A couple of years ago a client told me she wanted to drive into her driveway to a beautiful garden and asked me to design one for her. Easy enough request. She also wanted to screen off the back yard with some trelliage but didn't want climbers on it. Easy enough request. She wanted a deer resistant cottage style garden in her favorite color combination--blue and yellow. Again, easy enough request.
When the trellis work was installed, there was only one logical place for it so that's where it went. What was left for this garden of easy enough requests was a 30" wide bed between the fence and the blacktop in the blazing sun where the plow would push the snow in the winter months. Not so easy any more. These types of garden problems are what landscape designers excel at and when it really makes sense to consult with a professional.
Heat loving, deer resistant driveway garden
Now three years later, the garden is thriving without irrigation or much care and it looks great. What's the secret? Plant choice. All of the plants chosen for this garden are drought tolerant, heat and sun loving, and tough as nails.
Here's the list:
Agastache x 'Black Adder' Achillea 'Moonshine' Baptisia austrailis Iris germanica Stachys byzantina Sorghastrum nutans 'Sioux Blue'
My professional need to know plants is how I ended up with TheGarden of Lost Plants. My personal gardens looked more designed when I was an amateur.
The sunny 'Deer Eat This...Sucker!' garden with a Buxus topiary awaiting installation elsewhere
I am not a plantaholic, although to look at my home garden, you would think I was. My planting design knowledge of plant needs, form, structure and maintenance comes from personal experience. As a landscape designer, I learned early on that specifying plants for a specific site without having firsthand knowledge of them can lead to garden disaster in a season or two. I just can't design a great garden from pictures and descriptions in a book or a catalog...I have to know the plant. Obviously I can't grow everything so that's where garden visits come in.
I have one of many plants--with few multiples--I watch each grow, observe how big it really gets, what texture the foliage creates, if the bloom color and time is what I expect, and if the way I neglect them allows them to survive. I am always experimenting and have found winners and losers through this hodgepodge, totally unscientific process. My garden is not fenced or sprayed--I barely have time to pull the weeds. It is in a sub-urban environment with deer, rabbits, chipmunks, moles and a dog who has no respect for my efforts. Add kids and this is a similar environment to many of the landscape design projects I work on.
Another new one for '09 although I can't believe I haven't grown it before--Asarum canadensis photo via Rush Creek Growers
I try to make The Garden of Lost Plants look as if they've seen a designer's hand, but it's a challenge with one of each. I group plants together using basic design principles--contrast of foliage texture and color, diagonal repetition of color, shape and structure that helps to create a visual pull through the space. I make sure plants are peaking out from around corners to beg further inspection. Those that I suspect will be showstoppers get the 'look at me I'm a star' placement.
I rotate plants in and out of empty spaces that are still in containers until they go to a new home and I've been known to dig something up and take it to a client--leaving a hole until a new orphan or test case takes its place. Some plants are so successful that I have too many--bearded Iris for one, Leucanthemum superbum 'Becky' is another. A couple of years ago I added some woodies for trial and structure. That has helped with design cohesion a bit.
Plants move in and out of my garden constantly. It is pretty and somewhat over the top and yes, there are things that stay for years. Sometimes they even survive the lawn guy's string trimmer.
The old man disappeared a few months back. His ancient Lincoln Continental, with its glossy finish gone flat and peeling from years in the sun, was always parked in the driveway. Every day, as I passed by on my early morning walk, I picked up his newspaper and put it on the trunk of the car so he wouldn't have to bend down so far.
The old man's yard was unique to him. Two beautiful cherry trees heralded each spring's return, their lowest branches adorned with hanging baskets full of faded plastic blossoms. A garden of pinwheels stood at the foot of one. He had a sense of whimsy.
The old man disappeared a few months back. The Lincoln is gone--a neighbor parks his car in the empty driveway now. The garden is overgrown, but the pinwheels, hidden in the knee high grass, remind me that the old man had once been there and I smile.
Those who know me, know that I am not very...well not a girlie girl. They also know that my ultra-romantic and feminine side comes out in other ways. One of those is my love for bold, evocative statements in the garden. As a landscape designer whether I'm working on a contemporary or traditional design, the object is the same...extravagant gestures, layers of texture and dreamy places to slow down and enjoy it.
I think this is the most romantic image in a garden ever. Over exposed? Yes. But Fragonard's 'The Swing', pictured below, is the essence of romantic ideal. The young woman is joyful at being in love and in the garden...she is participating in her environment rather than just giving it a look or a walk through.
Jean-Honore Fragonard 'The Swing'
Has our concept of what is romantic in a garden changed since the 18th century? I don't think so. We still want the same human experience as the girl on the swing. What has changed is the availability of skilled labor to maintain the estate sized model it is based on and the philosophy that all natural resources are inexhaustible.
The romantic ideal might seem old fashioned, but it's a point of departure only limited by lack of imagination. There is the possibility of creating lush and jubilant outdoor spaces without being bound to a planting scheme or a single style. Romantic gardens beg human interaction--the discovery of a secret, a place for intimate conversation, or a solitary escape from the stresses of daily life. They are the sum of their parts...not just the framework for a floral display.
