Friday, September 23, 2011

Landscape Archeology & Light

One of our most heroic clients has been removing a good portion of the old plants on his site that will make way for the new.  He is only the second owner (for two years) of a ranch home built in the 1950s in a quaint town about an hour west of Chicago. So, many of those plants he took out had put down roots.

The image above shows some of the removal work he did recently in his back yard where we will work on the landscape next year.  I found his comment so amusing that I quote him here:

"Attached is a photo of work on the root ball of the burning bush.  Is there a school of thought in planting that says "set your plant on a bed of rock at the bottom of the hole"?  I pulled more rock, metal and glass out of this hole than dirt. Small artifacts including spark plugs, nuts and bolts, shards of glass
are set on the wall.

I shared with him stories of the underground sidewalks we had found on jobs, one to two feet beneath grade...

So that you can finish with an image of beauty, below is a shot of his front yard the day we finished the landscape renewal.  I choose this picture because it shows the spring witch-hazel disseminating the late afternoon light like stained glass.

Since we used the existing hardscape (with only a little tweaking), I decided to shape the mulch bed under the tree in a rectangular shape to better integrate it with the path.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Barbara Geiger on O.C. Simonds

Friday September 15th is your last opportunity to register at the Chicago Botanic Garden for Barbara Geiger's 9/19/11 talk on O.C. SimondsOne of our smart and unique landscape historians, Barbara will also be signing her recent book: Low-Key Genius: The Life and Work of Landscape-Gardener O.C.Simonds. Above is a photo from the tour I gave in Graceland Cemetery in Chicago (my post of 8/16/11), Simonds' longest term project that really made a mark on American landscaping.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Ohio #2: F L Wright's Westcott House

Who would have imagined that F L Wright's only Prairie House in Ohio is in Springfield, just down the road from one of our stops in Yellow Springs? Westcott House was all the more enchanting because we were the only ones on our tour and we had an excellent docent. Which meant I got to pester her with questions and we could feel what the house might have been like without a crowd: very nice indeed.
On this particular day, I was really struck by the masterful way Wright worked with light & shadow, a concern that I strive to integrate into garden design. Above you can see the effect along the walkway uniting house & garage...which originally was for horse & buggy and had some cool Wrightian invention for turning around. The house is known for knitting together house & site.
Below is the purple martian house that was apparently not constructed until long after the residence was built in 1908.  Also, one of the details that struck me was how Wright perched the vases along the walkway below so that when the sun was at a different angle earlier in the day, they throw shadows that provide depth to the otherwise flat perspective of the long outer wall.
The excellent Westcott House website includes many interesting details of how this historic building was rescued from complete ruin. In the midst of a town which has seen its better days, in fact, driving through Ohio which was a tour of that concept, we were encouraged that some people are still committed to preserving the heritage of one of our country's great visionaries.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Last Good Timing: Bungalow Spring

I am dangerous today. Taking advantage of the AC in the office during another day with temps near 100F, I am working on revising my workshop for the Chicago Botanic Garden on 22 October 2011: "Path Making: Experimental and Practical Design Workshop."
In looking back through images, I found these pix of the Good Timing Bungalow from this spring: right after Memorial Day and our late, cool spring. Above you can see the Deschampsia c. 'Goldtau' in tandem with Alchemilla mollis 'Thriller' (Lady's Mantle) and some daffodil foliage surrounding the wonderful shrub, Heptacodium micronoides (Seven-Son Flower). Not native any of them, but there are other natives in this garden to balance them out ecologically.
Below you get a sense of the spring profile. The blooming plant is Nepeta x faassenii 'Walker's Low' (Catmint) that holds its own against dogs & snow conditions. And you can see the windowbox on the day we planted it. What a difference a summer makes!

Good Timing Follow-up: Deschampsia c. 'Goldtau'

 A faithful blog reader emailed me after the first blog post on this garden (8/31/11). She wanted to know if the Deschampsia caespitosa 'Goldtau' is invasive? My experience is that it is not, but I have only planted this in a few gardens with regional proximity (NW Evanston & Wilmette). So, I asked my main wholesale perennial grower, the awesome Brent Horvath of Intrinsic Perennial Gardens. Brent said: "No, I have seen it reseed some in our wet field but not likely in a garden." I also quote his catalogue for other details: "A unique look for this species, this form has a much shorter habit to around 15"+. Heavy clusters of gold flowers hang on from summer to fall. Prefers moist soil and sun to part shade."

In this planting (below), the Tufted Hair Grass gets exactly those soil and light conditions. I am often looking for shorter plants so they can contrast with larger shrubby forms in the below with the boxwood and the birch. I took these pictures almost exactly a year ago. Since then we have converted the left corner (above) from turf to plants that better withstand dogs & winter conditions.  Because the little bit of turf geometry on the right (above)gets more sun, it is better able to hold its own.

To all those faithful readers who email me: if you have a question or comment like this whose discussion would be interesting to others: please post it so we can share.  It should only take signing up once...of course, I do also appreciate hearing from you individually. Thanks!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

More Plants & Vehicles

Yesterday I found myself unexpectedly at this auto shop in NilesIn the midst of the dark, dirty debris from broken vehicles, imagine my delight to see these vibrant veggies!  I mentioned the tomatoes to one of the mechanics and he asked me enthusiastically if I had seen their hot peppers.