Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Container Gardening

We love container gardening. A few well-placed pots always add so much to a space. Yet when they're not well-placed, they end up looking like so much clutter. When placing pots for clients (or in our own gardens), we consider the following:
  • We plan out pot purchases as much as possible, noting how many pots to purchase and the locations where to site them.
  • In gardens which have views that open up all at once, we color coordinate the pots, and we don’t use too many types of pots. We stay with one to three types that coordinate well and match in styling.
  • We encourage clients: "Don’t be afraid to buy large!" And if we convince them, they’re always pleased with the effect. Even in small gardens, large pots are striking. Too many small pots of differing types of material and color just end up looking like clutter.
  • In gardens with many “rooms” and concealed views, we use pots to tell a story. They can be a centerpiece of a vignette. They can be used as fountains, or they can be placed in a planting bed to add height and interest. Some pots are so beautiful, they don’t even need to be planted!
  • When we plant pots, we typically like to use the "Thrillers, fillers and spillers" prototype. The thrillers are tall, often architectural plants usually placed in the center of the pot. Fillers are mid-sized and lower-sized often full or frilly plants. And spillers are placed at the pot's edge and are encouraged to drape down over the sides of the pot.
  • Pots can punctuate a garden style when planted in a similar style as the surrounding garden, or they can add flavors of a complimentary garden style such as large colorful pots placed around a pool and planted with tropicals when the surrounding garden is cottage style plantings.
  • Pots are fantastic for framing views. Striking pots with vertical elements always direct the eye.
  • In areas where planting is not practical, adding pots can create a lush beautiful space.For other tips on pot shopping, placement, and planting, contact us at to inquire about our pot shopping and planting service. You’ll be amazed at how much a few well placed pots can transform a garden!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Our current top 10 favorite plants

You all know that we are plant lovers at Botany, and you’ve all probably heard us say that we’ve included our favorite plant in your design. But, truth be known, we love plants too much to be faithful to just one. So here is our current top 10 list:

1.Chondropetalum tectorum/ Cape Rush: Both drought tolerant and can live in water. When it fills out and has many upward, tall, weeping stems it's the most graceful of all plants.

2.Euphorbia characias wulfenii/ NCN: Starts to wake up in early Spring and it’s so frilly and cheery when it does.

3.Leonotis leonurus/ Lion’s Tail: Gives height and structure in the garden, and lovely orange color when everything else is getting sleepy.

4.Echeveria secunda glauca/ Hen and Chicks: Refreshing cool blue color, adorable rosettes, and spreads easily with minimal care. Gorgeous en masse.

5.Cestrum nocturnum/ Night Jessamine: We love fragrance in the garden, and this shrub with inconspicuous flowers powerfully fills the night air with fragrance. Plant it near a window for summer evenings scented with sweet, sultry air.

6.Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea': Creeping Jenny, with it's bright yellow color and cute rounded leaves, it is the best plant for spilling out of pots or contrasting with larger-leafed, colorful plants.

7.Heuchera: Cooperative and offers a wide color range with its foliage to complement so many types of plantings.

8.Woodwardia fimbriata: A California native, this delicate but tough 3' fern can take a good bit of direct sun and reduced water after it's established.

9.Cordyline x 'Jurred': This plant is duly named 'Festival Grass' as it appears to be having a party all by itself. You might be fooled into thinking that it's a Phormium, but if you look more closely you'll notice the way the leaves arch more gracefully than a Phormium and that the color is a deep, rich red. While we love Phormiums, no Phormium can pull this off!

10.Myers Lemon: The form of a Myers Lemon can be so beautifully round and perfect without any snipping whatsoever, and the fruit it bears is so wonderfully tasty. There is nothing like having a fruit orchard in your back garden!

Monday, March 16, 2009


I have two children, Mila and Aman. Mila is 3-1/2 years old and Aman is 5 months old. I haven't had an unhappy day since their births, and in them, I have created my masterpieces. My husband Yonas is from Ethiopia and I am an American of mixed ethnicities, primarily French and Mexican. This past Sunday we christened Aman in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Mila was also christened at a young age in the same faith. Neither Yonas nor I are regular attendees at the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and I would say that my faith leans more toward Buddhism, but we wanted the children to go through this significant Ethiopian ritual to connect with their Ethiopian heritage, as well as to leave future options open for following the faith of their choice.

