January 25, 2011

Garden Designers Round Table : A Postcard from New England

There's a saying that a designer's concept drawing ought to be a postcard good enough to send to their Grandmother.

Dear Grandma ,

Here I am in the beautiful New England countryside where I've taken on the assignment to do a large scale concept drawing for the  Garden Designers Roundtable January project.  Imagine that , a country girl in the country.

I believe that a garden's location should play a big role and observing and respecting the surrounding area is the first step in its design.   The salt box style farm houses, field stone fences and landscapes I've observed here have a sense of formality in their straight lines and rectangular spaces and are testament to the heritage of the early American settlers.  The architecture of our project's  charming house is Shaker-inspired which suggests to me a rather formal approach with perhaps some contemporary elements, but I'll reserve my ideas until I see what the client wants. 

I understand that the homeowners have been busy remodelling the inside but that the landscape outside has not been touched.  A blank canvas is before me and  garden design being the art form it is I will attempt to create  a masterpiece.

Here's the base plan of the property :

More importantly, here is what the client wants :

Client Checklist

  • Clients are Amy and Mr. Tweet .  They have no pets or children. Amy is a talented designer and artist  who has a business at http://www.abcddesigns.com/ . Their house, a weekend retreat in New England, is a Shaker-design that sits on 5 acres, most of which is undeveloped.
  • There are 4 outbuildings on the property which will be used for a wood shop, guestroom, and utility shed.
  • Neither Amy or the Mr. are gardeners nor do they plan to become one. They would like a garden but not one that's too high-maintenance. Amy, a former Floral designer likes the idea of a cutting garden and in the future, a vegetable garden as well.
  • They want to develop the outdoor shower on the back of the house to an enclosed working one and also like the idea of a firepit.
  • A new bathroom addition is planned for the wood shop.        This is in garden zone 5 B which calls for hardy plants. Amy likes peonies, lily of the valley, delphiniums and snapdragons. While she has no particular favorite color, Mr. Tweet is partial to orange.
  • There are plans to keep the front walkway the same configuration, but moving it forward away from the foundation.
  • Amy would like to link the guest room ( garden house ) to the main house
  • There are no plans to develop the woodland area at the back of the property at this time.

Get out the wand, Granny, it's Cinderella time !  Here's the after plan of my design concepts :

 My first idea upon seeing the large expanses of grass was that its high maintenance .  So I am opting for gravel because it would be hard to find a more versatile surface that is economical , environmentally friendly, and at the same time, extends the architectural interest of the house.   In addition, planting beds and borders of small trees, shrubs, ornamental grasses and perennials areas reduces the areas of gravel as well.

There are three entrances to the house - one in front, and one on each side.  Entering the front gate I note the long view on the right side to the fence line.  Nothing stops my eye so I picture a  planting of small ornamental trees, shrubs , ornamental grasses and low-maintenance perennials forming a bed extending outward from the fence. 

In keeping with Amy's wishes the bluestone paver path has been moved away from the foundation.  I've added window boxes  and two planters for seasonal color to make the entrance more inviting.  The blue stone paver path stops abruptly at the  front entrance so extending it with steppers curved around to the back adds a sense of destination and mystery .  Arriving at the destination one finds a welcoming bench on which to sit and view the garden.

The front view inside the house is not attractive so I created a bed of ornamental cherry trees , shrubs and perennials outside the fence to screen it off .  It also allows more room in the rather narrow entrance area for a border of evergreen and deciduous shrubs, ornamental grasses and low-maintenance perennials to provide color and interest .

 The entrance to the left has been made more inviting by the addition of an antique brown or red brick path surrounded by a border of boxwood and annuals on each side.  Two tall planters with seasonal color flank each side of the path.  

The bluestone patio on the left of the entrance and the view of the outbuildings in the area are screened by an overhead trellis with a fragrant vine/rose and a tall, wide shrub . The outbuildings  have been adorned with weathervanes, colorful window boxes of flowers and country antiques such as a large wood star stained blue or red.

Onto the third entrance off the screened porch on the right side of the house I pass a small existing crab apple tree which I've shaped into a topiary and surrounded with a boxwood hedge .  In keeping with the design principle of repetition I repeated it a few yards away.

