Friday, January 28, 2011

The serenity of the Winter Landscape

My Winter garden knows no extends out into the rain forest to our South, and out across the valley, all the way to Mt. Hood, some 70 miles away. On an early morning walk a few days ago, I came across my favorite group of moss and fern covered trees. The sun was streaking through the branches, releasing drifts of steam that swirled up into the crisp morning air. Pure magic that lasted only a few seconds as I passed by.

Off in the distance, Majestic Mt. Hood appeared on the Horizon to the East...our constant companion and focal point. An unusual large bank of fog lay over the valley and neighboring Portland. I was transfixed as the fog slowly moved up the slope, obscuring the orchards and trees below. Today we stayed above the clouds and enjoyed the suns' warmth. The previous week, we had been engulfed by the same fog and spent days in a black and white landscape. No wonder our vineyard and street are named 'Cloudrest'!

Closer to the house, Winter blooms and textural contrasts abound. One of my favorite plants, the Hellebores, are just starting to bloom, contributing pastel shades of chartreuse, pink and yellow to the many shades of green.

Moss and lichen are everywhere, even on the bird feeder! 

A sun bleached skull found many years ago on the property sits in the crook of one of our remaining English walnut trees. When we bought our acreage back in 1973 it was a walnut orchard, with over 40 trees. Now only a few remain, and a 5 acre vineyard has taken their place. Unfortunately, the squirrels have taken to stealing the nuts before they ripen!

Steps, surrounded by rhododendron, fern and hosta, lead up a pathway that circles around our deck.

Steel lanterns located in our entry courtyard and along the driveway add needed light in the evenings. Living out in a rural area like ours can be great for star-gazing but also can be pitch black at night!

My husband, Fred, who dabbles in welding, created a series of lanterns along our long gravel driveway that add just the need illumination.


Walking through a Winter garden feels more serene. I also see things that I don't see in the Spring or Summer. The colors tend to be more muted, and sometimes even appear as a black and white image. Think of the aesthetic difference between a black and white photograph and the same image in color. Often the B &W has more impact because texture and form and composition become more focused in our mind. Snow covered landscapes are even more abstracted. Winter beckons....take a walk....see an empty pot filled with rainwater, or a simple ceramic art piece that was hidden by foliage earlier in the year. Explore and enjoy!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Moving Forward in the New Year

I've been having fun working with some new clients in this new year. Ever since the recession, and my own desire to cut back on work,  I have adjusted my services to include what I call an 'extended consult'. This involves a consult on site, a few measurements, info from the client, and lots of photos. Then I go back to my studio and work out a simple concept plan and a perspective sketch so the client can visualize my ideas. It generally works best for small properties or just certain areas of a larger garden. It takes much less time, gives the client a broad picture of what the possibilities might be, and costs them a fraction of what a full design would cost. It isn't the answer for everybody but it seems to be filling a niche in today's cut-back economy. It's also fun since it allows me to do the freehand sketching that I enjoy and play with conceptual designing, which is my favorite aspect of the design process!

My first client of the new year had a real dilemma on their hands when a neighboring one story house behind them was torn down, only to be replaced by a gigantic three story monster that literally loomed above them and totally invaded their sense of private space. Anyone who lives in an urban environment can look forward to the possibility of this happening, especially when infilling and smaller lot sizes are the trend. Luckily they had a nice sized side yard that allowed room for planting a row of large evergreens for screening. A trip to see Terry Hickman at Big Trees Today resulted in suggesting a few options...including the fast growing Leylandii 'Silver Dust'.

The narrow twelve foot space directly behind the house was a different story.The solution there was to design a pergola, creating a vine-covered outdoor room with a 'ceiling' that would block the neighbor from looking down on their space. Unfortunately, trying to achieve instant screening can be costly. Options must be weighed, and lessons learned. Often it helps if you can work with the neighbor, but this isn't always possible. How would you like to step out your back door and see this?

Another client had a corner property in the suburbs with a large lot that they weren't utilizing to it's full potential. Access from the driveway, located on one street, to the main entrance, located an another street, was awkward at best. A number of diseased and damaged trees, an uninteresting front facade, and a deck that had no access to the ground, added to the problem.

I added a new deck across the front that connected to both the side decking over the garage and the raised front walkway. Guests parking in the driveway are led through a pergola onto a small front patio and then  up steps to the front entry. The new features give the plain facade of the house more character, and create a new intimate garden space with a curved sitting wall set into the slope.

In the back yard, steps were added from the existing deck down to a new patio and several terraces were created to make their sloped property more usable. With several trees removed, and some regrading, a new lawn, orchard area, and vegetable garden space will be realized.

Being a designer has it's rewards....I love seeing clients get excited when they can visualize a new, dynamic space for their garden.  I love being able to enrich their lives, and calm their minds by surrounding them with the beauty of nature. In our mad world.....we need all the help we can get!