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The Smile Factor

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Our newest family members

Whether you consider your personal garden style to be elegant, romantic, contemporary or traditional there is always room for a little whimsy – a special garden moment to make you smile. It doesn’t have to be large or extravagant and in fact some of the best are those that are discovered while strolling through the garden rather than something that screams ‘look at me’ from your living room!

Here are a few ideas from my own garden as well as several I have visited.

Highlight unique forms

A weathered bird house tucked into the gnarly remains of an old maple tree

A weathered bird house tucked into the gnarly remains of an old maple tree

This big leaf maple tree had been a focal point in the garden border: originally a towering, bleached silhouette it is now just a snag after a recent windstorm brought down the last branch with a ker-THUMP! Yet I still find this a fascinating sculptural element – just look at all the contorted growth on the trunk. To encourage other garden visitors to slow down and appreciate this I tucked a weathered birdhouse into the snag; he looks as surprised as our guests upon being discovered!

Bringing life back to a dead shrub

Bringing life back to a dead rhododendron shrub

This large rhododendron died many years ago yet its skeletal form is still beautiful. The previous owner had painted it silver but that makeover has long since faded and tufts of lichen now dress up the coral-like structure. This shrub framework seemed like a lovely spot to hang my charming bird feeder with its succulent roof. A thoughtful friend gave this to me at Christmas and I had been looking for the somewhere to showcase it effectively. We see this every day through our kitchen window where it adds an unexpected splash of color to an otherwise drab spot in the garden. Looks like I need to fill it up again….

Child’s Play

Created by Katie Pond

Created by Katie Pond – when she was still Katie Chapman

Lovingly nicknamed ‘Charles’ after a certain Royal personage, this creature was crafted in a high school art class by my daughter  many years ago. Showing signs of wear and tear, this only adds to the humor; I mean how good would you look after scrambling out of a rotted tree stump?

STOP!

STOP!

Spied on a recent garden tour in Pasadena this wonderful dinosaur is doing his best to get your attention! Whether warning against the step or the prickly plant I’m not sure but he did make me stop to take his photograph.

Cact - cus by Debra Lee Baldiwn made me giggle

Cact – cus by Debra Lee Baldwin made me giggle

Of course we’re all children at heart aren’t we? Debra Lee Baldwin may be a few years out of kindergarten but that didn’t stop her adding wonderful googly eyes to this cactus creation in her San Diego garden.

Hidden in Plain View

A brick pathway to read while you walk

A brick pathway to read while you walk

Have you noticed how many bricks have names embossed on them? Love these ideas

Perfect post-topper

Perfect post-topper

Likewise paving stones can be an opportunity to add some personality – or family history

a celebration path

A celebration path

 

Add Interest to Bare Walls

Cluster small pieces together for greater impact

Cluster small pieces together for greater impact

Whimsical terracotta faces on a stucco wall will soon be surrounded by this clinging vine –  a fun discovery as I strolled along this shaded path and such a variety of expressions

Look up!

An easy project

An easy project

Hanging from a cedar branch one would not expect to see shards of cobalt blue glass wrapped in copper wire – yet their casual placement was perfect in its simplicity.

Unintentional humor?

Hmm

Hmm. Armed by whom or by what?

Strange the things that catch your eye – and make you laugh. Great placement either way!

Does your garden make you giggle?

Three Blind Mice by ee-i-ee-i-o

Three Blind Mice by ee-i-ee-i-o

 

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Taming the Front Garden

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The existing landscaping suggested a neglected home; a far cry from the truth!

Eek!

Where would you start? Pruning the overgrown rhododendrons and camellias? Removing towering, diseased conifers? Hauling away a pampas grass the size of a Volkswagen?

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Overgrown bushes and weeds did nothing to enhance curb appeal

Well maybe, but the biggest problem was actually the driveway, assuming you drove a vehicle larger than a Mini cooper.

