by germinatrix | June 26th, 2009
Yesterday was such FUN! I was on site with the rest of the Elysian Landscapes team, installing a walkway garden for one of my favorite directors – I won’t say who he is here, but maybe I can give you a hint : I ______, you ______, we all ______ for I-______!
This garden is also very special to me because it happened to be the object of my first writing assignment for Garden Design magazine, years and years ago! Isn’t that funny? I was thrilled with the process of garden writing and have considered it a huge part of my garden practice ever since – and it started right here.
Elysian was hired to re-vamp the aging landscape, and the front walkway garden, being a plants-only intervention, was my baby. Judy let me go for broke. She wanted a series of vignettes, since you would experiencing the garden between wooden posts holding up an arbor as you stroll own the walkway. The clients wanted to preserve the view of the canyon below, but still wanted a sense of privacy. They are also very fond of the wildlife that is so abundant in the Hollywood Hills, and wanted the plant choices to create a habitat for birds, bees, and butterflies.
I decided to play fast and loose with color and texture. When we started gardening together, Judy and I were MAD about high contrast color combos, and I wanted to re-visit that impulse by using all the foliage colors I could – blues, greens, gold, red, chartreuse, and silvers. Two plants I wanted to use right off the bat were a slender upright blue Juniper (Medora), and a Palo Verde, of course! The open texture of the palo verde allows us to conceal and reveal at the same time (the green trunk and branches are also perfect for this colorful garden!), and the slender vertical of the juniper creates a cool, blue rhythm when repeated in a landscape. Nandina domestica were also brought in to gently screen a fence we all found problematic – as they grow in they will be cut to make them airy, rather than topped to create a hedge, the way I usually see.
I love combining nandinas and Coleonema ‘Sunset Gold’ – the vibrant yellow/green of the coleonema sings against the red/green/gold of the nandina – and then when you throw the blue of the Medora juniper into the mix you have your textural and color contrasts firing on all cylinders. Of course, I always put succulents into Southern California landscapes, and now that we are under mandatory water restrictions I feel very justified in trying to proselytize to clients about the beauty of drought tolerant palette (’cause some people still aren’t on board – but these wonderful clients were!). The agaves I chose for this projects are two of my favorite small scaled beauties – Agave parryi ‘Huacachensis’, which is almost white with black fingernails and has a squat, basically round form that opens out at the leaf tips, and the awesome Agave desmettiana variegata. I think A. desmettiana variegata may just have the best form of all the agaves, but don’t quote me on that – because I am hopelessly in love with all of them – how can I choose?
We were lucky to install right now, because the clients can immediately see one of the glories of this garden – I stuffed it full of Kangaroo Paws! An abundance of these kooky Australians while in bloom make for a very dramatic ‘insta-garden’. Anigozanthus ‘Orange Cross’ and Anigozanthus ‘Harmony’ are crazy beautiful, and just as tough. While we were installing, the clients were thrilled to see hummingbirds already visiting the Paws while they were still in their nursery cans. I felt like I should slip the hummingbirds a twenty dollar bill and thank them for making me look good on install day. They stayed on to take a sip from the Grevilleas ‘Robyn Gordon’ that I found spaces for – these are fast becoming go-to plants for me; they are everything I want; beautiful foliage, incredible flowers, tough as nails, and plays well with others. Love!
I am SO pleased with this garden – and to see the clients out taking pictures during the install and noticing all the small details. They were smitten – and isn’t that what every designer wants? For the garden they create to immediately reach out and grab it’s future owner and give them a big french kiss?
Laura Livengood Shaub wrote a very eloquent post on her blog, Interleafings, about the special considerations a landscape designer needs to keep in mind when creating a garden, and how the personal love of plants and objects often has to take a backseat to the practicalities of the business. In the comments section, I admitted to being a ‘bad gardener’ – I try to make my designed gardens as personal as my home garden, and I encourage clients to interact with the space and “mess things up”. This is NOT a practical way to run a business! But I am lucky in that I have been invited to spend time in gardens of mine that started out idiosyncratic, and have grown in even more so when ‘jeuged’ by the hand of nature. Nothing makes me happier than these imperfect, kind of crazy, colorful spaces, and the fact that people actually hire me to do this … well … pinch me!
This garden has a long way to grow, but it already looks pretty spectacular. Once the groundcover layer of sedums goes in, the clients have only to watch it grow and enjoy their daily stroll up to their front door. Elysian has more work to do there, so I’ll be posting more pics as it grows in. Maybe that awful telephone pole won’t be so prominent next time we check out this space!
These textural and color combinations are possible in any climate, under any conditions other than the deepest shade – be adventurous and go for broke!
Paint with plants!