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just fun colorsBack here, I talked about the conceptual design process, where I developed and sent over design concepts with a memo full of notes to the Owners.  I sent all this via email because they live in Southern California and I live in Northern California, about a 6 hour drive away, so in-person meetings aren’t always feasible.  I also know the Owners pretty well – the husband is an Architect I have worked with, and the wife has a background in Interior Design – so I trusted that they’d be able to read the memo alongside the concepts and make an informed selection of their favorite.  They did exactly that, sending me back comments on their preferred designs and I will now start to draft the designs for use in preparing construction drawings (so hang tight…)

The next thing to do is develop the Schematic Design.  In Schematic Design, I will make sure that the Conceptual Design evolves to have elements represented at actual size while I strive to hold true to the concept and incorporate their comments.  For example, I will make sure that any paths are an appropriate width, furnishings are represented at their real measurements, gates, paving patterns, fencing, materials, etc will begin to be discussed, but I won’t change the overall intent.  I’ll try to remember to share that when it is accomplished…. for now, one of the elements that needs discussion is a planting palette.  In every phase of design, I imagine the feel of the place, and few things have more impact on that than the plants!

What I’m trying to get at here is that in addition to designing for plants that will thrive in the same sun exposure, watering practices, soil type, climate zone, etc there’s an importance to gathering plants that want to be seen together.  The plants bring more than just leaves and color, they bring personality (and seasonality!) to the place.  The plants and the concepts (at least for me, others may work differently) are not separate discussions, but both part of a larger vision.  For this project, I made a huge list of plants I thought would work in San Gabriel as well as plants I thought the Owners would like.  I imagined the designs as real spaces, re-imagining them repeatedly with different planting palettes until I had edited the lists down into a concept for the planting palette.

Now, this does not represent the layout of the planting palette, and any plant geek can see that I’ve got some hydrozoning to do (putting low water use plants together and irrigating separately from higher water needing plants).  That will happen in future phases, but for now, I am playing with a planting palette as a preliminary concept.  For the rear garden, I chose lots of green foliage plants with what I equated to a “Hollywood / tropical” palette with many plants that could also grow in Texas (the Owners are from Texas, which is where I know them from).  I did the same exercise for the front, but without the Hollywood / tropical aspect to it.  Don’t ask me why, that’s just the direction it went.

150114 front garden mosaicThe front garden and the rear garden for this project are imagined with different vibes, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t use some of the same plants in both and we should!  Having the two be completely distinct runs the risk of making their property seem disjointed.  Take a look at the preliminary palette for the front garden (above) in contrast with the preliminary palette for the rear (below):

150114 rear garden paletteThey seem very different at first, but both have the same Honeysuckle vine in common and the same Agave.  Each of the little square photos shows each plant at the same size, and of course we also aren’t demonstrating how much of each plant there will be, nor giving a complete idea of their forms…. their impact in real life based only on visual impact could look much more like this for the front:

front impact paletteand like this for the rear:

rear impact paletteSee how they relate but take the same impact plants in different design directions?  isn’t that trippy?!  I’ll repeat this exercise with materials and furnishings, and the hope is that the whole mess will come together and become more than the sum of its parts.

Years ago, when I worked on a pro-bono project with this Owner and had a conversation where he explained to me that the building he had designed had to be white.  It wouldn’t be the same building if it was not white (I was vehemently against it being white, I thought it was unsympathetic to the landscape).  We had what must have been an amusing and fervent “discussion” for any flies on any nearby walls, and in the end, he convinced me.  The color was not just a tacked-on thing at the end, it was integral to the spirit of his design.  What I’m describing here is that lesson brought forward in my career and applied to my own work.  In designing the outdoor environment and making connections to indoor spaces and people, one shrub does not always do the same job as another, and plants are not so interchangeable as one might hope.  So stay tuned for the results – between me and the Owners, their home, and the process of refining the design, the end result is always a little bit of a surprise.  I will be excited to see how the process progresses with them, and then to see it installed?!  holy heck, I can’t wait.