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The edge of the driveway was crumbling

Besides some areas that were crumbling away, it was extremely difficult if not impossible to navigate the existing U-shaped driveway without at least a three point turn and reversing back out of the garage was equally challenging so that was actually where my design had to begin – with improved vehicular access and parking.

Good design has to go hand in hand with function so I always begin by assessing the inherent challenges and figuring out how to solve them, as much as I may already be dreaming about which trees to add!

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Ivy and cotoneaster ran rampant towards the street

The second problem was privacy. There needed to be a buffer from the street, a separation of private and public spaces within the property and some screening from neighbors without appearing to be un-neighborly! Fences would solve part of the problem but they needed to look fabulous and not turn this large front garden into a fortress.

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Three tall conifers were far too close to the driveway for safe driving.

Finally the overgrown landscape clearly needed to be addressed, saving what I could but not being afraid to remove several large conifers that were too close to the driveway, as well as the aforementioned unruly pampas grass and a thicket of ivy and cotoneaster.

The Design Criteria

I always work with the clients to determine their preferred design style, even while taking some cues from the contemporary architecture of this newly remodeled home. In this case I was asked to create a relatively ‘naturalistic’ planting style with a focus on foliage and texture over flowers (my sort of garden!) Note that naturalistic does not have to mean using only native plants. Rather the request here was to have something that had some Pacific Northwest flair with conifers, maples and boulders but to broaden the plant palette without it appearing overdone. Although one of the homeowners is a keen gardener it was important that this front garden was lower maintenance so that gardening time was primarily focused in the private rear garden areas (I’ll show you that before/after another time). It also needs to be drought tolerant although we have installed a drip irrigation system to help establish the new plantings for the first couple of years.

This garden won’t be used for entertainment or even as a casual seating area for the homeowners. It is simply the front entrance to the home, a foliage picture frame of sorts, so my aim was to have it tidy but also show an artistic flair (the interior of the home is beautiful and one of the homeowners is a fiber artist). It needed to say ‘Welcome’ and set the tone for what would be revealed. This wasn’t the place for a meandering  path through the beds or a semi-secluded bench for example.

The Plan – on Paper

front garden landscape re-design

The driveway was repaired and expanded by 10′ at the turnaround to allow better access and a dedicated parking area was established near the home’s entrance. You can see where the original brick and gravel driveway edge was on the plan. There is additional parking to the west of the home behind a new wide gate. However budget did not allow for a concrete pour so for now these additional areas are compacted gravel.

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We reclaimed about 10′ of driveway to improve access. Compacted gravel was a budget friendly solution for now. On the far side of the driveway layers of trees and shrubs will soon screen the neighbors

A low wall and contemporary styled fencing (the fence and gate were designed by the homeowners and their general contractor) addressed many of the privacy issues. Rather than create a barricade between this home and the neighbor, the fence transitioned to a deep border of layered evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs that will quickly fill in.

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A custom fence and gate greatly enhanced the visual appeal while affording some privacy. This pullout provided parking for guests too.

Tall vertical grasses were added to create a buffer at the roadside; or at least they will be tall and vertical next year!

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With the house number now lit and a simple planting of grasses replacing the straggly shrubs, the entrance to the home looks much cleaner. These grasses will grow 5′ tall next year, yet retain a degree of transparency

These Karl Foerster feather reed grasses (Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster) will grow to 5′ tall and over 2’ wide, their tan plumes lasting well into winter even if it snows. I had originally planned a double row but we reduced this to a single row as the homeowners were concerned about visibility when pulling out of their driveway. Good call!

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The bark of river birch peels away even at a young age to reveal shades of creamy tan and white

One of my favorite features is an allee of river birch (Betula nigra ‘Heritage’) that marks the main  entrance, the trees zigzagging down the driveway. With their attractive peeling bark and soft green leaves that turn to gold in fall these will be a year round highlight.

