THE SUBURBAN LOT

  • NOTES FROM THE FIELD… PLUS SOME NICE PRESS!

    May 2019

    Spring came to 2019 bringing with it one of the best ornamental tree shows I have seen in a long time. Magnolia, cherry, crabapple, dogwood and redbud performances were show stoppers that did not disappoint in any category: abundance, duration and color saturation of flowers.  The season has also brought a seemingly non-stop flow of rain, great for lawns and plants, but very hard for those of us trying to earn a living working out of doors. Saturated soil, mud and slippery slopes – it seems we can’t catch a break from wet weather.

    2018 saw a record 65” of rainfall in New Jersey, the highest since weather records began being kept in the late 20th century, and around 20” above normal for our area.  2019 is lining up for second, or maybe, another first place. Ouch. This is not a good thing! I have seen many normally hardy shrubs and perennials just ‘drown’ between last summer and the recent winter thaw.  Plants that prefer sharp drainage in particular, like rhododendron, or perennials yarrow, catmint and lavender – simply dead from too much water. This is a first in my experience, and I am hoping it’s not our new ‘normal’. I fear this may be wishful thinking however as we head for our 10th consecutive Friday of rain. I have started researching plants that like to be really wet all the time!

    On a cheerier note, Mierop Design has been fortunate to be highlighted in several recent articles, both on-line and in print. Houzz published a short interview with me about how I find new business, and Montclair Magazine’s May issue did a wonderful feature story on a large project from a few years back: The Anchorage on Park and Wildwood Streets in Upper Montclair. The homeowners of this landmark wanted a complete facelift for their property, and with it there were many challenges: big house/small property, little privacy with close proximity to busy car and pedestrian traffic and heavily overgrown shrubs. I worked with my partner, Frank Contey of Terra Graphics, to transform this beloved property into a showcase that matches its perfect Georgian architectural style. The property was fully enclosed with fencing for privacy and safety, large screening evergreens were installed in key locations, shrub borders were fully replanted and the driveway was relocated to open up available real estate. A large set of steps and a patio with an outdoor kitchen were created for elegant outdoor living. A remotely operated driveway gate and gas lanterns all around were the finishing touches. Thank you Rachel Grochowski of RHG A&D and Montclair Magazine for including our work on this great project.

    Recently we did a fun outdoor furnishings installation partnering with Janus et Cie., one of my favorite luxury brands.  Our design liaison at Janus, Paul Sarrubbo, published these photos of our work just as we opened the patio for spring 2019. It will only get better as plants come into full leaf and flowers start to pop with color. You can follow Paul on Instagram @paulsarrrubbo_jec.

     

    Finally, Frank and I were invited by Van Vleck House & Gardens to be Key Note speakers for their 20th annual Roses To Rock Gardens tour of private local gardens. We will be addressing the group on Saturday, June 8th at the Van Vleck property. As it is a big anniversary for the tour, the topic will be a short history of the house and gardens themselves…and all the recent renovations that have enhanced the grand estate, one of the best loved treasures in Montclair. We hope to see you there!  

    Let’s cross fingers for less rain this year and Happy Gardening!

     

     

    The Suburban Lot is a monthly blog that highlights topics and issues unique to the suburban landscape.  For assistance with any of the above information please contact Mierop Design, a complete resource for landscape design, installation, outdoor furnishings and property maintenance services.

  • BOXWOOD BLIGHT – AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH

    January 2019

    Advance apologies for starting the New Year on a down note, however the topic of boxwood blight has been on my mind since fall. I am still somewhat in denial, hoping the problem will go away if I don’t talk or write about it. Sadly though, my magical thinking isn’t working. Like other uncomfortable reality checks, especially those connected to the roller-coaster of climate disturbance, boxwood blight is here for the foreseeable future.

    WHAT IS BLIGHT?

    Boxwood blight is a fungal disease spread by spores carried via air and wind. High temperatures, humidity, overhead watering and rain create ideal vectors for the spread of blight. This year’s unprecedented rainfall and high humidity created the perfect combination for rapid spread of the disease.

