Sunday, June 15, 2008

Garden Rooms, Week 2 revised

Following the lead of P. Allen Smith, I mentioned dividing up the landscape into rooms in the Week 1, revised post. So, now in this Week 2, revised post, I'll discuss them in a bit more detail.

The rooms within your landscape should have their own "walls" and "floor." (And if we include shade trees, their own "ceiling" as well). As well, your garden should consist of a few choice selected "workhouse" plants.

They need to be connected to other areas of the landscape, as I discussed here. They should have clearly marked entrances and exits. Moving in and out of these rooms should be obvious and simple and can be an opportunity to make some sort of statement. (I'll deal with this in more detail soon.)

Yes, we're back to the focal point. I haven't quite wrapped my head around that, yet, but I promise I will.

The function of each "room" should take centre stage. If the "entry garden" is to welcome visitors, then it ought to do so in the best way possible. If it is to kick the soccer ball, there shouldn't be anything in the way. If it is to grow vegetables, then that should be as convenient as possible.

I'm going to focus on the Bones and Heart.

Each area of the landscape should have its own character--just like the rooms in your home do. I love the idea of delineating each area separate from the other. The most accessible way to do this is to look at the ground. Different "flooring" as in having lawn for the play area, a wooden deck for the eating area, or gravel around a fire pit sets each area off from the other. A difference in level can also demarcate the different rooms. For example, merely putting the vegetable garden into a raised "platform" will set it apart from the rest of the yard.

As for the "walls" of each room, they add a sense of enclosure, a "shelter around activity" as Susanka would have it. The "walls" could be very low--no more than a couple of feet if you wanted to retain a sense of spaciousness in a small backyard. If privacy is wanted, obviously the walls would have to be much higher.

You can make the walls inert, with fencing and stone and so on, or make them "living" with shrubs and hedges. With either, you also have to consider how solid you want them to be. Wood boards spaced apart create a semi-solid barrier, wrought iron creates an even more transparent wall, and a "rail" fence is, visually speaking, hardly even there. Low growing flowering shrubs would be completely transparent in winter, for example, becoming dense "walls" when they bloom. A chain link fence laced with vines would also provide seasonal variations in solidity. But the most exciting way to create a semi-solid wall is to combine fencing material and shrubbery. A wrought iron or even a picket fence interspersed with hedges or shrubs can create a peek-a-boo effect which may be quite charming (and one I want to do!) The only caveat with a "living wall" however, is that you pick something which will grow in all the various degrees of sun-light wherever you want to place it. This rules out hedges where we live: the difference in day-light between the north side of a property and the south side is too extreme (unless you have significant shade trees on the south).

Different rooms will have different "privacy" requirements, and that should always drive your considerations. For example, in North America, the neighbours would have strong suspicions about someone whose front yard was completely screened from view. It doesn't seem to raise English eyebrows at all.

The walls of buildings and out buildings are also other (probably irremovable) walls you can use to enclose your "room." Their edges can provide clues where to position them in the landscape as well.

As for the ceilings of some "rooms": well, either you can build an arbour, erect a canopy, or, grow a tree. Here is a most unusual example of an area planted beneath a tree:

Without "walls" it looks like a little growing inverted island which was actually quite charming.

So far, as we're trying to separate different areas, we've been focusing on differences. But it is important to create unity, too. Certain plants or materials could be implemented in each "room." For example, I have concrete pathways (both poured and paver type) everywhere! It would almost be a mistake to use a different material. Though our lot is largish, I think is still too small to change materials for the pathways. (Sigh). I'm afraid it would look quite choppy, especially without walls high enough to screen one area from another, as in the back yard. Another way to provide unity is to take the same fencing material (i.e, wood or stone) and use it at different heights and degrees of transparency. For example, I have in mind to do a small picket wood fence (though I want wrought iron) with shrubs here and there (especially at the corners) in the front and having it "meet up" with the closely spaced tall wood fence in the back.