‘After’  – the Winter Version

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Looking from the pull-out parking area towards the street. Note the five river birch on alternating sides of the driveway. We’ll add a few more grasses in the foreground until the cedars grow in.

 

I always hesitate to show ‘after’ photos when the design has been installed in winter because it looks a mere shadow of what I know is to come. Yet this is the reality and probably something that is helpful for you to see. The plants are all well spaced to allow for growth although we will be adding a few more grasses as temporary fillers.

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With the driveway repaired and fresh landscaping this home now looks loved and lived in! Notice how the new fence and gate separates the private entrance to the home

I draw the design for suggested ten year growth so there will always be ‘gaps’. These can be filled with annuals or inexpensive perennials and grasses when homeowners want a fuller look straight away without compromising the overall design or heath of maturing trees and shrubs.

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This Niagara Falls pine will grow to become a key feature on this corner with the finely dissected burgundy foliage of a maple and bold QuickFire hydrangea in the background

Even in winter you can see there is a good framework of evergreen foliage with the existing Rhododendron and camellia, the new Niagara Falls pine (Pinus strobus ‘Niagara Falls’)and Excelsa cedars (Thuja plicata ‘Excelsa’) to the bold David viburnum (Viburnum davidii), variegated Lemon Beauty box honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida ‘Lemon Beauty’) and blue oat grasses (Helictotrichon sempervirens).

To help you visualize the garden as it will mature here are all the plants;

Shades of Green and Gold

green shades

Clockwise from top left; Golden Spirit smoke bush, Excelsa cedar, Lemon Beauty box honeysuckle, David viburnum, Double Play Gold spirea, Niagara Falls pine

Accents of Burgundy, Blue and Copper

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Clockwise from top left; spring foliage of Double Play Gold spirea, weeping Japanese maple (salvaged from existing landscape), blue oat grass, fall foliage of Snow Queen oak leaf hydrangea (latter photo credit; Monrovia)

Not shown is the Katsura Japanese maple which opens in ‘sunset’ shades before maturing to green and turning fiery orange and gold in fall.

Seasonal Flowers

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Clockwise from top left; Snow Queen hydrangea (photo credit; Monrovia), Jelena witch hazel (photo credit; Le jardinet), QuickFire hydrangea (photo credit; Proven Winners), Summer Wine ninebark, substituted for Coppertina due to availability (photo credit: Monrovia).

Also offering blooms but not photographed is the David viburnum, existing rhododendron and existing camellia.

So within this naturalistic planting their is an underlying attention to the details of color and texture. No one plant screams “Look at ME!” yet there is a horticultural fugue being played as first one section of the plant palette is highlighted, the theme then being taken up by a second group and then a third.

Finishing Touches

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This corner serves as a run off for rainwater so the river rocks are part of that drainage system as well as tying in visually to the boulders

Acting as anchors throughout the borders are boulders of varying sizes. These help keep vehicles where they should be but also create planting pockets for specimens such as the weeping pine which will grow to around 6-8′ wide and drape gracefully over the stone.

Lighting has been added which I have yet to see but the home owners tell me looks stunning! The river birch are all lit as well as the house sign and a golden spirit smoke bush which will grow to become a glorious splash of sunshine against the darker evergreens at the head of the driveway.

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Winter containers by the gate that leads to the homes private entrance

A cluster of containers by the side entrance marks the transition and says ‘welcome’. These were planted last summer and will be refreshed and trimmed in spring but really help to bring the garden right up to the gate, connecting visitors with the garden.

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Summer planting

Final Words

What do the homeowners think?

“We are surprised and delighted with how our new landscape has improved the street appeal and  resolved the challenging tight turn around. So nice to get rid of the unkempt woodsy look…

This was the final piece to our major home remodel project; it finally feels complete!”

Installed by the talented crew at Berg’s Landscaping

Is it time to rethink your front garden?

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When Less is More

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The Northwest Flower and Garden Show is always a highlight of the gardening year for me. Whether you are new to gardening or an experienced designer you will leave inspired, encouraged and ready for spring.

