Shifting Visions

Since starting my design career in 1999 I've designed hundreds of landscapes, mostly here in Seattle. The design process and path to completion of a garden varies. The very first step in the process is always getting a recent survey and measuring the site. Typically the more thorough, the better. A base map plan is then generated as a platform to build the schematic design upon. The schematics (concepts) are then developed as much as needed to yield an estimate for installation, construction documentation, or to obtain permits. 
'hero shot' for a small development

modelling allows for shading & various perspective
elevation sketch version
Working in all facets of drawing capability over the years; I've transitioned from straight-up hand drawing and drafting with pencil & ink to using software (in may case Autocad) and now using Google sketch-up. 
What I've found is that the finished sketch-up model; though not as accurate as a plan is very well received in presentations. At first I was frustrated by the inaccuracy, but now I realize that its the visual translation that counts. So here at Studio AB we have begun to use SU (Sketch-Up) modelling as an additional tool to planning. The main advantage is having the ability to view as a perspective versus always viewing in plan view. Though I still feel that elevation drawings can also be quite useful in this regard (and more accurate). Due to client budget constraints we usually offer elevations and sections for more technical drawing sets on an as needed basis to obtain a permit (or so a contractor can build the thing).  
concept plan

Lately I am realizing that modelling especially, can be a powerful tool to convey the concept; as not everyone can visualize a plan view. 
Other cool reasons for model-making: to show sun/ shade, times of day/ year, maturity of plant material (size/ shape), and of course to view the potential garden at various 'viewing' perspectives. These are also the reasons why I feel that the modelling process; though it takes longer to finish has made me a better overall designer. 
our first attempt at SU model building for a residence
Overall we can now provide a more effective, powerful visual aide using SU.  An added bonus is that often these 'screenshots' become valuable marketing pieces for our developer clients.

Since the trend of modelling/ rendering keeps advancing and has already become a standard deliverable for most architecture firms there is a expectation for the garden designers (like us) to follow suit. Therefore we look forward to offering our clients modelling and illustration services in addition to providing complete conceptual and/ or technical drawings! 


meet me at the beach

experiencing the islanders' garden

I was ecstatic to take on the challenge of helping a lovely couple realize the garden for their newly remodeled beachfront retirement home, though I soon felt a bit intimidated as the design parameters of being on the shores of Puget Sound began to unfold.  For one, the views...I mean, the garden has some stiff competition for attention with this scene unfolding out the front door!
year-round drama...sunset view from the front deck
The site is perched on Utsalady Bay on Camano Island; the foundation literally just a few footsteps from the water's edge. 
Jeff & Bonney affectionately referred to their home as a 'cottage' before it transforming it into the fabulous, custom-built, contemporary, comfortable water-front home it is today.  Throughout the new home there are several 'beach cottage' elements tastefully incorporated in both interior and exterior.  So we all agreed when embarking on the garden's design that it felt natural to keep the feel of a casual, cottage-like garden as the material choices for stone and other details presented themselves.  
Covered composite deck
The proximity to Puget Sound presents special environmental considerations when it comes to planting.  Especially challenging were conditions were salt, high winds, and flooding.  Over the past three years since this garden was substantially completed the weather has taken its toll.  However, I am happy to report most of the plants have proved to be survivors, and the stonework and deck remain securely in tact.  

Front view
For the front (sound-side) the resilient  rosa rugosacryptomeria, and shore pine (pinus contorta) have proven to be the best enduring species for ornamental woody shrubs.  Keeping it simple was key to planning for this mico-climate.  It's only a small space between threshold and bulkhead and the focus of course is on the expansive view and great water access.  To maximize enjoyment and keep the maintenance low there is an all composite deck; mostly covered to keep it cozier.  For site specific 'mulch' we allowed the sound to add its personal touch with the addition of beach debris in the form of shell fragments and driftwood (as you can see in the beds). 
Stewartia psuedocamellia
Much to my delight, Bonney is an avid gardener. She really took the reigns and realized the palette that became the fabulous 'entry courtyard' garden. Once the flagstone path was laid, the soil and rock placed we focused on the primary trees and shrubs and lighting locations. I guided her with selections, but overall, this garden was a family effort.  I simply supplied a solid schematic layout and some coaching from my year of experience.  

Bonney fastidiously weeding
Now in its 4th full season, this sweet seaside garden is looking better then ever, yet still evolving (as a good garden should).  Though the past few years, Bonney and Jeff have add hints of personality, herbs and veggies, and some new plants here and there.  

Glamour perennial of 2014- Digiplexis

You can check out more of this sweet 'beach strolling garden' on June 28th during the 7th Annual Camano Island Habitat Garden Tour. It is one of several lovely private island gardens that will be open to the public from 10am- 4pm. The focus is on the establishment of wildlife habitat. 

