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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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…”
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.
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
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
At this point, there wasn’t really any time to get from a
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!
The first-class team of Honnold Landscaping artisans was on
Like cobras, they fix on the stone to be measured and
They use the string, the level.
And only when they are absolutely, positively certain, do
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
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 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
We celebrated our first phase of garden design with a bang!
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??