path

Pathway Transitions: Designer Details

Every garden needs pathways for navigation. Whether it is a means to get from the driveway to the front door, a short stretch from the back door to the garbage cans or a meandering trek through an abundantly planted border, each pathway has a distinctive role. That role in turn determines the paths width and the material it is likely to be made from: frequently traveled routes being wider and offering a reliably firm footing while a narrow woodland path may be just a 2-foot wide strip of mulch.

What fascinates me as a designer is the place at which paths intersect, change direction or change in function: what we refer to as transitions, which in turn become exciting design opportunities.

A Transition to a More Intimate Space

A visit to the Japanese Garden in Portland last week offered several wonderful examples of how to execute such transitions.

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A transition created by an archway, beyond which the path becomes narrower and more intricate – Portland Japanese Garden

In the photo above, a simple archway invites the visitor to linger briefly under its protective roof. Underfoot the previously linear footpath (in the foreground) becomes a mosaic of both the rectilinear slabs  and some newly introduced, random flagstone. Beyond this stone carpet the pathway continues on the same axis but is now narrower and the incorporation of flagstone continues, creating a more intricate pattern. This suggests to the visitor that care must be taken, they are entering a more intimate space and that taking slower steps would be wise. Yet this transition is smooth. There is no jarring change of materials, rather the incorporation of just one additional element and a change in dimensions. Assisting in creating a sense of unity, a narrow border of black stones held in place by interlocking tiles flanks one side of each section. drawing the eye through the entire space.

This marvelous yet simple attention to detail creates a change in atmosphere and therefore the visitor’s experience.

Frierson residence, Atlanta, GA

Frierson residence, Atlanta, GA

The private garden shown above demonstrates the same principles but using different materials. Here the visitor is invited to leave the primary herringbone brick pathway and walk up two, transitional grassy steps into a much narrower space. The bricks in this smaller path are laid in a running bond pattern so while the material suggests continuity the design details are unique.

How can you use this idea in your own garden?

Can you widen the path into more of a carpet under an archway to make it a stronger transition? Or create a patio space within the path as in the example below:

The original flagstone path has been intersected by a grey cobble patio, the pattern and change of material emphasizing the new function in this transitional space. Read the full story here.

The original flagstone path has been intersected by a grey cobble patio, the pattern and change of material emphasizing the new function in this transitional space. Read the full story here.

Can you adjust the width of the path before/beyond a transition point?

A Transition at the Top of Steps

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A flagstone landing at the top of a flight of steps – Portland Japanese Garden

Landings at the top of a flight of steps offer an opportunity for creativity. This is a space where we adjust our stride and reach for the handrail as we head down, or stop to collect our breath when we reach the top! Either way, this is a location where we might pause for just a moment or two longer than usual. In the photo above, the designers switched from concrete paths edged with rectangular stone slabs to a flagstone motif on the landing.

How can you use this idea in your own garden?

What about installing a mosaic detail on a landing?

Conlon residence, Pasadena, CA

Conlon residence, Pasadena, CA

Dunn residence, Atlanta, GA

Dunn residence, Atlanta, GA

A perhaps a special tile?

Better Homes & Gardens test garden, Des Moines, IA

Better Homes & Gardens test garden, Des Moines, IA

Share your ideas in the comments below or on my Facebook page – I’d love to see what you do!

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Creative Combinations You’ll Love!

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The entry garden gives a hint of what is to come

It’s always exciting to visit somewhere new, and this past week I found myself in Des Moines, Iowa. The first few days were spent filming a series of videos on container gardening for Garden Gate magazine (more on that exciting news soon) but on my last day I had time to visit the Greater Des Moines Botanical Gardens – and I am so glad that I did.

Plantsman extraordinaire, Kelly Norris, was appointed as Director of Horticulture a few years ago and his vision, artistry and flamboyant approach to design is evident throughout. From the new entry garden that boasts sculptural trellises and ethereal clouds of annuals in shades of white, lavender and purple, transforming the rose garden to a delightful multi-sensory experience, to the savannah with its matrix planting of grasses and native wildflowers, this 7 acre wonderland is full of surprises, ideas and COLOR.

Billowing plantings frame a path and the distant skyline of Des Moines

Billowing plantings flank a path and frame the distant skyline of Des Moines

Although each area had its own color scheme, subtle repetition of a single plant or accent color provided a sense of connection rather than  abrupt conclusion. It was the enchanting color echoes and contrasts used in one particular border that really caught my eye, however, combining shades of peach, coral and pumpkin with lavender and lemon. The effect was both bold yet restrained since it avoided harsh contrasts. It felt romantic yet not overtly feminine. Youthful and flirtatious yet sophisticated and confident.