These are scary times for landscape designers whose practices overlap both the creative service and construction industries. Anyone in my business who tells you they are thriving is not being entirely truthful. The sad state of the global economy that is a financial disaster for so many is not what I'm writing about here. The media has scared consumers who do have the means and the need for our services into hunkering down, not spending any money and worst of all believing that they 'shouldn't'.
I consider myself to be fairly typical of landscape designers who are out there now. I have work, just not the amount or size of work I've had in the past. I am lucky to have loyal clients who come back again and again as well as some new ones who are willing to spend on new projects.
Creativity is needed in our business so that it isn't business as usual, it is time for business to be unusual. We need to educate our clients about the intrinsic worth of what we provide and make it invaluable to them. We need to enhance their lives in every way possible--drawing them outside into the larger world so that our services become what they are willing to spend money on.
This summer is the 40th anniversary of Woodstock and I am reminded of the lyrics that very wise Joni Mitchell wrote all those years ago:
We are stardust Billion year old carbon We are golden Caught in the devil's baragin And we've got to get ourselves Back to the garden
I've started to wonder about my blog name. Few, mostly those with kids, know the wonderful book by Barbara Cooney, Miss Rumphius, and the story behind it. Read it if you can.
Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
About ten years ago I got all paranoid about using my real name as an identifier on the Landscape Design forum at GardenWeb. Miss Rumphius had been my favorite book to read to my son when he was small and I identified with her as a character--hence the screen name. Most people referred to me as Miss R. I stopped posting at Garden Web shortly after it was taken over by iVillage, but that's another story.
I decided to carry the Miss R moniker over to my blog for no real reason other than people already knew me by that name. Now I wonder if it might not be the best name for what I write about. Miss R's third third rule 'Do something to make the world more beautiful' still is, but the name...maybe not so much.
I have no idea what I'd call my blog other than Miss R, but I'd be interested in what everyone who reads here thinks. Leave a comment and let me know.
Last Sunday, in Bucks County, PA, I went on my second Open Days garden crawl of the season. These visits recharge my creative juices and offer me a first hand opportunity to see what other landscape designers and talented amateurs have created. I look carefully, take photographs and experience the gardens in three dimensions. Being in a garden is so much different than looking at pictures of one especially for a designer as interested in creating spatial relationships as I am.
What I already knew, and what three of the gardens I visited confirmed, is that on the east coast, those with the means to build a landscape of substance opt to emulate traditional English gardens. The old stone houses and barns that give Buck's County its lure form the backdrop for the gardens. Although one garden had a beautifully enhanced woodland, there was not one meadow in the acres and acres of mixed borders and mowed turfgrass that I saw. Planting styles differed within these gardens but the traditional garden design paradigm did not.
A rustic twig bridge in the woodland at Hortulus Farm Garden & Nursery
There were some beautiful vignettes and ideas within these classic schemes. One, at Willow Farm, had a grey/blue and burgundy palette juxtaposed with honey hued native stone that I particularly liked.
Blue/grey and burgundy plants with native honey colored stone
Another, at Hortulus, had a bold yellow planting scheme punctuated by a large terra cotta urn that was dramatic and interesting.
Yellow and terra cotta in combination at Hortulus
A third really great ideawas again, at Hortulus. The formal fountain at the far end of a double mixed border was actually a swimming pool. It read as a fountain until you noticed the steps. This idea could be adapted for many different situations both grand and intimate.
The swimming pool fountain
This contrast between classic and contemporary design was magnified by the last stop of the day, an interior designer's shop in Lambertville, NJ, Reinboth & Company. I try to check this small shop out each time I'm in the area since it is really well edited. The garden accessories in their courtyard were clean, crisp and modern. It seemed restful and welcome after a day of observing such traditional points of view.
Yesterday I stopped for a bit in the village of Basking Ridge. I went specifically to take pictures of the White Oak that has lived there for more than 600 years. Known as 'The Old Oak', this ancient tree has been growing and shading the sacred ground that is the Presbyterian Church graveyard for almost 300 years before the first person was buried there in 1733.
I have a fondness for old graveyards, and the Old Oak made my visit incredibly special. At lunchtime, I was the only living person there and the noise of traffic and the bustle of noontime activity in the village seemed distant, event though the church and cemetery are at a busy crossroad.
Standing next to it, this American native tree's trunk is more than 6' in diameter--its branches are supported by crutches and cables.
The raw power of the oak's presence combined with the remnants of 18th and 19th century lives lovingly carved into the headstones is hard to describe. For me, it was an emotionally charged experience full of reverence for nature and respect for those who had been.
I have spent my adult life as a designer in several incarnations. I currently practice residential landscape design in New Jersey.
Miss Rumphius' Rules has been my screen name since 2001. The blog was conceived in 2007 as online journal exploring my continuing journey as a designer with a focus on design, gardens, and my creative process. I hope people find it inspiring, though provoking and interesting.