Tomorrow's garden Design and inspiration for a new age of sustainable gardening

Stephen Orr, 1965-

Book - 2011

Orr traveled from coast to coast to find gardens both large and small that show how responsible gardeners are reimaging the definition of a modern garden and addressing design, plant choice, water usage, materials, and more, in exciting, innovative, and often surprising ways.

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New York : Rodale c2011.
Main Author
Stephen Orr, 1965- (-)
Physical Description
xxi, 234 p. : ill. (chiefly col.) ; 24 cm
  • What's the program?
  • What's the weather?
  • Which plant where?
  • What's the location?
  • Gravel takes center stage
  • Stone and steel
  • The intentional lawn
  • Recycling and repurposing
  • Growing food at home
  • Raising chickens and livestock in the city
  • Shared spaces
  • Street gardening.
Review by New York Times Review

Sarah Hayden Reichard has written a modest and unassuming but powerful book, THE CONSCIENTIOUS GARDENER: Cultivating a Garden Ethic (University of California Press, $27.50), arguing that gardeners should be on the front line when it comes to recognizing the interconnection of mankind and nature. "Practices and products," she writes, have crept into the craft of gardening "that decrease its long-term sustainability." I, for one, will never again resort to pesticides or peat moss after reading her book. Reichard's chapter on soil, "the skin of the earth," is an excellent refresher for any gardener. There are 20,000 identified types of soil in the United States alone. Dirt may even be the new Prozac. Both Reichard and Owens mention that working the soil might alleviate depression: a specific soil bacterium has been found to activate serotonin-releasing neurons. Which would, at the very least, explain why more gardeners don't throw down their shovels and quit.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [June 5, 2011]

