Showing posts with label landscape design. Show all posts
Showing posts with label landscape design. Show all posts

Monday, November 4, 2013

Kitchen Garden Inspiration from Chateau Villandry

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of visiting the gardens at the Chateau Villandry in the Loire Valley of France. The gardens there are gorgeous. Of all of them, though, the kitchen garden is the one that made the biggest impression on me. My memory of that visit has forever changed what comes to mind when I hear the phrase, "kitchen garden."

I've grown vegetables and I know that "working" gardens, the ones that produce our food, aren't always picture perfect. They start out in spring looking orderly, but as the season progresses and gardeners get bored or busy with other things, the garden begins to go a bit wild. Vines wander, weeds creep in, lettuce bolts, and yellow leaves tattle on gardeners who water too much or too little.

Before my visit to Villandry, I thought of gardens as being either ornamental, planted and arranged to bring beauty into a space, or edible, planted for the purpose of food production. Never the twain to meet. But leave it to the French, with their love of all things beautiful and delicious, to combine the two.

I was there in September, the time of year when vegetable gardens often look their worst. But here, with beds edged with boxwood, flowers and espalliered apple trees, the garden looks tidy and thriving. 

Villandry's kitchen garden is all organic. Gardeners use non-chemical techniques both old and new to maintain the health of the soil and plant material. 

It's all here: cabbages, kale, beans, various greens, leeks, berries, dwarf fruit trees and more. I saw pumpkins and squash being harvested when I was there. Rose standards mark the corners of beds. Annuals and perennials provide cutting flowers and seasonal color.

Where does all this bounty go? The chateau restaurant, La Doulce Terrasse, offers a seasonal menu featuring produce from the garden and the local area.

If you would like to visit Villandry and enjoy its gardens, information is available on their official website. Even if you can't visit in person, you'll want to take a look to find inspiration for your own kitchen garden. Bon appetit!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Plants That Add Structure to Sunny Garden Beds

As I explained in my introduction to the plant list for shady garden beds, you want to design your garden so that it has a framework, or structure, that is visible year around. When you do this, your garden will look good all year, even in the dead of winter. Here are some plant choices for sunny exposures.

Berberis thunbergii 'Crimson Pygmy' - Crimson pygmy barberry
Size: up to 2' tall and wide
Comments: Deciduous; deep red leaves; mound-shaped; very tiny yellow flowers in spring; very thorny, can be used as a barrier plant; rarely needs pruning.

Buxus sempervirens 'Suffruiticosa' - True dwarf boxwood

Size: to 4-5' if left unclipped
Comments: Boxwood grows in sun or shade; it can be clipped into a hedge or allowed to grow naturally as a dense, round shrub.

Cistus spp. - Rockrose
Size: 2' - 6' tall and wide, depending on cultivar
Comments: Many cultivars to choose from in different sizes; all are very tolerant of bad soil, drought and salt spray; flower colors range from white to pink to purple; evergreen; use as a hedge or in small groupings.
Euonymous japonicus 'Microphyllus' - Box-leafed euonymous
Size: 1' -2' tall and wide
Comments: Very dark, green leaves; formal looking; needs no clipping; forms an attractive low hedge.
Size: 2' - 6', depending on cultivar
Comments: Many cultivars to choose from. Leaves vary a great deal in size, color, and texture, from convex blue-grey to fleshy purple. Showy varieties like 'Amy' and 'Tricolor' aren't likely to survive prolonged cold or heavy frosts (believe me, I've lost several). But most all varieties will tolerate seaside conditions. Short flower spikes in summer are purple or white. 'Red Edge' lives up to its name in winter/early spring with attractive red margins on the leaves.
Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star' - Blue star juniper
Size: up to 12" tall x 2' wide
Comments: Blue foliage with star-like form; unlike any other juniper; good blue accent in the garden.

