The Role of a Garden Designer

Using a bold colored container to anchor a color scheme and give year round interest

Using a bold colored container to anchor a color scheme and give year round interest

“I charge extra for marriage counselling” I quipped as husband and wife gave me two contradictory lists of ‘must have’s’ for their new garden. We were all laughing but it’s not the first time that I have played referee when meeting design clients.

Have you considered hiring a designer but wondered how much it would cost, if you really needed one and how the whole design process works? Let me take some of the mystery out of it for you and explain how I do things as well as typical variants.

What skills does a designer have?

 

The hands-on approach may not be the most glamorous...

The hands-on approach may not be the most glamorous…

Typically a designer will be a trained horticulturalist with extensive hands-on plant knowledge, be an artistic visionary and see exciting possibilities where homeowners only see problems as well as demonstrable design skills that marry function and form. There are no qualifications legally required for someone to refer to themselves as a designer although many like myself have chosen to take a series of professional certifications in horticulture, have taken design and construction courses and are members of professional landscape design related organizations at a state or national level.

What services do designers offer?

This will depend on the size of the company. Many smaller businesses including mine offer hourly landscape consultations or garden coaching services to trouble shoot problems for you and give you ideas to get your started while teaching you about soils, plants, garden maintenance and anything else you need to know to be successful. These appointments are ideal for homeowners who want to learn more about their garden and how to take care of it.

A shallow garden lives large after two linked patios are turned at 45' to the house. Would YOU have done that?

A shallow garden lives large after two linked patios are turned at 45′ to the house. Would YOU have done that?

The main focus of a designer, however, is to provide clients with a drawn landscape plan which may be rendered by hand or done on the computer. It is drawn to scale and includes plant names , location and quantity. Depending on the area being designed this drawing may include existing buildings, trees and lot lines. Many of us also provide a series of design notes detailing any suggested materials, containers, water features and art. I also include a typed plant list with hyperlinks for clients easy personal research.

Who is going to do the work? (Think carefully before you answer!)

Who is going to do the work? (Think carefully before you answer!)

Design-build companies will also offer installation of their designs using their crews and any specialist sub-contractors while design-only companies like mine will assist you in finding the right contractors for the installation; usually people we have worked with for many years. Some designers will only offer their design services if they are also installing the project while others are happy to design for the enthusiast DIY-er. Just ask! Your designer may offer an ongoing consulting service throughout the installation  which gives you peace of mind that any necessary changes made along the way (and there are always a few) keep with the original design intent.

The first batch of plants delivered and set out - after which they were moved several times!

The first batch of plants delivered and set out – after which they were moved several times! You can read about this garden makeover HERE

Your designer may also offer to procure, deliver and set out the plants for you if such an agreement works with the installation team. Since the designer will have selected that particular variety of plant for a reason (the exact shade of purple leaf matches the color of your outdoor cushions for example) I always recommend taking advantage of this so that any necessary substitutions due to availability of plant material still hold to the original design. Let’s face it a red-orange Heuchera may not be the best replacement for a coral-orange one even if they are both the same size and both like shade!

How do I find the right designer for my project?

Garden art may be the perfect finishing touch

Do you have special pieces of art that need to be incorporated?

While personal referrals are enormously helpful be aware that your friends may have had  completely different design parameters. Certainly ask how well your friends designer interpreted their requests, listened to and answered questions but also ask how the rapport was between the designer and installation team.

Nurseries and garden centers may also offer recommendations and you can search organizations such as the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD ) by state. In Washington we also have Washington State Nursery & Landscape Association WSNLA (of which I am a member) and Washington Association of Landscape Professionals (WALP) that can help direct you through their listings.

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Can you see yourself here?

 

Do your homework; look at designers websites, read their books, read magazine articles about them and that they have written and scan their blog. Listen to and watch any promotional or teaching videos they have. Attend a seminar they are giving. Do you like the designs they have already done? Do you see a design style that appeals to you? A good designer can create in multiple aesthetics but are likely to specialize in a few.