 

My folks visited me about six months ago or so.  While reading my draft portfolio booklet, dad started laughing.  He’d read where I stated that I start every design with a pen.  ‘No you don’t, you have a drawing tablet!  You draw in the computer!’ says my dad.  No, I don’t, but I thought it was a funny assumption and so here we are talking about it.

Here’s the thing – using technology is lovely when you know what you want it to do, but when you have no idea, when you’re imagining stuff, using Photoshop with a tablet and stylus is not the most direct route from the brain.  You have to push buttons, set layers, import files, etc.  Forget THAT!  For me, using a pen is the shortest distance between creative thought and seeing it with your eyes (on the page).

Take for example a current design project in Southern California, it is for the residence of an Architect I worked with years ago:

1 Misc doodle conceptsI typically sit in a coffee shop and doodle for a while while studying site photos to really wrap my head around the issues of the site and try out various ways of shaping the space, fitting in uses, etc.  I use a printed base plan under tracing paper, my favorite Japanese ballpoint pens, and a latte (in reverse order).  The first round is not to scale, exploring idea after idea, small about the size of an index card.

Sometimes I do studies that try to fit certain ideas to the site regardless of anything, and these usually look pretty nuts, especially when I don’t re-draw the parts I’ve decided against:

2 misc studiesAfter generating several concepts, I refine a few ideas into what I still call conceptual design, and I limit myself to 3-4 per area max.  In this case, there’s a front garden and a rear garden.  Even now, nothing is really measured, it is all eyeballed and still very sketchy.  Notes around the edges help me remember the images I had in my mind’s eye for plants and other materials.  I have to make some assumptions about the clients’ lifestyle, and sometimes I suggest things they have not thought of – like what if they said they want the rear garden to be for kids’ play but the front is actually a better size for it….(like in this garden)…. the interview process can provide a lot of information, but you really can’t explore all the possibilities in an interview or two, and it helps to see ideas drawn when discussing them.

At this point, I sometimes send it to the client for input.  Below are the finalists for the front garden:

front garden conceptsand here (below) are the finalists for the rear garden:

rear garden conceptsSome clients enjoy working at this sketchy loose level, and this client is definitely one of them.  I’m honored to be designing the home landscape for his family, I hold his abilities in the architecture world in high regard and I know he and his wife have great taste.  However, there are clients for whom it is more appropriate to narrow things down to one or two ideas and do a much more formal, complete presentation.  I like both approaches, but for sure, this one allows for the client to have much more input at the very early stages.

SO – which will they choose?  We’ll see.

Green gradationA new client’s project calls for seasonal plantings in two important pots sitting atop columns flanking the front walkway.  I hope to be able to show you the changes we make to the planting palette in the rest of the garden, not sure when, but tonight I have seasonal plantings on the brain.

I don’t get asked for seasonal plantings very often, so I dove into all the bazillions of options – so many plants, so many cultivars of each!  Do you know how many Violas there are?  Heucheras?  Ipomoea, Coleus, Petunia, and so forth!!?  I wound up with 60 photos in short order and had to figure out how to organize it so the Owner (or I) wouldn’t have a stroke from too many options.  Below are 36 of the 60 I saved right off the bat, you can see how the editing process becomes king.  Some are my own photos, some from various growers, many came from Proven Winners (credit where it is due!) which is a large commercial grower that supplies pretty much every nursery I know:

too many choicesThere are many constraints in narrowing this down: changes pending in the rest of the garden, soil volume in the planters, and the intention of swapping the plants out seasonally.  Additionally, whatever we plant has to look good when it is new, add color coordinated with a TBD planting palette, and be showier than the succulents they have now which blend-in too much with their surroundings.  The most limiting of these is the soil volume – not much soil volume = not big plants and not very many.  I know, we’ve all seen photos of amazing stuff in teensy pots, but this is usually the result of growers’ careful (read: fertilized like crazy under perfect greenhouse conditions) management and not what we might expect at home.