    Once a plant is infected, the disease spreads very quickly, easily defoliating entire hedges within days. The damage can be sudden and dramatic, and once diagnosed, there is no treatment or cure. Affected plants have to be carefully removed along with all associated leaf debris. The debris cannot be composted and must be kept separate from other plant material. Tools used to remove affected plants must be disinfected in order not to further spread the disease. Even shoes, clothing, birds and other small animals can carry blight from one garden to the next!  Making matters worse, soil hosts the fungal spores for up to 6 years, making replanting of new boxwood in the same location ill-advised. Even with removal of soil, introducing boxwoods again to the same plant bed is highly risky, although some cultivars are considered more resistant than others.

    Blight was first identified in England in the mid 90’s but didn’t reach the US until 2011 when cases were reported in Connecticut and North Carolina. It moved on to Delaware, Virginia, Pennsylvania and a handful of other states, with the earliest cases confirmed in New Jersey in 2013.

    Although aware of box blight traveling ever closer, I still hoped our gardens would be spared. This summer, however, over a dozen cases were confirmed in the Montclair/Glen Ridge area and reality set in.

    WHAT TO LOOK FOR

    Boxwood blight appears first as light brown spots on the leaves. Spots enlarge, often with concentric circles, until entire leaves are affected and then drop completely off the plant. The fungus also infects the wood resulting in dark brown to black “diamond-shaped” lesions and stem dieback.  The disease spreads very rapidly with plants fully defoliating in a short period of time. It’s important to have professional diagnosis and confirmation. Boxwoods are affected by other diseases which may cause similar looking damage.

    WHAT TO DO?

    Beyond the damage and loss to properties of old and new boxwoods, two main questions arise: how to manage or prevent the spread of blight and what to substitute if boxwoods have to go away?

    Prevention seems to be the best and only method for management right now with fungicide treatments sprayed throughout the growing season. Just as boosting the immune system staves off illness, the same is true for the plants. Spray treatments have to be applied to the full plant (all leaves and stems) and rainy weather will increase the frequency of treatments required. I recommend having your current landscape inspected by a trained specialist and following his or her recommended protocol for plant protection. Further, monitor overhead irrigation keeping it to a minimum especially during periods of high humidity or after heavy rainfalls. Consider planting boxwoods farther apart to promote air circulation and to slow disease spread.

    PLANT SUBSTITUTES

    It’s not an overstatement to say that boxwoods are the backbone of the landscape industry and that there is no real substitute. As a broad-leafed evergreen they create architectural structure, are winter hardy, deer resistant and even tolerate a good amount of shade. They are indisputably beautiful for hedging and take well to shaping and pruning. If boxwoods are now ‘high risk’ investments, what can be substituted?

    Selections to consider are:

    Ilex crenata ‘Soft Touch’ – Japanese holly
    Ilex glabra ‘Gem Box’ – inkberry
    ilex vomitonia – Yaupon holly
    lonicera pileata – boxleaf honeysuckle

    No other shrub possesses as full a range of benefits as the boxwood, so here’s hoping that the industry quickly will be able to both treat diseased plants and develop truly disease resistant cultivars. I still plan to use them, but more sparingly and with client consent that risk is involved. I can’t go cold turkey on one of my favorites, and remain eternally optimistic that the industry will eventually find us a way out of this dilemma.

    The Suburban Lot is a monthly blog that highlights topics and issues unique to the suburban landscape.  For assistance with any of the above information please contact Mierop Design, a complete resource for landscape design, installation, outdoor furnishings and property maintenance services.

     

     

  • SO REALLY, WHAT’S THE RUSH?

    August 2018

    In 2018 I have traveled to two dramatically hot, dry and ancient places. India came first in late winter, followed by Arizona this month. Both trips involved extended driving through vast expanses of mountainous desert land peppered by stops at archaeological and man-made monuments.

    These visits to vastness: the Grand Canyon stretching hundreds of miles and Buddhist monasteries that took generations of laborers to carve into mountains before the birth of Christ, offer sharp glimpses into what infinity looks like. One can’t fail to be humbled by the monumentality and timelessness of it all, while simultaneously reminded of the fleeting nature of individual human life.

    I am a designer. What does all this have to do with me or the business of imagining and implementing landscapes for a paying clientele? The answer is: everything. Trips like this can’t fail to push ‘pause’, opening up renewed annoyance with the inane electronic life we live: cell phones, laptops, Amazon-everything and the ever-present rush to do more ‘better, faster, smarter’.