Most of all you need to feel you can trust your designer to understand you so start by chatting on the phone. See if you get the sense that your personalities will work well together.  If the call goes well set up an appointment to meet on site.

What will the designer ask?

So you want to grow vegetables; how many?

So you want to grow vegetables; how many?

During your initial consultation the designer will try to understand how you plan to use your garden. Will you need to seat 2 or 20? Do you need kid-friendly spaces? A dog run? A vegetable garden? They will also want to understand your lifestyle so if you are working 80 hours a week they will understand the need for low maintenance and be prepared for them to tell you that your desire for a 40′ raspberry bed may not be a good one as they then explain the care and maintenance needed to manage it!

Design is all about the details; this paint color was selected to echo the color of the conifer foliage

Design is all about the details; this paint color was selected to echo the color of the conifer foliage

You will be asked about your color and style preferences – and this is usually where I need to put my counselor hat on. These are the two elements that can be hardest to articulate so I recommend using images from books, magazines, Pinterest or Houzz to help you pinpoint what you (and your spouse) are drawn to. Houzz is especially good as you can add comments beneath the images to tell your designer what it is you like about the photo (the winding path – or the pergola design) and can elect to make these ideabooks private between yourselves.

What happens next?

Your designer will provide a summary of the project for you to review ( I call this the Design Criteria) as well as the Design Proposal which states how much the defined project will cost, what you will receive and an approximate timeline for completion.

What does it cost?

This will vary across the country and between companies. In the Seattle area expect to pay between $60-85/hour for both the consultation and the actual drawings. (A few companies will offer a ‘free’ initial consultation but trust me the charge is there – it will just be absorbed into the final cost if you select them). How long a drawing takes depends upon the complexity of the design. The projects I work on can range from 2-10 hours depending on whether it’s a quick sketch of a single planting bed or a full suburban landscape.

Is it worth it?

You can read about this garden makeover here

You can read about this garden makeover here

The best designs often come about as a collaboration between the homeowner and designer which is why it is so important to find the right person who ‘gets it’ . My aim is to create a beautiful, functional space that will fit your needs, reflect your personality and be an oasis that wraps itself around you.  The testimonials I have received would say “yes – it’s worth it”.

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A Unique Rose Garden

 

Moondance rose

Moondance rose

How do you use roses in your garden? Do you have a traditional, formal rose garden bordered with low boxwood hedges? Or are they part of a mixed border where they jostle with perennials such as delphiniums and phlox? Perhaps you prefer climbing roses and allow them to scramble up pergolas or use them as a support through which to encourage clematis?

There seems to be a rose for every situation from petite miniatures to house-swallowing monsters with fragrance and colors to suit all tastes but it can still be challenging to find just the right plants to combine with them so that the rose itself is enhanced while also enhancing its neighbors.

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I had the opportunity recently to visit the delightful courtyard garden of Mary Jo Stansbury (Whidbey Island, WA)  and was entranced by the delightful naturalized vignette she had created around the white Moondance rose in one of the borders. Billowing fountains of shimmering Mexican feather grass (Nassella tenuissima syn. Stipa tenuissima) were swaying gently in the early morning breeze and a haze of blue Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) were in full bloom along the pathway. Nestled within this soft cradle were several pure white Moondance roses.

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I had never seen roses planted in this way and I loved the juxtaposition of whisper-soft grasses with the thorny stems as much as I loved the simple blue and white color scheme. Rather than dominating the scene these roses were mingling easily and this casual elegance was enhanced by the color echo between the grass and roses.

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Grasses have been used throughout this small garden, most of which was designed by the Berger Partnership. Mary Jo has fond memories of working with both Tom Berger and Jason Henry and commented that Jason’s love of grasses is evident. (You will be able to see one of the combinations he designed in this garden for our new book Foliage First; Timber Press 2016)

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When I asked her about this particular section of the garden Mary Jo laughingly admitted  this was her haphazard design and explained that she tested Rosa ‘Iceberg’ first but found them too troublesome. Then she found the hybrid called Moondance that is disease resistant, fragrant and blooms all summer.  “It actually does shine and dance like the moon on a windy night!”, she said.

