Design for Awkward Spaces

New Patio
New Patio

Do you have a small garden or an awkward space that you’d like to use more efficiently? These areas often end up being the most interesting part of your garden! Here are 2 tips for working in a difficult space:

1. Work the angles

Using angles is a standard approach in awkward spaces. They can give you the longest axis when you don’t have much width, or they reclaim a corner area that would otherwise be unused. In this layout, the dining area is on an angle, keeping it tied into the main patio while using and softening some corner space for good energy!

2. Use grade to your advantage

A sloping yard can be difficult, but it also gives you a natural opportunity to use a tiered layout which adds depth and interest to your garden. In this design, we’re gradually working our way from high to low as we move from right to left across the design above.

The downside? Cost. You can’t have tiers without walls, which means more construction, which means a bigger budget. Even in a small garden this can start to seem a little daunting sometimes. Is it worth it? Yes! As long as it doesn’t destroy the budget.

New Patio
New Flagstone Patio
Back Garden
Back Garden, Before

Look Familiar?

Do you have an awkward space you’d like to reclaim? Chances are it could become your favorite place in the garden! Designing now for Spring 2023 installations.

Front Garden Makeover

  • Front Garden After
  • Front garden before renovation

Dramatic Before/After projects are so much fun! This front garden renovation is well underway for a major update to the previous landscape. The clients started with a big patch of bamboo that was a constant challenge to contain; a driveway that covered the front of the house; and a lot of lost space due to previous grading choices.

We changed the entire look of the front garden by moving the driveway to one side, moving the retaining walls to create a larger level area, and removing the bamboo forest. The result is an open and welcoming space with a beautiful view of the house through the specimen maple tree. Poured concrete, updated carpentry and lighting have really changed the style of the garden, with more improvements to come in the form of painting and staining.

I’m really looking forward to following the progress of this beautiful project! What would you like to do at your house?

Spring is here!

And we’re off!

It’s wonderful to feel the weather turning (or trying to!) and to see things coming to life everywhere. Spring really is in the air. The cherries are nearly done and the Redbuds are starting to come into their own. Bulbs are blooming everywhere, Creeping Phlox is making a colorful carpet (I have a friend who says “It looks like a unicorn threw up”- the nerve!), and the smell of Koreanspice Viburnum is wafting on the breeze!

How are your garden plans coming along? We’ve got walls, steps, driveways, plants, lights, custom sheds- you name it, it’s on the schedule for spring. Schedules are pretty full, but don’t be discouraged if you haven’t gotten started yet. Let’s start planning now and you could be enjoying your new outdoors for late summer and a beautiful autumn!

Designing for Spring

Robin's nest with eggs
Nesting in my wall planter

I say the same thing every year- it’s time to design for spring! In fact, if you’re reading this and we aren’t already talking- we might be designing for summer or fall.

Expect to spend an average of 2-3 months on the design process- from consultation to installation contract.

That may seem long (sometimes it’s longer), but the time flies by. We’ll have a consultation and then a first concept a couple weeks later. Then there’s time for contemplation between revisions. Sometimes you get busy, sometimes installations take up more of my time. And we have to get on a contractor’s schedule, which can be booked 8-12+ weeks out.

All this is to say, if you’re dreaming of changes outside- contact me! But only if you’re ready.

Are you ready for a 2022 project?

The Mount, Home of Edith Wharton, is an inspirational garden for homeowners everywhere.
The Mount offers plenty of garden inspiration that could be scaled to a smaller property. (photo by Maureen Robinson)

As I work on 2022 projects, I’ve been looking back through this year’s photos. Nearly every trip I take involves a garden visit at some point! It’s a great way to add a little structure to a vacation, and there are always places to see if you do a little research. This summer we had a laid-back getaway to the Berkshires where we spent a really nice afternoon at The Mount, former home of Edith Wharton. It’s a traditional layout which I always enjoy- easy to walk through, easy to “read”, and easy to visualize on a smaller scale. (As with so many other gardens, I saw a lot of native plants starting to sneak in to the palette. I especially liked the shorter Joe Pye Weed at the back of the border, maybe Eupatorium purpureum ‘Little Joe’).

Are you feeling inspired by gardens you’ve seen to plan a 2022 project at your own home? If so, I’m currently working with clients for Spring 2022 installations, or possibly winter hardscape projects. Maybe we can work on your project together.

It’s Your Garden…

Photo of Putting Green
If golf is your passion, why not turn an unused space into a putting green? Installation by Great American Landscapes Inc

Do What you Wanna Do!

One of the first things we discuss at your consultation is what you’d like to do in your garden, aka “the program.” Some people don’t really want to do much, they just want things to look good. Others aren’t really sure, but they assume they’ll want to eat outside once in a while and have a place to sit. And still others know exactly what they’d like to do, but might not think their vision is justified or possible. And to that I say, it’s your garden! If the budget allows, it should be exactly what you want it to be.