Fun details- imprints of sea life in the concrete
remnants of coral and beach glass as a decorative gap along the foundation
Crabs like pineapple sage...who knew?!
A big thanks to both Bonney & Jeff for being so wonderful, fun to work with, and hands-on.  Not to mention the bonus of fresh crab, incredible views, and giving me good excuses for more island excursions:-)

Happy summer everyone...enjoy your garden, the beach, or wherever you wander! 


walk on the wild side

Once again, I feel fortunate to live in such an amazing place! One of the prominent reasons being that I am surrounded be an abundance of amazing, natural beauty.  From Mount Baker to Mount Hood the forests and alpine meadows are alive with native wildflowers that provide a showy display of fireworks from late spring until the snow settles in.
Goat Rocks wilderness in early September
Paradise Park on Mount Hood in late August
The more I explore, the more fascinated and appreciative I become. So far as to join the Native Plant Society...a tremendous resource for all that is growing wild.  Along with their  classroom style format of consulting, there are several local events including plant sales, demonstrations, and educational opportunities.  Check out their blog! 

trillium- a good accent for shade gardens

If I'm lucky my attempts to transform shady corners into 'forest sanctuaries' and a high & dry patch of my boyfriend's yard into an 'experimental alpine garden' of sorts; featuring three rather pricey mountain hemlocks and several species of erica and calluna (heather & heath) will endure as well as teach. 
cornus (bunchberry) good groundcover for shade

Queen's cup
Please enjoy some of my photos.  Happy fall and happy fall planting...the best time to plant!
Arrowleaf balsamroot

(bearly thawed) September near goat lake
Also check out the Washington Trails Association for recommended wildflower hikes to put on your list for next year, plus a great downloadable native flower guide (at the bottom of the hikes page).  Happy trekking!

maidenhair fern & dicentra (bleeding heart)
Columbia lily

sedum the 'go-to' succulent groundcover for dry sun

paint brush, a burst of bright vermillion

sub alpine mariposa lily

Though I thoroughly enjoyed my recent trekking in the tundra of the Kenai (Alaska)...
tundra floor
me hiking Glacier Peak wilderness


side effects may vary

troubleshooting the illusive 'no man's land' between property lines

narrow sites call for simplicity...bamboo & a crushed stone path
it seems commonplace that most homeowners regard the side yard as an afterthought.  As in  not much more than a thoroughfare, a place for rubbish storage, or in some cases a dog run.  However, there could be a missed opportunity here to get creative, maximize function, and enhance the viewing pleasure from within the home.  
one bright color in this small side yard pulls it together; with just enough greenery to soften the edges


the secluded strolling garden...

even long, narrow 'right of way' spaces along property lines (sometimes not much more than 5 feet wide) can be transformed into a pleasant journey between a front yard and the more private backyard living space.  I tend to downplay the end of the path from the front; as not to draw attention (or intention) away from the front entry.  A path less grand and more casual, perhaps even meandering is more suitable.
detail of concept plan

small secret sanctuaries.... 

which would you rather have outside:  a place to meditate, drink your morning coffee, take a shower after a long hike, or enjoy an intimate 'al fresco' dinner for two?
Try installing a small bench or bistro table on a tiny patio, or float a small platform deck in a lush 'sea' of green.  
dine in style within a dreamy garden 'vignette'

relax already! sip your coffee, tea, vino...or take a nap

add good, clean, (& functional) fun with an outdoor shower
a small garden retreat can be melodic or quiet; a nice break from the kitchen or the  entertainment 'room' of the main backyard patio or deck. 

screening undesirables...

hiding utilities; such as the unaesthetic gas and electrical meters while keeping them accessible can be challenging.  For this purpose, I am a big fan of custom-built containers and enclosures.

As for unappealing trash & recycling containers- sometimes a structure is the best solution; doing a double duty of masking smells and keeping critters at bay.  
horizontal slatted cedar forms a nice screen panel & access gate
this shady side yard adjacent to a ravine is actually a front yard too!  screening various utilities and locating the right place for recycling, etc was tough but as the carefully considered plants fill in and wood starts to 'petina'; the garden grows into a lush & beautiful oasis

be a good neighbor

keeping on the subject of screening, sometimes the neighbors are too close  for comfort (even if y'all get along!) so planting a viable screen that both homeowners can enjoy becomes paramount.  I like bamboo in large troughs (or in deep root barrier), and evergreens such as columnar Irish yew Taxus baccata 'Fastigiata' (shade) and a few strategically places Italian cycpress  cupressus sempervirens (sun).  However, beware of the mature growth habits and the pest problems especially when considering planting dense in small spaces.

also, I dig the presence of a 'good neighbor' gate, no matter if it is in fact functional or not.  Keep in mind that fencing need not be limited to just wood panels.  A creative play on enclosure can not only keep the kids and/or dogs in, it can be a fun, colorful way to frame views, let light in, or provide a supportive structure for vines. 
your neighbors will either envy or enjoy!  small water features such as the 'eclipse fountain' = both a pleasant sound & color splash

raise it up! 

if there is an opportunity to go vertical, try growing some edibles. Fruit producing vines such as golden hops and red grape thrive here in sunny conditions.  Raised garden beds for edibles can also be a great fit if the width is there.  Two to four foot wide wood boxes are perfect for easy picking and maintenance.  
cool raised planter for veggies- built from salvaged wood (from the Re-store)
espalier apple trees...eat your yard!

