Archive for March 2013

M-Bracing in the Front Yard

March 22, 2013

A couple of years ago, I was hired by some new clients who were moving from a large house in the suburbs (with lots of deer) to a new house within walking distance of downtown Bethesda, Maryland, close to our firm’s offices. The lot was narrow and the front faced west. Most of the front yard was going to be taken up by a large two-car-wide driveway, and the husband wanted a shade tree to replace one that had been taken down. The wife wanted an ornamental tree, but she also wanted to be able to grow herbs and vegetables, something that hadn’t been possible in her other garden because of the deer. I proposed including some raised beds in the front yard because there simply wasn’t enough sun in the back garden, and she agreed.

So here’s the plan I came up with. I needed them to be as unobtrusive as possible, and far enough away from the street so that passers-by wouldn’t be tempted to pick tomatoes or nip off a few herbs.

Landscape Projects, Inc., raised beds

The front yard plan as you face the house from the street.

See the three rectangles on the right property line, in the center of the yard? Those are the three raised beds, about 4′ x 3′ each. Stepping stones allow access to the beds for maintenance, and we planted Mazus reptans between them.

To dress up the beds, especially since this was a front yard, I had them constructed of high-quality cedar, and used M-Brace brackets on each corner.

M-Brace, Landscape Projects Inc., raised beds

Brackets on the two outer beds have a “bamboo” design cut out of the steel; the center bed’s brackets sport a “carrot” design.

By now you see where this is headed. We didn’t want the beds to sit empty all winter, just waiting for warm weather to be planted with veggies and herbs. So we planted pansies and tulips, and voila! A wonderful effect was created.

M-Brace brackets, Landscape Projects Inc.

Tulips emerging from the pansies just as the hornbeams to the left of the beds start to leaf out.

The homeowners were delighted.

spring tulips, Landscape Projects Inc.

Almost (well, not quite) like being in Holland.

M-Brace brackets, Landscape Projects, Inc.

The beds now provide color in early spring, before the Okame cherry leafs out on the other side of the driveway.

The Mazus has filled in nicely, and recently we added some Knockout roses in a little row at the front of the beds. No more deer to worry about! (Now if we could just do something about the rabbits that are devouring the liriope in the tree beds . . . .)

An ‘Endemic Creation’ in El Cerrito

March 8, 2013

I enjoy visiting gardens that unsettle my designer’s sensibilities. One of my sons once told me that he thinks of me as a photographer who likes taking images of “beautiful things” (rather than edgy street scenes, etc.) and I guess that’s what my mindset is when I design – somewhat traditional gardens with as much beauty in the design concept as I can pull together. So when we visited a garden on the APLD Conference Tour described in our materials as an “East Bay hillside in a modern vein,” I was delighted that our schedule let us spend some time there so I could take it all in.

Created by Brian Swope, who describes himself as a ‘contrarian designer,’ the back yard garden welcomed us first.

APLD, Brian Swope, El Cerrito garden

The view from this part of the garden includes a vantage point that takes in the neighbors’ house – which belongs to the garden owners’ parents.

Where to start? The sloping site has been brilliantly handled; the gravel “trail” that is visible just beyond the  perforated steel obelisk ( which is lit at night) climbs a hill that is modeled after trails in Marin County, complete with switchbacks.

APLD, Brian Swope, sculpture in the garden, Bay Area gardens

‘Siskyou Blue’ fescue grasses soften the planting area at the foot of the perforated steel obelisk.

The plantings in the garden are predominantly native species, including small buckeye saplings that cast shadows at night against panels set above a retaining wall behind the dining patio.

Brian Swope, APLD, Bay Area Gardens

Buckeye saplings edge the patio area at the top of the steps.

Poured concrete walls, as well as the edging for the planting beds shown above, have been textured with Trex – something that I never would have thought of doing in a million years.

Trex, APLD, Brian Swope, Bay Area gardens

Bed edging, created from concrete forms textured with Trex.

Closer to the house, in a shady site, planting combinations were softer.

Brian Swope, APLD, Bay Area gardens

I loved this combination of ferns, ginger, clover and other shade plants at the edge of the back of the house.

The front yard, installed in a second phase of work, is defined by a previously existing bamboo hedge. Swope chose other large forms – substantial rocks, Corten-steel edging, and gravel – to respond to the bamboo as counterpoints. (For a look at some other Corten steel projects for the garden, click here.)
El Cerrito Garden-8

A variety of shapes and textures, including 'Siskiyou Blue' fescue grass again, define the narrow front garden.

A variety of shapes and textures, including ‘Siskiyou Blue’ fescue grass again, define the narrow front garden.

In a harsh and challenging setting (with a fabulous view of the Bay), Swope and his client have created an inviting, modernist landscape. We felt privileged to visit it – and I knew my designer’s horizons had expanded, more than a little.


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