Here’s how to get the look.

Repetition of Plants

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The bold, variegated peach and chocolate variegated leaves of copperleaf (Acalypha wilkesiana ‘Tricolor’) and the lavender blooms of Senorita Rosalita spider flower (Cleome ‘Senorita Rosalita’) together with a froth of yellow and gold daisies establishes the color scheme for this border

Repetition of dramatic foliage and flowering plants creates a sense of rhythm and guides both feet and eyes down the path. Key plants need to be relied upon when playing such an important role, hence the value of foliage. However this Proven Winners spider flower can truly hold its own in heat and drought, and I have extolled the virtues of its white sister, Senorita Blanca before.

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The Proven Winners Senorita Rosalita spider flower is a five star annual.

This sterile, compact spider flower blooms non-stop, does not need dead-heading, can tolerate both typical garden watering as easily as drought, doesn’t have a funky smell or sticky stems (like regular spider flowers) and is both deer and rabbit resistant. I personally buy at least a dozen each year to use in my landscape but they work equally well in containers.

Repetition of Color

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Notice the color repetition – or color echoes.

In the foreground is a golden bluebeard (possibly Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Lil Miss Sunshine’), this color  repeated farther down the border by the foliage of Fireworks globe amaranthus (Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’). The bold coppery tones of copperleaf is echoed by a distant canna flower and a tropical cordyline, while the lavender spider flowers are echoed by several annual flowers and leaves.

Add something unexpected

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A pop of magenta wakes up the color scheme: pentas blooms and parrot leaf

The introduction of magenta enlivens the color scheme of this border. Both the foliage of parrot leaf (Alternanthera ficoidea) and several flowers are used to re-enforce this decision, the color enhancing the ruby tones within the copperleaf foliage.

Forest Pink globe amaranthus (Gomphrena haageana)

Forest Pink globe amaranthus (Gomphrena haageana ‘Forest Pink’)

Foliage Framework – the #1 ingredient

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A buffet of colorful flowers still needs to put Foliage First! (I do recall a certain book or two on that premise…)

At first glance this border is all about the flowers with the exception of the variegated copperleaf already discussed, yet look more closely.

Several blooming plants have been selected for their golden leaves and bold texture is primarily provided by several tropical foliage plants including Cabernet rubber plant (Ficus elastica ‘Cabernet’) and a pink-variegated cordyline (both of which are often found in the houseplant section in your local nurseries). Canna manages to bridge both roles with its peach flowers and large, emerald green leaves while parrot leaf (Alternanthera ficoidea) plays with the magenta tones.

A different perspective

A different perspective – looking back at the border, now framed by the late summer foliage of Henry’s Garnet Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica ‘Henry’s Garnet’) and smoky plumes of Ginger Love fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Ginger Love’)

Other Plants to Consider

If you’d like to try a color scheme like this in your own garden, here are a few other plant suggestions to get you started.

Peach-coral-pumpkin

Diascia ‘Little Tango’ (Annual/perennial)

Cuphea ‘Vermillionaire’ (Annual)

Knipophia ‘Creamsicle’ (Perennial)

Coleus (Annual)

Heuchera (Perennial)

Carex testacea (Evergreen grass)

Diervilla ‘Kodiak Orange’ (Deciduous shrub)

Exbury azaleas e.g. Northern Lights series  (Deciduous shrub)

Berberis thunbergii ‘Tangelo’ (Deciduous shrub)

 

Lavender – purple
Verbena bonariensis (self-seeding annual/perennial)

Coleus (annual)

Allium sp. (Perennial bulb)

Phlox paniculata ‘David’s Lavender’ (perennial)

Syringa sp. (Lilac) (deciduous shrub)

Crocus tommasinianus ‘Purple Haze’ (spring blooming bulb)

 

Magenta

Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish’  (annual/perennial)

Phlox paniculata ‘Red Riding Hood’ (perennial)

Coleus

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Making TWO Containers Work

I’m often asked how many containers should be grouped together, do they have to be in groups of 3, do they all have to match and should they all be planted identically. The answer is NO to all those concerns! Here are several ways to make a group of just TWO containers work with style.

Make them read as one

As seen in the Spring 2017 issue of Country Gardens magazine

As seen in the Spring 2017 issue of Country Gardens magazine

This photograph shows one way I achieved balance using two pots of similar size and color but which differed in shape and texture. To gain some extra height I placed one on a cut tree round borrowed from the log pile! The silvery-green and white color scheme is used in both while the soft pink-peach accents in the left container echo the wood tones on the right. Those simple visual connections make this duo read as one extravagant display. This is one of 12 deer-resistant container designs in the current (spring 2017) issue of Country Gardens magazine

Using space and color

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A path links these two containers spatially while color and style unifies them

In the example above a flagstone path literally and figuratively connects the two containers. While the pots themselves are different colors, they are of a similar style and glaze. Notice how the blue pot includes orange flowers and foliage – another way to connect it to the orange pot in the background, while both designs are somewhat tropical in style with an emphasis on bold and colorful foliage.

