With my latest edition of “Garden Design” in hand and another beautiful spring just begun, I thought I’d let you know about this exciting magazine and share some ideas and finds that I hope will energize and enthuse us for many months to come.
(Pitcher Sage in full glory at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden)
After a break of several years, Garden Design has been re-launched in a much improved version. The sheer volume of the latest and hottest plants, examples of contemporary outdoor furniture and amazing garden art, must-reads about design- or plant-related literature, fascinating interviews with design experts and beautiful photography makes me enthusiastic about my profession, and many ideas in this magazine can be applied in the garden or spring landscape. Here are a few that I picked up this time:
(A working concept drawing)
Landscape designer Rob Steiner muses about the “Rules of the Game” of garden design. He makes the point that although we all have very individual ideas of what our dream garden should look like, and that although one could assume that garden design is too much a personal expression of one’s likes and dislikes, there are fundamental rules of how to organize the space, enclose it, find the right proportions, determine the right size of plants, and take into consideration that gardens evolve.
Although I myself was taught these rules, it is easy to treat them in a theoretical way, or assuming that we can tweak or ignore them, and so it’s helpful to reflect on them again once in a while. His first rule is “Obey the ‘law’ of significant enclosure”, and he calls it not only a rule, but a law: It “is absolutely critical in creating a sense of refuge and of feeling oneself within nature’s embrace”.
(A working concept drawing, in colored version)
For me, this rule is very important as it’s rooted in my personal experience: It was in the tall hedged seclusion and privacy of my parents’ garden that I fostered the deepest emotional connection with nature that allowed complete abandon to a fantasy world.
Rob goes on to postulate that “we feel enclosed when the vertical height of an elements is at least one third the length of the horizontal space”. He then describes how he applies this rule to a patio that needs screening from a play area: As the patio is 17 ft wide, he determines that the screening hedge needs to be at least 6 ft high.
Another few pages that I flagged in the latest edition showcase “Great Gardens Across America”. Here I find plenty of examples of contemporary design style: Outdoor spaces used as extensions of the home and seamlessly connecting them; “simple and refined” spaces; emphasis on beautiful accents and details, in materials and garden art; distinctive and unfussy furniture and accessories, and successfully blending different styles.
(Great flowering meadow at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden)
For those shopping for exceptional, modern, perhaps whimsical furniture, there are plenty pictured here: The almost retro-looking /mid-century modern chaises by William Haines Designs; also Hive Modern; or Design Within Reach.
I also enjoy the “unfussy”, succinct interviews with designers from different parts of the country who talk about their design inspirations and share their favorite new things, what to read, or what’s going on in their part of the gardening world.
There’s an Earth Day at Descanso Gardens in La Canada Flintridge on April 25; there’s the Butterfly Festival at the Water Conservation Garden El Cajon on May 9; also the Spring Garden Festival on April 25 at Cuyamaca College across the street.
Over 40,000 blooming bulbs will be on display including Allium, Camassia, Cardiocrinum, Cyclamen, Muscari and more at the Blooms and Bulbs Festival in Salt Lake City, UT, April 10-26. These are only a few picks from a much longer list of fascinating events in the design and gardening world.
To me, most thought-provoking in this edition was the article, “Professor of Biodiversity; Doug Tallamy teaches America how to restore habitat for wildlife – start in your garden”. The main photo shows a sun-lit pond where the surrounding trees and wildflowers at the water’s edge are reflected. This is a scene in Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware, where Doug Tallamy has created a habitat for wildlife.
Trees of varying heights create a protective, delightful canopy under which chairs have been placed, in viewing distance of the shore, where water tumbles, through a stone bed, into the lake, past stands of wildflowers and patches of meadow. The hand of the designer is definitely visible, but the setting is so carefully created that is feels like each design element has been carefully investigated before execution to assure the least interference with nature.
(Beetles on California native milkweed)
Here, Mr. Tallamy has restored several acres to their natural beauty, by removing all “aggressive alien plants” and replacing them with local, native trees, shrubs and wildflowers that, within a decade, have lured back a thriving population of graceful, boldly striped swallowtails and native birds, their songful predators that in our traditional gardens, filled with many exotic and nonnative ornamentals, provide neither food nor shelter for animals.
(A bird perched on a branch of Rhamnus Redberry)
The message is clear, and Mr. Tallamy repeats it on lectures and even in his writing: You can do a lot to conserve and restore biodiversity in your own garden.” The secret is the recognition that it is the native plants that are eaten by the local native insects, and once their food sources have been restored, the birds will follow!”
Mr. Tallamy’s current research focuses on the “impact of non-native plants on the terrestrial food chain”, quantifying how much alien plant species are reducing populations of native insects and the creatures that depend on them. “Grow the native plants that insects in your area depend on”. (See also his book ‘The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden’, Timber Press 2014, co-written by Rick Darke).
(Bee on Live Oak flower tassel)
(Monarch Butterfly on host plant)
His ideas make complete sense, and I feel motivated to make my message about designing with California natives stronger and more convincing. But that’s food for another article.