Design Inspiration from Chihuly in Atlanta

Seemingly rising from the water is the botanical masterpiece Earth Goddess

Seemingly rising from the earth is the botanical sculpture ‘Earth Goddess’

I had the opportunity to visit the Atlanta Botanical Gardens last month while speaking at a symposium for the Garden Writer’s Association and was thrilled to discover that my visit coincided with an exhibit of Chihuly’s work. While  enthralled by the sheer scale and extravagance of his masterpieces I was also intrigued to seek out design lessons for homeowners with a more modest budget!

Glass as a Focal Point

Perhaps the most obvious use of glass art in any garden is to make a statement, to catch the eye and become a focal point. Often these focal points are on a primary axis or at an intersection of pathways.

This fountain was perfectly centered in a formal garden, commanding attention from every direction. Elegant without the glass. Exquisite with it.

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Intricately curled glass pieces in shades of aqua suggest bubbling water while the overall composition balances the shape  and scale of the stone base.

Do you already have a fountain or water feature in your garden? Could you enhance it by adding some  glass art?

Reminiscent of a dandelion clock, this piece captures the imagination as well as the eye

Reminiscent of a dandelion clock, this piece captures the imagination as well as the eye

Think about whether  you want to mimic the movement of water or suggest plants growing in or floating upon the surface.

'Fern Dell paintbrushes' add light, height and color to a shady pool within a fern grotto

‘Fern Dell Paintbrushes’ add light, height and color to a shady pool within a fern grotto

Using Glass Art to Enhance an Existing Focal Point

It may be hard to imagine a Chihuly piece playing second fiddle to anything but as the following images show, while the glass is in itself remarkable it can also be used in more of a supporting role.

Notice how these vertical glass elements draw the eye upwards to the evening Atlanta skyline  – visible when walking this path in a clockwise fashion. To my eye the skyline is the focal point, enhanced and framed by the glass.

Carefully framed vignettes such as these are pure genius

Carefully framed vignettes such as these are pure genius

Yet stroll the same path anti-clockwise and you will perhaps better appreciate these flickering flames of glass are being used to pierce the billowing meadow-inspired plantings, creating punctuation points. So in one direction these glass pieces are seen as enhancing a focal point (the skyline) and in the other direction they are creating a focal point themselves. Intriguing.

The same glass pieces but approached from a different direction

The same glass pieces but approached from a different direction

Can you get your glass art to multi-task in this way? What about placing the art at a turn in the path. Can you relate it to something unique when walking that path in opposite directions?

Back to glass art and water for a moment; the primary focal point below is the botanical sculpture (usually with water flowing from the Earth Goddess’ hand but we were here before regular opening so the pump had not been switched on).

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Yet the glass filled Fiori Boat and Niijima Floats bring this scene to life. They may not be the primary focal point but their inclusion suggests a magical story; “Once upon a time, in a time before time……..

Does this give you ideas? Floating glass balls on water is an inexpensive way to create a Chihuly moment but can you take  that a step further and create a vignette that tells a story?

Or this scene from the conservatory shows how a backdrop of glass rising from a carpet of soft ferns perfectly frames the reflecting pool (the primary focal point), while repeating the organic form of the tropical foliage.

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Color Echoes

One of the easiest way to start designing with glass art in your garden is to repeat the color of adjacent foliage and flowers.

Sol del Citron

Sol del Citron – bold and unexpected yet having a sense of place thanks to the repetition of the color yellow.

Framed by tiers of yellow blooms and yellow-variegated foliage this glass sunburst grabs your attention no matter which direction you approach it from, or at what time of day.

Lighting is everything

Lighting is everything

Add Lighting

Which brings us to the final design tip – add lighting to your glass art so you and your guests can continue to enjoy it in the evenings. Did you notice that several of these shots are taken at dusk. I loved my daytime visit so much that I went back again in the evening. Lighting adds dimension, enhancing reflections, intensifying color saturation, framing and highlighting.

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I’ll bring the wine…..

If you would like more ideas on using glass art in your garden you may enjoy these posts;

When Gardens and Glass Talk

Find Your Inner Artist

Art Imitating Life Imitating Art

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Shades of September

 

Whats' new this month?