The display gardens take center stage, their styles ranging from whimsical to naturalistic but all find a way to connect to the annual theme which for this year was ROMANCE. Every garden offers an abundance of ideas yet there is always one designer who for me stands out from the crowd; Karen Stefonick of Karen Stefonick Designs.

The title of her 2015 design featured here is KNOTTY & NICE; Here’s to WE Time.

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Here’s what Karen said about her design;

“For a couple seeking to connect, play, relax and set time aside to be with each other—“we time”—this garden caters to both the masculine and feminine senses; calling in the energy of both.

The ‘Knotty’ reference to this part of the vignette is both the trees and plantings which are various forms of pine as well as large beams of pine wood used to create the structure. Meanwhile, the ‘Nice’ traits are displayed by the more feminine attributes of lyrical water, warm fire and cozy furnishings.

A protective pergola surrounded by large bold stones–complemented by a soothing water feature–is mirrored in a reflecting pond. The final touch is a cozy fireplace and cushy furniture that you can sink into.

The majority of plantings in this garden are evergreen so you have a very textural and abundant array of visual interest year round, not just in the spring and summer. After all, romance is for all seasons!”

Why it Works

To me there are three key features that make this design so attractive and functional;

1. Use of Negative Space 

It would have been so easy to add more plants or an extravagant fountain into the pool. Or maybe a few large planted containers on the patio and baskets hanging from the pergola. Yet the essence of this design is all about restraint. Leaving open the expanse of water and allowing the naked architecture of the vaulted pergola to be seen creates uncluttered ‘negative space’. This becomes a visual break allowing focus to be on the clean lines and contrasting textures of natural materials. For the homeowner this translates to a feeling of meditative peacefulness and tranquility rather than over-stimulation.

2. Restraint in Color and Plant Palettes

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A green and white monochromatic color scheme is always elegant but Karen’s design goes beyond elegant to timeless. She achieves this by focusing primarily on foliage. There are many evergreen trees and shrubs in this vignette with contorted pines playing an important role as they drape gracefully over boulders and fallen logs as well as gracing the pergola itself.

IMG_0743 White hellebores and cyclamen  add floral interest nestled among deer ferns and salal but the planting design is not centered around them.

3. Understanding scale

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This is one of the hardest design criteria to understand and why working with a professional can be so helpful. Notice how Karen balances the hefty timbers of the pergola with bold but clean lined  furniture. How the substantial fireplace anchors the back wall yet is not imposing. How the tall conifers and specimen paper bark maple (seen in the top photo) balance the height of the structure. Every detail  feels ‘right’.

The final details

A subtle secondary water feature

A subtle  water feature adds sound and movement

In truth one could teach a full landscape design class from this garden so trying to sum it up in a few paragraphs is challenging but these are some of the other features I see as hallmarks of Karen’s work

1. Combining textures; soft pine needles brushing against rough, weathered stone. The peeling bark of the paperbark maple set against the smooth planed wood of the pergola. A swathe of round river rocks cutting through square pavers

2. Repetition; the furniture, mantel and chandelier all speak to the same design aesthetic as the pergola itself. Clusters of fat white candles have been used throughout the space for romantic lighting (Lanterns might have introduced a new and unnecessary design element)

3. The unexpected; a trickle of water from the pergola roof drips into a swale of river rocks, the droplets merging and slowly making their way across the patio and into the pool.

Karen is an exceptional designer and is no stranger to awards at the show. This year she once again received a gold medal as well as receiving the Sunset Western Living Award and the 425 Magazine Editors’ Choice Award.

Congratulations also go to colleagues Steve Spear of Complete Landscape Inc for the installation and Bill Ellsbury of Moon Shadows Landscape Lighting.

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Peace in the Garden

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As the Christmas decorations get put away for another year the house can seem a little bare. We’ve got used to the shiny glass baubles, the festive mantle and those special ornaments that we look forward to displaying each holiday. After a few days, however, I find myself enjoying the less flamboyant decor, the quieter colors and the uncluttered surfaces.