Nandina domestica - Heavenly bamboo
Size: 3' x 3' up to 8' tall, depending on variety
Comments: Not really a bamboo, but called that because of its leaf shape. All varieties are evergreen. Many to choose from. All do well in sun or shade, but color up best in sun. 'Compacta' is fast growing up to 6', column shaped, red new growth, clusters of white flowers followed by red berries. 'Gulf Stream' gets approximately 4' x 3', burgundy new growth in spring which ages to dark rich green by summer. 'Moon Bay' is slightly smaller, about 3' x 3', new foliage is bright red and/or yellow, like all Nandina, color changes with temperature making it interesting year around. There are many more varieties available. Some have lots of berries, some have none; shapes include: tall and slender and short and wide; some a ground covers. There is some form of Nandina for just about any place in a garden.

Pinus mugo 'Mugo' - Mugo pine
Size: 2' tall and wide and up
Comments: This is a dwarf version of a large mound-shaped pine. Provides year around texture and visual interest.
Viburnum davidii - David's viburnum
Size: to 3' tall and wide
Comments: Often used as a low-growing border. Has clusters of white flowers in spring, followed by iridescent blue berries.

Need more ideas? Get your copy of The Pacific Northwest Gardener's Book of Lists

Euphorbia spp.
Size: 18" to 5' tall
Comments: There are many plants in this group: E. wulfenii is stunning in late winter, standing 4 -5' tall with large clusters of chartreuse bracts atop its many stems. Look for smaller varieties, too; new ones are introduced often. Be careful working with these plants. Their white, milky sap will burn your skin. Wear long sleeves and gloves.
Herbs, such as Lavender, Rosemary and Sage

Size: 18" to 4' tall and wide, depending on type
Comments: All three of these are fragrant; all are drought tolerant; all have blue or purple flowers; all are evergreen, although the sage will lose some leaves in winter. Lavender makes a good low hedge with several varieties to choose from, including Spanish lavender which features a little topknot on top of each flower. Upright rosemary plants will quickly become small shrubs. 'Tuscan Blue' has a particularly vivid blue flower in late winter, early spring. There are several varieties of sage to choose from: purple sage makes a nice accent; pineapple sage has yellow-green leaves.

Ornamental grasses
Size: 18" to 5' tall
Comments: There are many grasses to choose from. Grasses in the Carex family are small, mound-shaped and come in several colors ranging from medium green leaves with creamy edges to bronze. The Miscanthus family includes many interesting cultivars from 4' to 8' tall, with different leaf colors and striping, all topped with feathery plumes in summer. Ornamental grasses can be beautiful and easy to maintain if you choose the right ones. They can be invasive and lots of work if you don't. So do some research before you plant. Consult The New Sunset Western Garden Book for detailed information.
Sedum spectabile 
Size: up to 30" tall and wide

Comments: This is the upright form of a prolific group of plants; several attractive cultivars include 'Autumn Joy' and 'Brilliant.' New foliage begins to show above ground in winter, followed by flowers that resemble broccoli heads. These turn pink or reddish as spring progresses and become handsome dried flowers by fall. Newer introductions have purple foliage. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Behind the Scenes at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show

If you've been to the Northwest Flower and Garden Show, which opens this year on February 8 in Seattle, you've seen the remarkable display gardens that form the centerpiece of the show. These gardens look as though they have been there for years, with rock outcroppings, stone stairs, meandering paths, fully mature plant material, waterfalls, ponds, garden sheds, seating areas, gazebos, arbors, and lush blooms. But in fact, it's all an illusion. These gardens haven't been there long at all - the teams who design and build these gardens have only 72 hours from the time they enter that huge empty space at the Convention Center until the opening of the show.

I've been to this show many times in the past 20 years, as a visitor, as an exhibitor and as a helper with garden construction. Of all my experiences with the Flower and Garden Show, my favorite has always been having the opportunity to be there when the gardens are built. It is magical to see them evolve and it gives me an even greater appreciation for the people who bring us this event every year.