Your Garden

It’s such a privilege to have a little piece of earth. What do you want to do with yours? I love a consultation that turns into a brainstorming session of dream scenarios! And if we can dream it up, there’s a good chance we can build it. Moat, anyone?

Let’s discuss!

Thriving in 2021

Happy New Year!

I love turning over the calendar to January, even during “normal” years. There’s nothing like the feeling of a fresh start. This year I’m looking forward to creating many more beautiful gardens with my wonderful clients, starting immediately!

That’s right, landscaping has been booming in our DC Metro area since many very fortunate people have been working from the comfort of their homes. As a result, the usual winter break is not happening this year. We will be installing hardscape any time the weather permits, with planting picking up in March-April.

If you want to do work this spring, start planning now.

I say this every year, but I especially urge you this year to get the design process started in order to avoid disappointment. If you’re dreaming of a Mother’s Day Brunch in the garden, it’s time to start.

All that said, there is no urgency on my part. I’m here any time you’re ready to start thinking about your outdoor space. Send me a note sometime.

Wishing you every good thing in 2021!

Stay Warm in Your Garden Through Winter

A propane-fueled fire table is a great option. (photo Maureen Robinson)

Getting outside is essential now.

2020 has been a year of rediscovering and relishing our gardens. It’s a huge privilege to have a little piece of earth (or balcony), and going outside has been a game changer for so many of us. With that in mind and fall just around the corner, I’ve been thinking a lot about heat sources to extend the season for as long as possible. What are our options to stay warm outside?

The trusty fire pit

Fire pits have been around a long time, and you might even have one. But do you like yours and do you use it? One of the biggest drawbacks to a fire pit is waving your hands wildly every time the wind shifts and then smelling like a pile of ashes at the end of the evening. For a smokeless option, I’ve been eyeing the Solo Stove for a while now, and I have a client who swears by them. I admit I don’t love the stainless steel exterior, but they are sleek, not to mention portable. Another smokeless option is a Breeo (below). I think I’m going to splurge on one of these for our gravel area. I want my daughter to be able to have some pod friends over this fall and this seems like a good way to do it.

The Breeo 24 can stand alone or be used as an insert in a built structure.

How about a fire table?

Fire tables are a great option, giving you extra room for food and drinks along with a warming focal point. Some of the best options have a gas source, like this propane table from Woodland Direct. Just be sure to check the details on the tank- sometimes it fits under the table, and sometimes it stands separately and you’ll want to think about where you’re going to hide it. (Pro tip- if you’re having a patio built, ask your contractor to bury a conduit to run the gas line through to another area, e.g. behind a seat wall.)

Fire table from Woodlands Direct

Stay warm with portable heaters

When you want heat without flames, a great option is a portable heater. These range in size from table top to free-standing. They generally run on propane, though some are electric. Here’s a good article I just saw with a few options.

But wait- how about a heated floor pad?!

Here’s what I’m definitely adding to my screened porch- a heated floor mat. Why didn’t I think of this before? With a mat like this outside, I’ll be able to stay warm from my feet up. They come in many sizes and are typically used to melt ice on walkways, porches, etc. You can simply hide one under an outdoor area rug if you don’t want the utilitarian look. Oh, you don’t have an outdoor rug? Splurge!

Outdoor rug from Perigold
Perigold has a great selection of outdoor rugs, and just about anything else you need.

Are you ready for fall and winter outside? I’ll let you know how my new additions are working out, and I’d love to help you set up your space, too. Have a project you’re thinking about? Let’s work on it together.

Using Pottery in the Garden

I’ve been thinking a lot about garden accessories lately, especially pottery. The term accessories seems to trivialize these items, though, while I’m thinking of them as the backbone of a design.

A typical strategy for planting is to work big to small, often starting with the trees, then the shrubs, and so on. In this approach, a large evergreen is often an anchoring piece, with shrubs creating outlines, and special plants with unique features serving as accents. The drawback in this plan is that unfortunately, sometimes plants fail, and that’s where man-made objects offer something unique.

Pottery is a simple and affordable way to bring made objects into your garden.

It’s not unusual to see large objects like a sculpture or pergola featured in a design, but more humble and accessible objects like planters have much to offer, as well. Depending on size and form, they can fill a myriad of roles and generally occupy space in a useful way.

Photo of Whichford Pottery Rhubarb Jar
Whichford Pottery Rhubarb Jar is a focal point in my garden- and fills a rabbit-eaten hole.

What can containers do for the garden?

  • Allow you to express your personal style;
  • Provide structure year round, i.e. a reliable form that won’t let you down when aphids or powdery mildew show up;
  • Elevate a simple plant into a specimen;
  • Serve as a focal point, a repeated motif, or a big jumble of planted exuberance.

If you have the opportunity (we can find one!), don’t hesitate to invest in pieces that will help define your landscape for years to come. Not sure where to start? I can help.

Pennoyer Newman
The Italian Terrace Collection