I like lists. I’m a sucker for anything that sounds like it’s going to cut to the chase, pare down to the essentials. So when I recently taught a class on garden design, I challenged myself to make Top 5 plant lists in a variety of categories. It was difficult, and in the end I was almost tossing a coin, but it was a great exercise that made me stop and think for a while.
If you could only have 5 kinds of trees, what would they be?
If space were no issue, here’s what I’d pick:
Magnolia virginiana– the Sweetbay Magnolia. Much smaller than the Southern Magnolia (10-20+’), our native variety is more finely branched, and deciduous or semi-evergreen. It leafs out in April with white blooms in late spring, well after the Magnolia stellata and Magnolia soulangiana have finished. It supports wildlife (even butterflies), and tolerates wet feet (stormwater issues, anyone?), hence it’s other name, the Swamp Magnolia.
Betula nigra– the River Birch, a tree loved by classic garden designers and modernists alike. River Birch are planted for their peeling bark, multi-trunk habit, graceful leaves, and fantastic ability to take up water. Choose ‘Heritage’ or ‘Duraheat’ for a slightly smaller variety (~40′). (Sadly, the only dwarf variety is more of a shrub, and not the proportionally scaled-down version we all wish for.)
Nyssa sylvatica– the Blackgum Tree. The fall color alone is reason to plant this tree! The green, shiny leaves turn brilliant shades of red, orange and yellow in a superb display. The Blackgum (or Black Tupelo) is an incredibly tolerant tree that will take sun or shade, wet, dry, or even gravelly soil. It has a horizontal branching habit and can easily reach 40’+, so it needs space. If you have it, plant this tree.
Cornus alternifolia– the Pagoda Dogwood. The botanical name of this gorgeous tree comes from its alternating, horizontal branching pattern, a graceful form that just floors me when I see it. Take a walk in a beautiful woodland garden like Macrillis Garden in Bethesda to see it in a magical setting. Use as a specimen tree or a wonderful understory tree at the edge of a wooded area for a layering effect.
Taxodium distichum– the Bald Cypress. I wish I had a big pond so I could plant these all around it! The little needles seem as if they’d be evergreen like a Hemlock, but aren’t. The tree’s ‘knees’ are considered a highlight and make them easily identifiable. The species can hit 100′, so look for a smaller cultivar like ‘Peve Minaret’ if you have a small garden but want to try one.
What, no evergreens?
Yikes! Number 6, Pinus strobus, Eastern White Pine, and Number 7, Pinus parviflora, the Lacebark Pine.
I had a wonderful time chatting with Isabelle Baldwin about butterfly gardens for the March issue of Alexandria Living Magazine! I have so much for respect for Beth Lawson and her team who put out this wonderful regional magazine for our community. Please check out their print copies, available now in places like Barnes & Noble, The Old Town Shop, Whole Foods, and other places around town.
As we discuss in the article, it really isn’t difficult to make your outside attractive to wildlife. You don’t need a special new garden or a lot of space. Enhancing or substituting a little of what you already have can go a long way to supporting our pollinators, butterflies, and other beneficial insects.
Would you like to make your patio or garden more butterfly-friendly? Let’s talk about how we can create a planting plan that will start bringing nature home to you.
From time to time potential clients ask, “Do you have a garden style?”, or “What is the blue house gardens look?”
Mention the name Piet Oudolf, Martha Schwartz, or “Capability” Brown to people who love gardens and you will conjure up a very specific visual. Many talented, local designers also have a signature style, driven either by aesthetic preference or, more commonly, a philosophical inclination such as using only native plantings.
House style is often the fist visual cue for garden style. Here in the DC Metro area, we live in a mishmash of architecture, often on the same block or even the same house! Authenticity is rare; instead, we speak of homes “in the style of.” This means that unless a designer chooses a very niche clientele, they will be moving between styles. The right balance between the architecture of the house and the taste, budget and lifestyle of the client will drive the design.
In my own practice, I’m committed to understanding what my clients want and then giving that to them in the best possible way.
Of course, there are constants that I tend to apply across all my projects. Strong form is a must, as it ensures a garden will read clearly, function well, and even withstand a certain amount of neglect. I prefer a limited plant palette, as masses of a smaller variety will naturally be neater and more manageable than a very diverse collection. I lean toward natural hardscape material, I naturally gravitate to blue flowers until someone tells me otherwise, and I’ve never met a site that couldn’t use some native Inkberry Holly. But with all that said, one could create any style of garden with those preferences.
So what is my garden style? Creating a landscape plan with the best version of your style through the application of thoughtful design.
As I type, the wind is howling and there are patches of snow on the ground after our first accumulation of the year. Every morning while I’m sipping my coffee I look out to see how some of my borderline shrubs are holding up in the cold. Know what that means? It’s landscape design time!
Winter may seem like the off-season for the landscape industry, but so much is happening behind the scenes.
It’s the time of year to regroup (paperwork!), to reflect on and improve business practices. It’s the time to attend educational events and trade shows (e.g. MANTS, the APLD Annual Winter Lecture, Green Matters) which keep me fresh and inspired. And yes, it is the time for a little rest (plants have the right idea). But best of all, winter is the time to work on plans for this year’s installations.
