Thursday, April 29, 2010

Spring in Carmel-by-the-Sea

I love having a client on the coast, and to have one in the charming community of Carmel-by-the Sea is a particular treat. Last week I took my favorite back road over the Santa Cruz mountains for a meeting, leisurely lunch and photo stroll (the kind of day that is one of the best perks of being a landscape designer in California!)

Located just south of Monterey, next to Pebble Beach, Carmel is nestled in an oak woodland that slopes from Highway 1 to the ocean. The houses are a mixture of styles, including many one-of-a-kind fairytale cottages tucked into the woods. Known for its cool, foggy summers, Carmel has a floriferous early spring that seems to start right after Christmas.

Most homes and many downtown businesses have lovely gardens, like this elegant mix of lavender, scented pelargonium and dusty miller planted beneath a shop window.

Casanova Restaurant on 5th Street is my favorite place to eat in Carmel. Delicious food, nicely over-the-top service and one of my favorite dining patios ever are tucked into this charming little house. Try the Spinach Gnocchi. Trust me.

I have long coveted this glass roof that covers half of the patio; a heritage oak shades the other half. I would love to adapt this for my own little courtyard!

After lunch we explored the town; at a local florist I admired this planting of succulents, so perfect against the earthy wall.

Orchids for sale...

Luscious lavender roses...

And a charming succulent wreath (yours for only $97.50! We look but don't touch...)

This is my favorite stage in the life of a foxglove; about halfway open. Once the bottom flowers start to die off they just seem past their prime. This is perfection.

Shrub begonias do beautifully in Carmel, and are widely planted; in this mild climate they bloom nearly year-round.

Loved this beautiful planting of Euphorbia characias 'Tasmanian Tiger.'

A beautiful Banksia growing happily in a pot; it looks like Banksia ericifolia.

Probably the most magnificent specimen of Fremontodendron californicum I've every seen. Next to the gas station. Carmel is so cool!

Finally, a lovely planting of Cineraria 'Stellata' which happily reseeds itself in shady areas. Thanks for joining me for this little stroll, more about the actual project will be forthcoming!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Garden Designers Roundtable: Points of Focus

This month's Roundtable topic, Focal Points in Garden Design, really got me thinking. The first images that came to mind were magnificent long views of some fabulous objet or specimen, perfectly framed by a structure or planting. But in 'real life' that kind of drama is less of a concern than what we want (and DON'T want) to look at in our gardens, and how those two wants can work together in a harmonious way.

This client didn't want to look out her patio doors and see a wood fence baking in the sun ten feet away, or the neighbor's house just beyond. She wanted a cool, lush tranquil oasis. An arbor took care of the harsh sun, and this simple fountain became the center of her small outdoor world. It is something one can gaze upon with satisfaction in all seasons.

This is more like my first concept of a focal point, an elegant narrow garden designed by John Black, for which I designed this blue water feature that can be seen and heard from the main living areas both inside and out. The simple yet elegant fence, made from covering the existing privacy fence with closely-set horizontal boards, sets it off perfectly, and everything else in the garden draws your eye there.

On this project my initial design had a smaller fountain (in this case a basalt Trinity) but the expansive patio made this a much more interesting option. It was my contractor's idea to use bluestone, which contrasts so nicely with the travertine pavers. The fountain was situated directly opposite the patio doors, framed by an arbor. This picture was taken immediately after planting over a year ago; the bamboo behind the fountain is giant clumping timber bamboo (Bambusa oldhamii) which will screen the fence and frame this focal point even more.

The fountain in my own front garden is the exact center of a design based on expanding circles; it can be viewed from many angles and is truly the heart and soul of the garden. When it is not running (which is rare) it is truly missed. It's not a distant visual, but something the whole garden swirls around.

My back garden fountain does much the same, in a subtler way. It quietly bubbles with a bamboo grove at its back and lush greenery all around. It is where my eye will go when sitting under my red umbrella, or when looking out from my office.

Water isn't the only element I put to work as a focal point; this windmill in my kitchen garden is one of my favorite things. There was one in my last garden that I missed so much I had to have another. I like knowing which way the wind is blowing!

Fire is another compelling element to focus on, especially when it comes out of sparkly blue glass; this simple fire pit is centered on one set of french doors and diagonally from another. The ability of fire to draw people together to focus on each other is much appreciated during our cool Northern California evenings.

A more traditional outdoor fireplace combined with cushy seating is conducive to serious outdoor coziness. The elegant lines of this pre-cast unit draw the eye without overwhelming the space.

Sometimes the functional components of a landscape become focal points, like this dramatic staircase that leads to a home set well below street level. It replaces a narrow wooden staircase ending nearly at the front door. This is much more elegant, and is the main visual element to anyone leaving the house.

And, of course, plants make some of the best focal points of all. Like this planted mound between a swimming pool and a fence that features a specimen Olive that can be seen from everywhere in this garden, and is especially dramatic when lit at night.

