When the stairs really are the front garden

bahia(SF Bay Area)April 14, 2011

Small lots and double wide garage doors sometimes don't leave a whole lot of room for the actual garden. That was definitely the case with this new home. I like to think the stairway, railings and retaining walls and the choices of materials are what make this entry a garden setting, and fun to go up and down each day...

Here is a link that might be useful: Stairs as the garden

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woodyoak zone 5 Canada

I love the colors there. The stairs look pretty steep though. California is such a foreign place - the plants are so unfamiliar!

I'm curious about something... You've been posting so many threads lately - interesting pictures but sort of out of step with the 'help me' nature of most of the posts on the forum. While it's fun to see professional jobs, it would perhaps be better to combine multiple posts in one thread rather than peppering them around. I think they lose their impact as a bunch of one-off threads. Or are you trying to bolster your Internet presence :-) ?

    Bookmark   April 15, 2011 at 11:57AM
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gonativegal(zone 5a)

Actually I think it's a nice change of pace from the usual help requests and it's cool to see what the pros have come up with and then reflect and discuss it.

BTW - very nice work.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2011 at 3:24PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada

The problem as I see it is that there is not much discussion being generated. I would have loved it if bahia had made a nice detailed post on the challenges, opportunities and uniqueness of gardening and designing in the (to me!) rather exotic area he's situated in. Illustrated with a bunch of those pictures, it would make an interesting and connected narrative that would be more likely to prompt discussion - and would better display his design talents I think than isolated photos.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2011 at 5:16PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Feel free to ask questions, that was the intent behind posting these, and I've found over the years that most people posting here aren't so much interested anymore in discussing design ideas, but wanting help for their own gardens. I had thought my posts would generate some back and forth, but I see I was wrong.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2011 at 5:57PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

Ironic to see anyone critical of bahia posting photos -- in years past he only wrote very detailed and exacting descriptions of his garden works, and people complained he was too wordy and would he please post a photo! :-)

I am enjoying the photos very much, they speak volumes. I admit to missing some of the fluent plant prose and ensuing discussions, but it would be difficult to take issue with perfection. ;-)

    Bookmark   April 15, 2011 at 7:43PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada

catkim - I wasn't being critical about posting the photos - I just wanted more information to go with them!

About all I know - or the vague impression I have - about SF is that it's hilly and foggy(?) And MUCH warmer than where I'm from! Is it a 12 month growing season? Is there a winter bare season to consider?

Color seems to be a strong factor - I loved the orange/peachy house and lattice panel (railing?) Is the sun intense enough that it washes colors out so that you need to use stronger colors to offset the effect?

Most of the plant names I either don't recognize at all or recognize them as houseplants. Some plants in the pictures do have the look of hardy plants I'm familiar with, although I'm pretty sure that they are something entirely different! Reading your posts and seeing the pictures really makes me realize how 'local' my plant knowledge is.

What - if anything - makes gardens unique to that area? What are your biggest challenges in designing gardens there and how do you address them? What lessons should we in other areas take away form the pictures you posted - i.e. what prompted you to post those particular pictures?

    Bookmark   April 15, 2011 at 8:22PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Thanks Kim very much for saying what I would like to have said myself, but felt it was unseemly. I am feeling that this particular forum is one that doesn't appreciate input from designers much, and this disinclines me to participate further. There is no real discussion about design, no feedback from other designers by and large, and it leaves me feeling like I am wasting time. As Kim mentioned, I didn't get much response when I went into detailed descriptions without pictures, nor now when I post pictures but don't do the detailed descriptions. I also found it telling that before Kim so graciously told me the simple specifics of posting a clickable link, people on this forum, in particular, didn't have the curiousity to follow my links, which let me know about how much people here recognized my past contributions.(My Flicker account allows me to track how and where people are arriving at any photo link). This probably all comes off as ridiculously self-centered griping, and maybe it is.