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Mary Jo then added the Russian Sage to that section of the garden and now the combination is always a wonderful show at this time of year. Even before the Russian sage would be in bloom the felted white stems and silvery-green leaves would play into this meadow-inspired design perfectly.

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This is one of those hauntingly simple designs that stirs the soul. Fragrance, movement, tactile – it’s all here. It will shine in the evening and glow in the day.

Inspired?

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Garden Emergencies

I used fast growing white alyssum as a groundcover last year when most of the creeping  thyme died over the winter

I used fast growing white alyssum as a groundcover last year when most of the creeping thyme died over the winter. I liked it so much I planted it again this year!

Help!

As a designer there is one fundamental expectation when friends and clients visit; that my garden will be alive. This year that has been questionable as we’ve battled a plague of voles, unrelenting high temperatures, unprecedented drought and recovery from last winter which although mild arrived with a drop in temperature of twenty degrees or so overnight and threw several of my large, established evergreen trees into major stress and eventual death.

The result is that there are holes – sometimes BIG holes in the garden. Sound familiar? Do you have a garden tour scheduled to visit? Family and friends due? A summer party planned? If so you need a disguise and FAST. What can you use?

Both foliage and flowers can come to the rescue and the best nurseries and garden centers will have large, well established plants for you to drop quickly into place. Here are my favorites for sun and shade. In fact some of these work so well you may find yourself leaving room for these next year even without a plant emergency!

Sensational Salvias

Love and Wishes salvia holds the fort between barberry, Skylands spruce and peonies

Love and Wishes salvia holds the fort between barberry, Skylands spruce and peonies

Major flower power, big time hummingbird attractant and easily fills a space 3′ x 3′; sound good? Then look for these amazing salvias that are part of the Sunset Western Garden Collection.

I’ve been growing three this year and my favorite is probably Love and Wishes with its rich magenta color. This has helped fill a gap left by a dwarf butterfly bush that didn’t make it through winter. Looks stunning near a golden spruce but I can see using this in several pots next year

Amistad salvia. Photo courtesy Sunset Western Plant Collection. Photo credit; Saxon Holt

Amistad salvia. Photo courtesy Sunset Western Plant Collection. Photo credit; Saxon Holt

Amistad is a remarkable shade of electric blue-purple. I’d love a dress in this color! In my garden this is filling a short term gap while I decide what I want to plant in fall to work with an existing Rose Glow barberry and golden Forever Goldie arborvitae.

I wasn’t sure what to do with Ember’s Wish when I received it as a trial plant. The color is rather unusual for me; a neon-coral. I added it to a pot of odds and ends in shades of orange, purple and yellow and it brings hummingbirds by the droves. They positively fight over it which provides endless entertainment!

Ember Wishes is planted at the back left of this pot; I'm planning on using it in the garden next summer

Ember’s Wish is planted at the back left of this pot; I’m planning on using it in the garden next summer near a purple smoke bush

What they all have in common;

  • Grow to 3′ x 3′
  • Drought tolerant (yes really)
  • Deer resistant (Hallelujah!)
  • Constantly flowering
  • A bit messy when they drop old flowers
  • An annual for me but hardy in zones 9-11
  • Loved by hummingbirds

Clever Cleome

Senorita Blanca cleome has white flowers suffused with lilac

Senorita Blanca cleome has white flowers suffused with lilac

I drew your attention to Senorita Blanca Cleome (spider flower) a few years ago and have since also grown Senorita Rosalita in my garden, both available through Proven Winners. Like the Salvias mentioned above, each plant will quickly bush out to fill a gap, and will undoubtedly win your endorsement for future years. These dwarf varieties are sterile so no worries about unwanted offspring, which if you’ve ever grown their cousins you’ll understand is a GOOD thing!

