Monday, July 25, 2011

Rathbun Residence

This project was a new construction with a "blank slate" as far as the yard went and was my largest design project to date. There were a lot of different requirements for this landscape:

  • a 6' wide path encircling the entire yard 
  • an extensive windbreak to stem the winds and protect the house that was on top of one of our Palouse hills
  • a chicken coop and run
  • a goat shed and small pasture
  • a place for an orchard
  • space in the yard for a possible pool some many years down the road
  • a large garden space
  • an area designated for a play structure
And all of this on top of the normal differences in slope/soil moisture/sun exposure/drainage that are present on every site and the normal requests for relatively low maintenance year-round interest. There were also 360 degree views of the Palouse landscape that had to be preserved, but also a desire to create a little hilltop oasis with a fair number of trees. I used over 120 plant varieties and there were probably between 400 and 600 plants total in the design, ranging from little 4" perennials to large conifers.

I've ordered the plans from the back of the house to the front, or the south to west to northwest to northeast sides of the house. I had a master plan to present to the client that included everything (including the larger trees which are shown in these drawings as simple fine-lined circles), but it was about 24"x36" and wouldn't fit onto my scanner, so I don't have a digital copy of it to show here.

South Corner
This first plan is off of the back of the garage and near the back deck that comes off of the kitchen. This is where the garden area is for easiest access. The goat shed and chicken coop are just to the south of the path, not pictured here. The orchard wraps around the goats and chickens.

The garden is designed as a series of raised beds laid out in a radial pattern from the center of an ornamental planting bed. I was visualizing the raised beds of Williamsburg when I did this, and trying to create a garden area that was functional as well as aesthetically pleasing.

West Corner
This plan is oriented differently (note the north arrow), so if you're trying to figure out how they all mesh, just imagine it rotated ninety degrees counter-clockwise.

This is the "playground corner". This was one section of the yard that could be filled with trees and wouldn't block any views, so I squeezed seven in here. There are maples, a concolor fir, a columnar oak, and large lilac trees. They also served to shade the play area and create a slightly secluded little patio off of the play area where the adults could sit and watch the kids play.

Northwest Side
This was probably my favorite section of the yard to work on, as it had the most variety of unique little spaces to design for.

The path that encircled the yard was designed to accommodate the clients' young daughter who is disabled and requires the help of crutches, a walker, or a scooter to get around. They wanted a "loop" that she could ride her scooter on all around the yard. One thing I wanted to be careful of was just putting the path around the yard to frame it - I didn't want her to feel like she was on the outside of everything, but rather like she could be in it and a part of everything that was going on out in the yard. So as you may have noticed in the previous drawing, her path goes between the yard and the playground, and in the first drawing her path goes between the yard and the animals so that she could be right in the thick of it.

In this section of the yard I put a planting bed in the middle of the path specifically for her so that she could have access to the entire thing. From the SW end to the NE end there is about a 3' elevation rise, so the idea for this planter is that at the SW end it would be raised up to 3' above the path and have a little built in bench for her to lean up against and work in her very own garden. The planter then remains level as the path around it rises and once you get to the NE end the planter is level with the path. This planter is filled with strawberries, blueberries, crabapple trees, flowering plants, and some open space for Cecily to do what she wants with. 

To the east of Cecily's planter there is a slope between the path and the lawn above which will be filled with boulders, Nearly Wild roses, and caryopteris for soil stabilization. Just to the northwest of this across the path is a somewhat swampy area of the yard (due to drainage) so this planting bed includes the pussy willow that the client requested as well as some winterberry hollies for cutting.

For the planter in the NE corner of the drawing, I started with three Butterfly Magnolias and an Arnold's Promise Witch Hazel to enclose the patio area. These were underplanted with some small decorative shrubs and perennials. I also included a small area for a garden ornament (bird bath, small fountain, etc.), surrounded by a circular bed of low-growing Liriope and Black Mondo grass. The Liriope has grassy green "leaves" with small, elegant, dark purple flowers while the Black Mondo grass is a deep deep purple (almost black), so the contrast should be stunning.

Front Yard
The front yard is the shadiest, being on the northeastern side of the house. The small perennial border along the front porch is made up of hostas, bleeding hearts, small rhododendrons, lady's mantle, clematis, and other part-sun and shade loving plants.

The planting bed between the yard and the path has large shade trees, conifers, and decorative understory trees carefully placed to frame the views of Moscow Mountain, the city of Moscow, and the surrounding Palouse from the front porch. There are also many shrubs selected to give year-round interest between the path and the yard.