Whats’ new this month?

It’s an odd time of year. Neither summer nor fall. Cooler but not cold. Perhaps chianti rather than sauvignon blanc but not-quite-ready-for-a-full-Bordeaux type of weather

I typically head into the garden to see what is new – newly blooming or in leaf – not newly going into decline! So what is there to get excited about in September? October and November will be redolent with autumnal shades: does September offer anything other than a weary landscape?

As I uploaded my images I was surprised to see how many shades of red there were; not the fiery fall colors that the smoke bushes and maples promise for the future, but chill-tipped foliage and flowers in shades of rose and ruby that suggested it was time to find my fleece jacket. Berries were also in abundance, from the glossy red honeysuckle that cedar wax wings prefer to viburnum, barberries and Red Beauty holly.

Enjoy a September stroll with me

Flowers Galore!

Many perennials and shrubs put on a second flush of flowers in fall while others are an autumnal highlight.

Pink Micro Chip butterfly bush

This Pink Micro Chip butterfly bush  is STILL pushing out blooms even as it leans on a winter daphne – instant floral arrangement

Many of the white paniculata hydrangeas age to pink – a great opportunity to play with plant combinations

Sometimes it isnt the actual flowers that have a pink hie but rather the sepals as with this Abelia x grandiflora

Sometimes it isn’t the actual flowers that have a pink hue but rather the sepals as with this Abelia x grandiflora

Berries, seed heads and more

From oversized to teeny-tiny, there are berries and seedheads throughout the garden already.

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Raspberry-like seed heads of the kousa dogwood tree –  Christmas in September??

Talking of the Holidays, this Red Beauty holly seems to be well ahead of the curve too!

Red Beauty holly with Tangelo barberry and Baby Blue boulevard cypress

Red Beauty holly with Tangelo barberry and Baby Blue boulevard cypress

Serotina honeysuckle, samaras on the Purple Ghost Japanese maple, tiny berries on a barberry

Left to right: Serotina honeysuckle, samaras on a Purple Ghost Japanese maple, tiny barberry berries

Foliage

A solitary leaf on the Fireglow Japanese maple offers a prelude

A solitary leaf on the Fireglow Japanese maple offers a prelude

While shades of red, orange and gold are expected on many trees and shrubs as autumn approaches, it is the unexpected multi-colored additions to foliage that I feel is a bonus to the September garden

Lime Glow barberry adds various shades of pink to its cream and green marbled leaves

Lime Glow barberry adds various shades of pink to its cream and green marbled leaves

I was surprised to see Mountain Fire andromeda still showing off mahogany colored new growth

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And then there are the tiny succulents on the green roof of this delightful bird feeder that are also turning color.

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What’s happening in your garden this month?

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Blanket Flower Beauty

THis stunning (unknown) variety of blanket flower was purchased as a plant. I'd love to find the seed for this!

This stunning Fanfare Blaze blanket flower was purchased as a plant. Love the fluted petals; I’d certainly like to find the seed for this!

Do you buy perennials or grow them from seed? My Mum was a remarkably thrifty – and patient gardener and grew many perennials such as delphiniums from seed. The first year they would get to be respectable sized plants but if they flowered it wasn’t a spectacular show. They would typically take three years to get to that chocolate box image of towering spires of lavender, pink and blue blooms. That was enough to put me off – three years seemed much too long to wait!

So when I was given seeds for the perennial blanket flower (Gaillardia) from international plant breeder Benary I was initially rather underwhelmed. Their saving grace was that these perennials are drought tolerant and deer resistant and the bold colors would work with my color scheme so I decided to give them a go. I started the seeds indoors under grow lights in February of this year and by early spring they were large enough to prick out into individual 4″ plants. (My Stumpdust dibber was the perfect tool for transplanting).

Dibbers make easy work of seed sowing. Ours are made from salvaged wood

Dibbers make easy work of seed sowing. The ones from Stumpdust are individually hand crafted made from salvaged wood

I really wasn’t expecting them to do much this year so used the sturdy 4″ plants to edge a raised bed of basil in my vegetable garden, planting both out at the beginning of June.