Senorita Rosalita looks incredible next to Love and Wishes Salvia – a perfect color echo and both look at home in everything from formal flower gardens to naturalistic planting schemes.

What they have in common;

  • Grow to 3′ tall and 2′ wide
  • Drought tolerant
  • Deer resistant
  • Do not self seed
  • Don’t have a funky smell!
  • Aren’t sticky like the species
  • Make great cut flowers

Grasses

Mexican feather grass lines one side of a narrow path. Design by Joanne and Lucien Guthrie

Mexican feather grass lines one side of a narrow path. Design by Joanne and Lucien Guthrie

When you don’t need flowers but you do need ‘oomph’, grasses might be the answer. Even a 4″ pot of Mexican feather grass can fill a decent sized spot and its easy movement in the slightest breeze makes it live large.

Do you need height, width or color? Choose your grass accordingly. They get bonus marks for flowering stalks which can triple their height.

For fuzz-factor  you can't beat fountain grasses (Pennisetum)

For fuzz-factor you can’t beat fountain grasses (Pennisetum)

My favorites include blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens) for width, any of the fountain grasses (Pennisetum species) for fuzziness, and Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima) as general quick, inexpensive filler.

What they have in common;

  • Drought tolerance
  • Deer resistance

Ferns

Autumn ferns display outstanding copper colors and are evergreen

Autumn ferns display outstanding copper colors and are evergreen

A lifesaver for the shade garden, there are many big fluffy ferns that will quickly disguise the most embarrassing gaps. Forget the little deer ferns; think more of the robust autumn ferns (Dryopteris erythrosora) and Alaskan ferns (Polystichum setiferum)  than can be purchased in 2g pots and larger. Let’s face it you don’t need three fronds, you need three FEET! Drop them where they need to go this year and transplant them to a permanent spot in fall if you have to. Right now consider them a band aid for the shade. Even the Boston fern – an indoor beauty for many of us, can be pressed into temporary summer service in this way.

Generally speaking

 

A group of coleus can quickly disguise gaps in the shade border

A group of coleus can quickly disguise gaps in the shade border

  • Think short term. If it doesn’t look big enough NOW it won’t be much better for next weeks party.
  • Think bushy. Small bottoms but big tops = lusciousness!
  • Unless you’re sure those flowers will keep on coming, foliage may be a better choice.
  • Annuals will grow faster than perennials or shrubs; that’s what they are bred for
  • Water new plants WELL – even drought tolerant ones, as they will have a degree of shock when being transplanted mid-summer
  • A boost of fertilizer or Moo-Poo tea is a good idea when you are expecting high performance on short notice.

If all else fails

Give your guests a glass of wine as they arrive. By the third glass they won’t see any ‘problems’ anyway. Works like a charm…..

And remember that designers have “terrible” gardens from time to time too. Relax. they’re only plants.

 

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Captivating Ideas from a Petite Garden

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I wrote a post recently for my other blog Fine Foliage (co-authored with Christina Salwitz) called The Ones That Got Away. You see Christina and I are on the final countdown for our new book with Timber Press (due out 9/2016) and scrambling to get as many mouth watering ideas photographed and written up as possible, but the reality is that not every garden we visit, or every picture from every garden will make it into the final text.

This post resulted from a visit a delightful garden filled to bursting with so many good ‘take home’ ideas. The garden itself was not large in size yet it was filled with an abundance of eye catching details that made every nook and cranny a veritable treasure hunt. You would think that having so many focal points and vignettes would make the garden seem busy but the homeowners eye for color kept things in check while never compromising the fun factor.

Re-thinking the lawn

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After yet another year of moss overtaking the lawn the decision was made to replace it with gravel. To provide a practical walking surface and as an invitation to explore, a series of large flagstones were added as an informal path leading to the right.

