Archive for the ‘Places’ Category

d 30 jan 2015 dunsmuir estateI am so excited to tell you that I’ve been asked to serve on an advisory board for the Dunsmuir Estate!  I’m told that this is the first advisory board since the City of Oakland took over care of the property, so I feel truly honored.

I was just over there last Friday because I made an effort to remember to visit during their insanely restricted hours (it is an effort, even bank employees would drool over these hours!).  I work from home not very far from this place and even still, I can’t seem to get over there while they’re actually open…. never-mind the times they should be open (imho) but aren’t, like weekdays squeezed between major holidays and weekends (I tried to go last Black Friday for example).  BUT, that’s not the point I’m here to make.

a 30 jan 2015 dunsmuir estateThis place is a gem in the rough.  Anyone who has read my blog before knows how much I enjoy visiting historic estates and gardens, but this one eluded me until a few months ago.  SO, without further delay – a few photos from last Friday to celebrate my budding relationship with the folks who are working so hard to keep the place up and promote it.  I’m plain ole thrilled about it.

b 30 jan 2015 dunsmuir estatec 30 jan 2015 dunsmuir estateSo above you see the Main House and the entry, ducks, fountain, and gazebo (drought?  what drought?)….

f 30 jan 2015 dunsmuir estate e 30 jan 2015 dunsmuir estate… and two benches with gobs of personality…

i 30 jan 2015 dunsmuir estatej 30 jan 2015 dunsmuir estate h 30 jan 2015 dunsmuir estate… a couple of shots that I think exemplify the magic of the character of the place….

g 30 jan 2015 dunsmuir estate… but I’ll leave you with a shot of my favorite thing, the pool and pool house.  I could do a whole post just on this one item, and I probably will, but it is such a magical, beautifully proportioned thing, I wish I had drawings of it to study, find out what it is about the space that is so magical, apply those ratios to my own work (even though I don’t design by mathematical formula, I just want to “get” it and be able to replicate it).   I dearly hope that this can someday be restored, but in the meantime, I’ll stare at it and imagine what it must have been like.


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I was just sent two new photos of my project in Italy (mentioned before HERE) now that it is fall.  The garden looks fantastic, which is a real testament to the Owners taking such wonderful care of it!  That is such an important aspect of any garden’s success, and I’m delighted to share these images with you:

growing in grasses 2growing in grasses 1

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Two years ago this month I visited the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Az.  Even though I was in Phoenix for the ASLA conference, I think I was more excited about visiting this garden than anything else.  This year, they’re celebraing their 75th anniversary – SEVENTY FIVE YEARS!

8 Desert Botanical Garden 52The Desert Botanical Garden, despite being in the desert, has beauty, drama, softness, and life.  There’s a word that I hate (it starts with a “x” and ends in “scaping”) that makes most people imagine a particular layout and use of plant materials that just makes my head hurt.  Things have changed, though, and design of water wise planting has evolved!

1 arborThe folks at the Desert Botanical Garden have done a beautiful job with the materials they use.  Most of the arbors, gates, trellises, and things like that are made with raw steel and rebar.  They’ve oxidized into being gorgeous rusted pieces that are both crisp in their design and rustic in their finish.  2 Desert Botanical Garden 41Next up is the use of concrete – oh yes, concrete is wonderful stuff!  This board-formed concrete wall with the wood bench attached to it is so nicely detailed!

5 Desert Botanical Garden 23 6 Desert Botanical Garden 247 Desert Botanical Garden 25 There’s this lovely seat wall with a green stone inlay that becomes a very discrete water feature at the other end.  The water aspect of this would be easy to overlook, it is not showy or loud.  Water, of course, is important for many reasons, but a big gurgling fountain would be out of place here.  Tempting, but not appropriate.

3 Desert Botanical Garden 1 4 Desert Botanical Garden 10I only recall one other water feature, also a nice quiet, appropriate piece.

12 Desert Botanical Garden 54Nearby were some very cool butterfly chairs with white slipcovers – they even looked refreshing – which caused me to realize that even if you don’t sit or touch the water, the visual cue of taking a break is still a powerful (refreshing) force.

