One of the selling points of our house was the fact that you walked out of the living room onto a deck at ground level. One step down and you were in the garden. We love everything a deck affords: the ability to be in the garden but dry shod, to be able to sit and read or eat outdoors, to have room for guests and on and on. We've used the deck since day one but never really done much in terms of upkeep, other than pounding in a nail here and there.
As it's aged and been shaded, it turned almost black and had gotten very slippery after a rainfall. We knew that and were appropriately cautious. A couple of years ago we even bought some mats to throw across the deck when we had garden tours on wet days. But this year we had the ultimate cure, we had the deck power washed by the gentleman who painted our house.
It looks like new and it's no longer dangerous after a rainy night. But it's still in character with our furniture that, like the deck, has never had annual coatings of waterproofing. The power washing proved a much better solution than tearing the old deck out and replacing it. Now we and the deck can continue aging in place.
On the opposite side of the house in the moon garden is a beautiful lantern composed of stacked rocks. Mark built it one day a number of years ago after I pointed out a similar lantern in a book on Japanese gardens. Ours is symbolic since the stone under the wide cap does not have a carved opening to hold a candle like the one in the book did. Unfortunately our lantern became unbalanced a couple of years ago from winter ground heaves and toppled over. The huge stones stayed where they fell because they were too heavy for Mark to lift without the equipment he used to set it up originally. He kept saying he'd get a few guy friends to come over and help him set it up again one of these days.
Lo and behold, I looked out the window the other day and realized he'd re-stacked it on his own using a crowbar and block of wood as a lever and fulcrum. I was amazed that he managed it and thrilled that it was back in place as it was rather an eyesore collapsed halfway into the garden path. It's always been one of my favorite features in the garden and I'm very happy to have it back.
We love our neighbor's huge Forsythia that is visible from our garden and their Kiwi vine that prowls along the top of the fence between our yards. But sometimes things get a little out of control.
While I was fighting off the kiwi vine, Mark had his own powerful lines swirling through the garden from the back door all the way to the Tea House.
Nothing adds a touch of glamour to the garden like the yellow extension cord that Mark uses when he's working on construction projects.
He's starting work on the final projects in the interior of the Tea House; specifically the platform for the display niche known as a Tokonoma.
I love the mix of subtle colors and textures in evidence as the Tea House comes together. After I shot this picture, he took the display platform back into the house for the next step: finishing it with a linseed oil and wax treatment.
Mark began building the fence, gate and roof structure on June 5th and finished up the major work ten days later. You can see how it looked in the early stages here. It links up the commercial wood fence (and gateposts) we had installed last fall along the east side of the back garden. This is the view from inside our garden work area, looking toward the driveway and the street. It really gives you a sense of the interplay between the alternating boards and bamboo.
We wanted an attractive structure that had a slightly Japanese feel to it. But we didn't want to make it too dramatic as this is not the entrance to the garden. It's the workyard. Note that the gate is seamless in appearance when its closed. The gates swing inward and are wide enough for big wheelbarrows and ladders to pass through.
Mark spent a lot of time working on a gate design whose roof would be the same angle as the roof over the garage. Those are the kind of details that make all the difference and that he spends great amounts of time agonizing over. And I get to enjoy the beautiful results no matter the project.
While our concept was to make this a simple structure, looking up into the underside of the gate framework and roof, you can see that simplicity takes a lot of complext work to achieve. Note how the roof braces ehco the lines of the ridge beam.
Though we live in an urban area, this is still the Midwest. Even a garden gate or a tea house needs to be able to withstand serious weather. The recent high winds that blew through our neighborhood did not achieve tornado strength in our garden, though they did serious damage just a few streets away. Time spent building sturdy structures always pays off.
On June 2nd, I planted a pair of boxwoods in the pots on our deck and mulched them with pine cones. Ten days later I pulled them out of the planters and put them in the garden to replace the boxwoods that had succumbed over the winter. The boxoods on the deck looked nice but were being shaded out by surrounding trees.