    Baseball, the beloved American multi-billion-dollar sport, is in serious jeopardy of losing popularity because its audience is ageing and the game doesn’t move fast enough for younger fans. Time Magazine reports that “there is a major dissonance between the focus and attention it (baseball) demands and the habits of younger generations who expect action to be a click away.” Yikes, try telling that to Buddha!!

    I immediately translate this dilemma to my business as I more often encounter expectations about timelines and outcomes that are so accelerated from ten, or even five years ago. ‘Point and click’ may work for shoes and airfare, but it will never, and should never be asked to work for landscape design and implementation. 

     

    People used to plant trees for their grandchildren. Now they plant them for a party scheduled a few weeks away. I have clients request the biggest possible plants because they “don’t want to be old” before enjoying them, or they ask why building a hand tooled stone wall has to take ‘so long’. The requests and questions leave me completely baffled.  It’s takes time – that’s mostly the point.   

     

    Landscape is not an off-the-shelf purchase. It’s very much about the time spent waiting, watching and experiencing the unfolding, liquid process of life. You wouldn’t expect your children to arrive as fully formed adults, and it’s the same with landscape. The place where you buy plants is called a ‘nursery’ for good reason. Watching change and growth, failures and successes is the joy of having outdoor rooms.  There is no need to ‘hack’ (I loathe this word) any part of it, looking for quickie short cuts. Hacking doesn’t apply to Mother Nature. She’s in no rush.

    India and Arizona rewired my thinking, leaving an expanded sense of space and time, a sharp contrast to my work pace. I’m going to modify that and take a longer view. I’m going to get back to the garden!

     

     

     

    The Suburban Lot is a monthly blog that highlights topics and issues unique to the suburban landscape.  For assistance with any of the above information please contact Mierop Design, a complete resource for landscape design, installation, outdoor furnishings and property maintenance services.

  • Mierop Design in the News

    June 2018

    This blog has been very quiet for a long while. Winter left much weather damage in its wake, and spring brought rains that seemed never to stop!  The season finally feels off to a very late start – with  replacements to damaged trees and shrubs almost behind us.

    The early months of the year were a boon for press for Mierop Design. Many thanks to interior design firm, House of Funk, for their series on local women who own their own businesses. I am very grateful for their blog about me, which is re-posted here….and to Monrovia Growers (a most favorite resource for great plant materials) and Houzz (an on-line community for design professionals) for their mentions and awards.

    Lisa Mierop of Mierop Design: Women Who Own It

    Lisa Mierop. Photo by Steve Hockstein

    For landscape designer Lisa Mierop, a garden has to work in all seasons.

    Mierop’s takes into account the form and function of both the home and landscape, as well as the homeowners’ aesthetic and needs. The result: Gorgeous landscapes that bring daily joy to its inhabitants and increase a home’s resale value tenfold. Mierop has taught classes for The New York Botanical GardenThe Montclair Garden Club, and Van Vleck House & Gardens, and has been featured in several notable publications including The New York TimesMontclair Magazine, and Design NJ. Thanks to hard work and dedication, her business, Mierop Design, has evolved and grown organically over time, making Mierop a household name around town. Read on to see how her journey unfolded.

    How did Mierop Design come to fruition?
    Many years ago, upon finding myself at home with a newborn and unable to get out and work in my garden, I entered an amateur design competition in Garden Design Magazine. I submitted images of my home garden, a garden that I had worked on for many years. To my complete surprise, I was awarded the Grand Prize Golden Trowel Award, and had four pages of color press published in the fall of 1995. The press was picked up by additional publications at the time, the phone started to ring, and my business was spontaneously born.

    What is the most rewarding thing about being your own boss? The most challenging?
    Being able to pick and choose the projects I want to engage with is very satisfying. I can tell if I am the right fit for a specific client or house, and I work to match my skills with what is called for by the homeowner or a certain property that speaks to me.

    The most challenging aspects of a project are always around scheduling. Weather delays often cause deadlines to be pushed out for reasons beyond our control. Unavailable or delayed materials can undo the best plans. Coordinating multiple subcontractors is always tricky too, so keeping a project moving economically is a dance in which the steps keep changing as you’re moving.

