Archive for February 2011

The Tree(s) at Stanford

February 26, 2011

Last weekend, I escaped the warm, near-60 degree temperatures of the DC area to flee to northern California – where I was greeted by three straight days of cold rain. (Sigh). On the bright side, I was visiting my younger son, who is a student at Stanford. Stanford’s unofficial mascot is The Tree, as in

Stanford Tree

As Orange Bowl champs this year, Stanford students have more reason than ever to warn their athletic teams' opponents to "Fear the Tree."

Stanford University, Stanford Tree

Stanford's banners feature a green tree superimposed on a cardinal red "S." You see them all over campus. Here's one next to a newly planted pine tree near the Tressider Student Union.

Over the course of three days, I found enough non-rainy hours to wander the campus and capture some images of an amazing variety of different kinds of trees that work in the northern California climate surrounding Palo Alto and vicinity. Like last year, I saw large numbers of cherry trees in bloom,

Prunus x okame, Stanford University

Cherry trees in bloom near the Main Quad at Stanford in February.

sometimes within yards of palm trees (seriously).

Stanford University campus, cherry trees, palm trees

Same cherry trees in background, with tropical palms (variety unknown) in foreground, in the Quad.

There were palms everywhere.

Stanford University

Palm trees frame a view of Hoover Tower on the campus. Nice.

Stanford University, palm trees, Old Union Complex

And around a fountain at the Old Union Complex near White Plaza.

My East Coast eyes recognized the cherry trees, some flowering magnolias, and berry-laden crabapples,

Crabapple tree fruit, Stanford University

Crabapple trees (unknown variety) on Mayfield Road on campus. Lots of fruit! Guess the birds have many other food options in this climate.

and yes, orange trees in full fruit in front of the post office.

Stanford University, orange tree

Hundreds of oranges bedecking two Valencia orange trees in front of the campus post office.

There were also trees, however,  unlike any I have ever seen. If I have any readers who can identify this specimen for me, I’d be forever grateful. Look at the amazing bark!

Stanford University

My "mystery tree" on the Stanford campus. Gorgeous bark! Near the Main Quad. Who can tell me what it is?

For some entertaining speculation on the history of The Tree as Stanford’s unofficial mascot, visit Wikipedia. In closing, one can enjoy The Tree, and its many incarnations on the Stanford Campus, as well as fearing it!

A Down-Sized Dream Garden – Part 2

February 19, 2011

Last week we took a look at a narrow, sloped back yard belonging to some clients I met several years ago. The “before” photos are pretty intimidating.

We started by leveling the slope as much as possible using concrete block retaining walls, on top of which was built a six-foot cedar fence. Then, to create the sense that the garden-to-be was larger than its dimensions, I decided to divide the space into garden “rooms.”

landscape design, garden rooms

The garden "rooms" take shape

Nearest the alley would be a “fragrance garden.” In the middle was a “stroll garden” with fieldstone steps to lead the visitor through the area down to the “patio garden” at the bottom of the space. There we would install a small millstone pond (to substitute for the koi pond on the client’s wish list, because of space constraints) to provide the sound of moving water. Because the patio area was directly adjacent to the under-deck space, it was essential to transform the screening and so we created a faux “potting shed” look (another item on the wish list).

landscape design, small patio, millstone fountain

A view from the deck of part of the patio area, with river birch and oakleaf hydrangeas softening the area.

landscape design, garden rooms

The Fragrance Garden now blocks the view of the alley. Originally it had a Magnolia 'Alta' as the central tree but when it failed to thrive the clients chose to replace it with a Natchez crape myrtle. Other plants in this part of the garden include Clethra and lavender.

Remember the view up towards the alley from the bottom of the lot?

landscape design, back yard, narrow lot

The former owners' concrete-edged parking pad shows part of the grading issues we faced.

After the garden was completed, it looked like this instead.

garden rooms, landscape design

The view from the patio garden area up to the top of the garden, two years after planting.|

The new view from the other angle of the garden is equally inviting.

garden rooms, landscape design, flagstone patio, small spaces

A view from mid-garden to the tiny patio and millstone fountain.