golden cascade hops- why not! its a great durable summer vine; perfect for a bright filtered screen

so obviously the sky is the the limit!  Do you want to explore the possibilities?  we can help realize your yard's potential.
in the field measuring a side yard circa 2010


beyond the invisible fence

Despite the dreary greyness of March in Seattle, I assure you that spring is near!  That means it is time to start thinking more seriously about spending more time outdoors.  After all, being  outside is healthy for you!  Dog-owners who brave the 'monsoons' and seemingly endless drizzle this time of year (myself included) can attest that its really not that bad once you're out in it for a bit.  Armed with an arsenal of gore-tex, wool, and two pairs of rain boots I enjoy imbibing the signs of seasonal change, as well as the architectural evolution of my neighborhood. 
Recently, I began running as a subcontractor for a service known as Djog.  Typically runners provide busy dog owners with vigorous 30-minute runs once a day, or as needed.  Through this pursuit I've come to observe the homes and habits of fellow dog owners (and canines) in my neighborhood.  Thus, I have begun further exploration into the behavior of various breeds in effort to effectively approach 'dog-scaping' as a garden design direction.  As a seasoned residential designer, I've had several dog-owners as clients in the past.  Most accused their best friends of being either notorious 'diggers', neurotic 'shredders', escape artists, or just having an abundance of energy (i.e. thrashing anything in their path).  

Of course this can prove to be a huge challenge if you actually want a decent-looking, thriving garden space to enjoy.  The key to success and good times (i.e. eliminating yelling and frustration) is to think like a canine, give up on perfectionism, and learn forgiveness.  Here are some helpful 'dog-scaping' tips and solutions that I've come across:
Access & protection:
Observe the pets then try to accommodate them.  For the dog-accessible portion of your yard, think in terms of establishing border control as well as creating a nice doggy retreat space. Some elements to consider incorporating include:  barriers such as decorative pickets, seat walls, natural stacked-stone edging, and building raised beds; such as cedar garden boxes.
To keep an escape artist safe- try installing an underground barrier made of re-bar, chicken wire, or concrete to prevent tunneling under the fence.

for this culinary garden,  I designed raised beds of cedar timbers to control canine way-finding
Create paths for traffic, exercise, and patrolling:
Dogs need exercise!  Paths give them a designated space to do it as well as a venue to perform their perceived job of patrolling the property.

Sacrifice a few feet along the fence for a perimeter path to simultaneously satisfy both needs. If your dogs have already created their own paths through the garden, don't try to redirect them. Instead, turn their well-worn routes into proper pathways. 
A 30" clearance is enough for most dogs. Plant a screen to hide this dog run if you like; creating their own dog 'secret garden'.
Use gentler hardscape elements such as smooth flagstone set in round rock pebble (forming a dry creek bed) that dogs can comfortably tread.  Think of it more as a running track to provide a route for exercise and play time. 

 'project management': a good neighbor fence for the four-legged neighbors
Installing marking posts & dog friendly structures
A sculptural piece of stone or driftwood feature can provide a suitable spot to mark the territory. Other elements such as a sand digging pit can divert their attention and energy in the right direction.

Like humans, dogs enjoy basking in the sun. So by all means, give them a deck or a patch of lawn for sunbathing. Most dogs overheat easily, so it's even more important to provide them with cooling retreats. Create a shady retreat with a 'pooch pergola' or add a small water-feature (think beyond the plastic kiddie pool). Dogs will happily share structures with their owners, but most dogs seem to appreciate having a shelter of their own, such as a doghouse. 
Other cool features that I've come across are a dog 'look-out' (ideal for sloped sights) and a water bowl station that recirculates (added as zone to an existing irrigation system). 
this vintage hydrant (purchased at an auction) dually functions a marking post and a colorful conversation piece

dog-proofing for a small urban backyard included special care in selection of non-toxic plant material

good-looking fence; containment to one portion of the yard for safety, shade, & easy water access

Finding sensible plants:
This is such a challenge! Planting near paths should have soft foliage but be sturdy enough to withstand rough-housing.  There really are no plants that can withstand heavy pet traffic, so plant protection may be necessary, as well as having a designated space for digging.  That being said, try selecting tougher species such as vinca minor (a common groundcover) and use stronger, woody shrubs instead of tender perennials.  Secure your vegetables, herbs, and other edibles in boxes or containers. Think of it as 50% protection and 50% trial and error. 
For mulch try to use softer, small cedar chips or dark medium-fine mulch. Its easier on paws and  won't cling most coats. Pea stone and crushed gravel will tend to migrate and hazelnuts just seem like they would be uncomfortable on tender paws.

Okay, so I realize that this really nothing all that new conceptually; but I can attest to it being a good approach, or at the very least a great start to expand on and push further into the limits of 'barkitecture'... perhaps?!  For further info check out Sunset (where I've found some) and Petscaping:  a cool site that combines training and planning.  

the green-roof doghouse: a fun, sustainable pet design feature; plus a great way to accent a rear yard
I do like the thought of a green-roofed dog house and a fresh water bowl feature for my husky mix, Cooper someday.  Please feel free to share more ideas!

Cooper B. Cooperson, waiting 'patiently'