Category Archives: Garden art

A World in Stone

wall-fountain.1600Lion’s head wall fountain

There’s a reason that stone in a garden gives us the feeling that it has been there a long time. The rustic elegance of a dry laid stone wall, natural stone paver patio, huge stone slab steps, outdoor stone fireplace or flagstone garden path reminds us that we humans have used stone for over two million years when we first started making stone tools.

sauna_wall-closeup.1600Ocean Pearl sauna wall detail

Stone is much more than the Wikipedia definition of “a naturally occurring solid aggregate of one or more minerals.”  Granite, for instance, comes from igneous rocks formed slowly as it cooled deep under the earth’s surface. Sandstone and limestone are sedimentary rocks formed by the compaction of grains or pieces of any kind of existing rock material then cemented over millions of years by the movement of the earth’s tectonic plates and sometimes contain fossils formed at the time of deposition. Then there is metamorphic rock like marble and slate that were formed at extreme high pressures and temperatures beneath the earth’s crust from other types of rock. The presence of swirls, linear patterns or banding is a key characteristic of this kind of stone.

wall_inserts_anchor_agate_shell.1600Whimsical wall detail- anchor, agate, shells

In Ben Lomond lives a stone advocate who has created a spectacular decorative stone wall, a stone shower and sauna room, stone patio, paths and slab steps and he’s invited me to come and view them at his home before he puts it on the market.

Jon Troutner has been in the stone business for a long time. He owned Antolini Masonry and Landscape Supply in Santa Cruz for 20 years until he lost his lease and sold the company in 2008. Afterwards he used his expertise and some choice materials he saved to use at his home in Ben Lomond and another in Aptos. Jon’s primarily a musician these days but his creative vision in stone is a magical experience as he walks me around his home.

eel_head_rock.1600“eel-head” rock peaking out of wall

Jon’s property is located near Love Creek up on a hill and has a lovely canyon view. When he bought the property 5 years ago the backyard was just sand but now it is fully landscaped. Ocean Pearl, one of his favorite stone types that he used in his whimsical wall and sauna, comes from a quarry on Vancouver Island that he used to own. Jon gave this this type of quartzite it’s unique name because of the subtle hues and shadings in the stone.

whimsical_stone_wall.1600“Where’s Waldo” stone wall

Jon’s creations in stone have a look of their own. Being a harmonica player he puts an old harmonica somewhere on each of his unique walls. It’s his personal signature and he pointed out one in the sauna and one in the “Where’s Waldo?” wall as he calls it.

mermaid_in_wall.1600mermaid in stone wall

“What’s a ‘Where’s Waldo’ wall, I ask?” Jon just laughs and explains that this 1987 children’s book is about the travels of Wally where readers are asked to locate him hidden in an illustration and to re-explore each scene locating other objects too. Jon showed me three mermaids, five otters, two turtles, three seahorses and an eel-shaped rock poking out from the “waves” of ocean pearl stone veneer on the showpiece wall he created to enclose the patio. There are also ship net balls, an anchor, abalone shells, fossils and his signature harmonica. “I pictured this wall as the ocean floor,” Jon explained.

fossil_in_wall.1600fossils in stone wall

As we walk around, Jon points out the Vermont slate floor and the ocean pearl veneer sauna room, the basalt shower with rounded cobble stone floor, the Indian rainbow cut sandstone shady patio, the Connecticut bluestone slab steps, the ocean pearl columns, the tumbled Arizona gold flagstone path and the 125 pound crystals from Brazil that are lighted at night.

This place is magical and timeless. Jon’s creative vision will live forever in his stone creations.

A Day at the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show

water_fall.1600water feature in a display garden

I remember my first San Francisco Landscape Garden show as it used to be called. The year was 1989- not long after the event started as a fundraiser for San Francisco Friends of Recreation and Parks. My father and I loved it. All those orchids and bonsai and beautiful gardens. It was held at Fort Mason and my father, a retired Army colonel, was quite familiar with the location. I was new to garden shows and was yet to discover that the display gardens are part theatre – part landscape design. ‘Who would plant a shrub that grows to 6 feet tall in front of that little bitty flowering perennial?”, I said to Dad. Well, I’ve been to a lot of garden shows since including the Northwest Flower and Garden show in Seattle and the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show when it was held at the Cow Palace and now, in it’s 30th year, at the San Mateo Event Center.

Tres_Amigas_March2016Fellow landscape designers at the show

So this year I know what to expect. Or I think I do but there are always surprises. I’m with a couple fellow landscape designers and we have a keen eye for new plants in interesting combinations and design solutions for upcoming landscapes. In addition to the show gardens there are also hundreds of vendors selling all sorts of wonderful garden related items and vendors selling every type of plant you could possibly want. So much fun. Here are just some of the highlights if you weren’t able to attend this year yourself.