   A slight slope from the house down on this side has been terraced with a rock garden composed of stones found on the property and is repeated on the other side next to the fence.  A path of antique brown or red brick connect the main house to the guest quarters and groundcover softens its edges.

A border of small ornamental trees, shrubs, and perennials make an attractive and low-maintenance border next to the fence.

A bubbling urn set in pebbles , a bird bath, and decorative birdhouses on tall poles add ornamentation.  These are mere suggestions as the selection of garden ornaments is the ideal opportunity for the client to add their own personality to the garden.

I've now reached the back of the house, the long, empty expanse of which cries out for a place for the weekend warriors to cook , dine and entertain.  A ground-level deck of reclaimed lumber and an outdoor kitchen with a grill and a countertop set into a base of local stone is conveniently located close to both side entrances.   A large antique farmhouse table will accommodate family and friends.

The area with the vine-covered arbor and raised beds is ideal for a future Potager, or kitchen garden, and surrounding it with a 4' wood fence is not only  in keeping with New England garden style but would serve to keep out any varmints critters as well.  Current beds could be used for growing herbs , tomatoes and salad greens.

On the right of the Potager is a firepit made of stones found on the property and to the left is a small grape arbor with a stone bench for sitting and contemplating and perhaps partaking of the ripe grapes at harvest time.

On the left near the fence I've created a bed for Amy, a former Floral Designer, to grow flowers for cutting.  In addition to this bed, the perennials in the borders throughout the property could be planted with her favorites as well.

At the back of the future Potager is the woodland area. To make a transition between it and the cultivated garden I have added evergreens, ornamental trees , shrubs , ornamental grasses and low-maintenance perennials. 

 Although no landscape is without maintenance , using drought-tolerant, hardy  perennials, trees and shrubs and mulching them with a 4 inch layer will cut down on moisture loss and weeds.  The most important thing one can do for a new landscape is to water so I'd strongly recommend an irrigation system.

 Creating a garden is extremely satisfying and takes a lot of thought and consideration. Along with my ideas I have incorporated the client's wishes and at the same time respected the architecture and surroundings of this lovely country retreat.

What started out as a postcard ended up being a few pages long so I'm just stuffing everything in an envelope and sending it your way.

Hope you like my postcard, Granny.  Wish you were here.  You'd love the rolling hills, valleys and woodlands just like we have back home.

Your Favorite Granddaughter

P.S.  Please see what the other members of the Garden Designers Roundtable have come up with :

Leslie Hegarty/Robert Webber http://www.hegartywebberpartnership.com/blog/

Douglas Owen Pike at http://www.energyscapes.com/blog/


  1. WOW!!!

    It is so totally thrilling to see all of these ideas!
    Thank you so much for putting so much time into thinking about the design of my yard!


  2. Wow, that sure is a very comprehensive design with so much thought and love put into it!
    Love your humour!
    Best Wishes

  3. Carolyn, your design says "classic New England" to me, and I love your "postcard to Grandma" approach!

  4. Thank you ABC, it was a pleasure to work on your garden.

  5. Thanks, Robert. I simply must be humorous as I'm the middle child :-)

  6. Fantastic, Carolyn! A perfect picture postcard if you ask me. I am totally fascinated by how many different approaches there are to one site as well as how many similarities. This was my favorite of your GDRT posts!

  7. A gift for design and hearing client's voices, Carolyn. Good job you talented (humorous) gal!

  8. Thanks you so much, Miss R and for all the ground work you did on the project .

  9. The "postcard to Grandma" theme of your post fits in nicely with your landscape design, Carolyn, which seems very welcoming and comfortable.

  10. Carolyn, what fun to see the effort you took with this project. It is beyond exciting to see not only how you approached this project (yes, very classic New England - love it!) but how you approached the presentation. What a joy to read.

  11. Comfortable and welcoming, Pam? Two words I love and a great thing to say about a weekend retreat.

  12. A great compliment coming from a talented designer, Genevieve. So glad you love my design and presentation.

  13. This was charming, informative and let us just say it, brilliant, Carolyn Gail! Attention to every detail and thoughtful plant placement makes this a friendly design even for non gardeners, although with all this beauty around them, the gardening bug might bite. I adore gravel, excellent choice.

  14. Thank you, Frances. I was hoping that the gardening bug might bite our non-gardeners as well :-) Ya never know how some folks get inspired.


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