It’s a tough garden to shoot from other perspectives because it’s so narrow. In the spring, there are lots of daffodils; and there’s a fastigiate Ginkgo tree (“Princeton Sentry”) to remind my client of collecting ginkgo leaves with her father; and other carefully chosen plants, in the lawn-less front yard as well as the back. So if you’re down-sizing, don’t assume you have to give up a dream garden – just plan carefully and be flexible.

Designing A Down-Sized Dream Garden – Part 1

February 12, 2011

Several years ago, I was asked to design a garden by a couple moving to a smaller house in order to “down-size” after their children left home. Creating the back-yard garden proved to be an especially challenging project: the lot was minuscule, sloped steeply in two different directions, and needed to include a significant -sized “wish list” of plants and other items requested by the wife (all in less than 600 square feet of planting space). To say I was taken aback when I first saw the area is an understatement.

landscape design, Silver maples, back yard

Two large Norway maples flanked a deck area. Fortunately, we were able to remove them without needing special permission from the District of Columbia.

The view from the opposite side of the lot, towards the alley, wasn’t any more appealing.

landscape design, back yard, narrow lot

The former owners' concrete-edged parking pad shows part of the grading issues we faced. The car shown is on the adjacent property, not my clients'.

Then, of course, there was the charming “under-deck screening” installed by the contractor. (For a look at how this particular piece of the garden was ultimately transformed, click here).

Under deck lattice screening

The contractor's version of under-deck screening

The view from the deck itself matched the rest of the existing landscape – somewhat nondescript, to say the least.

landscape design, deck views, urban back yards

From the steps to the elevated deck, the main view was of the alley and neighbors' parking spaces.

As the client put it, she wanted me to “make this mess into a beautiful garden” where she could enjoy favorite plants, have a water feature (she wanted a koi pond at the outset), and watch the seasons change. Stop by next week to see the solutions , via some pretty dramatic “after” photos.

Red in the Winter Landscape

February 5, 2011

It’s cold and snowy and a little icy outside my door. First power outage is behind me, and spring seems very far away. I’ve almost finished redecorating the upstairs bedroom (although it still needs some artwork on the walls). But my eye is hungry for a strong jolt of color.

Red is a powerful hue, one that draws your eye, wherever you are. Here’s an image from my Mexico trip, on a street where someone REALLY liked red.

Guanajuato, architecture

Street in Guanjuato

A little red goes a long way (and a lot can be overpowering). So in the garden, I use it judiciously. But this time of year, when much of the landscape is muted tones or covered in snow, even a little bit can lift your spirits. Berries on Ilex verticillata (winterberry) look great in snow

Ilex verticillata, winterberry

Snowy Ilex verticillata berries

or in pots with other seasonal choices, like the pine branches here.

Winterberry, Ilex verticillata

A spray of Ilex verticillata berries in a late-fall container at the National Arboretum.

Another favorite pairing for them in the landscape is with ornamental grasses.

Winterberry, ornamental grasses, winter

Winterberry with ornamental grasses at the National Arboretum.

Berries aren’t the only place to find reds in the winter landscape. Cornus alba ‘Ivory Halo’ is one of my go-to plants for winter interest. In the summer, its variegated leaves can light up shady areas of the garden, although it also does well in sun. But come winter, its branches are red, providing a strong focal point and lots of visual interest. The newest shoots have the strongest color, so prune out the oldest canes in the spring periodically. And plant this shrub, if you can, against a background of evergreens for maximum impact.

Cornus alba 'Ivory Halo'

The stems of variegated red twig dogwood show their color only in the winter.

Finally, if you’re looking for something larger, try Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku,’ often referred to as the “coral bark” Japanese maple. Like ‘Ivory Halo,’ its reddest branches are the newest. In the growing season, its leaves are a peaceful green, turning to a yellow-red in the fall. Somewhat twiggy in habit, it won’t eat the house, which also can make it susceptible to winter breakage from heavy snows. Here is a shot of a young specimen which I saw at a recent trade show.

Acer palmatum Sango Kaku, coral bark Japanese maple

The coral bark Japanese maple offers another alternative for gardeners seeking some strong color in their winter landscape.

So for those of you who are looking for some red to perk things up during the winter in your garden, the options are varied. Go for it!

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