The 4" transplants quickly grew to large flowering sized plants in 10 weeks

The 4″ transplants quickly grew to large flowering sized plants in 10 weeks

Wow did they GROW! Each plant quickly formed a compact mound at least 12″ wide  and bloomed in such profusion that they became a colorful highlight in the garden just six months after starting them from seed. In fact the plants are so big I may be able to divide them next spring.

Arizona Sun is perhaps the best known variety

Arizona Sun is perhaps the best known variety

The two varieties I grew were the popular Arizona Sun with its distinctive rays of red and yellow petals and the softer Arizona Apricot; golden yellow petals deepening to warm apricot at the center.

Apricot Sun - for those that prefer their blanket flowers without red

Arizona Apricot – for those that prefer their blanket flowers without red

There are lots of other colorful varieties and seed is readily available from many vendors including  Swallowtail Garden Seeds, Burpee, Park Seed

If you prefer to grow the native blanketflowers looks for common blanket flower (Gaillardia aristata) which is a perennial that attracts native bees as well as butterflies. You can buy that wildflower seed here. Alternatively the annual, native Indian blanket (Gaillardia pulchella) may self-seed in ideal conditions. Available here

Design Ideas

Use in a drought tolerant border with lavender, sage and succulents. Perfect either in your landscape or even for a parking strip

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Parking strip planting – Portland, OR

Use in containers – they bloom for months without a break! Although I did deadhead spent blooms during the peak summer period, the seed heads themselves are attractive. These newer varieties lend themselves well to mixed containers, being more compact thus ‘hiding’ the foliage with flowers.

Celebration is a vibrant shade or orange-red that looks stunning with this variegted mirror plant (Coprosma repens) and a golden elderberry (Sambucus 'Lemony Lace')

Celebration is a vibrant shade of orange-red that looks stunning with this variegated mirror plant (Coprosma repens) and a golden elderberry (Sambucus ‘Lemony Lace’)

Cultural Conditions

  • Hardy in zones 3-8
  • Full sun
  • Water; average-low. Drought tolerant once established
  • Soil; well drained soil is essential. Sandy or average loam is ideal. Avoid non-amended clay.
  • Deer resistant (and said to be rabbit resistant – I’ll let you know!!)
I'm watching you......

I’m watching you……

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More New Plants: More New Favorites!

Color, texture, form, movement, interaction with light - all are assessed when growing new plants

Color, texture, form, movement as well as interaction with light, deer, rabbits and overall health – all are assessed when trialing plants

Between testing plants for growers and having the opportunity to grow new introductions in my landscape or containers for photo shoots I consider myself incredibly fortunate. The sense of anticipation never gets old; I am always excited to see what might work well in my deer resistant, drought tolerant garden or what may be the perfect addition to a plant palette for my landscape design clients.

I also take the opportunity to report back to the nurseries and growers that have sent the samples, reporting on hardiness, any disease issues, growth habit etc – even if they don’t specifically ask me to. It’s one way I can help YOU get better information. For example Proven Winners has recently updated several listings after our discussions – kudos to them.

Photographer Laurie Black shooting for a future article in Country Gardens magazine

Photographer Laurie Black shooting for a future article in Country Gardens magazine. Only GREAT plants make it into these designs!

The other way I try to help home gardeners is by writing blog posts on what I consider to be the best of the best. I recently wrote a post on my Fine Foliage blog (co-authored with Christina Salwitz) New Introductions – New Favorites, that you will definitely want to check out. It focuses on plants that have exceptional foliage and includes stunning flowering shrubs, groundcovers and perennials. I also shared my excitement previously over the new crapemyrtles from Baileys Nurseries. They have grown really well in my garden this summer so now the test will be our winter weather.

In this post I will focus on new introductions that are specifically grown for their flowers.