Flanking an object

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Use the containers to create a colorful picture frame

Here the artwork on the wall becomes the focal point of a vignette, framed by two identical containers. Each container is planted as a mirror image of its partner to complete the visual picture frame. The height of the narrow conifers is an important detail.

Simplicity

Simplicity

For perfection at its finest what could be more inviting than this teak bench flanked by two weathered pots filled to overflowing with soft pink begonias? These simple containers seem to meld with the pathway. A mixed planting or larger grouping would unnecessarily over complicate this vision.

Using the landscape

Using the landscape

Fabulous display at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens

Two rustic pots, differing slightly in size and texture yet clearly matching in color and style. Notice how the larger pot has the addition of a lime green elephant ears (Colocasia) and therefore assumes the leading role in this scene. While the two pots in isolation would be fabulous, their visual appeal is enhanced and expanded significantly by the adjacent in-ground planting which repeats the colors, and some plants. This idea would also work if the containers were centered in a bed.

Using groups of 2

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Design by Mitch Evans. See more of this garden in our new book Gardening with Foliage First (Timber Press, 2017)

I’ve always loved this scene, so much so that we included it in our new book Gardening with Foliage First. I love the ‘little and large’ pots that sit either side of the steps. All four pots have clipped boxwood, a theme that is repeated in the spheres on the opposite side of the path. The delightful symmetry brings order to an otherwise informal landscape.

How have YOU used 2 containers? Leave a comment below or post a photo to my Facebook page. Share your ideas!

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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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Front Garden Re-Imagined

BEFORE; After over 40 years it was time to re-think this space!

BEFORE; After over 40 years it was time to re-think this space

How do you know when it’s time to re-think the front garden? Certainly overgrown trees  and a fractured driveway are clues but spray painting the lawn green last summer was the final ‘Aha!’ moment for my Greater Seattle area clients. Yet funnily enough when I initially suggested a complete renovation they innocently asked “Which tree would you remove?” and were rather alarmed when I said “Both!”

Gardens grow and evolve so it really isn’t surprising that a landscape installed over 40 years ago is now in need of an overhaul, but identifying the problems and finding creative solutions can sometimes take a professional. This  garden is not viewed from the home’s interior, being separated by a fenced courtyard. However passers-by and visitors see this space and it offers an important first impression of who and what is beyond: what we often refer to as curb appeal. It suggests  the quality and style one can anticipate beyond the fence as well as a glimpse into the personalities of the homeowners  – whether we like that idea or not! When putting our homes up for sale this curb appeal is paramount, but even for homeowners like these who have no intention of moving, making a good first impression is important. After all you don’t typically greet guests with your hair in curlers I assume?

The problems

Damaged driveway

The driveway was beyond repair

Poured concrete driveways can last  30 years before major cracking occurs, so this one was well past it’s sell-by date. While the size of the driveway was adequate the paths felt awkward, especially if trying to navigate around parked vehicles. They were too close to the garage wall.

Useful if you have an extra trailer to park perhaps, but this concrete pad was no longer needed

Useful if you have an extra trailer to park perhaps, but this concrete pad was no longer needed

Additionally a previous homeowner had added a concrete pad to the right of the driveway that was no longer needed so this was a good time to re-think that space. Defining the property boundary and screening the neighbor’s garbage cans would be helpful too.

Overgrown plants

When a cute little conifer becomes a monster....

When a cute little conifer becomes a monster….

I wonder how small these towering conifers were in the mid 1970’s? Certainly much smaller than they are now! When large trees have lost their ornamental value, are casting excessive shade, their  roots are causing problems and their scale in relation to the home is all wrong it may be time to consider removing them.

Likewise after years of increasing shade the understory shrubs have slowly defoliated and become susceptible to disease.

The lawn

The lawn wasn’t being used – except by the neighborhood dogs!

Seattle may be known for its rain but last year went down in history for its unprecedented summer drought. Unless you spent hundreds of dollars on watering your lawn the chances were that it turned brown. I have to hand it to these homeowners for seeking a remedy but I’m not sure that spray painting the lawn green is going to catch on as a long term solution.

The first question I asked was why they needed a lawn at all. Like many homeowners it was simply there by default. Yet it served no purpose while taking time and money to fertilize, water, mow and edge regularly. While there needed to be a ‘negative space’ in the front garden, that doesn’t have to mean grass.

