Archive for October, 2011

Flowers of Volunteer Park Conservatory

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

This summer I took some time off from other projects to create an index for Sarah Chapmans’ book of photos from the Volunteer Park Conservatory. It’s not only a book full of pretty pictures. If you read carefully this slim volume can guide you through the collections at the Conservatory, and teach you how to create outstanding plant combinations from the designs of David Hegelson. A bit of a treasure hunt as you search for the information your looking for… And a great way to identify and learn more about interesting tropical plants.

Exclusively available through the Conservatory gift shop.

Redefining a Craftsman Garden

Friday, October 14th, 2011

It’s nice to visit a site you’ve designed after a year or two and get to observe and learn from its growth, what has worked and what hasn’t. Plants grow on their own when interacting with the soil, sun, wind, and rain in a landscape. It’s alchemy seeing what from a plan has flourished or floundered.

This bent towards experimentation has forced me to be a bit of a scientist, which requires that repetition be practiced and notes taken. As a designer, I’ve also learned that the fewer materials the stronger the design. Co-commitant with that is to leave the plan open enough to allow for additions year after year based on what you learned about the site and what you’re clients have enjoyed most. Deceptively simple rules since it is often difficult to keep to them.

Even with years of training as a master gardener, owning my own business, and helping to run other businesses, learning to keep it simple and build on what works, always seem antithetical to knowing a lot. Success in your garden though doesn’t necessarily mean knowing a lot. Keep the feeling you have in mind for you’re garden and then select a minimum of plants (three – four ground cover and three – four shrubs) that embody this combination.  Keep the spacing wide between everything you put in the ground. Under plant with ground cover for weed prevention if you don’t like seeing the soil, but know that the spacing will allow the plants to seed themselves and create their own drifts. This sense of design will translate into a garden that feels strong and unfussy, with a kind of power behind it from having allowed the plants to express themselves upon the landscape.

Step back and make space for things to unfold as they will.

Once you’ve accomplished that then you’re ready to break it down with something surprising or unnatural that is all about you or your client, their sense of humor or morbidity, and switch it up when you want a change. We get too attached to our gardens sometimes! Craftman houses are no exception since there is so much expectation and history there.

Just be judicious about how you apply your own hammer, it can easily over power what makes sense. On this project we wanted to keep the story of the Craftman house strong so we used local stone for the rockery in front. And in back we played on the idea of sheet metal box steps for raised terraces – folding stone slightly into the design. Every new project is an opportunity for creative problem solving and this can become an expression of something greater that we then draw inspiration from throughout our day.

With this garden I actually broke one of my own rules, which is to listen absolutely to the client when it comes to plant choices and color schemes. Foremost on the agenda was to stay with something low maintenance since another child was on the way. They had requested bright colors and a lot of pop in the garden and yet in the context of this neighborhood which is all lawns and concrete at this juncture it might not have integrated as well with their appreciation of the modern. I went ahead and chose blue flowers as a base color that could be added to over time, being designers themselves. From a distance the Mexican feather grass and lavender melt into the landscape, yet give movement to a busy street. This actually helps to counter act the problem of traffic. One of the issues with suburban plantings is that lawns are so formal they give you no feeling that time is passing. Movement and subtle shifts in color create a sense of optimism without being demanding and help to obscure the flow of cars. Hopefully neighbors who were a little concerned by the exit of the lawn during the sheet mulching process can now appreciate the shift in mood.

Dig in, with a few simple rules to follow, and a willingness to get a little dirty, you are bound to have a garden that surprises and delights you daily!