Bright Lights Yellow African Daisy (Osteospermum)

New for 2017: Bright Lights Yellow Osteospermum from Proven Winners

New for 2017: Bright Lights Yellow Osteospermum from Proven Winners

Vivid golden-yellow daisies all summer, Bright Lights Yellow African Daisy from Proven Winners performed better than expected for me this year. In the past I have found African daisies to be  hit and miss with their floral display but with a rapid succession of blooms this was never without color. As with all African daisies these open fully in the sun, so not ideal for an evening patio pot but fabulous otherwise. Look for this new variety in 2017

Design Ideas

I mixed these with deep purple heliotrope, red-tinged grasses and blue-green foliage in my summer containers.  Milder climates with well drained soil would be able to enjoy these in the landscape I’m sure. (I know my late Mum had several large bushes that she seemed to overwinter with ease in her English maritime climate)

Cultural information

  • Short and compact at 8-12″ tall, spreading to 12″
  • Full sun best (very heat tolerant) but part sun OK also
  • Hardy in zones USDA 9-11, annual elsewhere
  • Needs well drained soil – do not overwater

 

Maroon Swoon Weigela (Weigela ‘Maroon Swoon’)

Maroon Swoon weigela from Baileys Nurseries

Maroon Swoon weigela from Van Belle Nurseries

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this Maroon Swoon weigela, one of the new Bloomin’ Easy shrubs from Van Belle Nurseries. I usually grow varieties with dark or variegated foliage and clearly this is just green. But it’s a very healthy green and the shrub itself grew quickly from a compact 2g size to a robust 5g size in my garden with minimal care. In fact it is rather squished and voles play perilously close by yet as I type this post it has a remarkable second display of blooms.

Here is the main reason for growing this variety. Maroon Swoon has deep velvety-red flowers with distinct pure white anthers and stigma giving it a polka-dot effect – quite striking and unlike any I have seen before. It really stands out in the garden and is associating well with a smorgasbord of  shrubs, perennials and annuals.

Design Ideas

Play off the white detail of the blooms by growing it near silvery-white foliage or flowers e.g. the tall annual flowering tobacco plant (Nicotiana sylvestris) or a tall green/white variegated grass such as variegated silver grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Variegata’).

Or for greater contrast the Lemony Lace elderberry would be beautiful, as the new growth has rosy hues to echo the weigela flowers while the finely dissected lemon-colored foliage would add interest to the weigela shrub even when not in bloom

Cultural information

  • Grows 4-5’h x 2-3′ w according to the grower but mine is already at least 3′ wide so I suspect this may vary with light conditions
  • Happy in full sun or part sun
  • Hardy in USDA zones 4-8
  • Like all weigela this is fairly drought tolerant once established
  • Deer resistant in most gardens……you know how that goes….

Double Play Painted Lady Spirea (Spiraea japonica  Double Play Painted Lady)

Proven Winners does it again with another stellar spirea introduction, one of their Double Play series that will be available in 2017. These shrubs are reliably hardy, drought tolerant once established and both rabbit and deer resistant. What this variety brings that is NEW is an exciting variegated leaf. Each leaf seems to be marked differently giving it a painterly effect with splashes and stripes of yellow and cream on green. That also seems to be helping avoid the rather muddy look all-golden leaved varieties can have by late season; Painted Lady still looks fresh and fun.

The blooms are also a refreshing vivid pink  – welcome after the more typical softer shades of pink spirea that can look washed out in late summer

Design Ideas

Try pairing this with deep purple foliage such as the new Twilight Magic crapemyrtle from Bailey’s Nurseries, one of their First Editions. If you live in an area where this small tree will bloom you will love the echo of the flower color between this and the spirea.

At its base you might try a sweep of the equally drought tolerant ice plant; I recommend Delosperma Jewel of the Desert Opal from Concept Plants. WOW! Your neighbors may start wearing sunglasses.

Delosperma x Jewel of the Desert 'Opal'

Delosperma x Jewel of the Desert Opal

Cultural information (for the spirea)

  • Grows to 3′ tall and wide
  • Full-part sun
  • Hardy to USDA 4-8
  • Drought tolerant once established

Coming Up

Also watch out for a future post on some of the new hibiscus I have been testing including a unique columnar variety. These are so abuse-proof it’s embarrassing. Ridiculously drought tolerant (I forgot about them) and ignored by deer. They deserve decent photographs and the lighting isn’t cooperating today.