Woody this isn't necessarily directed at you, but it does seem obvious that you(and others) aren't actually reading the rather detailed write-ups that accompany the photos I've linked to here on my Flickr site. Also, I guess that many aren't looking at the additional photos in each client set, which further explains the design process involved, the setting, what site problems were involved, etc. If you had, you'd have seen that what Woody specifically sees as missing in these messages is all there accompanying the photos. I have tried to discuss the photos in ways that make them specific for people in my climate zone, as well as broad brush enough that design principles apply and you don't need to know the plants I discuss. I also know that many of the plants I am showing in these gardens are being promoted across the country as annuals by companies such as Proven Wonder products, or by the design magazines as summer color. I don't write about lilacs or paeonies because they don't grow well here. Why should I be writing about things I know nothing about growing?

Anyone viewing these photos could just as easily respond with questions here on this forum, or questions linked to my Flickr photos there, if they want to pursue the conversation. Why should I do these sorts of write-ups twice? I've probably answered more than a thousand questions over the years, because I enjoyed doing so, but find myself less inclined to do so these days. I think I'll just give this forum a rest, and stick to the forums that are more plant-centric, or specific to my particular climate, and where people actually respond to the photos, rather than this design forum. I wasn't really looking for responses such as "nice garden" or "nice photo", which is kind of similar to a "like" on Facebook, but even that is something, as it seems most people don't respond at all. I like to think that anyone appreciates comments that show some reaction or thought about what was posted, rather than something generic. I was hoping that this might actually inspire others to post photos of their gardens, whether they be professional or homeowner, and share their gardens and design ideas, rather than just ask for (free) advice.

I hope this doesn't rub anyone the wrong way, but it does give you some insight to why I've been posting here, and I didn't necessarily think it was just self-serving and self-promotion. I know that other people who freely shared their work with this forum in the past, such as Michelle, stopped posting here for much the same reasons, and decided to go the blog route to share with a wider audience.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2011 at 9:45PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada

It's probably expecting too much to expect people to follow one picture through to the underlying album, read all the details on the included pictures, and then to go back to the starting point and have an interactive discussion. I did look at some of the other pictures on your albums. I didn't read the text for them though - in part because I have vision problems and have the screen resolution set such that it's hard to see both the text and the picture at the same time. When most people link an album, it's largely about the pictures. So I didn't focus much on the text. And since most of the plants in your pictures are unfamiliar to me, aside from general 'that's nice/I like that...' sort of thoughts, I wasn't drawn to look deeper. Sorry...

One of the things I like about the GW forums is that they are interactive - a quasi-conversation. Facebook has never appealed to me as it seems to be random stuff a lot of the time. Picture sites are tools for making pictures accessible for use in places like this as far as I'm concerned. I'm always surprised on the rare time that someone posts a comment on one of my albums on the picture sites I use.

I've always enjoyed your comments when you post on threads. You clearly have a passion for what you do. I'm sorry if we disappointed you by not reading your stuff in detail, but this interactive forum is a better medium for discussion than the isolation of a picture site. I've always preferred a discussion to a lecture where the speaker is absent :-)

    Bookmark   April 15, 2011 at 11:53PM
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It's been a while since I visited this forum. For a couple of years I was an almost daily visiter, usually just reading posts but occasionally posting. I think it was the increasing scarcity of professional LD/LA comments that caused my dwindling attention. I'm not saying that anyone without a degree doesn't have an opinion worth listening too just that overall it seemed the best advice came from the pros on this forum.

Over the years I was an active lurker I think I learned more from this forum that the LD books I've had and I am very grateful for the professionals who have taken the time to post thoughtful comments over the years.

In my desert, no lawn front yard although I had a lot of good input from other people something just didn't feel right about it but I didn't know what it was until a comment from Bahia about the need to include negative space in situations where there wasn't a lawn to do the job. A light went off in my head and I went out in the yard and dug up a bunch of my plants in a few areas and even with just bare dirt I felt an immediate calm feeling that this was what was needed. Now, it is hard for me to leave a void and I may have partially filled these areas with groundcover plants but the principle is an important one that I didn't understand until Bahias comment on this forum. Don't go away! keep educating us all.


