Sunday, December 30, 2012

Terraces become Garden "Rooms": Using the garden's "natural resources"!

Seven Winds designed and installed a master plan for this garden using the existing stone walls that graced this hillside home.  These stone walls had been built by a prior homeowner who evidently loved stone and utilized some reclaimed stone to have all these walls built.  The walls create two terraces above the ground level where the house sits.  The homeowner wanted to have the garden feel like different rooms, each area having its own unique qualities.  She also wanted a large deck to extend the living area of the home and to create a wonderful area for garden parties.


Upper Terrace
Middle Terrace

The Upper Terrace
This terrace included a cedar shed in board and batten style, a garden filled with trees, shrubs and perennials, a clover lawn and some perennials to accentuate the gorgeous Japanese maple tree which provided filtered shade to the terrace below.  
Clover is a great choice for a lawn that does not get a lot of foot traffic.  It is an ecological option as a legume, fixing nitrogen from the air into the soil and thereby improving soil fertility.  It grows well in light or dappled shade, and only needs to be mown once a year.  Its flowers attract beneficial insects to the garden including the honey bee.
Shade gardens not only allow us to plant the usual shade favorites such as coral bells, bleeding heart, bergenia, hellebores, ferns etc, but also give us the opportunity to plant some of our special woodland natives such as black cohosh, wild ginger, trilliums, solomans seal and even some of our rare and precious natives such as bloodroot, goldenseal and ginseng!
The benefit of having a master plan for the garden is that while the expense of various installations can be spread out over a number of years if necessary, the result will be a garden that is in harmony with itself.  This also eliminates having to pull out plants or doing extensive transplanting due to not planning ahead.  In this garden the house, deck and shed are all cedar, tying the whole home and garden together.

The existing stone steps just needed to be tied together with some flagstone walkways.  The walkway on the upper terrace leads to the shed and back gate and is made from slate that was already in the garden.  Seven Winds values the creative and tasteful reuse of materials whenever possible and the accentuating those elements that the garden already contains.  This garden had the walls and a beautiful huge maple on the ground level, and the Japanese maple on the top terrace.  The end of the middle terrace had some espaliered fruit trees, which provided a nice semi-private (seasonal) screen as well as fruits which were at least appreciated by the wildlife!

We selected this exressive weeping Spruce for the top terrace, along with a crab apple and Juniper.  They will spread and grow and eventually create more privacy and of course a wind block for the top terrace.  They also beautified the neighborhood as a walking path runs behind this property and this garden is visible from the walking path.  

The Middle Terrace
The middle terrace consisted of a quartzite patio which can be used for this small table and chairs or for a hammock.  The patio is surrounded by plantings which will spread to provide a lush abundance of perennials.  Beyond the patio is a small clover lawn and behind that a bed of meadow perennials such as Rudbeckia, Echinacea, Lavender and behind that the espaliered fruit trees.

The view from the neighbor's yard shows both the top and middle terraces dominated by this beautiful Japanese Maple.

The Ground Level

On the lowest level we build a large cedar deck which stretched from the walls to the house and to the large maple tree.  There was an old fireplace built into the walls and we built the deck around this so that it could continue to be used.  The deck raised the level of the yard up about 18" which brought the three terraces closer together in terms of visual connectedness.  Now someone in the ground level garden could more easily see and fell part of the rest of the garden.
Some of this decks best features come from the fact that it is surrounded on two sides by these beautiful stone walls which give it a sheltered feel, balancing its large size.  The large maple also gives it quite a bit of shade, without totally blocking the sun.  Pots of herbs, perennials, annuals or even vegetables could easily be grown on the deck.
This garden project was a wonderful project, as the garden had such a strong foundation with its trees and walls.  It was an honor to be the designer and installer to bring a renewed vibrancy and life to this garden.  

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Naturalized City Garden: The Magic is in the Details! (Update)

A couple blog posts ago we spoke about a naturalized city garden.  These photos show some details a year later which are truly charming and really bring the garden together.  In the photo above, flowering Crape Mrytle complements flowering native honey suckle and the honey suckle flows over the fence bringing charm to the unusual osage orange number plate. The combination is stunning.
The homeowner had bought some garden sculptures and together we found the perfect locations for them.  The sculpture above completed a path that had previously led just to the fence.  With the placing of the sculpture the path now leads to the sculpture as if it had been made exclusively for that.  Below a figure in a prayerful or meditative pose sits below the holly tree among some field boulders and among the hostas.  These carefully selected pieces complete this garden nicely.  Details like these bring magic to the garden!