Many shrubs need testing for at least two years before I have a sense of its true potential. That is especially the case with hydrangeas but also for anything I receive in a gallon size or smaller. By the time I can offer a review they may have been on the market for a while but I hope you still feel there is value in hearing how something performs in real gardening conditions rather than with an army of horticulturalists hovering and ready to pamper to every whim! If so then you can also look forward to hearing how the Aphrodite sweetshrub  performs. I received it as a tiny cutting but already it is several feet high yet has received no supplemental water or care. The foliage is healthy and I’m looking forward to seeing the blood-red blooms next spring. It is also on the main deer-freeway but hasn’t even been taste-tested. Yet.

I’m also assessing Sparkling Sangria fringe flower  and two varieties of Distlylium; Cinnamon Girl and Linebacker grown by Baileys Nurseries, for hardiness and performance in my amended clay soils in zone 6b/7.

So stay tuned and share the journey with me!

Disclaimer

I have not been paid, coerced or bribed with wine to write any of these plant reviews. They are my own opinions, observations and reflections. I share them because I love to share my passion for plants and good design with you.

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Re-thinking the Patio

I beleive in deigning gardens that are experienced, not just observed.

I believe in designing gardens that are experienced, not just observed.

When we purchased our 1960’s era home in 2009 it had the original concrete aggregate patio outside the back door – right outside. Now that wouldn’t seem to be a problem until I point out that this patio left us pressed up against the house and unable to see any of our 5 acre garden. It felt like a back yard in the worst way – somewhere to hang the washing out perhaps but definitely not where we wanted to sit. It didn’t help that there was a fenced vegetable garden hemming us in on one side either.

BEFORE: realtors photo suggests a large space but that is more about photography tricks than reality

BEFORE: this realtors photo suggests a large space but that is more a result of  staging and photography tricks.  Access to the barn was also blocked by the original veggie garden

Oddly enough there was a small cabin just beyond this patio – again a strange placement but we found ourselves gravitating towards it simply so we could sit on the porch steps. In one of those Oprah-style ‘Aha!” moments we realized that this was where the patio should be. From this vantage point we could see into the garden yet were still only steps away from the back door. It was a destination, not a default.

BEFORE; the cabin had potential; just not there!

BEFORE; the cabin had potential; just not there! Realtor’s photo

Over the next 6 years the cabin got moved, the new vegetable garden constructed and new garden borders established. We even hosted our daughters wedding in the garden – but still the old patio remained, by this point badly broken, a tripping hazard and a source of embarrassment whenever we had guests or clients visit. I had drawn the design but it had never got to the top of the priority or budget list.

The Design

CHAPMAN PATIO 2016

The aim was to put the dining table where the cabin steps had been since that had proven to be the ‘sweet spot‘. We connected it to the new French doors by a wide path created by a series of offset rectangles, keeping a smaller paved area closest to the house for year round grilling. That area is shaded by the house in the peak of summer so has also become a great spot for a small bistro set for those days when we want to be outside but need shade beyond what the umbrella can afford; or want to chat to the chef!

AFTER

AFTER: A multi-zoned patio accessed by a wide path that is truly a destination.

While there are usually just two of us at home we also need to be able to comfortably accommodate larger gatherings. The large semi-circular raised bed has a capped wall at sitting height so even if we run out of chairs there is still seating available.

The dining and fire pit areas are separated by a smaller raised bed that I may re-design seasonally but want to keep the ultimate plant height to less than 3′. This year I have used Phenomenal lavender and purple fountain grass (Pennisetum s. ‘Rubrum’) in the middle and edged it with white and purple alyssum. This combination is deer resistant, fragrant, drought tolerant, moves in the breeze and creates a lovely scrim effect; filtering the view slightly but not blocking it.

Sight lines – or axes are extremely important in design and this was no exception.

Centering the patio on the arbor was a key design decision

Centering the patio on the arbor was a key design decision. The capped wall is at a comfortable sitting height and there is plenty of room to move chairs around. The cabin still forms an important role as a focal point in the border.