CHAPTER 1 What's the Program? ENTHUSIASTIC NEW GARDENERS often launch into the more decorative part of gardening (i.e., the planting of flowers) before giving the spatial design much thought. Ahead of plant selection, one of the most important lessons to learn when making a garden is to consider how each area is going to be used. Each defined space should have a purpose--what architects refer to as a program. Will you be eating outdoors? Will you be entertaining small groups of friends for dinner or having formal cocktail parties for work? Do you have kids and/or pets? Is there a quiet spot to escape from the kids with a drink or a book? How well do you like your neighbors? Can you create some sense of privacy? Ask yourself these important lifestyle questions to plan your valuable outdoor spaces most effectively and keep them from going unused, which is a waste of valuable time and money. The Outdoor Room Of course, the answers to many of the above questions will vary according to where you live. Speaking from personal experience as a native Texan, many residents of that state possess a seemingly innate desire to stay indoors. Perhaps it's the heat, but let's be frank--the weather in much of the state is temperate for a large portion of the year. To thwart that tendency at an Austin, Texas, garden, landscape designer Mark Word specifically added smart elements to entice people outdoors. The small walled courtyard of the newly built house is a stylized campground of sorts with simple painted wood furniture, a fire pit, and a small running "stream" (abstracted as a tiered steel fountain). This elemental approach employs earth, fire, air, and water to transform what could otherwise merely be a pass-through space or, at its worst, a claustrophobic cell that never gets used. Now instead, it's a spot for evening drinks by the fire. Flowers in the graveled space, even plants themselves, are few--but it's still a garden in the classic sense. Word combined a few special selections- -yellow abutilon with prehistoric-looking rice paper plant (Tetrapanax papyriferus), plume poppy (Macleaya cordata), and the twisted trunk of a slender shoestring acacia (Acacia stenophylla)--into a sculpture garden of bold plants. The splashing fountain, deep enough to sustain several hardy water lilies through the winter, drowns out street noise. By using striking plant selections and simple materials, designer Mark Word turned the stark architecture of a courtyard in Austin, Texas, into a pocket garden of dramatic plants, a water feature, a seating area, and a fire pit. Homeowner Dan Seaver, wanted a backyard that was more than just an ordinary patch of grass ringed with flowerbeds. He ended up with a multiuse space, above, featuring an elegant outdoor dining room, a vegetable garden, and a small bit of lawn for his daughter. In a part of Venice, California, that is making the transition from modest midcentury bungalows to contemporary (but still small-scale) home remodels, Dan Seaver and his spouse, Will Speck, created a private backyard with an open-air dining room surrounded by gravel. Previously, the space was almost completely barren, so it was vitally important to inject some sense of spatial definition. Mark Tessier, their landscape architect, had the idea to add some truly green architecture--a shady grove of six African sumac trees (Rhus lancea). Their willowy leaves and slender reddish brown trunks form an airy canopy over an outdoor table where Seaver says it is cool and inviting on even the hottest day. The drought-tolerant, low-maintenance sumacs are evergreen but frequently shed their leaves, meaning they can be a bit messy. So you need to be either okay with a little regular sweeping or comfortable with a little naturalistic imperfection. There are just a few furnishings in this simple garden: a rustically modern wooden table, a stone sphere, and a shallow concrete birdbath. A small vegetable garden and a square of lawn for the couple's young daughter are the only parts of the property that require much in the way of regular water. In Ojai, California, landscape designer Paul Hendershot makes gardens that gracefully borrow style and mood from parts of the world that share his hot dry climate--such as Provence, Italy, and Spain. In such locations, the sun is strong, shade is a necessity, and plants have to be tough and drought resistant. Outdoor dining and activities like bocce are essential parts of the lifestyle. For a home just outside the town of Ojai, Hendershot planted a dense canopy of fruitless mulberries (Morus alba 'Stribling') in a gravel terrace surrounded with clipped herbs and walls made of stone excavated on the site. The trees' dense leaves throw cool shadows over the dining area all summer. In the mild winter, the trees lose their leaves, allowing diners to bask in the sun, which is welcome by that time. Hendershot picked a fruitless variety to avoid the mess caused by the dark-staining berries and the visiting hungry birds that enjoy the fruit and spread the seeds far and wide. Mind the Roots Mulberries are fairly tolerant of drought once they get established, but be aware that their aggressive roots are large and shallow, so these trees shouldn't be placed near masonry or sidewalks. At a garden in Ojai, California, Paul Hendershot set up a watering system for the trees that irrigates them deeply once a week, keeping the roots from growing too near the surface. As is common in Europe, the trees are kept small and dense by pollarding them (pruning back their upper branches to the main set of limbs) once a year in late winter or early spring. A surprisingly graphic approach can be seen in a garden created by designer Beth Mullins of Growsgreen Landscape Design for Tom Lakritz and Chris Wagner. The clients requested a unusual garden element for their small backyard in the Monterey Heights neighborhood of San Francisco: a labyrinth. In the past few years, these intricate garden features have become much sought after as meditative spaces. Often, the labyrinth is fairly large and situated as a destination out in a larger property to draw people away from the house and into another part of the garden. This 17- foot-wide design, inspired by the patterns found in San Francisco's Grace Cathedral and medieval churches like Chartres, takes up most of the backyard--that's quite a spatial commitment. Mullins outlined her walkable design with clumps of Berkeley sedge (Carex divulsa) in gravel instead of calling for a tighter pattern mown in lawn or using more conventional hedges of yew or boxwood. The sedge labyrinth doesn't need much water, and Mullins says it requires clipping or a little thinning only three times a year, when it gets to be about 2 feet tall. This unusual garden element makes a graphic design for viewing from the house or the raised deck while satisfying its original function as a meaningful contemplative activity for the homeowners as they walk its course. Every outdoor room should have a well-considered purpose. Paul Hendershot created a family gathering place in sunny Ojai, California, under a cool canopy of fruitless mulberry trees. At the request of her San Francisco clients, Beth Mullins