    Bookmark   April 16, 2011 at 9:49AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Maria, from the photos you've posted of your garden in the past, I think you just have a natural talent for landscape design, and an ability to "paint" with plants to form a composition. I know you are also another gardener who is all about the individual plants, but also have concerns for making them look good together. Your garden looks good under very difficult gardening conditions; it feels like a piece of cake to make a garden here in coastal California, by comparison.

Using negative space to allow the eye to rest, layering plantings and using drifts for more impact, and thinking of how your plant choices may fit into a predominant color scheme when selecting plants are all tools in the pursuit of a visually satisfying garden. As a fellow plant fanatic, I also like to search out other gardens with planting styles that appeal to me, and really analyze which plants were used, and how they were combined, and even take photos of other designer's work so I can learn from them. I think it is also important to provide for useful and enjoyable spaces for people, and satisfy all the functional requirements that gardens need to provide, first, before thinking about the plants. For myself, I find this part hard to isolate from the design process, and usually have some immediate ideas about what types of plants I'll want to use, but try not to let this distract me from/interfere with the process. Sometimes it does though, and I have had to remove or replace plants when I got carried away with the idea of a particular plant, rather than whether it would work in the situation.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2011 at 10:49AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada

Negative space has become one of the strongest influences in my garden and one of the things I look for/notice when looking at other gardens. It has a remarkably powerful effect on the garden where there is a definitely shaped negative space I find. My 'got it' moment on that came several years ago when I was unhappy with the backyard but couldn't figure out what was missing. Someone on another garden forum suggested a geometric shape for the lawn. At about the same time Ink had recommended reading A Pattern Language. That has a good discussion on negative space and it all came together in an 'Aha!'

The issue of which comes first the plant ideas or doing the functional stuff gets discussed here a lot. At this point, I tend to first 'see' a general idea of the shape of the spaces and a fuzzy idea of plantings, particularly a color theme of some sort. The CAD course I took this winter at the University of Guelph was particularly interesting in that it sort of forces you to do the functional/hardscape stuff first. It become hard at times when you realized that you had to give up on some attractive planting ideas because they wouldn't fit with the functional stuff that best met the 'client's' stated needs and preferences and the specifics of the property.

The course largely reinforced my view that I could never design for other people! I'm very impressed with the pros on here who can step outside their own preferences if necessary to produce a quality design that suits the client's tastes and needs. I know I couldn't do that - I'm far too idiosyncratic and opinionated! :-)

    Bookmark   April 16, 2011 at 12:53PM
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I've wandered silently through this forum for years now, and I feel as if I know some of you from reading your posts for so long. Originally I came here as an owner of a property which I was (and still am) completely stumped by, although I consider myself competent with most types of design, and very much a do-it-yourselfer.

I might have been one of the "help me!!!" posters at the time, had I not been from old school usenet, where the best advice was to lurk for a while before posting. Well, here, my lurking went on until I realized that one (I) may never really leave the "help me!!!" stage without the more cerebral and philosophical discussion. I would hate to see that sort of discussion disappear from this forum.

This photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/20217462@N02/5614085831/in/set-72157626488124694

Although it seems common to advise people with prominent garages to paint the garage doors to match the rest of the house so they blend in, in this example the color is a contrast and it works perfectly. (Did you suggest the color, bahia?) The garage doors recede to the point of almost disappearing, and instead attention is on everything else, including the garden. I find this interesting, given that the usual common knowledge suggests not to do this. Why does it work here?

I am thinking maybe the subdued dark color acts as negative space (if I understand negative space correctly) - to have painted the garage doors the orange color would have called more attention to them, with no space for anything to break them up or hide them behind. It would have been an example of trying to hide it so much, it becomes the 800 lb. elephant.

I would never have thought I would like an orange house, but I like the way the house color is echoed in flowers and in the stone, with some parts of the stone having almost the exact same color. The stairs beckon one to get a closer look at the plants, all the way up to the door.