    How has running your own business changed your outlook on life?
    I never set out to own my own business and I was quite nervous about creating one around my interest in gardening. I feared turning my passion into “work.” This business literally found me, but once in, I committed to doing it my way. This meant finding a path that was a bit unconventional, but one that proved successful because I brought my personal artistic style and hands-on gardening education to the table, as opposed to a more traditional construction /contractor background. Many landscapers are contractors, not artists/designers, which is what differentiates my path from the rest. I have a strong sense of scale, texture, and space, and I really know what grows locally in Montclair soil because I spent so many years working in my own garden and learning from that. In the past, I did manual labor for my company—even as the artist behind the vision, it’s important to get your hands dirty and be a part of every aspect of the project.

    My outlook has changed because I learned that if you are good at what you do, and are willing to work hard at it, you can always find work and create income. I also believe that trust and integrity, almost more than talent, are key to successfully operating long-term with clients.

    Lisa Mierop
    Mierop Designs Landscaping. Photo by Steve Hockstein

    Best part of the job:
    My favorite days are planting days. This is the day, perhaps months after a project is initiated, that the plant truck shows up, the crew is ready, and that I, with plan in hand, start to set things up on the ground and see what has been in my head for all this time. I enjoy art directing those days and tweaking the original design so that everything feels just right in the end. Anyone can draw a pretty planting plan on paper, but it’s really getting into the dirt and seeing color and texture relationships in the field that allow a clear vision of what is and isn’t working.

    Most surprising part of the job:
    Right now what surprises me most is how seriously people are investing in outdoor living. I am of course very happy about this trend, but never expected to see it grow to this extent. Many customers are building extensive outdoor kitchens and adding pools. They are adding value to their properties and extending the year-round use of their outdoor spaces.

    Why is a beautiful landscape an enduring home investment?
    A beautiful landscape completes every home and adds to its resale value, both short-term and long-term. Mature gardens add distinct character to a property and today’s home buyers are happy to spend more to own a landscape that is both beautiful and functional for entertaining and relaxing for the whole family. An unkempt, neglected, or overgrown landscape is a clear negative to home buyers. I often seen landscaped homes sell quickly, with comments about how the finished outside rooms were the “hook” that made the sale.

    Your favorite flowers to plant:
    I am fairly traditional when it comes to flowers: Nantucket roses and hydrangeas. There are many perennials that I love too, especially catmint for its long flowering season.

    Lisa Mierop
    Lisa Mierop Landscape Design. Photo by Lisa Mierop

    How you unwind and relax after a long day:
    A good nap is my favorite way to decompress after a long day. Other than that, I am a pretty good binge TV fan. Lately, I am enjoying The Crown and Victoria; no surprise here that British sensibility, with its great garden culture, attracts my attention. I try to avoid politics if I want to stay calm.

    Advice you’d give to other female entrepreneurs looking to start their own companies:
    It’s important to invest in yourself as you grow. Don’t be afraid to spend on classes, reading materials, tools, equipment, or trips that educate or connect you to others in your field. I would also suggest moving slowly and not trying to grow or expand a business too quickly. There are so many variables, and things can change on a dime. It’s okay to move slowly. Everything doesn’t have to be “point and click.” Be courageous and trust the universe. And it sounds corny, but don’t be afraid to make mistakes. They can be a great way to learn and grow. Things will fall into place if you work hard, surround yourself with reliable people, and manage your expectations.

    Motto you live by:
    I don’t have a motto that I live by! I have to remind myself every day not get overwhelmed, and that things have a way of working themselves out. It’s hard advice to really listen to when it’s high gardening season and everyone wants their work completed right away! But I do.

     

    Monrovia Growers highlights a Mierop Design project on May 18th. 916 likes! Thank you Monrovia for the call out! I love your plants so much!

     

     

    Mierop Design was awarded Best of Houzz 2018, making this the third consecutive year for this prestigious recognition. Mierop Design photos have been saved and shared over 10,000 times! Whoa! Even I am impressed by the volume of traffic that Houzz consistently commands for those seeking on-line design inspiration and resources for their homes and gardens.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    The Suburban Lot is a monthly blog that highlights topics and issues unique to the suburban landscape.  For assistance with any of the above information, please contact Mierop Design, a complete resource for landscape design, installation and property maintenance services.

