Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Design Challenge: Garden Designers Roundtable

This month, members of the Garden Designers Roundtable are presenting design suggestions for a rural New England weekend/vacation home. Please read the introduction here on the GDRT blog. Our gracious guinea pig client is Amy of ABCD Designs. The challenging aspect of this project - for me, anyway - was my inability to speak with Amy personally nor visit the site. However, it's been great fun to take a finite amount of information and run with it! Many thanks to GDRT members Susan Cohen, Scott Hokunson, and Debbie Roberts for setting up this project for us.

After reviewing the site survey, photographs, and client interview, I developed a preliminary sketch to illustrate the main ideas that I would recommend for developing the property. My primary goals were to serve the needs of the client, keep it simple to maintain (lawn care is hired out) and preserve a modern - Shaker aesthetic. Furnishings and decor can - and will - evolve over time to suit the client's needs and changing tastes, but a strong foundation of spacial organization and quality hardscape design is the best place to begin.

the original base map with existing features

my preliminary sketch with new features/changes in color

Here are the highlights of my design concept:

#1 Create a New Entrance
 Although the client did not voice a concern about this issue, I think it is the number one thing they can do to make the front of their property not only look better, but be more welcoming and functional, too. The picket fence, in it's current location, encloses two narrow spaces that leave the main entry a bit ambiguous and the barn (guest house) courtyard isolated.

from left: garden shed, barn (guest house) and main house
picket fence encloses a shallow front lawn and narrow side yard
side yard
view from existing gate towards main entry door
First, I would relocate the fence to create one larger space between the house, barn, and shed. This will create a larger, more useful and friendly space, and eliminate some visual clutter from the interior view. The courtyard there will be a secondary patio and work space and, therefore, crushed gravel would be an appropriate surface. A few more stepping stones were added to the existing path to improve access through the area.

The fence across the front of the house should be moved as well, to open the space between  the house and the road, and to moderate the bowling alley affect of the long pathway and strip of grass. In conjunction with this, the addition of a few more bluestones and plants at the main door would provide a visual clue to the final destination - "Hey, it's down here!" - and be a more attractive and practical entrance area. The view from inside the house would be less cluttered, as well.

#2 Create a Patio and Pool Area
The clients are interested in a new patio, better circulation patterns (getting from here to there) and, at some point, a swimming pool. The space immediately south (in back) of the house would be my choice for developing into a patio and pool area.
view to future patio, pool, and pergola
The existing shade structure would be eliminated, and the planters would be relocated (more on that later) to allow for a modest size swimming pool (16' x 34'), pergola type shade structure and support buildings.  All of these new features would be tied into the existing buildings via a cut bluestone patio.
a patio of cut bluestone squares would span this area
patio and pool detail
Cut stones will give a modern looking, durable surface and match those used for the front entrance. They are also iconic to that region of the country and reinforce a "sense of place." The scale of this design could easily be reduced to accommodate a lap pool, if desired, or enlarged for more furnishings. To facilitate movement between the indoors and outdoors, I would move the door of the screened porch to face the patio space.

#3 Create a Destination Garden
The client is not interested in a lot of gardening, although a cutting garden would be appreciated. The space adjacent to the driveway would be ideal for a series of raised beds.

existing stone wall and stairway leading to lawn terrace

garden design detail
 The garden would be a space to walk through - or promenade, if you will - while enjoying the colors and textures of  annual and perennial flowers, grasses, groundcovers, or even small shrubs. I envision only one species of plant per bed for greater visual impact and ease of maintenance. Raised beds filled with river rocks, pine needles, rock shards, shells, etc. could be incorporated for additional textural interest (and even less maintenance). This garden garden would also create an attractive view from the upper windows of the residence.

#4 Naturalize
Allow nature to soften the edges.  This fenced and mowed property, with its simply shaped buildings (and new hardscape!) looks a bit like it was dropped from the sky.

existing delineation between wild and tame is a bit harsh
Some large, sweeping beds along the perimeter of the property would help tremendously, and also reduce your lawn care expenses. Read how my fellow Roundtable member, Scott, did it on his property.