Thank you for the photo tour.

In the next few days, I will post some pictures of my bewildering property (not at all a blank slate, and not really even a proper yard, but I like it) in another thread so as not to hijack bahia's thread, outline some of the problems that paralyze my creativity with it, and hope for some discussion, not of planting plans and photoshoops, but of principles and potential.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2011 at 1:20AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

I appreciate that the photo appears to have drawn you into the conversation, and you bring up some very good points. When it comes to use of color, for me, it is just intuitive in the garden setting, but I don't feel quite as comfortable juggling colors as they relate to the architecture. My client, the designer/builder selected all the exterior colors, and that shade of dark purple was intentionally chosen to recede rather than pop out, with the gray color also intentionally used to complement the purple and tone down the orange. I tend to use color similarly when it comes to plants, but would be hard pressed to explain it in theory, I just go by what appeals to me. The stone selection was at my suggestion, and the sympathetic colors in the landscape, whether it be similar tones in flowers, tree bark, berries, etc were all chosen to complement the house colors, or play off them.In particular, I enjoyed using the same shade as the metal railings with the Arbutus 'Marina' tree trunk, the fuzzy deep red stems and leaf reverse of the Begonia 'Ramirez, as well as the rust red seeds of the Carex baccans. Orange flowers are almost too easy in California, but orange shaded foliage was a bit more challenging, and I didn't want to just use the traditional, so went with unusual shades such as the Hebe ochrolaceae 'James Stirling' and the deeper bronze-copper of the Uncinia.

I guess because I really love using plants almost as if they were paint colors in a portrait, I don't even need to think about how they would combine, or do that "matchy-matchy" thing that some designers do while shopping at a plant nursery. I usually can see how they will combine in my mind's eye without having to put them side by side. I credit this facility back to my mom, who is a painter/artist, but totally without any sort of "green thumb", and my dad's mom, who was just an incredibly gifted amateur gardener with great design flair.

I thought I would post some of my own work to generate just this sort of conversation, and truth be told, the forum doesn't really lend itself to adequately addressing the typical "help me" or "need curb appeal" threads that are more common here. I answer them when I actually have an interest or something to impart, but usually realize that my experience isn't taken any more seriously than often useless advice. People often only hear what they want to hear, or what they've been exposed to. So, rather than get frustrated with people who may not want my sort of advice, I don't usually give it.

So Dragonfly, I hope you do post your own thread, and that it will generate some good feedback for you, that may free up your design process. Or this may just be telling you that hiring a professional for advice may be just the thing to get your own ideas flowing...

    Bookmark   April 22, 2011 at 2:39AM
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Thank you for the welcome, bahia. It feels good to be a part of this community I have admired for so long.

On first glance at the Arbutus 'Marina' trunk, it looks like the house color is reflecting off of it, but on a longer second look, I realize that the direction of the brightest color is away from the house, and it is not a reflection. You must have a good eye for photography also, as some of the photos are as good as photos as they are as examples of your work. The Abutilon 'Victor Reiter' photo is beautiful, as is the photo of trunk above.

Rereading my post, I think I should explain that the type of discussion I meant that I would hate to see disappear is not so much the "help me" or "curb appeal" type, but the other, the intellectual.

I agree that a forum (any forum) doesn't really lend itself to solving specific location issues, since photos are 2 dimensional and gardens/landscapes are 3, no, even 4 dimensions when you include time. It is necessary to fully immerse oneself in the landscape in order to create an experience unless all someone wants is a pretty picture for the people driving by. Arriving at a specific solution is not an instant formula, but something gained through study of many specifics.

Showing pictures and saying "what would you do here" leaves too many variables unanswered, but showing pictures and asking "what in this picture works and what doesn't, and why" is perfectly appropriate, and generates the theoretical discussion (or should).

It is the 4th dimension (time) I have some trouble visualizing and I would have liked to see earlier pictures of the Trejo Garden. I would have also liked to see at least a teaser photo inline in the thread, and think one may have prompted more people to follow on to the Flickr album.