As this path curves away a teal container was added to create a focal point to one side, encouraging both eyes and feet to linger. This is the perfect color match for the blue-toned hostas in the adjacent shady border.

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Color play

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Orange has been used as a fun, bold accent color throughout the garden but it is in such small doses that it never seems overpowering. Against the weathered fence sits a re-purposed fountain, now planted with succulents and a tiny ceramic bird. Above this are a series of wooden boxes planted with orange Bonfire begonias which thrive in full sun or part shade. These fuchsia-like blooms are magnets for hummingbirds.

A trio of similarly planted boxes stand tall on metal pedestals to the left (see first two photos). This is a great way to add color to an area where tree roots make it impossible to plant yet a large container isn’t called for. Drip irrigation keeps everything watered.

Floral highlights

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While this garden has a strong framework of foliage it certainly has flowers too. The vignette above shows the start of the gravel pathway where a simple low water bowl has been added. The orange glass ball makes the initial color splash but also serves to direct attention to the Apricot Twist wallflowers behind it. The glaze of the bowl has shades of teal, navy, purple and cream so adding the scrambling Homestead Purple verbena at the borders edge and climbing double clematis to a trellis is an easy way to bring both contrast and connection.

Ingenuity

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And if you don’t have the right color pot? Spray paint it! This inexpensive metal container is now the perfect shade behind Orange Rocket barberry and Japanese forest grass.

But wait – there’s more!

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You’ll have to wait for our new book to see the vignettes we finally selected! We know you’ll love them and be inspired as we were by the use of color and fun plant combinations.

Thank you sweet Edith for the tour, for making me so welcome in your wonderful oasis – and for the wine that completed the evening.

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Naked in the Garden with Jamie Durie

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As I pushed open the door to the nail salon the phone rang. “Hi Karen? Jamie here. Jamie Durie.”

Realizing my much needed manicure was going to have to wait I hastily ducked back out and rushed to my car where I had a notepad and pen handy just in case this happened! I had been trying to set up a face to face interview with the legendary TV host, landscape designer and author Jamie Durie while he was in town but that wasn’t possible so I knew the best chance I had to pick his Australian horticultural brains was by phone.

First though I needed to see if his sense of humor was as genuine as it appeared on TV.

So when did you escape the penal colony?

After a brief pause he laughed out loud “2008. But I split my time between homes in Los Angeles and Australia.”

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At that point I could envision the twinkle in his eye and cheeky smile and knew we were going to get on just great.

I had decided to focus my questions around garden design as I love his HGTV program and accompanying book The Outdoor Room. That concept and format had been Jamie’s idea and proved so successful that it ran for five series. “I almost killed my crew though” he said. Despite that they are in fact all really good friends, gathering together just a couple of days ago to celebrate Jamie’s birthday.

“I wanted to do something I was passionate about – reconnecting people with Nature”. His new series Outback Nation on FYI Network continues that theme by helping families re-discover their gardens and each other.

As a designer I find his ideas, choice of materials and styles refreshingly different. So sit back and enjoy eavesdropping on our conversation as I asked questions with you in mind.

How do you suggest homeowners gather inspiration and ideas for their gardens?

Indoor colors and style will likely give you design cues to help you outdoors

Indoor colors and style will likely give you design cues to help you outdoors

“I tell them to look within. Within their homes that is. Grab your camera, stand in your lounge room and take pictures of everything you see. then open your wardrobe and do the same. You’ll quickly see what colors appeal to you most and get a sense of the style you have.

Pinterest boards and magazine clippings are also good for gathering ideas.

When I’m designing for a client I prefer not to see those ideas right away though. I find the best ideas come to me in the first 10-15 minutes on site; the raw material. After I’ve got the basic drawing done and am padding out the design – that’s when those clippings are helpful.”

How can homeowners create a garden that they experience rather than just look at?

Define the areas of your garden by the function you want them to fill. Photo courtesy Jamie Durie Design

Define the areas of your garden by the function you want them to fill.