It makes much more sense to fill the pots with Hostas which are better suited to the the light conditions. Hosta Abiqua Drinking Gourd is large scale, heavily cupped and a beautiful dusty blue which will add a bit of color and light to that area of the deck.
Hostas will also be so much easier to plunk into a holding bed for the winter. Cut back the leaves and you just have a root ball to contend with instead of three foot tall boxwoods that need to be hefted out the pots and lugged across the garden to their their winter bed.
Last summer the couple who live behind us got a dog and needed to fence their yard. They were concerned to get something whose quality and design would not detract from the beautiful fence Mark built across our joint lot line. Ultimately they went with a simple cedar fence and gates from Struck & Irwin. We thought it looked so nice we had S&I replace the rusty old wire fence on the east side of our property with the same cedar design. Mark had them set 9' tall 6x6 pressure-treated gate posts in cement with the intention of designing our gate himself. This will be a permanent fixture replacing his bamboo gate.
He began construction late last week. He was moving along so rapidly, I noted that he needed to take a few pictures to record the process. At that, he turned to me and said, "You have a phone, don't you?" So this is my "phone" record of the first stage of building what we've always referred to as the "East Gate."
This fence and gate is not intended as the entrance to the garden, so we decided to make it simple and serviceable. Its purpose is to hide our work/materials yard from the driveway and front of the house.
The design is an alternating pattern of boards and bamboo poles. It is somewhat similar to the gate we built on the west side of the garden that links us with those neighbors. The bamboo has been sitting outside for a long time developing a nice patina.
If you garden seriously you always need a materials yard where you stockpile supplies, pile junk, have a potting bench, compost pile, whatever. As we completed different areas of the garden over the years, our work area moved to whatever spot was incomplete.
This narrow area adjacent to the garage has been our work area for quite a long time. There are no windows in our house that look directly on this and our neighbor often puts his ladder etc. on his side of the fence. The black plastic bags hold garden debris which we take to the city compost/recycling site. The other side is filled with assorted building materials which we might need for a project.
Since we are nearing the end of major garden projects, what doesn't get used soon will probably be given away free to neighbors. That's how we got much of it in the first place.
There will be a double gate that looks the same as the fence just a bit lower as the bar indicates in the photo below. The gate will have a board roof rather than shingles. The roof angle matches that of our garage overhang which is adjacent to this area.
We've always talked about the East Gate and West Gate areas of the garden and what kind of gates they might have: physical or symbolic. These gates, the interior of the Tea House and its surrounding garden area and the west driveway slope are the last few garden areas that still need significant work. While there's still lots of do, this is probably the shortest list of garden projects we've ever had. Once we get them all done we can work on the areas that need attention due to their age — and ours.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, huge fortunes were being made in a string of American industrial centers: Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Detroit, Cleveland. Today we tend to think of them only as Rust Belt has-beens. But the people making the money used a chunk of it for civic improvements like art galleries and botanical gardens in their communities. Today the wealth of these cities is in their architecture and art and they offer untold treasures if you are willing to look beyond their troubles.
As I mentioned before, we have taken to stopping in Cleveland to spend time at the museum every time we go out East. Their collection is breath-taking in scope and I always find a new treasure like this Mondrian below.
One of the things that has been drawing us off the highway is the fact the Cleveland Museum of Art has been undergoing a major addition. Each time we visit more galleries are open and the final design of the new building is now almost completely revealed. We took these shots when we stopped there last summer.
The classical old building and the contemporary addition are connected with an atrium whose walls and ceiling are glass.
The vast space includes two large areas filled with a variety of mostly green plants and with benches where you can relax and enjoy the greenery up close.
The plants add a softness that nicely contrasts with all the hard edges of the architecture. And the waving bamboo fronds are completely magical in that space.
There are also green spaces on the various roofs. All of these are newly planted gardens, so I am looking forward to watching them grow and change on future visits.
You get glimpses of constantly changing sky and clouds through the dramatic glass architecture.