I assume you’re familiar with the “recipe” for container plantings?  Some say you need “spillers”, “fillers”, and “thrillers”.  That’s great if you have room for all that diversity and you want mixed plantings.  I am not so sure these planters will look so good with too many different things; the soil is only 13″ across and 9″ deep.  They’re beautiful planters, just not very big.

I came up with a strategy – after I saved all those photos.  My strategy with most planting palettes is to gather in lists and photos everything I think will work and then edit until only a few favorites remain.  I often print photos of everything and arrange them all over my desk, developing groupings of favorites and rejects, moving photos between these groups often until I’ve covered all the bases – seasonal interest, form, leaf color and texture, etc.  Further edits seek to eliminate anything that clutters the vision, and viola!  … until I show it to my Client …

Chartreuse juiceSo tonight, to stave-off the aforementioned stroke, I limited the plants to 3 options:  two plant combos, one plant that will fill-in, and bulbs planted under something else.  I further limited the options to annuals (except the bulbs) and to color groupings I named “Chartreuse Juice” (a small sample of the options above) and “Lavender Carmel” (a small sample of the options below).  They seemed to separate themselves out naturally and fit in with the two plant palette options I am proposing for the rest of the garden.

Lavender carmelGiven that the planters are only big enough for one or two kinds of plants at a time, that will be the next step with the Client – what looks good together?  What can stand on its own?  I still have waaay too many options, but I know my favorite combinations, and the outliers will be held back so we both don’t need ambulances by the end of our meeting.

lavender gradation(and yes, I had entirely too much fun with Big Huge Labs making these mosaics)

Test, don’t guess

A. p. 'Seigen' LF2 momI have a handful of stories from professional practice where soil or plant pathology testing should have been performed but wasn’t.  I personally believe that soil should always be tested before any fertilizer or amendment is added, and follow-up testing should be done every couple of years to see how the soil health has changed.  Not testing soil or sick plants before spraying or amending the soil is like prescribing medication without knowing what disease you are treating.  You wouldn’t do that to your body, so why do we do this to our biggest investments (your home or commercial property) ?!

Thankfully, getting lab tests done is not difficult if you take the few minutes needed to do it right.  Most soil and plant pathology labs are easy to work with, they’ll tell you what to do and how to send it in, and will provide you with a report explaining their findings.  Bammo – diagnosis!  Proper treatment!  Hooray!

A. p. 'Koshibori Nishiki' LF1 momNow for my cautionary tale:

Years ago I was working for a firm in San Francisco and we had a client with a mature beloved Japanese Maple.  It had a nice shape, and was reportedly absolutely beautiful in the fall.  Their project involved building an underground garage underneath this tree which required that we dig the tree out, box it, crane it off-site, and have it cared for while the garden was re-made in a new design on the roof deck of this garage.  The tree would be the centerpiece for the new design, and I thought how lovely that they were willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars to have it salvaged and brought back when a new tree would be so much cheaper.

Before we started demolition, the client called and said that the tree wasn’t as leafy (this was mid-summer) as it had been the year before.  We called a couple of arborists out to the site who took a good look at it, tested the trunk with a densiometer, and decided that it needed a little more water – we had just gotten through a few unusually warm weeks, so we all thought no big deal.  The gardener was asked to provide it with some nice deep watering and we waited to see how it would respond.  It repaid us with a flush of tender new leaves and we delighted in this result.

I wish I could remember how this next step was decided on – we asked the gardener to fertilize it.  The gardener was a well-meaning fella who had done a good job so far.  His English was not great, but nobody had a problem with that.  He fertilized the tree and within a week, WHOOMP!  Naked tree.  It dropped every single leaf.  We could not understand why – it was just recovering!  We finally sorted out that the gardener had mis-understood the label on the fertilizer package and used 10x the recommended amount!  That tree was sitting in a toxic wasteland of salts and chemicals.  Rather than wait for his next visit, I was dispatched to put soaker hoses around it and try to water the fertilizer out of the soil.  I left those soaker hoses on for hours, they were coiled around and around under the entire dripline of the tree.  We had the gardener follow-up, soaking the soil thoroughly on his next couple of visits, and we hoped that the excess fertilizer had been literally washed away.

