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??

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Summer Garden Harvest

This is my first real posting from the new writing room.

In the exuberant experience expressed in the iconic charge from the Titanic movie star Leonardo DeCaprio, “I am the king of the world.” 
I too feel a sense of exuberance – a literary optimism.

Just as my first book, “The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook” explored and embraced the relationship between the chef and their local, homegrown, artisanal grower that most inspired them, our own Garden State “farme-ette” inspired this weekend’s dinner menu.

Our homegrown garden yielded a bumper crop of edible delights. 
Today, we harvested this year’s potatoes: Chieftens, Nicola, and Yukon Gold.

I continue to yield and enjoy the just-picked garlic. 
Seasonly sad, my husband has advised I demur from indulging in our homegrown garlic.
I reek!
At the same time, I am not altogether convinced that it's not worth the olfactory sensation!  It's that good.  Fresh, crisp, peppery... 

Plus the basil and parsley contributed to the best Pesto this season!

Just as I lovingly noted in my book’s Acknowledgements, my beloved father’s father and I would dig up the earthly jewels of earth, to harvest the best homegrown potatoes. 
To this day, it has never lost the allure and magic.

Squash blossom went from garden to plate, cooked with pinch of anchovy paste & ricotta. It was supreme!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Home Renovation Diary Update

The stairway to heaven was cursed. 
In fact, it was driving us to hell in a hand basket!

The spiral staircase was an inspired, gateway to the new loft office/ atelier/guest room. 
It was to be a visual, cinematic gesture: custom black iron work, stairs we’d stain to match the kitchen’s new wood floor, copper-painted spindles to better match the copper floor insets that randomly punctuate the porcelain tile floor in the renovation’s dining and sitting room.
It was a good design concept. 
Bill engineered the specs, found a Pennsylvania craftsman to build it and the railing.
What could be better? Simpler. 
The builders and literature said “Two people, Two days.”

Umm, unless they had a super hero in mind, this is unrealistic and was never going to happen.
But we didn’t yet know that.

As gal Hilary often admonishes, “It takes a village…” and in this case, we did reach out for help. 
With optimism, we had an extended-circle friend come to help install and we were most grateful. 
In just one long day, the spiral stairs were up! 
Thanks to Bill, the point of first-stair entry matched up to the dining room carpet with the precision of a German-engineered Porsche fanaticism. 

Next is the railing.

Not so fast.

The steps we learned have an ordinal pattern that needed to be followed.
The stairs were up and winding and twisting with all their sinuous charm but it was not meant to be.

Not unlike those Apollo astronauts, Bill came up with an original, “duct-tape” remedy that he’d thought about, worked out and re-worked out a gazillion times in his head and on paper.

The plan was brilliant. The jack wasn’t. 
After some stroke-inducing attempts between the two of us, he reluctantly agreed we could use some help.

In came our brother-in-law, Gerry, the mastermind of all things good, family, and construction; along with our fireman-hero nephew Brian and friend, who had the brain muscle and muscle-muscle – if you know what I mean – to get these bloody steps aligned properly. 

Success was celebrated with lots of grilled hot dogs, beer and fair-thee-wells.

Now the “easy” part.
Just needed to get the rail up and banister up.  
Bill painted the spindles a copper color to match the copper in the insets in the floor.  Here they are painted and looked not unlike those terra-cotta Chinese soldiers!  

Bill and I were steeling ourselves for the task ahead when miraculously, the extended-friend circled back ‘round that very morning. 
Brilliant you say.
I did too.

The stair railing was up in less than half the time.
Only trouble was, now the railing  had to be painted in situ.  Sigh.
The question was to spray or to brush paint.  Each was fraught with issues.

Soon, after some trial and testing, all was resolved and we were back on track to completion.
Not without some painful “Holy Smokes” and “Oh for the love of Pete” and some sailor-style cussing.

And there was more, I assure you while putting in the railing. 

Was it worth it? 

Decorating the Loft with Furniture

I’m not embarrassed to say, it came to me in a yoga moment.

We had listed our black lacquer furniture that was oh-so-courant in our previous townhouse and as a placeholder in this house on eBay and Craig’s list. (beware that Craig's List, I say)

I had been totally seduced by the sexy Koket day bed while walking the Architectural Digest show earlier this year.

(I have been trying to do a feature story on the designer, Janet Morais, ever since I fell in love with her “Love Happens” romantic, design approach.  And will do when we are not so both over the top crazy. But don’t miss her designs simply because we are oversubscribed.)

Feature story to follow, accordingly.  Morais possesses a passionate attention to detail, customer service and an enduring romantic, feminine perspective.
Plus a wicked sense of humor.