The exterior of the original building includes formal gardens and massive urns on pedestals holding equally massive floral displays . . .
and sculpture whose mood can change as quickly as the weather.
This house was across the street from Ausrine's Arts Room in Evanston. With nothing but my phone to use to capture this idea as well as too much sun creating contrast and shadows, I'm afraid these are not the best pictures. But you can see what attracted me: curving the front steps instead of alligning them with the front door in a straight shot. Adds a touch of character and makes the house stand out from its neighbors.
However, I am less enamoured of the fact that the sidewalk curves in the opposite direction from the steps.
But that big evergreen tree on the right would have to go in order to make enough room for the walkway to continue the same directional cuvre as the steps.
I'm sure that what caught my eye is that this idea reminded me of the curved walkway we created to the back door steps at our first garden (below). You can read about building this walkway HERE.
The mantra of the design maven from Live Simply is "Imagine your space and mind utterly streamlined." Not going to happen at my house or in my head. Do you know any gardener whose mind is streamlined? It's winter and I'm ordering plants, going to garden talks, mentally re-arranging the garden. My mind is a big green jumble. The worst thing that could happen is for it to be streamlined; imagine what I might lose!
Live Simply wants us to declutter our vast collection of vases as I mentioned here. I have flower holders that live in the basement but many of my favorites live in full view year round. Sometimes filled with flowers but looking equally lovely empty. I suppose I may merely be trying to justify my supply of flower containers, but I don't view them as clutter when they get used to create joy and beauty.
You can see the bulb bowl in the first image filled with flowers here. It's a reproduction from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In front of it to the left is an old Chinese vase — covered with calligraphy — that is meant for a single stem. The vase in the bottom photo is from Anthropologie. About the only things I ever buy at that store are vases.
If you have a favorite vase or flower container, leave me a comment with a link.
Living in Wisconsin means designing a garden that looks good with or without flowers; with or without snow. I've learned that winter is not a dead time of year outdoors; it's just a different time of year. If your garden isn't a winter vision when you look out the window, here are five ways to make it sparkle in the snow.
1. Add texture: Grasses, seedheads and fine- and coarse-needled evergreens make important contributions, but they're not the only choices. In the winter garden, dramatic tree bark — like that of river birch (Betula nigra) — is effective, especially when its pale, peeling color is seen against an evergreen hedge for contrast. Persistent leaves like those on a Korean maple (Acer pseudosieboldiana) or this threeflower maple (Acer triflorum) are another way to add texture.
2. Focus on form: The shape of a tree or shrub assumes greater importance when its branches are bare. Look for strong verticals like ginkgo, or tiered shapes such as Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) and doublefile viburnum (Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum), or weeping forms like the Katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum below). Evergreens also come in many different shapes, including drooping.
Tightly clipped elements, including yew or boxwood balls or standard lilacs that look like a lollipop, can contrast with more informal shapes. Sharply trimmed hedges perform the same job.
3. Pick a color: House color, bark, berries, fences and furniture all have a part to play. And remember, "evergreens" come in every shade of green as well as yellows and blues. Many turn shades of rust, burgundy and bronze in winter as well. Here's how they do it at the Chicago Botanic Garden.
4. Shape the space: Permanent elements like brick walks, stone walls, fences, patios and pergolas add structure and delineate garden spaces as well. Movable elements such as sculpture and furniture that can stay outside year-round add a decorative element as well as human scale to the landscape. And in a really snowy winter, man-made structures like our gate stand out even in deep snow.
5. Animate the garden: Dry grasses, bamboo, and seedheads of everything from coneflowers to hydrangeas add a whisper of sound as well as movement to the garden. In my garden, bells also play a role. They hang from trees as well under the roof that shelters the gate that goes into our neighbor's garden. A group of Arcosanti bells hang just outside the back door. Their degree of ringing lets me know how windy it is outside before I've even glanced out the window.
This post appeared in a slightly different form in The Capital Times newspaper.