Archive for December 2012

Lawrence Halprin’s Lucasfilms Campus

December 28, 2012
Lawrence Halprin, LDAC, Lucasfilms

Yoda watches over the entrance to the LDAC offices . (Through the doors behind him, see Darth Vader statues you can!)

It’s time to continue with that APLD conference I attended in a galaxy far, far away  . . . oh, wait, I’m getting confused. It’s because on the first day out on the buses, where should we head for our first stop but the Letterman Digital Arts Center (LDAC), home to the flagship office for the Lucasfilm Companies, housing Lucasfilm and LucasArts and other related companies. As Lucasfilm’s recruiting website puts it, ” It’s where a cutting-edge campus meets an historic military base. It’s where a national park meets the big city.”

Lawrence Halprin, Lucasfilms, LDAC

Located on the grounds of the old Letterman Hospital, the LDAC campus comprises approximately 1000 acres and possesses stunning views, including this one of the Palace of Fine Arts.

Opened in 2005, the LDAC was created with sustainability as a primary goal. Many materials from the demolished hospital buildings were recycled for use in constructing the new buildings, which were designed to be both more energy and water-efficient than conventional buildings. And its grounds, designed by famed landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, include areas of lawn underneath which sit large parking garages for employees.

I found the area we visited, shown in these photographs, to be a successful balance of open spaces and designed landscape. (Apparently the grounds are open to the public for picnicking, at least on weekends, and are very popular with San Francisco residents.) A “brook” cuts through the central part of the landscape, with moving water whose speed and intensity varies from location to location. One of our tour leaders told us Halprin had been inspired to include this element because his wife was a dancer.

LDAC, Lawrence Halprin

Grasses, perennials, and large boulders line the edges of the waterway on the LDAC campus.

The flowing water feature sits in the center of this part of the campus. The large boulders help balance the presence of the Fine Arts Palace seen in the background.

The flowing water feature sits in the center of this part of the campus. The large boulders help balance the presence of the Fine Arts Palace seen in the background.

At the end of the stream is a medium-sized pool with pergola-like structures on one side. To my eye, they were less successful as elements in the landscape (as were some of the shrubs on site), but the area looked as though it was designed with visitors in mind, perhaps especially families with children.

LDAC, Lawrence Halprin

The pool area at the end of the stream has large stone ledges perfect for sitting on.

Lawrence Halprin, who died in 2009, was an extraordinary landscape architect. To read more about his career, including his work designing the FDR Memorial in Washington DC, visit the Cultural Landscape Foundation’s website.

Flora Grubb, the Succulent Lover’s Mecca – and My New Garden E-Books

December 15, 2012

I’ve been a member of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD) since 2003. Despite the fact that I’ve won a couple of design awards from this organization and am delighted to be a certified member, until this year I had never attended any of its annual conferences. This year, I vowed, would be different. My son had just moved to the Bay Area and the conference was being organized primarily as an opportunity to tour gardens throughout the area, meeting some of the designers and learning through seeing in person, with written materials delivered via iPad rather than exclusively in lecture settings.

But what really cinched the deal for me was when I learned that the very first event of the tour would be a visit to Flora Grubb Gardens – a dinner reception the night the conference opened. I’ve developed a real love for succulents and consider it somewhat unfair that the most enticing varieties aren’t hardy here. I do have a client with an incredibly wet back yard, save for one area where we have planted lots of creeping sedums and included sempervivums along with other rock-garden plants like Gaura and dianthus. But it’s too cold for agave, and we often find we have to replace the sempervivums in the spring if the winter has been wet.

At Flora Grubb’s store (out a ways from central San Francisco), we ate dinner from food trucks but mostly lusted after the plants, the pots, and the other garden furnishings on display. A bicycle planted with succulents, carnivorous plants in a sink, air plants decorating a freestanding wall, and a vertical wall hanging planted chock full of succulents. I’ll just stop chattering away and let the photos speak for themselves. It was nirvana.

For more information about Flora Grubb, including links to her Web Shop (where I just ordered some great little holiday gifts for clients), click here.

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Speaking of holiday gifts, I’ve just turned two of my Blurb books into e-books if you’re interested in having a virtual copy. Chanticleer: A Pleasure Garden can be purchased as an e-book for $4.99 by clicking here, and the Garden Conservancy Open Days book (priced at $3.99) by clicking here. I can attest that they look great on an iPad!

When North Becomes South

December 1, 2012

Time for a little break from my California posts – just for this week. As some of my readers know, in May 2011 I was forced to take down a 90-foot beech tree that had been the centerpiece of my front yard for as long as I’ve lived in my house.

My front yard when the beech tree ruled.

Its loss turned my north-facing front yard to the equivalent of southern exposure, and this summer I watched in horror as my lovingly-chosen shade-tolerant plants struggled to cope with direct sun for much of the day.

Hosta 'Halcyon,' sun scorch

Example 1: The ‘Halcyon’ hostas have fried in the heat. I expect to have to move them next year, and invest in more deer spray (at present their location protects them from the ravages of local Bambis).

I suspect the reason the front yard took such a direct hit has a lot to do with the fact that the house sits at the top of a steep slope. And now, any shade provided by my gorgeous, mature crabapple tree on the northeast side of the front yard is also history – the crabapple was removed shortly before last Thanksgiving because of disease problems (fireblight and other issues) and the proximity of its sagging large branches to my dining room window.

What am I most worried about? First, my awesome stand of skimmia, which over the years had spread like crazy on the slope on the left side of the front steps. I had never seen skimmia this happy in any other place I’ve tried it. But this is definitely a shade plant and last summer after the beech came down leaves began yellowing on the skimmia. In desperation, I moved many of them to the back yard, and have replaced them with Indian hawthorn, which I hope the deer will ignore.

Skimmia japonica

Two transplanted skimmia. The one on the left came from the front hill and you can see how yellowed by the sun its leaves are. I plan to prune it hard eventually to see if I can encourage new growth, but my experience is that these plants resent being moved.

Acer palmatum 'Glowing Embers,' Hydrangea macrophylla 'Nigra,' daphne

Surprisingly, the Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ has done remarkably well despite strong sun and blistering heat since the two trees were taken down. The ‘Nigra’ hydrangea is soldiering on; I try to give it extra water. I can’t transplant everything.

In the bed of the new ‘Riversii’ beech I’ve planted to replace the old beech, I’ve put Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight,’ Ajuga ‘Black Scallop,’ and variegated Hakone grass; late in the fall I added some Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster.’ (Feather reed grass – not shown in these photos.)  Fingers crossed. I think of it as an experiment, and will keep you posted.

Fagus sylvatica 'Riversii', Cephalotaxus harringtonia

Fagus sylvatica ‘Riversii’, Cephalotaxus harringtonia, and groundcovers just after planting last November.

Fagus sylvatica 'Riversii,' iPhone photos, sunny exposure

Taken in early August, this photo shows how the ajuga have struggled. So has the Hakone grass, although the iPhone’s “happy face” effect tends to disguise that fact.

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