Dec 30, 2007

Joyous New Year

2007 has been a remarkable year for me: my Landscapers' Challenge victory finally aired; I was honored to lead a popular class at Gamble Garden; my practice expanded to include design modeling; and the quantity and (more importantly) quality of my projects increased even as I lost far too much sleep working toward my landscape architecture degree and license.

There were also a few achievements, mostly personal, that didn't quite get achieved. My vernal pool is still being formed; my narcissus bulbs still aren't in the ground; my back yard is little more than turf and a wall. But, I'm told, it's normal for the shoemaker's children to run barefoot (how cruel does that sound this time of year?!), and while my neighbors who told me they wanted to replace their lawns with water-wise plantings have installed… more lawns, I'm reducing or even eliminating the lawn in my own yard and my clients'. Score one small moral victory.

I've also had lots of opportunities to think and talk about why I do the work I do. And it's been gratifying to know that in the end, it's all about the moral victories. Every square foot of lawn I don't spec saves a little bit of water for the rest of the planet. Every child-friendly garden I design inspires another generation to get involved with the natural world. Every time I get to include a little bit of art in a garden, or make it a unique reflection of its unique owners, I help create happiness. Not a bad way to make a living.

So here's wishing you a new year that's filled with joys small and large. May nature surprise and delight you, and may we all make this planet just a little bit nicer, for our children if not for ourselves.

Happy 2008!

Dec 20, 2007

Fall into Winter

Foliage-wise, this has been one of the best autumns I can remember. And now that all those lovely leaves are coming down to earth, we're reminded that winter is just around the corner (here it comes at about 10:08 pm Friday night).

The gorgeous displays of reds, oranges and golds is especially striking this year because [a] it's been a very cold and dry season, both of which stress trees into withdrawing their green chlorophyll earlier and more quickly (thereby revealing the natural anthocyanins and carotene colors), and [b] the lack of rain and wind has left those vibrant leaves on the trees longer. Now that the storms are arriving, we're getting more of what we're used to:

Autumn gardens are among my favorites, not only for their foliage colors but because of the way the winter light plays on details such as leaf margins and seed heads, such as the tall Miscanthus and Calamagrostis grass plumes that look splendid all golden and backlit. Other specimens, such as the coral-bark Japanese maple and the river birch, start showing some of their best assets that are hidden, or at least overshadowed, most of the year. But there's no denying that colorful foliage is the star of the season, especially when set against a backdrop of dark evergreens such as pines, redwoods or even magnolias. Some of my favorites include:
  • Pyrus calleryana (Callery Pear) — different varieties have different colors and forms
  • Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair Tree) — venerable forest giant with clear yellow to gold color; leaves all seem to drop within a few days
  • Lagerstroemia hybrids (Crepe Myrtle) — a three-season star, with gorgeous winter bark and bright summer flowers to complement fiery autumn foliage
  • Viburnum cultivars — small to large shrubs with bright red to purple fall color
  • Hydrangea quercifolia (Oakleaf Hydrangea) — orange to red leaves even as the flower panicles hold on
  • Blueberry cultivars — yes, the edible blueberry bush will give an amazing fall show if you dare withhold water for a while
  • Ceratostigma plumbaginoides (Dwarf Plumbago) — Fast growing, shade tolerant ground cover colors bright crimson; a nice surprise at ground level
  • Vitis californica 'Rogers Red' (California Wild Grape) — A great choice to slipcover a garage or obliterate a fence within a few seasons, stops traffic when it turns wine red

  • As you're out and about over the next few days, I hope you'll make it a point to notice and appreciate the colors before they're brought back to earth by the rain and winds. If you see something particularly stunning, feel free to send it in. And if you have favorite autumn plants of your own, please share!

    Dec 15, 2007

    Pardon the Interruption

    Where the hell have I been for the last two months?! Let's just say this has been one of the busiest autumns I've ever had, and unfortunately doing the work to my usual exacting standards has taken precedence over musing about it. But I've still had a lot on my mind. For starters:

    I'm proud to announce Verdance now offers design modeling as one of our premium services. In the last two years I've transitioned from hand-drawn plans to the enhanced precision and visualization of CAD and SketchUp-rendered designs. Now, I'm also able to replicate our designs to scale, whether to show the look and feel of an entire site or create a prototype of a specific feature. Of course I offer this service to my clientele; and I'm available as well to consult for other landscape designers and architects in bringing their design ideas to life.

    Back in the virtual world, my series on Christmas trees, real or fake or organic or toxic, is due for a new chapter; the G Living Network was kind enough to do the heavy lifting for me.

    After ordering about 1,000 narcissus and tulip species from Brent and Becky's, I've been hurriedly preparing my front yard to receive them and ultimately have concluded I'll have to plant them in shallow graves and unearth them for a proper replanting next fall. That's efficient.

    The time for getting native plants into the ground has come and is going... and have I gotten my own vernal pool (aka billabong) prepared? Nooooo..... but I will at least have some "in process" photos here soon.

    I've certainly missed having the time to write here; of course there's also some wondering whether anyone is reading (or not reading) what I do write. If there's anything you'd like to hear me wax on about in the coming months, I hope you'll let me know.