It doesn’t get any better.
Plus you get to glam it up.  From the moment it arrived in it's own sarcophagus
My nieces couldn’t resist. 

Neither could I.  
It’s a longer story for another post and while fraught with its own can-you-believe-it-moments, the designer and I never lost our sense of humor and dare I say, glamour. 

The daybed is quite sexy, no? And it has black lacquer sides.
So while I can’t remember if it was a downward facing dog or plough or a triangle pose, it did indeed hit me that hey- I can re-purpose and use the glamorous furniture we have to complement the outrĂ© daybed.

Ask me how much satisfaction it was to “shop” in our garage and basement for long-forgotten furniture and I will tell you it was over the top hilarious.
The price was right. Free!
It cleared out the garage so we could actually put the car back in after almost two years of having my wonderful mother move in with us and accommodating all those boxes and then moving all our stuff there for the repairs and renovation.

It was just so great
And in that meditation moment, it came to be.

The only challenge was we sorely needed that manpower yet again.

To the rescue was nephew Brian aka superhero fireman and friend.

I held my breath twice in spite of their careful, homecrafted attention to hoisting the two furniture pieces up, up, and ally-oop over the loft balcony, prior to the railing going up.  

And then, just like that, it looked like it had all been planned from the get-go.  

In some way, perhaps it was.  All that good karma cannot be a mistake.


Almost there.

Wait till you see the Parisian-like ball-gown silk drapes… 
And the beginnings of the garden design will break your heart with hope…

Sunday, July 8, 2012



August 24 -26, 2012

Featured Speaker: Internationally Renowned Landscape Designer Edwina von Gal

Co-sponsored by Hollister House Garden and the Garden Conservancy

The French may have their Riviera but everyone in the garden world knows Hollister House is the place to be in August.
A compelling three-day garden cornucopia features an all-star horticultural speaker lineup – including my garden friends Stephen Orr, Bill Thomas and Paige Dickey –in addition to a swanky cocktail party, champagne breakfast, garden tours, a rare plant sale, book singings and lectures.

With concern for the environment ascendant and the desire to continually refine our own backyard artistry ever present, Hollister House Garden’s third biennial Garden Study Weekend is dedicated to exploring innovative and sustainable ideas about gardening from both the imaginative and practical point of view. The three day, late summer program includes a stylish cocktail party, an all-day seminar, plant and book sales, champagne breakfast and garden tours. The Garden Study Weekend launched in 2008 and has grown to one of the leading summer gardening events in New England.

This year’s program of thought-provoking lectures will examine the topic of Gardening Anew: Fresh Perspectives on the Garden. The featured speaker is Edwina von Gal, principal of her own celebrated international landscape design firm, who will be joined by several outstanding professional horticulturists. They will address a wide spectrum of ideas on new ways to garden encompassing the knowledgeable use of native plants with attention to their form and function, sophisticated solutions found in the soil, and examples of thinking outside the box in the spirit of experimentation and innovation.  The Garden Conservancy, a national organization dedicated to preserving exceptional American gardens, is co-sponsoring the event with Hollister House Garden.

Slated for August 24, 25 and 26, 2012 in Washington, Connecticut, Garden Study Weekend III gets underway at a gala Friday evening cocktail party at the Washington Montessori School where participants may informally mingle with speakers and fellow garden enthusiasts. There will also be the opportunity for early buying at the rare plant sale.

Saturday symposium features wonderful speakers, books and plants  

Saturday’s symposium takes place at the Washington Montessori School in comfortable, air-conditioned spaces with up-to-date lecture facilities. A delicious buffet luncheon, a sale of beautifully written and illustrated garden books, a plant sale featuring a select group of New England’s finest specialty plant growers and a ‘show & tell’ plant talk are included in the all-day agenda.

Stephen Orr, Editorial Director of Gardening at Martha Stewart Living, popular blogger and author of Tomorrow’s Garden: Designs and Inspiration for a New Age of Sustainable Gardening, published in 2011, will moderate the conversation and welcome each lecturer.

Featured speaker Edwina von Gal, known for her elegant, harmonious landscapes that emphasize design blending effortlessly with nature, will speak from personal experience on Altered Perspectives: An Unexpected Life in the Garden. Her approach embraces native plants in spare arrangements that allow the landscape to speak for itself.  Her many high profile projects include work s for minimalists Calvin Klein and Richard Serra as well as creation of the whimsical topiary animals gracing the Channel Gardens in New York City’s Rockefeller Center. She is known for creating “intimate expanses” and her garden designs have been published in the New York Times, House Beautiful, House & Garden, Garden Design and Vogue as well as in many books. She is presently involved in restoring large tracts of her own land in Panama where cattle ranching has seriously compromised the terrain, and is directing the Azuero Earth Project, a Panama-based organization focused on intelligent land stewardship and nature conservation in that country’s endangered dry forest.