Notice how the patio is centered on the arbor. When sitting around the fire pit we feel as though we are truly in the garden and being beckoned into that border; love it. We also have views into the more distant corners of the garden beyond the cabin.

Since we designed a semicircular end to the patio we chose a circular fire pit

Since we designed a semicircular end to the patio we chose a circular fire pit. (The grass is still growing in…….). A darker paver has been used as a border further defining the shape.

We took the vertical arc motif from the arbor and used it in the horizontal plane to create the semicircular fire pit patio. I did some research on patio furniture dimensions to help us size this space correctly.

We were then offered the most incredible gift; the good folks at Berg’s Landscaping said they would build it for us. Together landscape architect John Silvernale and I did some fine-tuning to the design and while I was in England last fall taking care of my Mum they transformed our eyesore into a ‘grown up patio’!! I was even able to show Mum photos that they sent  on my iPad before she passed away and she was as excited as I was to see the magic unfold. I am so grateful that I could share that with her.

Final Details

This view shows the steel wall; still only partially weathered. the feathery foliage in the foreground is Arkansas blue star; the same plant used to fill the large raised bed

This view shows the steel wall; still only partially weathered. The feathery foliage in the foreground is Arkansas blue star; the same plant used to fill the large raised bed. The new French doors and side window allow us to appreciate the garden even from indoors

Earlier this year we added an arced steel wall behind the raised bed to create an ‘infinity edge’. It took some adjusting to get the walls to line up correctly but we are very happy with the result. The steel will rust over a few years; faster if I treat it with acid. I liked the idea of mixing materials in the space.

Planting

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The vegetable garden is only steps away; perfect for gathering berries for desert but also a magnet for hummingbirds

We took the color cues from the main border seen from this area; warm sunset shades offset by blue-green. The two small geometric planting beds between the home and the patio will become a tapestry of colorful textures, framing a container in one bed and a Red Dragon corkscrew hazel in the other. Everything has to be drought tolerant, rabbit resistant and deer resistant although deer rarely come this close to the house so I have risked a few hardy succulents. The rabbits chomped on the delosperma and Ann Folkard hardy geraniums but a spritz with Liquid Fence repellent seems to have helped.

Fall color of Arkansas blue star

Fall color of Arkansas blue star – imagine this framed by the rusted steel wall.

The large semi-circular raised bed is mass planted with Arkansas blue star (Amsonia hubrichtii). This took enormous restraint on my part! The idea is to create a transitional space between the more ornamental plantings closer to the house and the wilder meadow and forest beyond. It will take three years for this perennial to grow in but I know it will be glorious, especially in fall when it turns orange. Imagine the feathery orange foliage, framed by the rusted steel wall…… When I cut it back in winter we will still have an unobstructed view of our clump of river birch so we can enjoy the peeling bark of those trees. For spring interest I will add 200-300 daffodils around the outer edges of the border. I can easily reach in to cut back the foliage as it finishes, the stubs being hidden by the emerging blue star. That’s the plan – we’ll see how the execution goes!

Furniture

We feel so blessed. Mum would have loved everything about this

We feel so blessed. Mum would have loved everything about this. Blue was her favorite color too.

We have had the teak dining furniture for 15 years and it is still going strong. The sectional all weather wicker furniture and propane fire table are new additions. We selected the Sunbrella cushions and accent pillows to work with the color of the flowers, foliage and pots – no beige for me!! Adding a few small accents to the table top helped pull those colors over to the dining area too.

We did consider a pergola type structure for shade but were concerned it would obstruct our view so settled for a cantilever umbrella. This tilts and swings to give us shade for most of the day and unlike conventional in-table umbrellas doesn’t block conversation when closed!

To sum up

We LOVE it all! From the final design, to the size of the spaces, the quality of the materials/workmanship and the colors; it’s like being on vacation in our own garden. We use every space and wherever we sit we have a different view. We are still close to the house yet don’t feel suffocated by it. Unexpected guests are easy to accommodate at the table or around the fire pit (which has a surround perfectly suited to hold wine glasses). This is outdoor living at its best.

Is it time to re-think your patio?

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