You can imagine how glad we were when it repaid us with a second flush of new leaves…. only there was something different…. these leaves were smaller, slower, not quite right.  Nobody knew what to do; we just kept watch and hoped for the best.  About a week later, it was dead.  Dead-dead.  All those new leaves fell off and you could feel that it had passed all the way on.

This was such a disappointment for the Owners and for us – after-all, here we were, a team of arborists, landscape architects, and the well-meaning gardener.  It sure looked like we killed it.  This is when we did the first intelligent thing:  we had the tree and the soil tested.  We took samples of the leaves, the branches, some root clippings, and the soil, and sent it all off for analysis.  Care to guess what we learned?

That poor tree had a raging infection of some kind of pathogen with a long name I’ve long since forgotten, and the lab said that this infection had likely been there for a couple of years already to be this bad.  The tree was doomed from the start; our screwups just pushed it over the edge.  In a way, this nightmare saved the Owners a bunch of money, but that didn’t make anyone feel any better.  We’d spent so many billable hours trying to figure it out, they ended up wasting a lot of time and money paying us to professionally accidentally kill their beloved tree.

So you know, the lab that we used was Soil and Plant Lab.  They are my favorite lab because their people are helpful and knowledgeable and their reports are thorough and easy to understand.  It isn’t so expensive to do, and one test can save not only your money, but your peace of mind and the health of your investment.

BTW, I took the photos at Momiji Nursery in Santa Rosa back in 2006 when I was working on this project.  They sell beautiful Japanese Maples.

A. p. 'Shishio Hime' LF momThank you for reading, as always, I look forward to your comments!

J

Artichoke plants can be real stunners.  Their soft, enormous, sculptural bluish foliage is a real treat in a garden, especially in contrast with more subdued looking plants.  These big dudes can make a real statement.   One of my practices as a professional (which sounds better than ‘I can’t go to a nursery without buying something’) is test growing plants and watching what happens over time.  This summer I trialed Zinnias, Artichokes, several ferns, Marigolds, Scabiosa, Cosmos, Calendula, several roses, Gardenias, Heucheras, a few grasses, Daphne, a handful of Penstemons, a Magnolia, an Albizia, Sweet peas, and Lupines among others (this list is the survivors).

The Artichokes, though, held a lesson.  Googling Artichokes didn’t tell me much about them.  I found oodles of photos of the flower buds (the bit we eat) and foliage, tons of recipes and so forth… I found websites about how to grow them, where to get them, I even watched a video about growing them, but in my searches and plodding through books, I did not find anything about their life cycle.  The best information I found was in Golden Gate Gardening, which talks about how to grow them in decent detail, tells you what to do, but does not give a complete picture of what the plant is doing while you’re busy taking care of it.

So, darling readers – here are my chokes from their glorious youth through that first awkward phase:

140507 ArtichokesMay 7th:  Here they are a few weeks after I put them in the ground – I bought three 4″ pots of them and also three clearance rack 2″ pots of dying plants.  All of them grew so FAST!  There really isn’t much point in spending a lot on an artichoke plant, the little sad ones will do just fine if you get them in the ground where they really want to be.  Sorry, I did not record when I planted them nor did I take photos of the sad little dudes.

140708 021 140708 Artichoke FL 140708 artichokesJuly 8th:  Two months later, I’ve got several flower buds starting (above).

140728 artichoke flowers 1 140728 artichoke flowersJuly 28th:  I let a few flowers open just to follow what they do.  Out of the six plants I grew, despite being in partial shade, I had more artichokes than I could possibly eat.

140801 artichoke starts awk phaseAug 1st:  I had taken the chokes off one of the plants (delicious) and it repaid me by doing this.  It is a sad looking stemmy misshapen thing.  Welcome to the Awkward Phase.  I know they’re perennial, some say they’re semi-perennial, living only 5-6 years, others claim they can live much longer.  I don’t give a rat’s patoot when getting a replacement plant can cost less than buying an artichoke for dinner and they grow so well.

