Friday, July 27, 2012

Home Renovation Update: Garden Design Takes Shape

I had been dreaming of my home garden design ever since I started taking Landscape Design classes at The New York Botanical Garden. 
For one of my final exams to earn the Certificate in Landscape Design, I created somewhat of a fantasy garden – knowing full well I would never be able to afford or create the concepts I had rendered on the blueprint. 

Now, in addition to being a garden and food writer, I’m also a garden designer and an award-winning designer at that! 

So when it came time to actually design my garden, I realized the stakes were high.
I wanted to produce a garden I could be very proud of. One that would not only showcase our home, but would show off my garden design profession.
And inspire other garden lovers.
And make my garden design clients glad I work for them.
And something I could write about.
And a place of enduring, beguiling beauty…

And a design we could afford.

Clearly the stakes are high.

Some of those early design concepts still bewitched. 

And over the years, while conducting painstaking research for my clients that made the home office look like something out of the movie “A Beautiful Mind” and John Nash’s garage -- with magazine clippings everywhere, books opened on the settee, tables and the Mac screen open to too many sites, I would sometimes – well actually often – come across ideas I would tuck into an all too soon bulging folder. 

When the time came, I deftly edited the file.  I smiled as I reviewed eras of garden interest: the billowy English gardens, palatial fountains and pools. Or boutique-style Caribbean retreats, Hollywood-inspired set designs, Colonial Spanish and Pasadena, California to Italian Riviera.  Then to my focus on native plants.
All grand inspirations.

But truth be told, I think a good garden design borrows a bit from all that and then it will tell a story unique to the person and home and location.
Just like I do for my clients.

I sketched the concept for the front yard garden rooms, including the driveway garden to be. Already in place is the arbor that we built and have been nurturing for years.
The goal of the arbor is to architecturally, with beauty, lead a guest from the street to the back yard.  Most suburban homes have no clue how to do this.  In our case, I wanted to create the added tension of walking from one world to the next as leading the eye through the tunnel of roses, Lady in Red Hydrangea and Coral Bark Maple overhead and the sides of arbor, there is the big drama at the end of the walk where one can see the bay and marina and New York City skyline beyond. 
It is a heart clutching, take-your-breath-away moment made possible by the creative and elegant use of plants and good garden design.
Oh and at night, the arbor is softly lit with solar powered little lights.
So romantic.

One group of designs that was appealing to me from the early days and struck a chord or me and informed my garden design for clients were the driveways from the studio of Dargan Landscape Architects. 
I made so many copies of the magazine layouts for fear I’d lose them to a misplaced file.
So it was with great joy and surprise when about a month ago, I saw an ad or received an email from the principal of that firm, Mary Palmer Dargan, to participate in a garden design webinar. I never did, but intend to. 
Yet I took this handshake across the internet as a good sign that my long-ago lust for those driveway concepts was coming into play just as she reappeared in my world.

My interpretation of the driveway look is to eliminate macadam and use natural elements of stone, gravel, trees, planting beds, and utilize layered, graded elements.
Make it good looking and functional.  Not a parking lot, for goodness sake.

One garden design client has turf and Italian white marble for two parking courts.
I almost persuaded a client to incorporate turf for a somewhat checkerboard look but instead we agreed on a paver stone set on diagonal that has worked well, especially due to its sloping elevation so no need to irrigate.  The walls are covered with climbing hydrangea and kiwi for a dripping-with-plant look and cooling effect on the sun-drenched bowl effect of the driveway to garage design.
For another client, I designed a teeny, postage stamp-sized parking court using the Turfstone – where the grass can grow up through the pavers, providing stability but beauty (see earlier blog post, November 2011) to create a serviceable and pretty driveway in what was the front yard.

While I drew up the plans for the driveway and the rest of the front yard garden vision, including the walkway to the front steps and door, my landscaper and I met several times to review materials and schedule. 
Bluestone -- to best amplify the blue grey of the house siding and old/new brick.
Decomposed Granite for part of the walk leading from the main walk design to a water garden off what is now the dinging room, with its wall of windows, two of which are sliding French doors.
Here, I wanted to create an instant mini lawn for the two steps down into that water garden.  I think it will be lovely in every season: green grass to step out on and in winter, a wonderful canvas for the snow.

There will be a front border, street side, and small strolling garden off the front steps. Later…
But as the spring season turned to early summer, we still had plywood leading to the driveway which made guests come and go like circus Wallendas or gymnasts on a balancing beam. 
And when it rained, it was more medieval moat.
Then there was the big sand pit or what we came to refer to as the big kitty litter box. 
It was the sand left by the mason.

Burke the landscaper extraordinaire and the team were so over-scheduled and weather wasn’t helping due to what I call the Goldilocks weather report: “it’s too hot, too cold, too wet…”  All extremes.
So no work at our house despite great planning.
In the meantime, we had the stunning but massively large Kwanzan pruned up and in for our sake, and our neighbor’s and the tree.

And we waited.  And waited.

Finally the week before the big Independence Day fireworks party the work began!  Towns around glory in our town’s fireworks, set off in the marina below and our house has a front row seat. The entire town ignites in preparation. There is a Fireman’s Fair the week before.
Every house it seems is undergoing painting, manicuring, and decorating. It’s big.

And happily, we could too.

I couldn’t have guests navigate the plank. My sister in law just had had hip surgery too. So for safety reasons we needed at least the walk and a bit of turf. 

A few last minute reviews with Burke and me.  He painted it out.
At his suggestion, I went to his yard to look at some stone and brick.
At this point, there wasn’t really any time to get from a stone dealer.
Plus he could clear out some things and I loved the idea of getting some stone with provenance.
The turf step off the dining room would now be in former bluestone sidewalk from a neighboring seaside town! 

So the work began.

The first-class team of Honnold Landscaping artisans was on the job. 
Like cobras, they fix on the stone to be measured and cut. 
They stare it down.
They use the string, the level.
And only when they are absolutely, positively certain, do they cut.

After the step up from the driveway, I wanted a circle design. I think a circle represents movement and in this case, one has the option of going up to the front walk and door or to the walk to the water garden. Essentially offering a choice of three directions to take.   

In terms of the design and the stone, the circle proved a bit challenging.
It took three of us some time to recalibrate and amend a look to make the angles and geometry work.  But we did it.

The dust flew.
It was hot.

The grass steps and stone turned out better than perfect. The old stone is extraordinary and made the design work all that much better.
And there is a story to tell with it. You can even see some of the yellow from the No Parking mark!

The steps are off the new dining room - seen here from inside.  I designed the curtain look from the valance to the drapes.  When the breeze catches them billowing and flirting it's pure cinema. Then picture opening the doors to step out onto the grass steps and soon to be - I hope - water garden.  I wanted to create that lovely sound of water off the dining room. 

The other side is all bay and city scape vistas which is tough to compete with! 

The turf was cut as the truck waited.  And then, just like that, we had a front walk and some real grass for the very first time.   

And our guest for the fireworks party could walk up to the front door.

We celebrated our first phase of garden design with a bang!

Party Time

Couldn't have done made phase one of the dream come to be without the amazing talent and dedication of Burke Honnold Landscape team. I love them and respect their talent. Burke and family, er sorority made it to the party too! 

 Do you want to see the before/before pictures??

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