.

Since it is the middle of winter and the couture has just shown in Paris, these images celebrate the couture's creativity and craftsmanship--hopefully couture designers' unyielding dedication to quality and craftsmanship will inspire new gardens for spring!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Inspiration and Influence -TV & Technicolor

A few weeks ago in a post titled Inspiration and Experience I wrote about my viewpoint as a designer as a unique culmination of life's experiences. Writing that post has made me--probably temporarily--more acutely aware of what I look for my daily inspirational 'feed'. In other words, I have become more self-aware of what I look at, talk about, read, experience and absorb for future reference. I know this will fade into the background again, but it's winter, I'm inside a lot and have the time to reflect.

I am first and foremost a designer. My current design discipline is landscape design. I have in the past worked in others. I didn't come to landscape design from a desire to create gardens, but from a desire to design three dimensional living spaces that compelled human interaction and enhanced and respected the environment. Sure, I've been a lifelong gardener and find incredible beauty in plants, but that has never been the departure point for my inspiration.

So, what do I look and where do I go to fuel the creative fire? It's a daily feast of input that swings wildly between subjects--some of which I'm going to explore here and in future posts. I try not to question the process too much and always try and stay open and observant. I am a voracious reader and looker. Even a few seconds spent looking is absorbed in some way. Years ago as a fashion jewelry designer, I found visual inspiration while driving to my studio in Brooklyn in a pattern of diagonal wires on a construction site--those patterns became the basis of a series of pieces while the time spent looking at the original wires was as fast as I was driving by them.

Some of the constant influences have been images from television and old movies - black and white and technicolor. Not just those with fabulous fantasy landscape images in them-like the Wizard of Oz, but others that jog my visual sensibility in some way. Just yesterday I watched an old (and awful) Doris Day move - 'Move Over Darling'. In one scene Day was wearing an acid green ensemble and running up the stairs against a grey background. Add that to Michelle Obama's choice of an acid green Isabel Toledo outfit for the inaugural, and the choice of Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' as the 2009 Perennial Plant of the year and pop goes the inspiration weasel.

Wow! Would I like to use that combo in a garden. In the movies it's retro, in a garden- modern, provocative and fresh.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Winter vs. Summer

Much has been said about the merits of the garden in winter. I agree that there is magic in the winter landscape--just not mine.

I leave the grasses and plants with interesting seed heads to winter over, I've added some evergreen structure, plants with interesting bark and other accessories. Unlike the highly considered and tightly designed gardens I provide for my clients, my garden is a constant experiment, it is a haven or death row for leftover plants, a tasting menu for deer, and generally organic in its upkeep and its lack of a plan. I think I still have to experiment some more with its winter interest...

Winter the morning after another inch of light snow

High Summer texture and color

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Several years ago on a garden tour, I found myself looking at what was on the ground plane rather than what was in the gardens. I started shooting photos of paths and patterns of what I saw for future reference and inspiration. I didn't always record where I took the photos, so I really can't tell you in some cases where the garden is, or whose garden it is. Below are a few that I do remember and have done my best to credit them appropriately. When I need inspiration, these images are some of what I look at--there's even one of mine in there.

Paving pattern: Chanticleer, PA

Paving pattern: Lotus Land, CA

Paving pattern: Private residence, NJ (my design)

Paving pattern: Greenwood Gardens, NJ

Paving pattern: Private residence, CA (designer: Nancy Goslee Powers)

Paving pattern: Greenwood Gardens, NJ

Paving pattern: Lotus Land, CA

Monday, January 12, 2009

Land Speak

At a client's holiday party at their farm, I met one of their neighbors. She asked me how I knew the host and hostess. When I told her that I was their landscape designer, she complemented me by saying how much she liked what I had done and asked if I would come and look at her place. This type of thing happens at a parties.

In further conversation, the subject came up about where I lived and worked. When I told her, she looked surprised and asked, "That's so suburban, how did you know what to do with this property?" My answer was, "I love the land. I listen to what my clients say, but I also listen to the land, it has stories to tell." She smiled and said, "I do too, I love my land. When I lived in the town next to yours for 20 years or so, I hated it, I couldn't see the sky." We made a date to meet in February.

Here are some photos of the ongoing project from the story above.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Some Days You Just Need to Bloom

It's January, I'm getting tired of the cold, the grey, and the dark. I was having a rotten day when I stopped a client's garden last summer. This combination of clematis and roses we had planted the summer before made my day better then, and its picture makes my day better now. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Showhouse Season V, Issue 2. The Design Process

All of the landscape design invitees for the 2009 showhouse were provided with a master plan which illustrated the homeowner's and the consulting landscape architect's very formal vision for the property.