The display gardens offer inspiration from lawn replacement ideas to sustainable building methods to exciting new plant introductions. For five days each March, people from around the world are brought together to educate, encourage and inspire garden enthusiast of all ages and all levels of knowledge and experience. This year was no exception although I wish there had been more display gardens like in the “good old days” of the garden show.

water_fountain_deer-scare.1600deer scare or Shishi Idoshi water feature

Who doesn’t enjoy sitting next to an impressive water feature? This year there were several incorporated in designs that also included low water use plants. A pondless waterfall can attract birds, butterflies and other pollinators to your garden. The soothing sound of the water can also mask street noise. One garden featured a Japanese bamboo deer scare or Shishi Odoshi. Perfect for a small space the bamboo spout fills with water and rocks forward to empty, then rocks back to create a gentle clacking sound.

Another impressive display garden featured succulents of every type and shape. Grouped by color and shape, large swaths of these modern succulents_basalt_column.1600looking plants created a living tapestry around columnar basalt landscape rocks. Other notable features of this garden were the brightly painted stucco walls enclosing the space and stucco-over-building-block retaining walls painted bright blue, red and terra cotta.

wall_lightingcreative wall lighting

I probably got the most practical ideas from the garden created by the Association of Professional Landscape Designers than any other garden. Theirs demonstrated ways to re-imagine your garden without a lawn.There were cozy sitting areas. plants that screen out the street or next door neighbor, a vertical edible garden, lawn alternatives like Kurapia and vibrant planters filled with low water use plants. The whole garden was engaging and useful. I also saw a great idea for wall lighting that used a rusted metal screen in front of the light creating an interesting pattern. You had to be there to appreciate it’s unique design.

callistemon_Little_John.1600callistemon ‘Little John’

For me and my colleagues the plants and garden art both featured in the gardens and for sale are what keeps us at the show for a long time. There are so many new plant introductions to evaluate for future designs. From new and improved selections of old favorites such as variegated lavender ‘Meerlo’, a soft mahonia ground cover, abelia ‘Miss Lemon’ to nandina ‘Lemon Lime’ and callistemon ‘Slim Jim’ there is a perfect plant for every garden.

Think about what you want to do in your front or back yard this year to save water and maintenance and enhance the beauty of your space.

Chihuly Garden & Glass

Recently I visited a garden of glass and it was spectacular. At the base of the Space Needle in Seattle, the newly opened Chihuly Garden and Glass Exhibit is a marriage of garden and art like no other I've ever seen. To experience larger-than-life blown glass in vibrant rainbow colors nestled among trees and shrubs was magical. I was transported beyond the ordinary to the extraordinary.

You may have seen some Dale Chihuly glass art at the DeYoung Museum when it was displayed there several years ago. Some of the pieces were influenced by Pacific Northwest American Indian art, others reminiscent of plants and sea forms. In a PBS special currently airing called Chihuly Outside, I learned that his love of blown glass has evolved since 1995 from installations in glass houses in Europe and the U.S. to massive outside exhibits in Finland, Venice, Japan, Australia and Jerusalem. The Chihuly Gardens and Glass Exhibit in Seattle is his most ambitious project ever.

Soft winter sunlight backlit the glass art that seemed to sprout up from the earth. Evergreen magnolia trees, pines and weeping cedar formed a dark green backdrop for the vivid blue, red, yellow, orange, mauve and chartreuse blown glass. Coral Bark maples echoed the same shade of glass reeds and spears. Red Twig dogwood sported a stand of fiori or flower inspired glass. Cobalt glass spheres reflected the Space Needle nearby. Swaths of steel blue eryngium or sea holly were still blooming a bit complementing the ruby glass behind.

Seattle is cold in the winter with lots of rain (sound familiar?) so plants appropriate to the site and climate are a must. Lily-of-the-Valley shrubs provide year-round interest. Their burgundy flower buds hung in clusters ready to open in the spring. Mahonia, which are native to our area also, bloomed with spikes of yellow flowers attracting hummingbirds that over winter in the area. Helleborus or Lenten Rose held tight flower buds just waiting to open. Sasanqua camellias in pink, rose and white popped with color.

Lots of burgundy coral bells carpeted the ground in front of massive logs that looked like petrified wood. I had to check for myself. Mondo grass, epimedium, strawberry  begonia and Japanese Forest grass complemented more flower inspired glass art. Strolling the garden and looking at the glass from different angles as the changing light filtered through was awesome. Chihuly doesn't so much mimic nature as borrow inspiration from it. As with all art, it's in the eye of the beholder and I fell, hook, line and sinker under its spell.

