Posted tagged ‘view’

Cylburn Arboretum and the Vollmer Center

November 6, 2015

Several weeks ago, my friend Sarah and I drove up to the Baltimore area to visit the Vollmer Center at the Cylburn Arboretum and walk the grounds. (We were also there to take in an exhibit of photos by my colleague Roger Foley, from a recently published book called On Walnut Hill, about a private garden in Baltimore.)

Cylburn Arboretum, over 300 acres in size, is open to the public year-round, with an historic mansion (available to rent for events) and miles of woodland walking trails. There are some cultivated garden areas up near the mansion, including one small garden space with a gazebo that was serving as the setting for a wedding when we saw it. Cylburn Arboretum

There were also a number of beautiful old dissected Japanese maples on the grounds.

A shot from the inside of an area where four Japanese maples had grown up in a circular planting area, making them look like a single, enormous tree.

A shot from the inside of an area where four Japanese maples had grown up in a circular planting area, making them look like a single, enormous tree.

It was the area nearest the Vollmer Center (and the Center itself), however, that I found most appealing the day we visited. The Center, designed by GWWO Architects, is nestled down in the landscape below the Cylburn Mansion, built into a slope and boasting views into the surrounding trees that were nothing short of spectacular the day we visited. It is modest in both size and aspect but extremely well designed, and has a number of  “green” features, including geothermal heating and cooling and composting toilets. Hope you enjoy these photos of it and its surroundings, and do plan a visit if you’re in the area.

Destruction in the Garden

January 11, 2013
tree damage

August 2012 in my side yard.

Just when you think your garden has suffered as much as it can, you find out you’re wrong.

Last year, as many readers know, I lost two beloved trees in my front yard, which turned a north-facing sloped shade garden into the horticultural equivalent of the Sahara Desert. I’m still coping with those changes.

Then, in early August, my next-door neighbor’s massive, leaning oak tree fell on their house, crushing the attic and top floors (fortunately no one was home). The canopy was wide enough to rip bricks from their chimney and hurl them into my side garden, and to crush a section of fencing, my wobbly arbor and destroy a number of shrubs. (Again, fortunately, no damage to my house, just the garden).

A closer look at the arbor area.

A closer look at the arbor area.

Arbor debris surrounded by bricks after the tree canopy was removed from the house next door.

Arbor debris surrounded by bricks after the tree canopy was removed from the house next door. The hanging line was my cable connection.

To the right of the photo above, you can see the large stand of azaleas shown in the  2011 photo below. I had just had them carefully pruned but they still suffered some damage.

The old arbor and stand of azaleas in happier days.

The old arbor and stand of azaleas in happier days.

What did Henry Mitchell say? “Wherever humans garden, there are magnificent heartbreaks. It is not nice to garden anywhere. Everywhere there are violent winds, startling once-per-five-centuries floods, unprecedented droughts, record-setting freezes, abusive and blasting heats never known before.” (From The Essential Earthman).

But gardeners are made of stern stuff. My first act after removing some shrubs damaged beyond repair (a pair of variegated Pieris japonica which would have not liked the new, additional sun anyway) and pruning broken branches off my star magnolia, was to commit to a new arbor.

A new white arbor has found a home where the old one was. Now all that remains is to decide what to plant to adorn it.

A new white arbor has found a home where the old one was. Now all that remains is to decide what to plant to adorn it.

I like looking through it from my kitchen window. And even if the new one won’t be such a line of demarcation in terms of sun and shade, it will remind me that gardens change constantly, and we have to be prepared to do so as well. So this winter I’ll curl up with my favorite gardening books and dream about how to re-design the space I see from so many windows. Opportunities beckon.

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.

The Vale of the White Horse

December 31, 2011

In August I encountered one of the most mysterious landscapes I have ever seen – the Vale of the White Horse in Uffington, in Oxfordshire, England.  Although the Vale itself is fairly typical looking, with hedges delineating individual farms and holdings,

Vale of the White Horse, Uffington

The Vale of the White Horse, as seen from an outlook near the White Horse.

it is the White Horse itself that makes this destination so special.

White Horse, Uffington, Vale of the White Horse

The White Horse, viewed from below. It's much easier to photograph from an aerial perspective, but I had failed to book a helicopter.

The White Horse is described in Wikipedia as a “highly stylized prehistoric hill figure”, created of chalk (it is estimated) during the Bronze Age some 3000 years ago. (For a better aerial view of it, click here.) The figure is about 375 feet long and is cleaned periodically to keep it visible. The surrounding landscape contains some unusual ridged hills called The Giant’s Stair, and above the White Horse stands a knoll known as the Iron Age Uffington Castle.

The day we visited, the landscape was windy and clouds scuttered across the sky. A child was running with a kite.

Uffington, Vale of the White Horse

Flying a kite below the White Horse

The surrounding meadows were appropriately bleak, with an occasional outcropping of thistles.

Uffington, thistles

Purple thistles dotting the meadow grass near the Vale of the White Horse.

I won’t forget the Vale of the White Horse. See it if you can.

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.


June 19, 2010

On Wednesday evening of this week, I joined a group of landscape design colleagues from the local chapter of APLD for a rare opportunity – a visit to the gardens at Evermay, a private estate in Georgetown. When I think of Georgetown gardens, the first word that comes to my mind is usually “tiny,” closely followed by “boxwoods.” Well, I was half right – but in for some surprises as well.

Evermay estate

The view from the south terraces of the Evermay estate, framed by a mature elm tree, reaches far beyond Georgetown.