Here's a glimpse behind the scenes:

Monday, July 5, 2010

Retaining Walls & Rockeries

Seattle is a city built on hills. Our houses are arranged on these hills like a patchwork of theater seats, taking advantage of the remarkable views our part of the world has to offer. Of course, keeping all of these sloping properties from sliding to the bottom of their respective hills is a challenge. And rising to this challenge are thousands of retaining walls and rockeries. If you have a sloping property and need to build a retaining structure, Seattle is the place to explore for ideas. Here are a few of them.
For people who complain that concrete is too boring, this is a clever way to use the material. These walls form the front edge of a yard with a red brick house. The homeowners could have chosen masonry to match the house, but masonry walls would probably have been more expensive than these tinted concrete ones. A few bricks attached to the walls echo the brick of the house, making for a cohesive hardscape design.

Here is a concrete wall system that is clean and sophisticated. Finished with parallel grooves along the top and featuring built-in lighting for the steps (note the small rectangles along the wall), this is one of my favorites.

This type of wall, made of river rock, was popular in the Craftsman era. I doubt anyone builds walls like these much anymore. This one is in better shape than most I've seen and the plantings add to its charm.

Today concrete walls with a stone veneer, like this one, are more popular. These can be constructed more quickly, easily and affordably than walls built with stone only.

My landscape design instructor used to say, "The trouble with common plants is that they are used commonly." The same can be said of common building materials, like this concrete block. I know that these block systems are affordable and relatively easy to install. But aesthetically, they don't do much for me. Here, however, is a winning combination of planting and hardscape. The block walls literally set a stage for the plant material, which is what draws the eye.
[For more ideas, take a look at "Hillside Landscaping: A Complete Guide to Successful Gardens on Sloping Ground," from Sunset Books.]
Note also that instead of one very tall wall, there are two tiers, one set back from the first. From a design standpoint, this is good because it adds layers of color and texture instead of a monolithic and forbidding looking structure. From a legal standpoint, the design works, too. According to the building code in Seattle, any structure over 4 feet tall is considered a retaining wall and a permit is required before it is built. These tiered walls are each at or under 4 feet, thus avoiding the need for a permit.

Of course, no article on garden walls in this area would be complete without a mention of the classic Seattle rockery. Usually made of basalt, which is abundant in the Northwest, these walls are constructed without mortar. The gaps between the stones are perfect planting pockets for gardeners to fill with color, as you see below.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Walkway and Driveway Materials

Our eyes are naturally drawn to walkways and driveways as we walk by the front of a house or look for a place to park. Because of that, the materials used for these paths are important elements in an overall landscape design. The best materials are those that both function well (right sized, safe and easy to maintain) and harmonize with the house. Here are examples of some good design ideas.

This is an interesting choice. This walkway (above) connecting the sidewalk with the front porch is made of weathered cedar, which matches the weathered cedar stairs and deck. The house has cedar siding, too - it all works together.

People often wrinkle their noses when I sing the praises of concrete because they think concrete is boring. It certainly doesn't have to be. It can take on any shape you can build a form for and it can be tinted, as it has been here, to go with any color scheme. Note how well this colored concrete harmonizes with the slate stairs.

The walkway in the foreground here connects the sidewalk to the front door of this house. Note how the expansion joints in the concrete give the impression of large, rectangular pavers. The walkway thus repeats the theme of this formal garden which has been laid out in a series of rectangles, emphasized by the concrete walls of the raised bed.

The concrete for this carport has been both tinted and stamped to give it a lot more character than a typical, plain slab of grey. Note how the rectangular pattern in the stamp repeats the rectangles you see in the shadow of the arbor overhead. Concrete stamps are available in a variety of patterns.

This long driveway combines concrete for tire treads, with grass down the center which allows rain water to soak into the ground rather than run off into the storm sewer. The metal 1/2 circles, which appear to be recycled from some industrial project, add a charming touch. 

If you are thinking of replacing a walkway or driveway, take a little time to walk around the neighborhood and see some of the creative solutions out there. There are no end to the possibilities.

Too rainy for a walk? Check out "Curb Appeal," from the editors of Sunset Books, for more inspiration. Before and after photos show how changes in exterior features, including walkways and driveways, plus paint, fencing,  lighting and other do-it-yourself projects can make all the difference in how you feel about that place you call home.