There would be an addition to the east side of house to update the antiquated kitchen, create additional living space and add a garage. A new pool and pool house would also be added as well as a sheep barn, greenhouse and an apiary at the southwest corner. We were allowed to re-define the spaces if we chose for future approval. Below is my annotated copy of a later version of part of the master plan.

Some of the project constraints other than the two usual suspects--time and money--were and still are: the rampant deer who eat their way through the unfenced property and that some of the original garden features were to remain or be restored. I added to those caveats my own personal desire to source as much as possible from local nurseries and resources and to limit the amount of work that had to be done by machine for both logistical and sustainable reasons. Once those benchmarks were established, I decided to pursue several ideas within final conceptual design that was submitted to and ultimately accepted by the selection committee. Those ideas, as well as the conceptual plan are below.

Design Idea #1--Go with the Flow. I had the advantage of having done a previous project originally as a showhouse garden for the same owner which was kept as permanently. I knew she loved formality and the master plan clearly showed her input. If there were already 2 votes cast in the formal direction--why rock the boat, formal it would be.

Design Idea #2--Define the space the way I wanted it, excluding some of the peripheral areas. This would tighten up my ability to maximize views out of the house and would enable me to use strong axial relationships and bold geometric forms.

Design Idea #3--Design a space that would draw people into it and cause them to linger as well as creating elegant transitions to and from the adjacent spaces. One of my underlying garden philosophies has always been to make outdoor spaces for living as opposed to being just for viewing.

Design Idea #4--Limit the materials and utilize a very narrow deer resistant plant palette to simplify further. With simplicity the overarching traditional formality will look clean and modern rather than traditional and overworked.

Design Idea #5--Think about adding a water feature. People love water, the homeowner loves water, water makes people linger supporting Design Idea #3.

Design Idea #6--Try to use appropriate native plants without being a slave to that concept. Turf would be allowed since it is a large part of the master plan anyway. Offset the use of turf through of locally sourced pea gravel paths equaling (or close) the same square footage. That boat again.

Design Idea #7--Make the plan as easy as possible to implement since the participating contractors would be partially donating their time. April, the installation month, is the 2nd busiest month of the year.

Although it's a bit difficult to see. Here's the conceptual plan. The koi pond that is noted is a element from the master plan that is to be restored and not part of my garden space. Enlarge it to see the notes.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Showhouse Season V

This is the start of my 5th designer showhouse season. I am drawn to the charitable nature of these month long benefits, which often raise several million dollars for their charities. This one, Stately Homes by the Sea, benefits the VNA of Central NJ.

For me, participation has not been an annual occurrence, although I have done a showhouse garden each year for the last three years. I accept all invitations to view the property, but unless there's a space that immediately inspires me in some way, I don't accept. These gardens are an opportunity for me to experiment creatively without the constraints of a typical design brief. They are also an excellent opportunity for me to showcase ideas for potential clients in a realistic setting.

Last summer I was invited to preview the house and property that would be transformed by the following May. Typically these properties are vacant and in need of a face lift. As seen in the video below--one of several posted on YouTube, this particular property, 'Sheep's Run' in Rumson, NJ was in the throws of a complete overhaul.

Each designer was invited to compete for up to two spaces by submitting a a conceptual design and written proposal for each. I only wanted one--it's at the very start of the video with white pick-up truck parked in it. It's adjacent to a sun porch, a library and a very large terrace. It had beautiful views out from the house as well as being a somewhat independent space from the rest of the very formal master plan. I was awarded the space I wanted.

Here's some shots of the space as it was last September as well as a beautiful detail of one of the window grills. Since this will be an ongoing serial--this is also the end of the first installment. How's that for a cliffhanger?

Above: A view through the space to the gutted sun porch

Above: A view through the space from the sun porch showing the library windows

Above: A view through the space showing the oak that's on it's central axis in the distance
Below: One of the many bird themed details found throughout the property both inside & out

Friday, January 2, 2009

Inspiration and Experience

When I first started writing this blog, I was determined for it to be about three things: art, design and living a creative life. It's that last item that ties the first two together and has given me the freedom to explore all sorts of topics.

Often people ask me where I get my ideas from--what inspires my work. I believe that my inspiration comes from the sum of all of my individual experiences filtered through an instant. In other words, I am a funnel. The input area of my life is huge and the output is squeezed through the narrow viewpoint of any given moment. I reference and draw from hundreds of thousands of influences based on what I need to solve a specific design problem.

Because my aesthetic is based on the sum of my individual experiences it is unique to me. My perspective filters those that are shared and makes them exclusive. The solitary colors the mutual.

I hope that make sense. It does to me.