10 Desert Botanical Garden 45 11 Desert Botanical Garden 51Above you can get a real feel for the place – materials retain their integrity; for example, stone is used like stone, and it isn’t just veneer.  The colors belong here, and boldness is introduced sparingly.  Here, the planting not only steals the show, it IS the show thanks to strategic restraint in all the other materials.  Take a peek at the next several images – notice how the materials are used honestly, With color and a sense of place in mind, here are more of my favorites:

9 Kornegay cast conc container 13 Desert Botanical Garden 72 14 Desert Botanical Garden 12 15 Desert Botanical Garden 16 16 Desert Botanical Garden 05 17 Palo blanco trunk 18 Desert Botanical Garden 26 19 Desert Botanical Garden 93 20 Desert Botanical Garden 7 21 Desert Botanical Garden 9 22 Desert Botanical Garden 71 23 Desert Botanical Garden 86 24 Desert Botanical Garden 44 25 Desert Botanical Garden 87 26 Desert Botanical Garden 88 Last, but not least I leave you with the parking lot (that’s right, the parking lot) and a bunny with two quail (the quail blend, just behind the bunny to the right, in front of the succulents).

29 Desert Botanical Garden parking 1 28 Desert Botanical Garden bunnyBotanical gardens and arboreta are a big influence in my life and someday I hope to work on another one.  In fact, I really should buy a lottery ticket because if I ever won, I’d buy some land and …. oh, do I have ideas!27 Desert Botanical Garden 92

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Filoli Again, in August Again

I’ve talked enough about Filoli – so I’ll just post the photos from last weekend:  a 140830 078 a 140830 080 a 140830 105 adjusted a 140830 147

Something I did not know was that they had a ton of sculptures installed – with price lists in the gift shop, apparently.  I like the new additions.

a 140830 151 a 140830 150I love catching people in my photos right when they’re wondering if they can possibly escape before I click the shutter.  Sorry, I was too quick this time, but holy crap – lookit those Hydrangeas!

a 140830 052 a 140830 050 a 140830 049The Cleome were incredible – again, people in the shot to show just how BIG they are (the Cleome, not the people)!

a 140830 164 a 140830 162Love the pond, there are fish in there too – I don’t know what kind, but I could sit and watch them for a good while, goofing off in the waterlilies (not sure who would goof off more, the fish or me).

a 140830 122 adjustedHere I thought I was taking pictures of Magnolias, but these two are so sweet.

a 140830 118 a 140830 053…and again, Filoli manages to make even ordinary Pelargoniums look amazing!  I bought one at the gift shop, just could not resist, so don’t be surprised if you see them in future posts…

a 140830 048 - adjusted a 140830 161 a 140830 138as usual, the intense exuberance of the plantings are utterly breathtaking.  Vigor and vibrance around every corner.

a 140830 134 - adjusted a 140830 132and of course, a trip to Filoli wouldn’t be complete without photos in the Olive Grove.  Talk about a sense of place!


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One of the things I love about visiting places over and over again is that I learn something each time.  As I hinted in the previous post, I went to Montalvo Arts Center and Filoli this weekend.  Visiting beautiful places makes my head swim with enchantment, and I have to force myself to slow down enough to enjoy them.

a 140830 036 Montalvo has been busy renovating their Great Lawn and installing a low retaining wall and steps at the base of it.  Check out the difference in the photos from my previous post to see the differences.  A wedding was in rehearsal while I was there, so I tried not to be in the way, and just barely managed to avoid taking photos of the wedding party.

a 140830 040 a 140830 028 I stayed just long enough to take snapshots of the changes, check out the progress in the gardens, and to make the decision to visit again in softer light.  I was out in bright sunlight – a perfect summer day for most people, but way too much for my 12 year old digital camera (bless its heart, it tried).a 140830 001 a 140830 034a 140830 017They’ve got a new art installation in place, and I discovered that the pond and waterfall have also been repaired since the last time I was there.

a 140830 030One of my favorite things about the Italianate Garden is how dramatic the Italian Cypresses are – seriously, look at how big they are!  those teensy tiny people in the middle are full grown adult humans – the cypresses dwarf everything.

a 140830 039Seen from another angle, they don’t seem so big, in this photo, but remember that the roses at their base are shoulder height on an adult.  I love how their linear planting as seen in the first photo changes when viewed from other angles.  Too many people disregard this dynamic part of planting design, or just don’t notice it.

a 140830 004and remember last post when I pointed out the pool behind the Villa?  Oh, how I wish I could remove those stairs, brick path and lawn and re-fill that pool.  I’d love to know what it looked like – the tops of what I assume were fountains are still there just begging to be unearthed.

So what did I learn yesterday?  Dramatic plant forms can make even bad photos look good (I’m talking to you, Italian Cypresses!)  Here’s to looking forward to a new camera soon!