I guess the reason the typical posts are so prevalent here is the lack of a descriptive "sticky post" always at the top to let newcomers know this is not a free design helpline. (That's assuming people would read it.) I do realize that the forum regulars have no control over stuff like that, but answering the posts that interest you and ignoring the rest is a good way to steer the direction this forum takes.

People who just pop in to ask their specific question, not to acutally participate in the community over time, have no way of knowing if advice is being given by a pro or an average joe. Who is a pro and who isn't (but may be a talented amateur) is only determined by reading many posts and getting to know who's who.

I know that I place a lot of value on what the people I have determined to be the pros and talented amateurs say, even if I don't understand it at first, or if I don't agree, and then I try to analyze why, but then I am seeking knowledge, not specific advice.

I'll post my thread this weekend once I have gathered my pictures, and link it in this thread so you'll be able to find it. After several years of thinking I can do it all myself, I have recently come to the conclusion that hiring a pro (or two) for consultations (at the very least) will be a good choice, and that conclusion is partially the doing of this forum. :) I have found a couple who work in my area that I seem to see eye to eye with (there is also a philosophy involved, I'm not just wanting a pretty picture). I have no shortage of ideas, mainly just lack the ability to tie them together into a cohesive whole, and so have not done much at all yet.

I'll save any further commentary on that for my thread, and hope that this one and the others you recently posted take the direction you'd like them to. Thanks again for the welcome.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2011 at 12:42PM
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Wow,THE FOURTH DIMENSION - i like that way of expressing the influence of time on landscaping/gardens.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2011 at 8:36AM
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jkom51(Z9 CA/Sunset 17)

bahia, I would hate to see you stop posting! I love your work, and your contributions are always valued.

I do understand how you feel. One tries to be helpful, respond to suggestions, and instead feels dumped on. I've done some postings that have gotten that kind of reception and it's very discouraging indeed. But truly, your advice and design examples are wonderful, and an excellent example of why a good professional can be an invaluable help in solving serious design and site issues.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2011 at 3:52PM
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I love to see professional work, and I always click when I recognize one of the 'pros' posting just to see and read their thoughts.

I actually didn't realize there was commentary under the Flickr photos until I read through the thread... and then scrolled down. The work is awesome. I wish I had this kind of talent (or money to hire it). I really enjoy the comments by the pros, because it gives me something to think about. Like negative space.

As a previous poster mentioned, I've done some reading about LD and even went through the 'map out your whole backyard in scale' exercise, but I really think seeing pro work and hearing comments is very helpful for me as a general homeowner.

It seemed from the commentary as though a house designer was involved and worked in conjunction with the landscape designer.

If any designers are up for the challenge, I'd love to see some photos / threads on 'awful houses they had to do on a budget" or something like that. Problem children houses where you couldn't change the whole exterior, you just had to work with what you had.

Thanks bahia! Sorry I have no enlightening commentary to add, but I do love to look at pics & read.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2011 at 10:12PM
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Ok, I missed my target date for posting my thread, but here it is: http://forums2.gardenweb.com/forums/load/design/msg0501302410227.html.

So this post isn't a complete derail:

It's nice to realize that builders can and do work with landscape designers to create cohesive spaces. For whatever reason, too many builders seem to just pick anything and stick it in the ground without regard for aesthetics, and the effects of time.

Thinking about my previous observation in this thread, the garage door color wouldn't have had the desired effect of receding had the section with the 3 windows been painted orange. It would have just made the garage doors look like a gaping open mouth on a pumpkin. Having the entry facing off to the other direction also has the effect of making the house look kind of like it's turning its back on the garage doors, too. The red metal railings contribute to this effect.

bahia, it might not hurt to add links back to this forum in your comments on flickr about your photos. It might even draw some people who know and appreciate good design to this forum who might not have come otherwise. Having your things all linked up is not a bad thing (unless you leave the links in a "bad neighborhood"). :)

    Bookmark   May 6, 2011 at 1:35PM
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