Dogs!

Actually the problem is less dogs than their owners who seem to think it is perfectly acceptable to allow their canine companions to use this space as a bathroom! Words fail me……

Seriously folks, if your dog has an accident clean it up.  Ugh. Anyway, while I can’t offer dog-owner training classes I can try to design the space to deter paws.

The solutions

I needed to come up with a plan that addressed all the above problems, was easy to maintain, had an understated elegance and level of artistry that reflected the home’s interior and private gardens yet  did not feel incongruous in the neighborhood. Here’s what I came up with.

Front Landscape Design for blog

AFTER; cleaned up, colorful yet doesn't stick out like a palm tree in a forest

AFTER; cleaned up and colorful yet doesn’t stick out like a flamingo in a forest.

Revise the hardscape

Parking pad becomes path. The Ivory Halo red twig dogwood will stand out well against the matire conifers

The extra parking pad became a path, leaving room for more plants and screening. The Ivory Halo red twig dogwood will stand out well against the mature conifers

The additional parking pad to the right of the driveway was removed and replaced with a path to the side gate. Both this path and the one which leads to the front door were angled to facilitate easier access.

Down to the bare bones

It always looks worse before it gets better!

It always looks worse before it gets better! Installation and hard work by the talented team at Berg’s Landscaping

The overgrown  trees and shrubs were removed, stumps ground out and the area graded to provide a berm around the perimeter of a central space. The homeowners wished to keep the laurel as they like having a hedge against the fence but everything else was removed.

No more lawn

Where once there was lawn, now there is a gravel garden

Where once there was thirsty grass, now there is a drought tolerant gravel garden

What would traditionally have been a lawn was re-created as a gravel garden. Landscape fabric was laid under a 3″ decorative gravel that the clients selected. Metal edging keeps this from migrating into the planting beds.

Hand selected boulders were added to the bermed planting beds while a few were placed to deliberately ease the transition to the gravel area.

Some boulders were strategically placed to project from the planting bed into the gravel

Some boulders were strategically placed to project from the planting bed into the gravel

The plant palette

The planting beds were shaped to accommodate two specimen trees; one was a weeping dogwood that was transplanted from the courtyard. The other was a topiary pine that the clients selected for its architectural style. This makes an excellent focal point when viewed from the home as well as the street.

It took several nursery trips and a fe adventures before we finally found the perfect tree!

It took several nursery trips and a few adventures before we finally found the perfect tree

To balance the existing laurel and complete the informal hedge I added a number of H.M Eddie yew. I haven’t used these before but like that they are slightly fuller than the Hicks yew and do not produce berries. Together these evergreens formed a backdrop to colorful foliage shrubs including  Ogon spirea which has feathery gold leaves that really catch the eye as the shimmer and move in the breeze and the bronze-toned Coppertina ninebark which boasts spring flowers, red fall color and exfoliating bark.

Winter interest comes from the many different evergreens including Gulf Stream heavenly bamboo – an excellent mounded form that does well here and Midwinter Fire dogwood which has stems that range from red to gold.

I love dogs but like my clients want them to keep their paws on the sidewalk! To discourage them I added the berm and boulders, then interplanted with a number of thorny shrubs including the rich plum colored Concorde barberry and the dwarf coral hedge barberry which is evergreen and has orange flowers in spring. At the last minute we also added Wood’s Compact kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi ‘Wood’s Compacta’) which will form a dense, twiggy groundcover.

Screening

No matter how much we love our neighbors we don’t necessarily want to see their garbage cans. With that in mind I added a number of evergreen and deciduous shrubs that will quickly grow in to provide screening while still being ‘neighborly’.

Finishing Touches

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To complete the gravel garden I created planting pockets near the boulders. Mexican feather grass and an assortment of hardy succulents add color and texture in an understated, naturalistic style. (Be sure to check if Mexican feather grass is invasive in your area and ask a professional to recommend an alternative if necessary)

sedum

I kept the color palette to red and green for the gravel garden succulents but added golden Angelina stonecrop to the main panting beds

The homeowners found the most perfect container to place by the front gate; the colors repeat the hues of their home while the texture suggests it was a treasure discovered at the bottom of the ocean – love it!

They planted it with a simple purple fountain grass for summer interest: the dark color was needed for contrast. Adding other plants would have been too fussy.

Post script

I asked how things were faring with the dogs and was told that so far people are being respectful. “We do have the occasional dog prints on the mulch but no little gifts have been left for us, yet. We have actually observed people allowing their dogs to wander up the small embankment and back down as they are walking on the sidewalk with their dogs.” Let’s hope that decreases as the plants grow in.

Is it time to re-think your front garden?

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