“Create a functional analysis first. Plot the building within the property boundaries on graph paper then use simple bubbles to mark out the different areas of their wish list from utility space to play zones, edibles to dining.

This gorgeous outdoor dining area is accented by white Chinese lanterns, comfy bench seating, plenty of shade, a gorgeous stone walkway and a mid-rise flower bed filled with ornamental grasses. Design by Jamie Durie

This gorgeous outdoor dining area is accented by white Chinese lanterns, comfy bench seating, plenty of shade, a gorgeous stone walkway and a mid-rise flower bed filled with ornamental grasses. Design by Jamie Durie

Then use plants to compartmentalize the space and create a series of different rooms. This is always much more interesting than having one big open space. Think of each exterior room as you would an interior room with walls, windows, door, ceiling and floor then consider what plants can fill that function.

Good garden design should seduce you!”

What advice would you give a young couple with big dreams but a low budget?

Annuals and perennials are important and they give a lot of color but I recommend my clients set aside  half their budget for foundation plants; those key trees and shrubs that add character to the space, define boundaries and provide privacy.

Layers of plant material will provide privacy and seasonal interest

Layers of plant material will provide privacy and seasonal interest

Privacy is one of the most important things for us all. I’m not talking about a hedge necessarily but rather layers of trees and shrubs to create an amphitheater effect. I’d tell this young couple to spend their money so they can garden naked if they want to knowing they have complete privacy. Heck I often wander around the garden in my underwear!”

Be still my beating heart…… No photo to support that particular design tenet readers; sorry!

Tell us about your personal garden

It's a dogs life....the outdoor bedroom in Jami'es LA garden. Photo courtesy Jamie Durie Design

It’s a dogs life….the outdoor bedroom in Jamie’s LA garden.

“I’d probably describe it as ‘mid-century modern’. It’s a 1950’s home. However there isn’t a straight line in the garden anywhere! Funny  but after years of studying landscape design and architecture I didn’t want anything formal.

There’s the original 1952 pool that I’ve had renovated to include an infinity edge which is just beautiful. That’s important since it gets looked at 80% of the time and used just 20%. It’s like a giant water feature so it has to look good.

The pool is also a catchment system for all the water run-off for the entire property. So when it rains all the water flows into the pool that then runs through a UV filter. I don’t use any chemicals and basically swim in rain water, which is as good as it gets. It’s heated by solar power too.

Jamie's private garden in LA. Photo courtesy Jamie Durie Design

Jamie’s private garden in LA. Great casual hangout watching the chef!

Besides that I’ve basically turned my house inside out and have outdoor rooms for a bathroom with a cool tub I designed as part of my new furnishings line, a bedroom with two big daybeds for napping or reading a book, a dining room and great kitchen and prep area.”

What would you say to the homeowner who has been nervous to get started on a garden re-design?

Break ground! Just get something planted. Start with something easy like a tomato plant maybe and build your confidence but don’t lose any more time.”

Two hundred lucky ticket holders were able to join Jamie for his talk at Molbak’s Garden & Home the next day so we did finally have a chance to connect faces with accents. His presentation was entertaining, engaging and energizing in equal measure!

Wrangling a 10′ tall Japanese maple from the stage set he showed how the canopy could become the ceiling of an outdoor room or a carpet of fragrant creeping thyme could become a rug. Jamie suggested how a hedge of blueberries could replace  boxwood to provide food as well as a traditional ornamental role and he coincidentally did a great job of selling my book Fine Foliage as he stressed the importance of great foliage plants such as small leaved wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei)!

You can read  more about Jamie’s shows, blog, books and new furniture range on his website.

Note - I did eventually  get my manicure and pedicure!

Note – I did eventually get my manicure and pedicure!

 

Oh and the answer to your unspoken question? Yes he is pretty darned cute! 

Photo credits; www.jamiedurie.com  – apart from the last one!

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