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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.

 

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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.

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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)

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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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I think I did it right. I started designing gardens before I knew that was what I would “grow up” to do. My first forays into site design as a kid included a fantasy plant nursery, pet store, and flower shop.  My parents’ back yard was the subject of many site plans as well, though they didn’t implement my thoughts.

I earned my BLA (Bachelors of Landscape Architecture, a 5 year degree), got my first “real” job, and after a few years, began taking my own projects on the side.  This year I started teaching and finally went full-time as my own boss.  I have essentially spent all my free time for the last mumble-mumble years absorbed in design, gardens, plants, and everything related.

You would think that I would have no shortage of beautiful built projects to share online, adding new ones all the time.  Below is part of why I don’t put a full body of work in public online places:

Naturally, many of the projects I’ve worked on have been with former employers.  Many of them are my work or at least partly so, but the former employer owns the intellectual property.  I can put the work I did in my own portfolio, that is industry standard, but it is not kosher to put that stuff on my own website or blog to promote myself apart from promoting the company I worked for at the time.  In addition to that, I have agreements with some former employers that state I won’t put anything online that came from my employment with them, and some clients and I have similar agreements.  Not marketing with clients’ projects can be limiting in this age where everything is available at a click, but there ya go.

I respect the wishes of my clients and some of them are more particular about their privacy than others.  I never post or put online anything that a client would like to keep private.  For some of them, that is everything.  The work I do is often someone’s home, and I totally get wanting to keep home private!

Additionally, a garden is never done.  The design work is only a portion of making a quality outdoor environment.   A great many projects are phased in for budget reasons or other limitations (this can take years!), and it also takes time for the plants to grow in.  In a recent post on a project in Italy, you can see that the photos I posted span about 2 years – after two years, that garden is just getting to the point where it looks good enough to take photos and post them.  If I had posted it too early, it would not have had the same ability to represent what the intention was in the first place.

I am incredibly fortunate to work on amazing projects with amazing people – whether their own home, a rental, or a commercial or institutional project, there’s opportunity for discovery, beauty, and environmental benefits all around…. so am I still doing it right?  I sure hope so.

Hemerocallis 'c1797a' fd 4

 

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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:

TOP-VIEW

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:

003

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

1

The other plants were coming along too:

25

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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Hello there!  I’ve been away from this blog far too long.  Things have been quite busy with a whole mess of life and work changes.

The big news is that I moved into a new place.  I’m in the very beginning stages of designing the garden here, and wanted to share with you some of the challenges I am facing and what I’m doing to make this place as useful and responsive to my needs as possible.  This could take me a while, but I’m game if you are:

For starters, the previous occupants planted thorny Bougainvillea next to the gate to one of the side yards.  You have to squeeze by it and hope there aren’t any bad guys lurking behind it to get into the rear yard.  Don’t catch your sleeve on the sickly, not even fragrant, and incredibly thorny patio tree rose on the left as you go:

1 hiding places

If you look behind the Bougainvillea, you’ll see a very typical fence which blocks visibility into the back yard (hello again, bad guys!).  A friend commented to me that it seemed wrong to block views into what will hopefully become a beautiful side yard.  I have to agree!  Visibility issues aside, what you can’t see is that this opaque fence is nailed to the once charming original fence:

2 hidden fence

Way cuter, right?!  yep, I thought so too.  and next is that side yard that will eventually become beautiful.  Here, what you can’t see are all the weed seeds that germinated the moment I moved in keeping me busy indefinitely:

3 bare side yard

 

If you follow the side yard, you come to the back where there’s some lovely painted concrete in reggae colors with teensy tiny meaningless lawns and very old, well established Photinia (one of my least favorite shrubs EVER!).  How snazzy is that bit of solid fencing there?  I love how it gracefully blocks the view of the neighbor’s solid wall.  Equally enjoyable is the brick cap on the concrete retaining walls.  No lack of design consideration here:

5 tiny lawns 4 bad concrete

Which brings me to the shed.  I love love love the shed.  It has holes in the roof and sides from what appear to be buckshot so that rain drips directly on the shelf and is rotting the framing.  I have no idea what that railing is for, nor why there’s a flagpole footing in front of the little railing surrounded platform.  I call it the pulpit.  The pulpit’s days are numbered; same goes for the flagpole footing and little concrete pad in front of it.

7 shed

In the front is an unreasonable amount of purple Lantana and this thing, probably Yucca elephantipes.  It will get way too big for that little retaining wall and will break it and start all kinds of trouble in the next couple of years if I don’t remove it.  Sorry, Yucca, you gotta go.

6 the thang

The good thing is that when I go to the shed and look out past the festive reggae concrete, Photinias, and strange tiny lawns, I can enjoy sunsets every night.

8 view

Here’s to resolving the design issues and playing in the yard!

 

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