Other thought-provoking speakers on Saturday’s seminar roster include:

William Cullina is Executive Director of the 250-acre, organic Coastal Maine Botanical Garden in Boothbay, ME. His topic is What Do You Mean I’m Not a Perennial: Flowering Shrubs for Perennial Companionship, sharing knowledge of his favorite native flowering shrubs and how they bring form, texture, color and wildlife to the garden.

Eric T. Fleisher is Director of Horticulture, Battery Park City Parks Conservancy, New York, NY. He will speak on Managing the Environment: An Adaptive Challenge. Over 25 years, he has brought this 37-acre oasis of parkland on the Hudson River to the forefront as the only public garden space in New York to be maintained completely organically. The solution he has found is in the soil and he will discuss balanced soil ecology, composting, water conservation and nontoxic pest and disease control.

Bill Thomas is Executive Director of Chanticleer Foundation, Wayne, PA. Chanticleer is one of the most exquisite and exciting public gardens in the northeast.  He is a plantsman, designer and a manager of the highest standards and will speak on Chanticleer: An Insider’s View, illuminating the visual, textural, auditory and olfactory dimensions of the 48-acre estate on Philadelphia’s Main Line.

In the early morning and at coffee and lunch breaks there will be opportunities to purchase choice plants for the late season garden from Broken Arrow Nursery (Hamden, CT), Falls Village Flower Farm, (Falls Village, CT), O’Brien Nurserymen (Granby, CT), Opus (Little Compton, RI), Rocky Dale Gardens (Bristol, VT), Sunny Border Nurseries (wholesale, Kensington, CT), Umbrella Factory Gardens (Charlestown, RI) and Avant Gardens (Dartmouth, MA).

Three leading horticulturists -- Page Dickey, prolific garden writer and popular lecturer; Marco Polo Stufano, founding director of horticulture at Wave Hill in the Bronx and co-chair of the Garden Conservancy Screening Committee, and Adam Wheeler, plantsman extraordinaire at Broken Arrow Nursery – will be on hand to offer practical expertise during a Show & Tell demonstration at the plant sale. Garden books selected by Washington Depot’s treasured independent bookseller, The Hickory Stick, will also be for sale, many authored by symposium speakers and available for signing.

 Sunday Open Days Tours Unlatch the Gates to Private Gardens

The weekend also offers participants the opportunities to experience and explore in person several outstanding gardens. Early birds can choose to start the day with a champagne breakfast on the beautiful rear lawn at the romantic country garden at Hollister House in Washington, CT. The grand finale on Sunday is when the Garden Conservancy opens four exceptional private gardens in nearby Litchfield and Roxbury as part of its national Open Days program. Three of them – The Garden of Bruce Schnitzer & Alexandra Champalimaud, the Leva Garden and Opal House gardens – are on the Open Days circuit for the first time. Hollister House Garden is also featured on the Sunday tour.

 Tickets and Registration

Pre-registration is required for the Garden Study Weekend. A combination package including the festive Friday evening cocktail party, the entire Saturday program (with continental breakfast and buffet lunch) and Sunday morning Champagne Breakfast is $245 ($230 for Garden Conservancy or Hollister House Garden members.)

Separately, the Friday evening cocktail party is $75 for nonmembers ($65 for GC and HHG members).

The allday Saturday ticket costs $160 for nonmembers ($150 for GC and HHG members). The rare plant sale is open to the general public after 1 p.m., free of charge.

The Sunday morning Champagne Breakfast is $25 ($20 for GC and HHG members).

Please note that due to parking and seating limitations, tickets for both Friday and Saturday events are strictly limited.

To register, or for more information, go to or call 860.868.2200.

The Open Days garden tours on Sunday are priced separately at $5 per person per garden. Advance tickets are available online at (please allow time for shipping) or in person at the gardens on the tour.

Registration is not required for Sunday’s Open Day tours. Maps will be provided for all participants at Hollister House Garden Study seminar.

Hollister House Garden, created by George Schoellkopf, is a classic garden in the English manner. It has a loosely formal structure informally planted in generous abundance with both common and exotic plants in subtle and sometimes surprising color combinations. Situated on a sloping hill behind an 18thcentury rambling farmhouse, high walls and hedges divide three separate garden rooms and open to create appealing vistas of the landscape.

 The Garden Conservancy is a national nonprofit organization founded in 1989 to preserve America’s exceptional gardens for the education and enjoyment of the public. It partners with garden owners and public and private organizations to harness legal, horticultural, and financial resources to secure a garden's future. The Conservancy also encourages greater appreciation of the important role gardens play in America’s cultural and natural heritage through educational programs and through its Open Days garden visiting program.