The final portion of the landscape is the windbreak. The biggest difficulty with windbreaks is how painfully long it takes to get them really established. One solution to this is to plant an initial row of fast growing trees (in this case the 42 hybrid poplars, labeled "HP" in the drawing) that will provide some fast relief. These trees would be gradually thinned over a period of about 10 years, during which time they should give the pines, tamarack, and hardwoods on the leeward side a chance to get established.

The goal with this windbreak was to make it attractive as well as functional. While there are distinct rows, the rows are made up of a variety of plants that are staggered to create a more natural look. The tallest row is comprised of austrian pines and western larches, followed by the deciduous row of paper birches, maples, walnuts, and oaks. This row is then followed by a shorter row of serviceberry, hawthorn, and lilac, finished off by a row of purple sand cherries. On the windward side of the starter row of poplars is a row of serviceberry and/or chokecherry, and then about fifty feet beyond that is what is called the "snow-trap" row made up of more serviceberries. The snow-trap row serves to catch the majority of the drifting snow between itself and the main body of the windbreak, whereas without it the snow would pile up on the leeward side of the windbreak along where the sand cherries are. 

You can see that windbreaks are not small things. This one (which is actually fairly basic) is more than 100 feet wide and at least 200 feet long. There are usually two challenges associated with installing a windbreak; first is the cost of the plants (there are about 175 plants in this windbreak), and the second is the chore of watering them so that you don't lose them all. In designing this windbreak I mostly used plants that could be found through the University of Idaho Center for Forest Nursery and Seedling Research catalog as root plugs for $2.00 a piece (or $1.80 a piece if you order more than 200). This could end up saving 90% of what one might pay at a normal nursery or home improvement store for plants that are just a little bit bigger. As far as watering the investment, the best means is a good drip irrigation system. The set-up would take some time, but in the long run would be such a time saver and would prevent the loss of so many plants.

I thoroughly enjoyed working on this plan and figuring out how to put all of the puzzle pieces together in  a way that fit perfectly and would look amazing. I pulled out all the stops when it came to plant selection and used everything in my arsenal and even made extra trips to local nurseries when I was running out of ideas for plants to use. As I said, this was my largest project to date but it was also one of the most enjoyable plans I have ever done.

Time: 35 hours

Friday, April 22, 2011

Hand Drafting

This is what my workspace looks like in the middle of a project. Scale ruler, pencils, erasers, pens, circle templates, straight edges, lots of trash paper, and a laptop for googling plant characteristics and pictures to make sure that they're perfect for their intended spot.
A lot of designers today use CAD (computer aided design) for about 90% of their work. I do like to use CAD for the most basic base map, but I find that hand drafting the more organic lines of plants and pathways provides a much more aesthetically pleasing planting plan for my clients. It would be quite simple (and utilitarian) to have a plain base map with a bunch of labeled circles to show where the various plants are to go, but it would also be boring and wouldn't communicate the feeling of the design nearly as well as a hand drafted and detailed plan.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Brausen Residence

This was a simple design that I did for a house in the Fort Russel District here in Moscow. The home was owned by an elderly lady who just wanted a few little additions here and there and was very clear that she did not like the cottage garden look - just simple and clean (and super low maintenance). This was very difficult for me as I tend to pack as much as I can into a planting bed, but I think that the design ended up being exactly what she wanted.

This is a great example of a small yet comprehensive plan. When you have an already established landscape, sometimes all you need is some guidance in a few areas to revamp what you have and use it to its fullest potential. We planted a few additional shrubs to screen off her side patio, put in a hedge to screen off the neighbor's yard, added a path around the house on the north side, and added some edging to clean up the boundaries between planting beds and lawn. Simple, but effective.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Moscow Wisescape Awards

"The City of Moscow established the Wisescape concepts in 2008 to promote water-efficient landscaping on the Palouse. The concepts include landscape design, reduction of resource use, soil enhancements, and plant selection."
Two of my designs have been nominated for the City of Moscow Wisescape Award. My design at Wingers was nominated in 2008 and my collaborative design at 2402 Itani was nominated in 2010.  I don't think either of them actually won (I could never find a list of winners), but it's nice to be nominated!

Current Project

This is a project I am currently working on. I like to have as much info as I can before I even get on site and I find that that generally makes the site visit the most productive. I compiled this base map from some basic GPS mapped plot lines given by the client and then printed out a topographic map from Google Earth to the same scale and traced. It's also very helpful to have cleanly drawn lines rather than the highly pixelated ones that you tend to get when printing off small sections of USGS topographic maps!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Rodeo Drive Mall

I drew up the landscape plan for the Rodeo Drive Mall on the north end of Moscow back in 2005. The biggest design challenge for this site was the city zoning requirements. Section 6-9 of the City of Moscow Zoning Code has some very specific requirements for what is planted between differently zoned areas, particularly between a motor business area and two different types of residential areas.