  • WINTER WEATHER WATCH

    March 2018

    Winter 2018 opened with an unseasonably arctic January, and has continued to surprise with erratic weather bursts, alternating between windy, balmy, or the more recent damaging and wet snow. While Montclair was hard hit with damage to mid-size deciduous and evergreen trees, losses in nearby Maplewood and Short Hills were far more extensive.  With so many trees and shrubs toppled, broken or bent beyond recognition. I expect to see many woody plants removed and replaced, with the remainders pruned to see how they fill out in time. In some case, branches that are bent may be tied together to train wood back into place.

    The lesson here is to understand the damage that can be caused by heavy, wet snow combined with rain.  As precipitation accumulates during a long storm, maybe shifting between snow and freezing rain, wet accumulation on branches of woody plants freezes and becomes heavier. The best way to avert loss is to go out (repeatedly) during a storm to gently push snow off of branches before they bend or break. This is best down with a broom or the back side of a wide snow shovel.

    Climate change is undeniably wreaking havoc on our landscape investment although I remind myself that as upsetting as our local damage, we are by no means dealing with the destruction of a Houston or Puerto Rico – which is good to keep in perspective. Especially as we await this next, and hopefully final, winter snow storm!!! Fingers crossed that it passes with less of a reminder in our landscapes that it was ever here.

    On a happier note, I was delighted to be awarded by Houzz with a Best of Houzz Service Award for the third consecutive year, as well as receiving recognition for 10,000 saves of my photographs to viewers’ Idea Books. Houzz is a beautifully edited on-line photo resource for homeowners seeking inspiration for their home improvement projects, both inside and out. If you are not familiar with Houzz, you will be delighted with the wonderful photography and articles presented, along with tips for finding professionals and plenty of shopping opportunities as well.

    The Suburban Lot is a monthly blog that highlights topics and issues unique to the suburban landscape.  For assistance with any of the above information, please contact Mierop Design, a complete resource for landscape design, installation and property maintenance services.

  • MIEROP DESIGN IN THE NEWS

    September 2017

    It’s been a busy year for Mierop Design! Months of spring rain dampened neither construction nor editorial attention, starting off with a 2017 Houzz Service recognition award for the second year in a row! Houzz, an innovative on-line resource (houzz.com) for both interior and exterior home improvement, is widely respected for its inspirational content, shopping and contractor referral services. Only 5% of Houzz profiles receive award recognition, so it is a distinction to have been selected again by the editors at Houzz.

     The Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD) awarded its Silver Design Award to Mierop Design this summer for its competition entry, ‘A Grand Gesture’. Click here to read about the award winning entry. Featuring a resort style showplace garden, this magnificent project sets a massive koi pond, pool, pergola and stone terrace among extensive and showy plantings of vibrant color and textural contrasts.

    APLD is an international association dedicated to the pursuit and development of the practice of professional landscape design. Certified members may participate in the competition which yearly draws hundreds of entries from around the world. Mierop Design is honored to have been awarded this recognition for one of its most memorable and favorite projects!

    Thanks to The Scout Guide of Northern New Jersey, Mierop Design has twice in the last year been the subject of wonderful local coverage. First a personal interview with Lisa Mierop, and more recently, a feature entitled Turning Inside Out which highlights Mierop Design’s sister business, Pavillion Outdoor Furnishings.  Furnishing the outdoor spaces designed and built by Mierop Design is the finishing touch to any landscape project, and has becomes an integral part of services offered.

    The Scout Guide is a nationally franchised publication, both in print and on-line, that is dedicated to searching out the best of local resources in 60+ cities throughout the country. The Northern New Jersey edition is a locally focused selection of independently owned businesses, artists and entrepreneurs who are devoted to beautifying and enhancing life and its surroundings.

    The third edition of The Scout Guide of Northern New Jersey launched this June and is available at our shop, or online (northernnewjersey@thescoutguide.com). We are proud to have participated in three volumes of The Scout Guide of NNJ, and look forward to Volume IV in 2018!

