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

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...]

Garden Designers’ Roundtable: Bouquets to Art

On February 13th, I went grocery shopping on my way home from work.  Right away I noticed things seemed different in the store.

 Men.  There were lots of men.

Oh yeah, tomorrow’s Valentine’s, I realized.  So there were the men– old & young, fat & thin, hirsute & hairless, all kinds – buying flower bouquets for their sweethearts.  They all looked slightly bewildered, and they were all purchasing either Valentine’s Day Default Gift #1 — Red Roses with Baby’s Breath in a Plastic Sleeve for the Big Spenders – or Valentine’s Day Default Gift #2 — Pink Carnations in a Plastic Sleeve for the more frugal/slightly less-committed set.

I thought, awwww, how cute.  Until I realized how much they were clogging up the checkout lanes, and then I was like, get a move-on, you unimaginative bunch of lemmings! 

man_giving_flowers_as_a_surprise-293x370

“Surprise! I put zero thought into your gift!”

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National Mall Renovation Lookin’ Snazzy

I went downtown today to hit the US Botanical Garden and a couple of museums, and I got a peek at the renovations to the National Mall.

Here is my exclusive, professional-quality footage:

Turf renovation on the National Mall

Turf renovation on the National Mall

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Garden Designers’ Roundtable: Memory and Plants

I’ll I’ll be honest.  I had a hard time figuring out how to approach this topic.  As I have mentioned before, I am New Dirt and not Old Dirt, meaning I do not come from a long line of gardeners, but rather picked up this obsession at age 36 with no influence from parents or grandparents.  Like Constantine’s conversion to Christianity, my conversion to a life of gardening was sudden and complete.  (Whether or not Constantine was pruning Euonymus at the time of his revelation, as I was, is not clear.)

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The Art of Abandonment

A few miles south of where I live there’s an old DC prison complex which used to be known as Lorton Reformatory.  Several years ago, they shut the place down and transformed a few of the larger buildings into a new “Arts Center” where painters, sculptors, and other creative folks can rent studio space and teach classes.

[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.

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Eight Must-Haves From Chanticleer

Chanticleer, just outside of Philadelphia, bills itself as “A Pleasure Garden” and I think that title pretty much nails it.  This garden celebrates plants, design, and craftsmanship more than any other I’ve been to. 

Now, there are various kinds of pleasure to be had from various kinds of gardens — kings’ gardens (Versailles), cooks’ gardens (potagers), botanists’ gardens (arboreta), etc.   But with stunning plant combinations at every turn and public restrooms that are nicer than the place you got married, Chanticleer is truly a gardener’s garden

Here are some of the things I’ve decided I must have after visiting this glorious garden:

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