I love it when I’m busy with landscape design from December-March, because I know I’m going to have happy clients who are securely on the schedule when the weather improves.
It can be hard to think about home improvement projects during the holiday or post-holiday season, but when you factor in design revisions and busy schedules, getting your plans together can take a month or easily much more. If you want your project completed by Memorial Day, start counting backwards and you’ll realize that it needs to start now. If you call 3 weeks before Memorial Day, you may be disappointed to find that you’ll be waiting until fall before work can begin.
Are you looking to revamp your plant beds, build a new patio, or finally start your little urban farm? Is it time to address the failing retaining walls or just add some fun like a bocce court? Let’s make it a reality in 2019! It starts with a Consultation.
Schedule your site consultation between now and Christmas and know that while we’re talking and dreaming about your landscape, you’re also giving to others in a very tangible way. (And yes, it’s the perfect time to start planning for spring!)
Want to know more about OAR? Take a tour to hear all about this wonderful program serving our neighbors and their families.
Second chances and restoration- the very meaning of Christmas.
Trees are magical at night with simple uplighting.
Path lighting provides beauty and safety.
When we think of gardens, we immediately think of plants, stone, brick, benches etc. We tend to picture ourselves walking through or sitting out in the sunshine, enjoying the sights, fragrances and sounds. But one of the most magical things you can do in your landscape is to add lighting. Outdoor lighting is the absolute icing on the cake, that extra element that elevates the charm factor to a completely new level.
One of the most common lighting functions is uplighting, which is most often used to highlight trees, architecture, and statuary or artwork. The other is path lighting, which guides you through the garden and provides a measure of safety, as well. Both of these basic functions create a welcoming warmth to your home, and they also allow you to enjoy your garden more in the evenings, which might be the only time you’re home during the work week. Even if you’re stuck in the house, you’ve given yourself a beautiful view to enjoy. I especially like they way I don’t feel so closed in during these darker months of the year. Expanding my view out to the back of my garden makes me feel less mentally confined somehow.
If you’re starting your landscape design, be sure to include lighting in your final plans. If you already have a garden but don’t have any lights yet- I can help with that!
The old walkway was narrow and below the grade of the trees and beds.
Starting the stone pattern on a compacted stone dust base.
The Techo-bloc Rocka step blends beautifully with natural flagstone. This step is 5′ wide and 6″ high.
Changing the front entrance to your home is one of the most impactful choices you can make in your landscape. These clients recently completed a beautiful remodel and needed to start from scratch with the front walkway and planting beds. We replaced the old, narrow brick walkway with a bolder, rectilinear yet meandering flagstone walk for a welcoming path to the front door.
The Techo-bloc Rocka step make a neat transition between levels and blends beautifully with the natural stone. Large pieces (18″ x 18″, 18″ x 24″, and 18″ x 36″) of mixed color Pennysylvania flagstone keep the look simple and clean and complement the new Hardiplank facade in both color and form. The stones are set tightly on a base of compacted stone dust and finished with poly sand.
A very simple palette of plants was put in at this mid-fall date- Hydrangea, Prunus ‘Otto Luyken’, Sarcococca humilis, Ilex glabra, Dryopteris, Hosta, Phlox subulata, Pennisetum, Hypericum. The huge oak trees have been limbed up a bit for the renovation, so we’ll see what the sunlight conditions are over the next few seasons and adjust as needed.
Meanwhile, we’ll admire the great work of The King’s Masons as we wait for the garden to mature. Welcome in!
There are two things I love about living near St. Mary’s Episcopal Church– the bells, and the gardens. Landscape efforts truly benefit everyone by making our neighborhoods more beautiful, and this property is a prime example. The church grounds contain spring-blooming cherry trees, summer perennials, fall color, and best of all, a wonderful group of Winterberries that glow in winter and perfectly match that famous Episcopal red door. Every time I drive by I say to myself, “Thanks be to God- and gardeners!”
I’m no expert when it comes to vegetable gardening. I plant things I like to eat, follow the basic instructions, and cross my fingers. It’s amazing how often this actually leads to food! This year I tried something new- okra. I’m not a particular fan of okra, but a friend said it was a beautiful plant and I should grow it just for looks, so I put one in a pot and forgot about it.
One day I was weeding out back and I noticed the container, hidden behind several other containers with big salvia plants in them. Lo and behold, there was an okra ready to pick! That led to some gumbo (not very original) and me moving the pot out to the front porch so I could enjoy it. But once again it escaped my attention because I suddenly noticed this perfectly dried pod and seeds a couple days ago. I asked Meredith of Love & Carrots if it’s easy to grow okra from seed and she said, yes, try it! So I will. I’ll let you know how it goes next spring.
I recently came across this stone labyrinth at Grace Episcopal Church on Bainbridge Island. Once I started, I felt compelled to finish the walk. I don’t think that’s the intention, but I did start to think that this would be really fun to build. Maybe I’ll play around with a mini-labyrinth as a sort of pop-up feature in my gravel patio out back. I think the actual construction would be a very contemplative process- carefully selecting each stone, placing them side by side, following the curves. Of course I’ll need some larger stones- time for a visit to Sisler’s?