A Woodland Garden in a City

In this 2011-2012  project Seven Winds designed and planted a garden influenced by some principles of Japanese garden design.  The garden included the fencing, new timbers lining the pathway, a stone walkway through the garden and all the plants.  The principles of Japanese garden design utilized in this garden are creating a design that mimics nature in a simplified very specific way.  It is like creating an idealized natural environment.  We also utilized symmetry and a touch of formality on the right side of the garden using seven Nandinas.
This project was truly a "from scratch" project as only the soil in the raised beds and the concrete slab remained.  Previously a large black locust tree and ivy had dominated this garden.  Surprisingly we discovered that this entire garden sits on top of a concrete slab. This is an inspiration for those city gardens which consist of a concrete slab, and do not appear to have much potential for a woodland oasis in the city!
The Fences Seven Winds designed and installed are cedar and gave the garden an Asia feel, as well as changed the feeling of the garden space.  It gave a sense of enclosure, yet not a sense of feeling boxed in.  
The walnut semi-transparent stain darkened the fence, yet still allowed the grain and knots of the cedar to be seen.  The next step was to install the stepping stone pathway through the larger raised be.  The stones used were field stones with their weathered jagged expression.

We chose the plants to give a range of flowers throughout the year, and to give contrasting textures and colors.   The tree selected is a Japanese Stewartia with Spring flowers and appealing bark for winter interest.  
Japanese painted ferns are a nice selection for woodland gardens.

The picture above and below show the first year growth in this garden.  It rapidly became a lush expression of various colors and textures.
The homeowner's frog took up its position on the stump of the old locust tree among the yucca.
The pathway invites one to step up into the garden...
The homeowner had particularly requested some bamboo, so we planted this golden clumping bamboo in the corner.  Clumping bamboo does not send runners all over the garden, so it is a good choice for those who want bamboo but who do not want the bamboo to run out of control.
The seven Nandinas are a sharp contrast to the abundance of the opposite raised bed, yet still complement the overall design with their airy foliage, and winter red berries.  They compliment the fence very nicely.
One of the most interesting points of this garden is that it is all built on top of a concrete slab.  This concrete slab was probably installed many years ago, and the fact that the small garage door is the only access from the alley to this garden, made it very difficult for the concrete to removed once installed.  At some point a prior homeowner had dealt with this issue by creating raised beds with railroad ties.  By the time we got to it, the railroad ties were disintegrating, however a huge locust tree had been able to grow on top of this slab.  Ideally the concrete slab would have been removed to create garden beds, however in cases like this one where logistics or budget prohibited removal, raised beds can be created with great success without removing the concrete.

There are many urban yards in Baltimore in particular which consist of a solid slab which really is not being used at all.  These gardens can easily be turned into green spaces which are obviously good for the homeowners, good for the birds, bees and butterflies, and good for the air!  This was a wonderful project that we truly enjoyed installing.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Beauty and Function meet!

Historic neighborhood yards in Baltimore often contain layer after layer of gardens. Often they are a gold mine of old bricks, flagstone, and marble. Sometimes we find old walkways underneath newer walkways as we excavate to put in a new patio or walkway. It is alway an adventure to work with the older gardens. We love to reuse the existing brick from the gardens and use it to redesign a more contemporary garden that better suits today's homeowner's needs and style.

In the garden pictured below from two different perspectives of "Before" had a brick patio and a falling down brick wall that partially enclosed a trash area. The homeowners designed a wonderful new patio with trash area whose angle paralleled the angle of the metal deck. We highly recommend that homeowners with small garden create some kind of at least partially enclosed area for trash cans, be this area made from stone, brick or some kind of fencing material. The garden areas are simply too small for the trash cans not to dominate the scene if they are highly visible.

(Lots of old bricks to work with!)

The new trash can area was created out of recovered old brick which gives it a look that completely harmonizes with the historic style of the neighborhood. The homeowners had a piece of terracotta from the local area, which we set in the brick wall in a way that it could be seen from the patio and deck. We also ran an electrical conduit from the storage area of the house under the patio and to an outlet box in the wall. This will allow the homeowners to have electricity in the garden for use in the patio and for use in landscape lighting if desired. The time to install these types of conduit is while the new patio is going in and not as an afterthought that entails digging up the patio!

The garden also included a small brick area at the rear of the garden that accommodated an old stone bench. The bricks used all came from the original patio that we removed.
Two bluestone step stones lead from the brick area to the larger brick and bluestone patio. The bluestone patio is a combination of 24"x30" full color bluestones between rows of old brick. The entire project, other than the brick wall, is dry-laid meaning no concrete was used.