I have continued to say since his unexpected birth at home, Aman was aptly named "Peace." He was a peaceful angel throughout this lengthy ceremony. It proceeded as follows:
  • At 6am we arrived at the church.
  • At approximately 6:30am the ceremony begins. Four priests enter the room, dressed in their Holy robes. They bring incense and intricate crosses and they begin to pray in a mesmerizing chant as the room fills with the fragrant smoke of the incense. The prayers are primarily delivered in Ge'ez, an ancient Ethiopian Holy language, so I am not the only one who does not understand.
  • After the initial prayers conclude, all of the mothers who are offering their children up for the Holy ceremony, unwrap their children and deliver them into the hands of the priest who circles the children around the tub of Holy water, dips them into the tub, and anoints them with the Holy water. Aman is a beautiful little cherub, dancing through the air, patiently receiving our offering for him.
  • His new godfather, Soloman, then receives him with his pure while Christening blanket and dresses him in his white Christening clothes.
  • We then take him down to the main church for services and to receive his first Holy Communion at 8:30am.
  • The prayers are, again, sung in this beautiful chant in Ge'ez, and Aman is lulled to sleep in my arms as we await his first communion.
  • Soloman brings him to receive his first communion, the priests lay hands upon him in prayer, and by about 10:30 the ceremony has finished.
We later celebrated this occasion with a customarily small group of friends and family, and my little Mani remained peaceful, spending most of his time in the arms of his new godfather and godmother, Soloman and Eyeru.

Thank you to all who were a part of this special, amazing day in our family.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A sense of Place

We’ve all had the experience of arriving at a special place and becoming overwhelmed with a sense of awe and wonder. What is it about this place that affects us so powerfully? Natural places such as a “cathedral” in the woods or a sheltered cove have been designed by natural forces, and most created or developed places have been designed. These special, designed places have been thoroughly thought out. What story do we want to tell? How many outdoor “rooms” do we want to create? Which views do we want to open up, conceal, or reveal gradually? How shall we guide circulation? How do we incorporate resting places or spots for triangulation? How do we want to use color to create moods? How do we make users feel safe? What is the existing language of the space and the surrounding spaces that must be respected to create this sense of place?

A great designed space matters. So many of our clients tell us that before we designed their gardens they never spent time in the space, and afterward they derive great pleasure spending much of their time in the space. They now want to show it off to friends, and they now start planning activities around the space.

A fellow designer compares good design with smoke. “You know what they are when you see them. But when you try to grasp it, sometimes you can't reel it in.” Again, we have the feeling of the ethereal.

Clients are often thrilled when we hand them their final drawings after so much time spent thinking about the design. It is a tangible representation of this ongoing conversation about the creation of this new place. We take great pride in our drawings, but the cost of our design services is not paying for the drawing alone. It represents the many hours of training, specific research, developing and storytelling that is behind each pen-stroke of our drawings. Only through these less visible steps do we achieve a good design; and a good design creates a great place. Good design is intentional, purposeful, and defensible. When a client asks us why we placed that patio or tree as we did, our answer will always be much more than “because we thought it would look pretty there”.

Landscape designer Harry Schuster once commented, “All other things being equal, a well-designed landscape costs just as much to install as an ugly one. Why not make them all nice?” We agree! We commend all of our lovely clients and friends who have had this foresight, and we encourage you all to spread the word. We are on a mission to spread this sense of place, and we'd like to enlist your help.

The following photos show both natural and designed places that I visited in my travels which filled me with this sense of awe upon arrival. I woud love to learn of places that bring this sense of awe to others.

Stockholm, Sweden. Taken while exploring this amazing city by boat.

Barcelona, Spain. A crazy, invigorating place with so many hidden jewels.

My daughter had great fun running through this Cape Cod beach.

Exploring a very bohemian mountain town in Mexico. An amazing town filled with so many special places.

Ethiopia. After hours of bouncing through dirt roads, we arrived at this amazing lake carved out by natural design.

The Getty in Southern California. The sky felt amazingly large juxtaposed against this grand architecture.

Honfleur, France. I could have lingered here for years. Everywhere I looked I was in awe; a storybook village.