Posts Tagged ‘process’

You know the stand-by sitcom joke that when dating someone new, you should let the crazy out only a little bit at a time?  Well, I’ve been writing this blog a while, so here’s a little piece of my crazy made just for you!

Sometimes I get something stuck in my head like a bad craving and MUST have it.  You know what I mean, yes?  Ever want chocolate really Really REALLY badly?  So much so that it felt like a biological need?  Yeah, like that, but for colors, color palettes, plants, and so forth.

150424 North Country Daylilies 1Today, my mail brought me a daylily I’ve been coveting for years and could never obtain (darn you, Martha Stewart Magazine!).  But, thankfully I now have Hemerocallis ‘Milk Chocolate’.  I’ve planted it in the garden and hope to grow it up big and fat.  I bought it from the generous folks at North Country Daylilies in Buskirk, NY.  Hemerocallis ‘Milk Chocolate’ is the little guy all the way on the left in the photo above.

See, the growers here in California who grow daylilies don’t seem to grow this particular cultivar (or at least not list it online).  Some growers list it but didn’t actually have any or wouldn’t return my calls and emails – after looking for this thing  for years, I was thrilled when North Country said they had one.  ONE.  Not only that, they were willing to ship it to California – another stumbling block I’ve run into before.  BUT, they sent me a 3 fan plant, more than most mail order companies would send.

I bought ‘Milk Chocolate’, ‘Third Witch’ and ‘Vatican City’ to make the most of the shipping.  I stole the images below from the American Hemerocallis Society (AHS) webpage:

Milk Chocolate:

Milk_ChocolateThird Witch:

Third_WitchVatican City:

VATICAN CITYNorth Country sent me the biggest danged plants, I am completely delighted.  In NY where they are, the snow has just melted away and the dormant daylilies are beginning to stick their heads up.  Out here in Northern California, it is warm and spring is old news.

One of the ways I hone my professional knowledge is to order plants from mail order companies and see what happens – I look at accuracy, plant quality, packaging, and customer service (bonus: an excuse to buy plants).  I’ve had some wonderful surprises as in this daylily order.  I’ve also had some really unfortunate and problematic orders (I won’t be ordering from Wayside or Easy to Grow Bulbs again) that surprised me the wrong way.

I’ve found that generally the growers who love their plants and specialize in certain kinds of plants have the best stock.  The big business companies send the smallest, least healthy plants, the most poorly packaged, and have the most errors in order accuracy.  I once got a box of dead plants from Wayside and they never did return my inquiries.  So, when something goes right like this, I like to crow about it.

Do you see these roots on H. ‘Vatican City’ and the extra fans on ‘Third Witch’?!  Mail order plant droolworthiness:

150424 vatican city huge roots150424 third witch several fansI have a few other daylilies that I will tell you about another time – that will be fun – there’s more crazy to share there.

Thanks for reading!

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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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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.


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The front of my new place is awash with purple Lantana (Lantana montevidensis).  It is lovely stuff if you are both color blind (unless you’re into this sort of purple, nothing wrong with that!) and an admirer of wildlife.  There are butterflies, bees, spiders, and lizards all over it.  It is absolutely marvelous for year-round blooming and needs no supplemental water once established (at least not here, I turned the irrigation off last fall).

lantana HQ 043

The flowers are the pepto bismol of purples – not my favorite, though maybe someday I will find a companion plant with a color that mitigates the pepto purple hue.  Meh, maybe not.  A dear friend of mine said that the overwhelming amount of purple Lantana in my garden made my place look like a retirement home.

lantana HQ 044

As much as I’d like to be able to retire (I’d still spend my time designing gardens – I love it that much), I am not ready to live in a dadgum retirement home!  Talk about death by association; I can’t look at it anymore without thinking about retirement homes.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, my lovely boyfriend thinks the foliage smells like poo (the flowers smell nice at night).  Charming: a poo scented retirement home.

lantana HQ 039Here’s my vexation:  as much as I intend to remove the Lantana and put in other stuff, it is happy, healthy, requires no water, and supports oodles of critters.  So for now it stays…. providing food and shelter for all those bugs and lizards, but lookout, Lantana!  You’re living on borrowed time.  Wanna know what I think might fill the space above?  I’m considering a collection of spineless Opuntia that my friend Melinda sent me from Texas along with a few I’ve collected on my own here.  The ones from Texas are rooting in the shed right now – cross your fingers that they all take!

IMG_3647So there’s my dilemma – removing the Lantana removes habitat, but goodness gracious, there’s so danged much of it, I don’t really like it, and the new design/plants aren’t ready yet.  Patience….

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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:


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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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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