140830 016


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Montalvo Arts Center

Allow me to introduce you to Montalvo.  If you’ve been reading my blog, you probably know I adore Filoli, I have posted about it a few times (March 2012, August 2010, late winter 2010) and am thinking I’ll go visit again soon.  However, just about half an hour drive south of there in Saratoga, CA is another impressive estate that is also open to the public (visiting this place is FREE!) Montalvo Arts Center.  I visited Montalvo a few times in 2012 and attended an evening concert in 2013 and wanted to share a few images with you (yes, I AM due another visit! keep reading).  Montalvo, being state owned, could always use a few more visitors. It has an incredible history and offers concerts, constantly changing artistic installations, and all sorts of festivals and events.

The grounds change constantly as you’ll see in the photos I’ll post here and when I’ve visited next (familiarity with Montalvo comes thanks to my last employer, PGAdesign in Oakland):

Montalvo 5

As you come up the drive, the Villa reveals itself – and in front of it is the Great Lawn (recently modified and renovated).

Montalvo 6Turning around on the great lawn you see the drive there on the left, and the entrance to the Italianate Garden.

Montalvo 26Montalvo 33Montalvo 30Montalvo 38Inside the Italianate Garden (a stunner!) there are sculptures, an incredible folly, and all sorts of discoveries.

Montalvo 15 Montalvo 58Walking around the Great Lawn and up to the Villa, artistic installations are constantly changing.

Montalvo 93 Montalvo 109 Montalvo 98….and once up at the Villa, the courtyard and the former pool are flat-out lovely places to see.  Do you see the pool?  look again at that flat, oval lawn….those steps are more recent, but imagine the wall they’re on aroud water…

Montalvo has been undergoing renovations in the last couple of years, and I expect to return for another visit as soon as I can.  Maybe this weekend?  I hope so!

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While I was away neglecting my modern web-presence-building duties, I enjoyed working on a particularly wonderful little project…. a Bed and Breakfast in Italy!  I have never been to Italy, but when my good friend and talented architect Glenda Flaim showed me her work on Casa Incantata, I asked if I could take a stab at the planting design which had yet to be finalized.  Neither of us had any idea what would happen.  Come on, what do I know about plants in Italy?!  Niente.  The way we worked around that, and got the garden done was a genuinely collaborative effort involving Glenda, the Owners, their gardener, some dutch visitors, and me:

First, Glenda sent me a photo of the site with notes (in green) on her thoughts for the planting:


We chatted about the decisions on the photo – why the hedge, what is the lawn for, stuff like that.  I studied snapshots of the building and tried to imagine what it would be like to be there in person.  Glenda mentioned that the house  had just won a national award for sustainable architecture, and was photographed soon after I started noodling with the design of the garden on paper.  You can see pre-garden professional architectural photos here and here.  She sent me a computer drafted file of the site and I gathered photos of plants that came to mind.

I started the planting design in June 2012:

120619 Flaim House Italy pltg concept001I mapped out the planting design in areas with palettes.  The areas got names:  there was “lawn”, “spicy”, “meadow”, and “hedge”.  I wrote a description of how each of these areas would be different from each other, what forms and colors I was trying to emphasize, and what colors I wanted to avoid entirely.  I wrote out how these plants would change with the seasons and the desired effects.  With lists of plants and their written intentions, the memos were translated into Italian and back into English through Glenda.

The Owners and their gardener started looking for the plants and sent word back what was available and not, and we figured out plants that might work instead.  More memos handling spacing and layout were translated back and forth, plant research was done on both continents.  Plants were purchased and installed as they were found; this took a few seasons to finish.  Some were purchased in Italy, some shipped from the U.S., and the last, elusive bulb was a gift from some visitors from Holland who learned of the missing bulb in discussions of the garden during their stay.

Over the last 2 years, I’ve gotten a couple of photos a season so I could see how the garden was doing.  They had wasted no time getting plants in the ground.  Later that same year (fall 2012), the lawn (Hernaria glabra) which also extended between the pavers, was getting its start:


By the following Spring (2013) it had filled-in very nicely!


The other plants were coming along too:


By that Summer, you could see the different zones expressing themselves:

photo 5 photo 1

And just last month, I got another update:

2014 June

It is challenging to know how a garden will look when you’re designing it, and there were many anxious moments when I knew they were investing in my advice and I could only hope that the Owners would like the results.  I’m not sure it is possible to tell if the image in my head matches what the garden will become.  I can’t know ahead of time if the Owners will like what the garden will become, and yet it is dependent on them and everyone who takes care of it to continue to support the design’s intention as the garden is maintained.

I am finally able to share (two years later) how things are going here in this post.   I can also share that the owners are very happy with their garden, and conveyed to me this sentiment:

 Il giardino che ho sempre sognato!!!

(The garden I have always dreamed about!!!)

I couldn’t have asked for more.

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