In the end I was pleased with how the design turned out and I had high hopes for how it would look upon completion. But this is the point in the design process where my job ends and it's up to the contractor (or homeowner in some cases) to either follow my design or substitute as they sometimes see fit. Some substitutions were made at the mall which has resulted in some oddities, but the overall idea has remained basically the same and I am pleased with that.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Casa Wallace

This was a project that I did for school almost 8 years ago. I had the privilege of studying in Italy for 6 weeks over the summer and we stayed at an amazing little villa/winery while we were there. One of our projects was to create a comprehensive plan for the villa and vineyards that included some wetland reclamation, garden space, an increased number of paths throughout the property, a children's garden, a grotto at the site of the old pool, and other requirements. Living in the space you're designing for is an enjoyable but sometimes overwhelming experience.

Two areas that we concentrated on were the courtyards at the villa. One was completely paved and enclosed on three sides by the villa itself, with the owner's private residence partially covering the fourth side. It got incredibly hot in this courtyard, so I added a fountain with night-lighting and some edge plantings to soften the harsh lines of the space.

The second courtyard was bounded on one side by the villa and the rest was surrounded by an old wall with a little terra cotta roof that was as charming as it was unnecessary. They didn't have a lot of water for irrigation, so I used brick pavers and pea gravel set in organic lines  and curving shapes to create a more "natural" feeling environment and added a few strategically placed berms of native plants to make the sparse plantings more visible. 

As an aside, if you're looking for a place to stay in the Piedmont region of Italy, you can stay here. Visit their website here.

Soil Amendments

A common problem here on the Palouse is our soil. Sometimes "soil" is too kind of a term - it's more like heavy clay. I once had to use a pick axe to cut away the soil to create a new retaining wall. You can use great websites like the USDA Soil Maps to find out exactly what kind of soil you are working with, but most of us have some type of silt loam. I spent a semester in college studying soil (they really hate it when you call it "dirt"). We looked at composition, drainage, maximum slopes, etc., but pretty much anyone with a yard here can tell you that we're not working with the best stuff on earth. The soil maps say that our Palouse silt loams are "well drained", but I've seen trees drown and suffocate in holes that essentially served as concrete pots in the ground with zero drainage.

So, what do you do? You have to work with what you've got. Some people try to truck in topsoil, but that doesn't work because it's usually just what local construction companies have dug out for foundations and if you live in a newly constructed house it could be the same exact stuff you're already dealing with! So unless you actually need to increase the volume of soil on your property, topsoil is out. The best option is amending the soil that you have in order to improve drainage and increase nutrients. Over large areas, this can become expensive. Here are some general tips:

: : If you can take care of large areas all at once, mix in about a 5 gallon bucket of sand and four 5 gallon buckets of compost (like EKO compost or any other compost that you can buy by the cubic yard at a garden center) for every 25 square feet. Some places even have something like a 3-way mix of mulch, compost, and sand which also works well.

: : If you have an already established yard and can only amend in each new planting hole as you go, then mix in about an inch of sand into the bottom of the hole and use a 2:1 mixture of original soil to compost as back fill (soil that you put back in the hole around the root ball).

: : If you just want to amend your planting beds and aren't planning to plant anything new, spread an inch or two of compost on top of the soil and work it in as much as possible without tearing up any roots.

: : The best top dressing for your planting beds is mulching bark. It doesn't stay in place like river rock and you have to replace it every year or two, but as far as quality of your soil goes it's the best thing. As it breaks down it adds nutrients to your soil and improves drainage. This obviously won't work if you put a weed barrier (the black plastic/fabric type stuff) between your bark and soil, so if you can resist, don't do that. If you make your bark layer two or more inches thick, that should work in two ways to prevent weeds: it will keep sunlight from reaching the soil where the weeds will usually grow and whatever weeds do happen to pop up in the bark are very easy to pull because their roots are just in the loose bark (as long as you don't wait till they're a foot tall!).
mulching bark

: : And last but not least, my very favorite soil amendment is Whitney Farms Soil Conditioner. It is my favorite because a few years ago I set up two planting beds, one with Whitney Farms Soil Conditioner to amend the soil and another with a basic planting compost. I planted gladiolus bulbs in both beds and after two months the bed with the Soil Conditioner produced much taller, fuller blooms than the other. Because of the cost, this is probably the sort of thing that you would want to mix in to each individual planting hole, again at a 2:1 ratio of native soil to conditioner.