Garden Designers’ Roundtable: Transitions

One of Beatrix Ferrand’s most famous projects is the garden at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington DC, which is known for its lavish garden rooms and magnificent attention to detail.   As you can see in the map below, each garden “room” has its own name — Rose Garden, Urn Terrace, Pebble Garden, etc. — and each room is masterfully designed and delightful to experience.

dumbartonoaksmap

What I have highlighted in yellow on the map, though, are actually my favorite parts of Dumbarton Oaks.  You will notice they are not the individual gardens at all, but rather the spaces between the gardens, the transitions.  To me, these spaces have always been the most compelling aspect of Dumbarton Oaks, and they are evidence that Beatrix Farrand was a freakin’ genius.

Farrand seemed to put as much thoughtful design into the garden’s transitional spaces as she did into the rooms themselves.  For instance, look how this narrow stone stairway beckons you up the hill….ArborTerraceStairs

At the top of the steps you find yourself in the Arbor Terrace, a shady and restful spot with a grotto-like fountain:

arborterrace

Farrand was completely masterful in her use of sound and smell in these transition areas.  As you travel the paths between gardens, you can often hear the sound of water trickling or gurgling from an area that you can’t yet see. For example, as you walk up this path, you can hear the sound of a fountain in the distance….

ellipsePath1

Turn left at the end of the wall and you enter the famous Ellipse Garden and ah-ha! there’s the fountain:

Ellipse

Farrand also lined these transitional paths with fragrant shrubs like lilac and honeysuckle, and she paid just as much attention to the walls, paving, and plantings in these “in-between” areas as she did to the major garden areas.  For example, here is the stairway leading to the pool — a feature more interesting than the pool itself:

poolstairs

Below is a picture of the path on the way to Lover’s Lane (a shallow pool hidden in the woods).  At the end of the path, a statue of Pan points the way to…

LoversLanePan

the pool, where undoubtedly you will be getting up to no good with your sweetheart:

LoversLane

You have to love a garden that encourages mischievous behavior (although in early April when I visited this area doesn’t have a very secluded feel — gotta wait for the leaves to fill in.)

Here is a little path that jigs off to the side behind some large evergreens.  The beautiful tiled roof pokes up and entices you over:cuttinggardenpath

Turn left at the end of the path and you get a nice view of the cutting garden (just getting going) with the Prunus Walk in the distance:

cuttinggarden

And scattered throughout the entire garden are curving brick paths lined with boxwood, or rustic stairways that lead to hidden terraces, or peek-a-boos of secret spaces glimpsed between evergreens:

LoversLanePeek

boxwoodpath

stonesteps

Please check out other perspectives on “Transitions” from my fellow Roundtablers:

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

Deborah Silver : Dirt Simple : Detroit, MI

Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT

Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT

David Cristiani : The Desert Edge : Albuquerque, NM

“Malignant Magenta”

Some interesting revelations in a book I’m currently reading called One Writer’s Garden, which is about the Jackson, Mississippi garden of Eudora Welty and her mother Chestina

Last night I read this explanation for the shunning of magenta flowers back in Welty’s day (early 20th century, but the magenta aversion continues today for many gardeners):

“Historian Susan Lanman..points out that arsenic was was commonly used in pesticides, giving crops a magenta color that indicated that the lethal poison had been applied.  [Gertrude] Jekyll and others distressed by the effects of industrialization eschewed [magenta]for such associations with pollution, and its manufacture from aniline dyes, which themselves were derived from the coal whose smoke blackened England’s skies.”

Byzantine-gladiolus-row

Byzantine gladiolus. http://www.bulbhunter.com

Ew.  So magenta=toxic was part of the reason they didn’t like it. 

But also many gardeners and designers just found the color plain nasty.  Apparently, Gertrude Jekyll is the one who tagged it “malignant magenta” and another British garden writer called the color “that awful form of original sin.”

Geez.

Poor magenta.  It doesn’t seem fair.  Everyone has their tastes, but who wouldn’t want to stumble upon that lovely sweep of Byzantine Gladioli (pictured above) on a drive through the country?

(Source: One Writer’s Garden, by Susan Haltom and Jane Roy Brown.)

Garden Designers’ Roundtable: Mistakes

“A man’s mistakes are his portals of discovery.”

–James Joyce

13retain1_lgThen again, Joyce was a man of ideas.  I’m sure no contractor ever said to a client: “Oh, that retaining wall I put in last fall is collapsing now?  But of course!  How could something so bourgeois hold back the anarchy of our modern age??  Don’t you see??  It was futile from its inception!!!”

Anyway, it only took me a few minutes to compile a long list of mistakes that I have made over the course of my study of landscape design.  Here are just a few:

1. Giving landscape design advice to people who didn’t ask for it.  You might think that this would be obvious, but when you’re a new landscape design student all super-excited about what you’re learning, like I was, sometimes you can go a bit overboard.

[Read more...]

Is Designing Solo the Best Way?

Photo Credit: US Mission Geneva

Photo Credit: US Mission Geneva

In the Final Comprehensive of my Landscape Design Course, we had to work in teams of three. I was in a group with two other talented people (both professional designers), and our task was to redesign a small park on the campus of GW.

We brainstormed. We sketched. We had meetings — many, many meetings. We discussed. We argued. We tried to change one another’s minds and we attempted compromise.

[Read more...]

David Culp’s Layered Garden Includes Black Walnuts!

layeredMore good news for those of us living with Juglans nigra! In his new book The Layered Garden, David Culp describes several genera that he has grown with success beneath these anti-social trees, including:

Smilacina — (Smilacena racemosa — False Solomon’s Sealan interesting perennial with white flowers in spring followed by green/red berries).

Asarum(cute little gingers!)

Aucuba — (Evergreen, Gold Speckles. Reminds me of the upholstery on the couch from my childhood family room, circa 1976. What’s not to love?)

Pulmonaria(I am always reading about how great these are — why don’t I grow them?)

Convallaria(I actually have Lily-of-the-Valley growing under a Silver Maple, which means they will officially grow anywhere.)

[Read more...]

The Election 2012 Garden Mash Up

Finally, the candidates discuss the real issues.   And just in time for election day, too!

(Oh, I guess I should mention the candidates’ actual words are in white and my very slight modifications are in yellow.)

[Read more...]

Conservation vs. Protection

What’s the difference?

I ask because I came across this quote from Teddy Roosevelt when I visited Roosevelt Island this weekend:

“Conservation Means Development as Much as it Does Protection.”

Coming from the man who established the National Park System, I raised an eyebrow when I read this.  These terms — conservation, preservation, protection, etc. — are pretty slippery.  When you’re talking about actual environmental policy, these words have no concrete definition. Which, come to think of it, is probably why politicians like them.  Politicians are just nuts about abstract language.

[Read more...]

The Heart and Soul of America

If you had to choose one place in the United States that you felt all Americans should visit, one landscape or landmark representative of the “American ethos”, what would it be?

I started pondering that question last week after reading a piece in the great gardening e-mag Garden Drum. The article’s Australian author, Catherine Stewart, writes of her pilgrimage to Uluru (more familiar to us as Ayers Rock), the giant monolith located smack dab in the middle of the Australian continent.

[Read more...]

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