This garden of glass reminds you of frog legs with webbed toes, anemones waving in the incoming tide, towers of tall ti plants. Harmonizing plants and art is the creation of designer Richard Hartlage. Conifers, evergreen grasses, small shrubs and ferns set off the brilliant glass art. A green roof can be seen from above,a green screen of evergreen clematis encloses one side and large crape myrtles provide beautiful winter bark that blends with the lavender and burgundy glass sculptures.

A visit to the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit in Seattle was a day spent with light and glass and the plants that make them sparkle. I hoping to see this garden next July when the asters and rhododendrons are in bloom. Even in the quiet months of winter it was spectacular.
 

Landscaping with Dogs in Mind

Gardens are for people and the pets they love. When you come home they are always happy to see you. Doesn't matter what kind of day it's been, they are there for you. So it stands to reason that we would want to make their little corner of the world as interesting and comfortable as we can.

I'm working with several homeowners right now that have dogs in the family. Their goal is to provide a dog-friendly landscape that is beautiful, safe and has enough mental stimulation to keep them occupied during the day. If you have a dog, here are some tips to remember.

Each dog is different. Banjo, a yellow lab owned by a friend, loves to play the fetching game with his favorite toy. He needs lots of exercise and objects to chew on. His yard has room to play and a box of toys that he can carry around in his mouth.

I'll need to consider several breed traits and personalities in a Ben Lomond garden that I'm updating. Sunny Boy is a timid pit bull mix who has bonded with Pippy, the cocker/doxie mix. Along with the beagle, Brandy, they all love to tunnel and chase each other. In this garden there will be a dog tunnel made from wire winding between plants. The plants will grow over the top and can be tied to form a roof. This way the dogs have a fun activity that comes naturally to them.

These owners also have a very old rescue chihauhua, Rico Suave, receiving hospice care for a brain tumor. He needs a quiet, private spot with warmth. In a out of the way spot, we are going to add several flagstone to soak up the heat of the sun where he can lay.

Creating a garden to meet your dogs needs is the best way to avoid future problems. Most dogs prowl the perimeter of their fence to investigate noises so instead of a plant border consider paving stones, gravel or mulched paths along the fenceline.

If you dog is a digger like Brandy the beagle, create a special area in a shady spot where they can dig to their heart's content. The spot can be a sand pit or earth.  Entice them to this area by burying a favorite toy or bone. They will return again and again to this one spot and not dig up your flower beds.

Picking plants is important in backyard landscaping with dogs especially if your dog naturally nibbles on greenery or berries. Some plants are lethal while others can cause illness or vomiting. I was surprised to see so many common plants on the ASPCA website that could cause problems. From carnations to primroses to geraniums, I'll be checking the list to make sure all my dog friends are safe.
http://www.aspca.org/Pet-care/poison-control/Plants?plant_toxicity=toxic-to-dogs

Plants near paths should have soft foliage without thorns and spines which can cause eye injury.  Brittle plants like salvia should be in the center where they'll be protected.  Densely planted areas are usually avoided by dogs but planting in raised beds or mounds help, too. Pieces of driftwood placed at the front of a border will discourage them, too.  Start with one gallon or larger plants that can stand up to a little roughhousing .

If your dogs have already created their own path through the garden, don't try to redirect them. Instead turn their well-worn routes into pathways covered with a mulch of small wood chips which are easy on paws yet large enough so they won't cling to fur coats.
      
Provide your dog with an area to relieve himself.  Since you only have about 8 hours to water a spot after your dog goes on the lawn it's better to set aside a corner covered with pea gravel, cedar chips or flagstone and train your dog to go there.  It's also a good idea to install marking posts like a piece of wood or log along a path.

Dogs can get bored in a space.  Dog friendly gardeners incorporate barriers, arbors, pathways and raised beds to channel dog's energies to things they enjoy, like running and away from delicate plants and veggies.They also need places that provide shade like trees, arbors and pergolas.  Eliminate weeds, especially foxtails, which can get in your dogs ears or be inhaled.

Keep theses tips in mind and both you and your dog will be happier for it.
 

Garden Design Tips

A garden has many purposes. It's a place to grow delicious tomatoes and mouth watering fruit picked ripe off the tree. It's a place to read your favorite book on a comfy chair in the shade. It's a place to watch birds and butterflies when they visit the flowers you've planted just for them. It's a place that you go when you need to get away from all the hustle and bustle of daily life. And it's a place of healing.