140925 artichokes faded 140925 artichokes faded 2 140925 artichokes faded 1September 25th:  The stems and leaves continued to fade and look like total crapola (read:  turn brown and sticky) until about mid-september when the next growing season’s leaves began popping up at the base of the plant.  I left the flower on to watch it go to seed, and seed it did!  I was tracking these big globs of brown fluffy seeds into the house and they were blowing around the yard.  Rather than let artichoke babies take over, I took this opportunity to finally break the old stems off most of the plants at their bases and chuck them in the green waste bin, I left one alone to do its thing for another two weeks, when I bought a new camera….

141014 artichoke new foliage 1 141014 artichoke seed heads 141014 artichoke seed heads close …. and in Mid-October, my new camera helped me get a better photo of the fluffy seeds on one plant and new foliage on another.

So what is my point?  Artichokes are cool.  What is even cooler is how dynamic they are.  Many people don’t have the patience to let a plant do awkward unsightly things in their garden, and that’s okay – but you can’t really understand your plants unless you understand their lives.  Books don’t do enough, web-searches will give you tons of beautiful photos, but nothing compares to growing something and being observant.

Thank you!!

 

 

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

I taught a new class (new to me) this month at UC Berkeley Extension: Graphics Bootcamp, it finished up this past weekend.  It is two full 8 hour days of instruction held on two consecutive Saturdays.  Since I hadn’t taught this before, I had a lot of preparation to do which was fun to pull together.  I did most of my planning at my favorite coffee shop, Julie’s in Alameda, so I could focus.  Being at Julie’s begins a whole other story for another time (check back next month – early October). First I looked through my favorite books on landscape graphics:

2014 class books referencesFrom left to right above, that is an old edition of Drawing the Landscape by Chip Sullivan, an old edition of Landscape Graphics by Grant Reid, my 3-ring binder of images and drawings (kickin’ it old school with the binder), the relatively new book Freehand Drawing and Discovery by one of my favorite people James Richards, Drawing and Designing with Confidence by Mike Lin, the current (Sept 2014) copy of Landscape Architecture Magazine put out by the ASLA that had some nice concept sketches in it, and my big pile of notes, exercises, and general mayhem (in the orange folder) see below:

2014 class exercises i broughtThen I watched about 12 hours of how to videos on YouTube.  I borrowed exercises from the books, made some up, tried all of them against a timer, wrote the syllabus and my own lesson plan list, gathered inspiring links and images on Pinterest and stuffed a black and decker toolbox full of colored pencils, pens, pastels, markers, and so forth.   I steeped myself in beautiful drawings for about a month.  I was surrounded with color and texture and started to realize that the pressure of doing everything faster while I was working for others, the drive to take everything to the computer, to use technology, had allowed me to set up some uncreative habits.

Now with class done, I don’t want to use the renderings I am about to send to a client – renderings I did in Photoshop that will probably suffice, but did not necessarily take less time than if I’d done the work by hand.  I believe that I can do the renderings faster by hand, and they will be more interesting.  The only drawback is that there are more steps – in Photoshop I sit here entering information on the computer, and then my work is instantly available to be emailed because it is already digital.  There are no trips to the local print store, no scanning an oversize sheet, none of that.  What it lacks, and maybe this is the fault of my Photoshop skills, is a certain amount of soul.  Don’t get me wrong; I have a Wacom drawing tablet that allows me to make a drawing on Photoshop look like it is hand-drawn, but there’s still something about touching markers and colored pencils to real paper that adds an intangible bit of heart.

I’ve heard the adage that ‘if you want to learn, teach’, and I suppose I knew that I would learn a great deal by teaching a new subject.  However, what I did not expect was how completely inspired and excited I would become in the process.  You can expect that the next project I post will have hand-drawn graphics to go with it.