The winter garden is just like that. From spring until fall there is a kaleidoscope of colors that jostle and weave with containers, fountains and garden art. I love it. But as I went into the garden this morning the frosty scene reminded me that winter has its own quiet beauty. A friend recently commented that a winter photograph I had shown her looked as though it had been taken in black and white. In fact it hadn’t but stripped even of verdant greens the landscape was a mix of frosty white and the sepia tones of aged grasses.

Our little cabin shown above is tucked into a border  of rich sunset tones that warm the garden from spring until autumn; golden Coreopsis daisies, copper spirea and red-tipped grasses mingle with salmon Exbury azaleas and black eyed Susan’s. Yet even in winter the color palette is hinted at as the warm cedar shingles echo the cinnamon bark of our young paperbark maple (Acer griseum) adding contrast to the conifers. IMG_9751

Perhaps what I enjoy most about our winter garden are the shadows and silhouettes. From the low growing barberries to the tall golden locust trees, their bare branches have become ghostly silhouettes that sparkle in the watery sunshine. The layers of trees and shrubs are still clearly defined as are their unique shapes. Large boulders and our triple arbor also play an important role in the winter garden, adding visual interest beyond the plant life.

March will bring daffodils and April will see the emergence of the garden at large. But for now I’m going to enjoy the quieter moments.

May 2015 bring you peace in your garden, your home and your heart.

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Winter Adventure for Children of all Ages

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I had the privilege of presenting a workshop at  The Morton Arboretum  recently while I was speaking in the Chicago area. I could see straight away that this was somewhere special; 1700 acres of stately trees and gardens including lakes and natural areas. The casual (cold) visitor might just head straight for the coffee shop (great food) or could be forgiven for being tempted to browse in the gift store (especially since it sells my book Fine Foliage) but I think the children had the best idea – bundle up and head outside to PLAY!

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Children want to explore and experience life not just observe it from a distance and this arboretum has the best Children’s Garden I have ever seen and encourages them to do just that. The award winning four acre garden combines learning and play with plenty of sturdy nature-inspired things to climb up, over and through for the super-energetic (that would have appealed to our son) but also wonderful boards and illustrations about leaves and roots (definitely more our daughters style who insisted on reading EVERY sign in the museums….)

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Great use of pathways and playground equipment to show children different leaf shapes and how they attach to a branch

Chicago has been buried under an apocalyptic amount of snow this year so you might wonder what there could possible be in the garden. I can assure you that there was plenty to see, touch, smell and listen to. I loved watching children squeal with delight as they stroked the velvety pussy willows, discovered the spicy scent of  a witch hazel, listened to the rustling oak leaves still clinging tenaciously to the branches. Even the seed pods of the silverbell tree (Halesia tetraptera) tinkled like tiny bells and frozen grasses waved stiffly in the breeze on this cold winters day – and it was all beautiful.

Left to right from the top; beech nut, London plane tree, white oak, pussy willow, silverbell seeds,

Left to right from the top; beech nut, London plane tree, white oak, pussy willow, silverbell seeds,

Then there was the huge European beech tree with its bark that looks just like an elephants skin and branches that dipped down to the ground as well as a magnificent weeping willow – eye catching even without its leaves.

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Several people told me that they wished I could see this garden in summer in all its splendor. I replied that it’s easy to create an exciting summer garden – this takes far more skill and attention to detail. In fact I have barely touched on all the fun elements this contains.

If you live nearby, take time to visit this wonderful garden – even in winter – even without children. You’re never too old to play a game of discovery. You can always thaw out later with a hot cup of soup -or two.

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My special thanks to the wonderful staff at the Arboretum who took such good care of me; from those in the education department who helped me coordinate my workshop to the ladies in the office who kindly babysat my luggage while I took these photographs before flying home.

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