Plants turn this rather awkward fireplace punch-out into a dramatic centerpiece; turning a liability into an asset while keeping deck traffic areas clear.

Even something as simple as one purple poppy against a sea of orange makes a striking, if temporary focal point in the right light.

I think my favorite focal points involve the promise of some sort of destination; a spot that, once I arrive, will allow me to look back from where I came and enjoy the delights of the garden.

Even from the once little-used utility path along the side of the house becomes a colorful two-way view corridor.

Here a simple mulch path connects the teak bench not only to this home's front walk, but visually beyond to a simple, arching wood-and-copper gate that leads to a sunny rose garden. Sitting in one place and making the journey through a garden with one's eyes is another kind of focus; perhaps my favorite.

Thanks for joining me on this visual journey, but don't stop here! There are a lot more ideas about focal points to be had from my fellow Knights and Ladies of the Garden Designers Roundtable: check them out!

Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA
Carolyn Choi : Sweet Home and Garden Chicago : Chicago, IL
Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT
Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK
Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX
Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In the Garden : Los Altos, CA
Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ
Susan Morrison : Blue Planet Garden Blog : East Bay, CA
Susan Schlenger : Landscape Design Advice : Hampton, NJ
Tara Dillard : : Atlanta, GA

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Bigger View of a Smaller Garden, Part 2

Now that I've given a closer look at my back garden, let's take a revealing lap around the front garden, shall we? Here's the view through the gate my father built, which nicely frames Priscilla the Redbud. The volunteer poppy is charming, but will be removed soon (before it trips me!)

click any picture to enbiggen!

The closeup view looking up at the house focuses on this charming Moroccan Poppy (Papaver atlanticum 'Flore Pleno') in front of my scented pelargonium 'Fragrant Frosty.'

Pulling back you can see more of my salvage hardscape. Believe me, I would love a nice brick path and steps here. But for now I am pleased that, apart from the crushed rock filler, my walls, steps and paths are all made of materials I had on hand (or scrounged from family and friends!)

My old front walkway was jack-hammered out and used to build the retaining wall that levels the inner courtyard garden. More cobble from under my street trees is used as edging. My crooked sidewalk is unfortunate, but everything else works well together. The shrubs are Manzanita (Arctostaphylos bakeri 'Louis Edmunds') and Coast Rosemary (Westringia fruticosa 'Morning Light'). The grasses are Blue Fescue (Festuca glauca 'Elijah Blue') and Slender Veldt Grass (Pennisetum spathiolatum).

From this angle you can see how the wall follows the curve of the fence and divides the broad bed into two levels; this is a great way to add interest to an area that was formerly lawn, rather than maintaining the existing lawn grade. Here you can see one of the "mother plants" of my Mexican Feather Grass (Nassella tenuissima) and how the cobble adds a little finish to the sidewalk edge.

A young Fuyu persimmon and Green Globe artichokes are two of the edible plants found in the front garden. Purple Sea Lavender (Limonium perezii) self-sown California Poppies (Escholtzia californica) and Spanish Lavender (Lavandula stoechas) provide the main flower color in the outer garden. A wide swath of prostrate blue juniper (Juniperus horizontalis 'Icee Blue') at the sidewalk will keep the view around the corner clear.

A nice vignette of (from front) Yucca variegata, Lemon thyme, Aeonium, Limonium, Green Senecio and California Poppies; can you say water-wise AND pretty?

Pulling back you can see that we've come nearly full circle. A gentle berm along the driveway path adds dimension and a bit of enclosure. The tiny tree is a Dancy tangerine.

Let's pause in remembrance of my former lawn (which I kind of liked when it was gold) and my old front walk, which became the wall. Here's what it looked like two years ago.

One year after installation. The circular fence and the fountain anchor a really nice space. The semi-circular thyme path is just coming into bloom and may just continue right across the front walk, which still needs a final top-dressing of brown gravel. Someday it will be brick...

And you'll notice those same orange poppies in front of the lemon tree; the circle is complete. Some have compared my garden layout to a Mandala. Exactly.

As we approach the porch, don't trip over the official 'greeter.'

And here's the spot from which much of this garden was conceived, and that I can now enjoy with some privacy!

Views from the porch: I'm in love with this combination of poppies and feather grass under the tangerine tree.

Pulling back, the poppies are now framed by the robust red branches of my young Arbutus 'Marina.'

Back further, and here is the view from my chair. No longer a fishbowl at a suburban intersection, but a real place of refuge. Thanks for joining me on this journey around my garden, I hope you'll come back as it grows!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Flora Friday: April at Annie's Annuals

Enjoyed a wonderful visit to Annie's Annuals & Perennials this week; I challenge any plant lover to walk through this wonderful garden of a nursery and not be moved and inspired. And thanks to Growing A Greener World for giving us a behind-the-scenes look at the making of their great new PBS series, which debuts May 15!