At the outset, we were greeted by Mr. Harry Belin, Evermay’s current owner and the grandson of Lammont Belin, an architect who is primarily responsible for the creation of the terraced gardens on the estate. Mr. Belin was the most gracious of hosts, welcoming us and thanking us for visiting the site. The estate, which comprises 3.5 acres in the heart of Georgetown, is currently on the market for $29.5 million; Belin had driven in from Potomac, where he now lives with his wife, to meet us, introduce us to his gardener, and answer questions about the gardens and the estate.

We started the tour at the north side of the house, where a circular driveway with a large granite fountain sculpture – purchased from the Blisses, who owned Dumbarton Oaks – provides a focal point. ( Mr. Belin explained that because of budgetary constraints, none of the fountains were on at the moment, and so all the pools we saw were empty.) The “real” front of the house, to which we were promptly led, is on the south side, where a large terrace leads into a series of connected “garden rooms”, designed to provide separate areas where visitors could gather in more private groupings.

Evermay Estate, Washington DC, south terrace view

The view from the south-facing door of Evermay

It was at this point, looking out at the terraces below and as I began to walk around, that I started to comprehend the challenge for the next owners of this enormous property. Just maintaining what is here – somewhat understated though it is in terms of plantings – is quite a challenge, and one that the current gardener has done admirably. There are clipped ivy patterns on many of the retaining walls, mature boxwoods that have suffered some winter damage but still remain viable, and large swaths of lawn that looked recently mowed in appealing curved patterns.

Evermay Estate

Note the curved mowing patterns in the lawn leading up to the steps.


Neatly tended rectangles of lawn break up the brick paths on the first terrace below the main terrace to the south of the house, and the stone obelisks also seen in the photo above make their first appearance.

The hillside beds between the first pool (with cherubs, see the second photo below), could use some more imaginative plantings than the large abelias that now dot them.

Evermay Estate

A hillside planting of Abelias in groundcover on one of the lower terraces at Evermay. The empty areas between the lawn and pool may have been planting beds for annuals.

Evermay Estate

Two cherub sculptures adorn the pool shown above.

Here and there on the lower terrace, I saw borrowed views over and through the brick walls.

Evermay Estate, Washington DC

A "moongate" with an elaborately-designed double copper gate between Evermay and an adjoining neighbor's garden. The overhanging tree looked like a variety of bald cypress.

Evermay, Georgetown, Washington DC

Clipped ivy and a lacecap hydrangea soften the brick walls on a lower terrace at Evermay that affords a beautiful "borrowed view" into the grounds of Dumbarton House on Q St. NW.

The biggest surprise came when I ventured farther down towards an Asian-influenced pavilion overlooking the tennis court area.

Evermay, Washington DC

A small Asian carving atop the copper roof of a viewing pavilion for the tennis court.

In front of me was an old Franklin tree (Franklinia altamaha), so rare that I have seen only one other in my life. This tree, discovered by John Bartram in his travels in Georgia in 1765, is no longer extant in the wild. I’ve never dared try to plant it for a client because it is notoriously difficult to establish. But here it was, trunk heaving out of a paved area next to a terrace overlooking the “Rabat Fountain,” dipping down and up again as it made itself quite at home. We were all amazed.

Evermay, Franklinia altamaha

A rare Franklinia altamaha growing on the terrace at Evermay.

So, treasures and challenges alike await the next owner. I came away with a greater appreciation for the responsibility that will come with owning such an historic property – and a sense of anticipation and hope that the new owners, whoever they may be, will rise to the occasion.

The Lens Versus the Eye: HDR and Garden Photography

May 22, 2010

When I design gardens, I think a lot about views of the garden from inside the house. When I photograph gardens, I don’t often shoot from the inside out, so to speak, but those kinds of images can be magical. (For stunning examples of what I’m talking about, see A Clearing in the Woods: Creating Contemporary Gardens, by one of my photography teachers, the incomparable Roger Foley.)

One problem that you face if you want to photograph a room and the view from its windows is exposure. The eye can see a much larger range of tones from very bright to very dark than a camera lens is capable of recording. So recently photographers have discovered HDR (high dynamic range) imaging, which involves taking multiple images at different exposures and combining them using a software program such as Photoshop or Photomatix. Sometimes the results can look a little funky if you’re not careful. In other situations the final result is much better than what you could get with a single exposure.

As a garden photographer, this isn’t an approach you can often use successfully in all-outdoor settings unless there is Absolutely No Wind At All, since you usually need about five exposures and any movement of trees or plants will screw the whole process up. Last October, however, in a photography workshop at Chanticleer Garden, I found myself with a situation in which I could try an HDR approach, so I did. Below are two images – the first one processed as a single image in Lightroom and then Photoshop; to produce the second one, five images were processed in Photomatix.

Chanticleer Garden, HDR, landscape photography, Photomatix

This shot was processed as a single image in Lightroom and Photoshop.

Chanticleer Garden, HDR, landscape photography

Five exposures were combined in Photomatix to produce this image.

The single-shot image has more “punch” to it, but some of the areas seen through the veranda openings verge on being blown out, even though I lowered their exposure as much as possible in Lightroom and Photoshop. The HDR image is more muted, overall, but both the “outdoor” views and the indoor furnishings are  more evenly exposed. What my mind’s eye remembers is more like the HDR image, but I welcome comments and feedback as to which photo you prefer.

Related posts: Chanticleer in the Spring

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