This week I lost my little cat, Jasmine.  I forgive her for the occasional bird she caught. She really wasn't a hunter. Mostly she liked to just lay around in the shade. There is so much life in a garden. For now, mine will be a healing garden.

Gardens serve many functions. With our lovely summer weather they are truly another room – an outdoor room. We all recognize a well designed garden when we see it. All the garden's individual parts make sense together. They feel right. That's why some gardens not only look better, but feel better than others, too.

There are several design principles that you should use to get your garden to look its best. Once you have them down, a garden practically designs itself.  

First of all you want to create unity within your garden. Plants and other hardscape elements in a garden, like decks, paths or even rocks, have visual weight  that needs to be balanced so everything appears in proportion. A tall tree and low mounded shrubs growing opposite a group of airy perennials around a fountain looks natural and random but balanced. Think of a mimosa tree underplanted with Gulf Stream nandina opposite a group of monkey flower.

Your garden should include a variety of textures, seasonal interest and color to hold your attention and create excitement. Things should stand out from each other. Choose one or two contrasting elements, like the small green leaves of loropetalum against  broad, variegated hostas, or a tall, vertical thuja Emerald Green against low, mounding abelia Kaleidescope so your garden doesn't turn into a jumble.

A garden needs at least one object or area that is noticed first and most often. Your focal point can be a red Japanese maple rising above a low, wild ginger groundcover or a water fountain that instantly gets your attention. The sound of water is soothing and it's fun to see all the birds and butterflies that come to visit.

Because our area is nested among the trees or other wild areas I think an informal, naturalistic garden looks more like it belongs here. Curved paths and planting beds move the eye more slowly through the landscape and invite you to come and explore every corner and curve. Stillness and reflection result  when gentle rhythmic, repeating groups of plants curve toward a tall garden arbor, for instance. Create smooth transitions from one area of the landscape to another.

Repeating forms, textures, colors and sizes makes a garden easier to look at. Repetition sets the rhythm for the eye to move around the garden. Evenly space plants produces a predictable, well-controlled, peaceful feeling. A staggered, uneven repetition will have a bouncy, energetic effect.

 

Garden Design Tips

A garden has many purposes. It's a place to grow delicious tomatoes and mouth watering fruit picked ripe off the tree. It's a place to read your favorite book on a comfy chair in the shade. It's a place to watch birds and butterflies when they visit the flowers you've planted just for them. It's a place that you go when you need to get away from all the hustle and bustle of daily life. And it's a place of healing.

This week I lost my little cat, Jasmine.  I forgive her for the occasional bird she caught. She really wasn't a hunter. Mostly she liked to just lay around in the shade. There is so much life in a garden. For now, mine will be a healing garden.

Gardens serve many functions. With our lovely summer weather they are truly another room – an outdoor room. We all recognize a well designed garden when we see it. All the garden's individual parts make sense together. They feel right. That's why some gardens not only look better, but feel better than others, too.

There are several design principles that you should use to get your garden to look its best. Once you have them down, a garden practically designs itself.  

First of all you want to create unity within your garden. Plants and other hardscape elements in a garden, like decks, paths or even rocks, have visual weight  that needs to be balanced so everything appears in proportion. A tall tree and low mounded shrubs growing opposite a group of airy perennials around a fountain looks natural and random but balanced. Think of a mimosa tree underplanted with Gulf Stream nandina opposite a group of monkey flower.

Your garden should include a variety of textures, seasonal interest and color to hold your attention and create excitement. Things should stand out from each other. Choose one or two contrasting elements, like the small green leaves of loropetalum against  broad, variegated hostas, or a tall, vertical thuja Emerald Green against low, mounding abelia Kaleidescope so your garden doesn't turn into a jumble.

A garden needs at least one object or area that is noticed first and most often. Your focal point can be a red Japanese maple rising above a low, wild ginger groundcover or a water fountain that instantly gets your attention. The sound of water is soothing and it's fun to see all the birds and butterflies that come to visit.

Because our area is nested among the trees or other wild areas I think an informal, naturalistic garden looks more like it belongs here. Curved paths and planting beds move the eye more slowly through the landscape and invite you to come and explore every corner and curve. Stillness and reflection result  when gentle rhythmic, repeating groups of plants curve toward a tall garden arbor, for instance. Create smooth transitions from one area of the landscape to another.

Repeating forms, textures, colors and sizes makes a garden easier to look at. Repetition sets the rhythm for the eye to move around the garden. Evenly space plants produces a predictable, well-controlled, peaceful feeling. A staggered, uneven repetition will have a bouncy, energetic effect.