designed a labyrinth of drought-tolerant grasses for their small backyard. For clients in Brooklyn, Susan Welti and Paige Keck came up with a narrow sequence of garden rooms that makes a large but narrow backyard appear even larger. Nearest the house is an informal seating area. At the rear is a dining area and custom-designed playhouse. A Multiuse Space In Brooklyn, designers Susan Welti and Paige Keck of Foras Studio renovated an unhappy backyard dominated by a derelict lawn and a motley collection of overgrown shrubs. They replaced it with a stylishly modern family garden subdivided by stone pavers, a grove of trees, and a wooden boardwalk. That's a far cry from what Gigi Sharp and George Gilpin saw when they bought the place in 2003. At that time, the lawn was a muddy, mosquito- ridden mess. Even in its compromised condition, the narrow backyard was an enormous draw for the couple with two young sons: The end-to-end double lot, measuring 20 by 80 feet, stretches from street to street, with a garage in the rear. Though the house is a classic 19th-century brownstone, Welti and the owners wanted to modernize the garden so that it would better suit the style of the new concrete, glass, and metal addition that the couple had built on the back of the house. The long, narrow garden already had a small patio and several changes in its levels, a feature that Welti found very appealing since a completely flat space doesn't hold as much design interest. In this case, the small series of grade changes fell in just the right proportions for the designer, so she kept them, knowing that this simple decision would save a lot of the expense and environmental damage of regrading the site and hauling away tons of soil and debris. She replaced the outmoded railroad ties that had formed the most prominent low wall near the house with poured concrete and replaced the soggy, poorly draining patch of lawn with a small grove of trees. Welti feels that all too often, homeowners with outdoor space have a strong, almost innate, desire to try to grow bright green lawns. But in a shady urban situation where the soil and drainage are often questionable, it takes an inordinate amount of effort (including the use of artificial fertilizer and chemicals) to get turf to be pristine. In most cases, she advises her clients to do without traditional grass. With the lawn removed, the replacement surfaces-- groundcover plants, pavers, wood boardwalk, and river stones--help move the once neglected garden into the new century. Dividing a Space Makes It Seem Bigger Garden designers have long known something that seems counterintuitive: Taking a small space and separating it into different, discrete areas makes it seem larger. A tall hedge, a wall, a fence, or an opaque clump of shrubs keeps a visitor from seeing the whole view at once, even if it is a relatively compact space, above. Each turned corner provides a new discovery: a private dining area or a secluded seating area with a bench and a fountain. Nothing is more boring than to look out the back door and see the whole yard spread out to be viewed at a glance. What's the point in going outside to take a look around when there is nothing to go around? Planting Small Though the plantings in the Sharp and Gilpin yard look fully mature now, this was hardly a garden with instantaneous results. Since most of the container-grown plants were purchased in small sizes ranging from 5 to 10 gallons, the garden required several years to reach its desired state--an approach that takes patience and trust on the part of the homeowner. Partially this decision was based on the realities of the budget, but Keck (and many notable designers) feels that most plants succeed better when put in young so that they can acclimatize more easily to their new surroundings without the abrupt shock of a full-grown transplant. Everyone involved agreed that the new yard shouldn't be too precious or pristine. Instead, they wanted an easy, low-maintenance atmosphere--a place where the family could relax, entertain, and spend hours outdoors. Welti transformed the formerly disused space into three highly usable family- oriented areas. A bluestone patio, furnished with vintage outdoor chairs, is a relaxed spot to hang out with friends before dinner. A dining table and chairs sit on a wooden platform partially obscured by a multilevel green barrier of low boxwood, a higher hedge of yew, and a small grove of Japanese maples. The trees create an important sense of enclosure and privacy. Welti was keen on imagining how the family would move back and forth through the yard--hence the cedar boardwalk that unites the different living areas. With its reliance on plant-based architecture of trees, long-blooming perennials, and shrubs, the garden is also inexpensive to maintain. Gilpin says he enjoys the small amount of yard work that's required, only a little raking of the planting beds and sweeping of the terrace and boardwalk once a month or so. Welti and Keck visit twice a year to check on how things are growing, determining which plants may need replacing or rejuvenating and giving the hedges a trim. Most blissfully, there is no need for the weekly invasion of the usual sort of mow-and-blow maintenance company that arrives loaded with power tools, cuts the lawn, blasts the grass clippings all over the place before making a hasty exit. That's probably the most valuable and serene design feature an urban garden can have. A stone terrace, the most open area of the garden, sits just behind a sleek new addition by Joseph Tanney at Resolution: 4 Architecture. Farther back, a dining table and playhouse are screened from the house by a grove of Japanese maples. Gardening with Kids (for Modernists) Los Angeles landscape designer Judy Kameon and her husband, Erik Otsea, aren't the sort of parents who go to great lengths to alter their houses or gardens for the sole sake of their child. Their steep garden in the hilly Elysian Park neighborhood of Los Angeles would make many an overprotective parent reach for his or her antianxiety medication. Besides the large, sharp-tipped agaves and a variety of changes in level delineated by walls and concrete steps, there isn't a patch of lawn or a jungle gym in sight. In this case, the dramatic topography has become a playscape in itself--and one that is perfectly safe. "My feeling from the start was that if Ian grew up in this garden, he would know how to act in it," Kameon says of her son. And she has been proved right. Ah, California. Landscape designer Judy Kameon and her family, live as much outdoors as in their Los Angeles house. The fairly steep garden is made of terraces traversed by steps that pass under a giant pepper tree. The most radical transformation in the property occurred when the couple built a larger, modernist house designed by architect William Nicholas of Nicholas/Budd Architects on the site of a former artist studio. Instead of tearing down their 1928 stucco bungalow, they decided to keep it as a guesthouse. Excerpted from Tomorrow's Garden: Design and Inspiration for a New Age of Sustainable Gardening by Stephen Orr All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.