#5 Final Notes
  • About that lawn...I like the crisp, modern effect of the lawn going right up to the foundations of the buildings, and lawn care can readily be hired out. So for this client, at this time, in this place, I think it works well. Ideally, a low growing, sustainable groundcover could replace a large portion of this lawn and should be considered as a long term goal.
  • The chicken coop (to be used now as a wood shed) has been relocated behind the barn. It will still be easily accessible, but less visible from the residence.
  • The fire pit has been relocated near the existing shade trees. The shade trees will give a sense of enclosure and intimacy, and the canopy will help filter any smoke.
  • No more red paint! In fact, take a sandblaster to the shed. All of the outbuildings (with the exception of the Garden House) should be allowed to weather like the barn.
Thanks again, Amy, for letting us have fun dreaming up some fresh ideas for you!

Please visit my fellow members of the Garden Designers Roundtable to read their contributions to our Design Challenge:

Carolyn Gail Choi : Sweet Home and Garden Chicago : Chicago, IL
Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT
Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN
Ivette Soler: The Germinatrix: Los Angeles, CA
Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK
Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ

The real deal:
The presentation you've seen here (with the addition of a plant palette)  is comparable to what I would create for a real client. Detailed drawings and specifications based on the client's feedback and input would be the next step of the design process.

And, finally, if any of my readers are interested in working with me on a long distance design project, please see my Services page above and get in touch!

Monday, January 17, 2011


A landscape or garden is a community comprised of a multitude of organisms working together in acts of construction and deconstruction, following the seasonal flow throughout the year. Gardeners, too, can become a community by sharing their common interests, knowledge, ideas, and inspiration.

Please join me this Wednesday, January 19th, for my  Garden Forum; a weekly gathering for those who love gardens. Let's build our garden community!

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Frost Line

I love it when we have a hard frost. The edges of our cut steel Kokopelli catch the frost and turn white, accentuating the outline of its simple, graphic shape.

This sculpture is a major focal point in our garden, perched right above the koi pond. I designed it and had it fabricated by a welder-friend as a birthday gift for Jim, many years ago. The rustic material and regional symbolism make it a perfect fit for our garden.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Monday, January 10, 2011

It's a Wrap

A few final notes from my recent vacation in California...

A different kind of off-leash dog park
This three acre site is privately owned and open to a few folks (and doggies) in the neighborhood during the late afternoon and evening hours.

Only one family at a time is allowed in the park. Participating dog owners help with the maintenance - keeping brambles pruned, pathways mulched, trash collected, etc.

Though not as sociable as a public dog park, it's a wonderful place for owners and dogs to spend some quality bonding time together!

Trinidad Head and beyond
Hiking on the beach and along the coast is always a major pastime when I visit Humboldt County.
looking south to Trinidad Head
The vistas, flora, and fauna are always intriguing; redwood forests alternate with lush green pastures full of dairy cows.
wonderful colors in this melange of fungi, lichen, moss & foliage
looking north from Patrick's point

Of course, it's the people that make any vacation special!

I was thrilled to meet up with Arcata garden designer and writer Genevieve Schmidt. She blogs here and is a fellow member of the Garden Designer's Roundtable.Gen is a talented and thoughtful young woman; I was so inspired by her enthusiasm for all things gardening. She's a crafter and a foodie, too - what's not to like?!

 We were treated to an elegant crab dinner
and a rousing game of hoops

on Christmas Eve by the Glenn-Benson family. These kind and generous folks, neighbors to my sister and brother-in-law, welcomed us like we'd been friends for years.

And finally, a big thank you to Allison, Jonathan, Zoe and Abiba for treating us to such a fun and memorable holiday!
(sorry for the blur!)

Monday, January 03, 2011

Innovative Use of Natural + Built Landscape

I've recently returned from a wonderful vacation in Humboldt County on the "redwood coast" of  Northern California. One of the most interesting and beautiful places I visited was the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary.

The City of Arcata developed a wastewater treatment plant adjacent to the coastal marsh area that incorporates a variety of pond filtration systems.

The result is a seamless, lush, natural habitat favored by birds of the Pacific Flyway. It's also an  accessible walking and birdwatching area by the local residents.

I spent well over an  hour walking the trails and enjoying the vistas and bird life at low tide.The highlight? Seeing a trio of great egrets soar by at eye-level!