Another way to create unity is to take one material, say wood, and use it in different ways: as a fence in one place, an arbour in another, and as the edging for the vegetable garden. Like using colour in an interior room, though, be careful of creating a "spotty" effect.

A word about materials. A really important way to unify the landscape is to work off the materials already provided by the house. Duplicating your porch columns for example (ha, porch columns! As if!) to create entryways into your garden rooms provides unity. If the house is brick, then using some of it in a fence mixed with shrubs might do the trick. However, the materials used on our house are so repugnant (except for our wrought iron "trellis" and railings at the front door) I would never, ever "use" them. So, do what you can. As well, and this will be obvious to readers of this blog--the materials of your landscaping house should be in keeping with the spirit and style of your house. Out on a walk, tonight, I saw an example of a house with a new porch that just missed the mark:

Even though they changed the foundation and siding (and they are only as deep as the front facade), that roof and that porch are fighting with each other. The roof lines (and the material) need to be more congruous, i.e, a craftsman entrance really needs a craftsman roof! (And it doesn't help that the porch is all out of scale to the house itself). So, obviously, don't use marble paving if you live in a Maine saltbox.

This example, however, is much more successful.

This house is similar to the one above (and my own) but they painted it a dark colour, changed out the windows and trucked in enough earth to create a "hill." Thus positioned, it can "take" the rocks and spare plantings. Note the "light" created by the white window frames and the walkway--a pleasing triangle. They kept the walkway concrete, as well; it fits with the "modern" feel and helps the house blend with the rest of the neighbourhood. It's almost a shame the city has planted the boulevard tree. The landscaping, which gives me a thrill every time I pass it, will be obscured until it grows up.

It's an interesting exercise: think of the places and gardens you've loved: how were the materials used? What were they? What "marriage" of materials seem right to you?*

Plants can be used to create unity, too--especially when we're considering "living" walls, floors and ceilings. I read about this concept in P. Allen Smith's "Garden Design." He calls them the "workhorse" plants:
While too much of the same thing can be excessive [concrete pathways, perhaps?] the consistent use of certain "workhorse" plants in the framework of your garden provides a sense of continuity in the garden. There are usually a handful of trees, shrubs and perennials that are hardy, low-maintenance plants that you can rely on to establish the bones of your garden rooms. The broad and generous use of such plants in the framework brings order and harmony to the overall scheme. With these plants in place, you are free to appoint the garden with a range of accent plantings without disrupting the unity of the overall composition. (p. 203)

In another area he mentions his "workhorse plants" are crab apple, holly, boxwood, and old-fashioned shrub roses.

How big should each room be? That was the homework for Week 1, revised. Stake it out. Take cues from the house itself: for example, a gable can provide the outline for a "room." The designers had the right idea, here, even though it is very odd.

I'm not exactly sure why this doesn't work: the empty space between the windows may need to be filled, (though I've nothing against negative space, per se) and the diagonal porch boards are going the wrong way. (They should lead the eye towards the entry, not away from it.) Perhaps the two triangles are pulling the eyes away from each other. I don't know. Maybe it doesn't work because it is simply too small--the seating area looks squished--it needs big comfy chairs, not those ugly plastic resin ones. Something I read said that the proper size for the front garden is the area you would have if you imagine tipping the front of the house over onto it. Plant out to "there." Imagine this another 10-15 feet out and then, I think we'd have something! The idea is right.

So, what to do?
1) Make sure your rooms are big enough. According to the landscape design experts, homeowners constantly "underscale" their designs (except when we're dealing with conifers right next to the house)--the same charge interior designers level against d-i-y decorators. But don't go too big!

2) Consider your walls, floors and ceilings. How can you demarcate your rooms? Remember to connect them with "something to walk toward" along a "line of sight"--they'll draw you from one "room" to another.

3) Begin a list of contenders for your work-house plants.

*I think I have accepted Lorijo's diagnoses of my house as a "cottage." Every single material I've considered for paving and fencing etc., seems "overdone" unless I keep it very simple and basic.

No comments :

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...