The final result produced a more spacious, cleaner look, which although reflects contemporary preferences (such as clean lines of bluestone) also does justice to the historic integrity of the neighborhood. Trash cans are neatly hidden behind a functional brick wall that due to the old brick and terracotta is also an artistic focal point! Here beauty and function meet!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Naturalized City Garden

This garden already had the foundation of lush plantings that just needed balancing and supplementing. We added some evergreen Camellia spring blooming shrubs, relocated some of the existing plants and added a number of shade loving, flowering perennials. However the garden was dominated by its very linear brick path bordered by linear timbers. Since the garden naturally tended towards the naturalized woodland garden style due to its dominant trees on both sides, we needed to bring a balance to the linear pathway. We selected weathered flagstones and formed a serpentine pathway that crossed the brick pathway as well as some fieldstone boulders set on the right side around the tree. This quickly brought the best out of the garden space and defined a theme for the garden (naturalized urban woodland).
Later in the fall, we returned to rebuild the fences on the left and rear sides of the garden. The old pine picket privacy fence and gate was removed and we constructed a custom made cedar fence with horizontal boards. The design was made more appealing by using thinner boards with wider gaps at the top of the fence, allowing greater light through the fence and lessening the enclosed feeling of a fence. The home's cat was very pleased with the new fence that provided a perfect sunbathing and lookout spot!
The gate mimicked the style of the fence, and was completed with a deadbolt lock rather than a latch. Both sides of the fence were "finished" making it equally appealing from the inside or outside. Finally the fence and gate were stained a walnut color semitransparent stain that allowed the grain of the cedar wood to show through but darkened and protected the wood.
Below the fence (still unstained) radically changes the appearance of the garden as vertical pickets were replaced with horizontal lines. This also served to de-emphasize again the dominant linear brick path.
On the left side of the garden the fence continued with the same design but included a single step down to take into account the change in grade. The new side fence replaced an old wire fence that had been completely covered with ivy. While ivy is a very effective ground cover, it is very invasive and can come to completely dominate a garden. In this case the ivy was removed which further transformed the garden.
Finally a new house number was required for the back fence. Using the numbers provided by the homeowners, we created a unique plaque for the numbers using a section of Osage Orange board. Osage Orange is a local native tree (also known as monkey brains) which has a stunning yellow wood. This yellow wood provided a highly visible back ground for the dark numbers. Osage orange is a very hard wood, very resistant to decay and it has a long history of use in fences, living fences and was used by the Osage Indigenous People for Bows due to its strength. In many ways it is a perfect wood to create plaques for numbers, signs or fence art. We left the bark on the board to add to the natural appeal and uniqueness of the number plaque, which also hints at the naturalized woodland garden behind the fence!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Hedgerow for Diverse Purposes

Hedgerows can be planted for many reasons, and before planting a hedgerow it is important to define what the primary objectives are for the hedgerow.

Possible objectives for a hedgerow can include:

Windbreak (perhaps on the north side of a home or to provide a sheltered area of the garden).
Privacy (best to select mostly evergreen species)
To provide habitat for birds, butterflies, bees and small animals
To beautify a garden
To define a space within a garden
To create a boundary
As a place to plant native species for ecological reasons
To provide edible nuts and berries for people
Fragrant Blossoms

When I am asked by a homeowner to create a design for a hedgerow I first determine what the primary objectives are and then tailor the design to fill these objectives. Perhaps the simplest and most over planted hedgerow is the typical row of giant arborvitae that create a full privacy screen and boundary. While this hedgerow certainly has its place and function, it is not always the best choice for a homeowner. A more diverse planting can be much more attractive, interesting and useful in the home setting.

In this particular situation the homeowners wanted the hedgerow to define a boundary and offer some privacy without being the typical set of evergreens planted in a dull row. We arrived at a suitable design that combined a number of wonderful native species of trees and shrubs with some non-natives that held special appeal. This hedgerow offers 4 season interest with blooms at various times of the year and various bark textures and colors that come into their true glory during winter.

Creating a hedgerow in an area that has been lawn is a process of removing the sod, tilling and enhancing the topsoil as needed (leaf compost being a great choice), planting the new trees and shrubs and mulching generously. This hedgerow is designed to have a non-linear shape even though it is defining a linear boundary between the homeowner and neighbor. The gentle curve suits the diverse planting well. Over time this hedgerow will fill out and attract many birds and beneficial insects. We also selected varieties that offer scented blooms.

Varieties here included:

Juniper (evergreen)

Kousa Dogwood (chinese, more disease resistant)

Redbud (native flowering)

Japanese Stewartia (flowering, winter interest)

Serviceberry (native, flowering)


Inkberry (evergreen native)

Skip laurel (evergreen)

Red Twig Dogwood (native, winter interest)

Dwarf Fothergilla (native fragrant flowering spring)

Summersweet (fragrant flowering summer)

Viburnum (fragrant flowering spring)

Witch Hazel (native fragrant flowering autumn)

Note that there is a mixture of evergreens and deciduous, natives and non-natives. This is a flexible design that takes into consideration the diverse purposes for this hedgerow. As a garden designer who also installs the design, I strive to meet the needs of the homeowner while also contributing to a positive ecology and supporting the planting of native species. There are many beautiful native species that are entirely appropriate for the home garden, however I am not a purist in the sense of only promoting native species. The sharing of species between regions and continents has been going on for thousands of years. However, I do avoid planting invasive species as I know first hand how difficult they are to remove, however we can all enjoy the many exotic species that have become readily available in our local nurseries.