     

    The Suburban Lot is a monthly blog that highlights topics and issues unique to the suburban landscape.  For assistance with any of the above information, please contact Mierop Design, a complete resource for landscape design, installation and property maintenance services.

  • DON’T DO THAT!

    February 2017

    When I was a teenager, my favorite fashion articles featured ‘on the street’ photos of women dressed either very well or very badly – with big bold headlines telling you ‘do’ this and ‘don’t’ do that’! I’ve always thought it would be great to see something equivalent for landscape design, pointing out common errors made by homeowners and landscapers alike. I’m a big believer in learning from mistakes, and seeing them in photographs is like taking a speed course in better design.

    OH DEER

    The proliferation of the deer population has changed the palette of what can be safely planted in any given area. Combining deer resistance with a need for a screening hedge or for plantings in a shaded spot can vastly limit choices. Deer will eat anything if starving, but it pays to avoid their favorite foods like arborvitae and yew. Don’t use these at all in deer populated areas, even though they have been the most classic standbys since forever. Substitute deer resistant varieties. A good list for our area is from Rutgers University.  They rank plants in four groups from most to least resistant, and you can use the list based on your deer traffic.

    SCREEN ME

    The most common request from clients is for a screening hedge to block views to neighboring properties and roads. Sadly though, many property lines where the hedge needs to be placed, are shaded by existing established trees. The reality is that tall evergreen plants don’t grow under big trees. A newly planted hedgerow may last a year or more but will fail over time between lack of light and root competition from larger surrounding trees. If the goal is evergreen screening, larger trees may need to be removed to make light available for new plantings. A looser combination of shrubs planted in and around existing trees may be another solution. A tree or other object that distracts the eye can be a device to minimize an unwanted view. And sometimes a fence is your best option.

    WHAT WAS I THINKING?

    Plants, like people, come with all sorts of particular needs and preferences. There is wiggle room here and there, but respecting a plant’s particular cultural needs brings success. If you have a shady garden and love roses, don’t imagine they’re going to grow just because you love them so. This never pays off so it’s best to select plants that thrive in the conditions you have available: wet shade or sun, dry shade or sun being the most important factors.

    Plants also generally come small (that’s why they call it a nursery), but they grow! Read the tags before you buy and understand what the ‘mature’ size is before placing it in your garden. It’s hard, and sometime impossible, to move large shrubs and trees once they’ve settled in.  It’s much easier to measure twice, and plant once.

     

    CROWD CONTROL

    Gardens are fluid and take time to develop. Plants grow and change shape, albeit slowly. For the most part plants arrive as young specimens that need several seasons to mature to potential. In our ‘point and click’ culture, waiting doesn’t sell well. But the notion that more plantings will solve the problem makes for costly mistakes. Plants need ample space and air to allow for future growth. Planting closer together may take away unwanted gaps short term, but only creates headaches later when things are overcrowded and overgrown.

    MULCH MADNESS

    Once a landscape is installed mulch is required to finish off the beds, retain moisture, maintain temperatures and aid erosion. Mulch comes in many varieties with accordingly varied price tags. Sometimes I’ll get a request for black mulch because it looks rich or organic. But beware- black mulch is dyed to look that way, and therefore to be avoided. Similarly red mulch, my biggest ever landscape ‘no-no’, should never be used. It looks like bacon bits sprinkled into the landscape. Just plain ugly.

    A LITTLE BIT OF THIS, A LITTLE BIT OF THAT

    Big buffet spreads are great for lunch, but a ‘little bit of everything’ doesn’t translate well into the landscape. As with any other great art, it comes down to editing. Don’t buy ‘one of each’ or dot plants into the landscape to try to fill gaps. Plant with purpose, intention and meaning. Groups of 3, 5 or 7 are recommended with larger swaths and masses making the biggest impact. As we are information overwhelmed everywhere else in our lives, use the landscape to reduce visual noise levels. Keep the message clear and avoid dotting in a little of everything. It always fails to please.

    VOLCANO MULCH

    Have you ever noticed trees that look like there is a small volcanic eruption at the base? This trend seems to be popular mostly in commercial applications, but I do see it around in residential settings. Trees can easily be set too low, or settle after planting and fail for this reason – suffocating the roots. ‘Plant them high so they never die’ is a good warning, but don’t go too far with that idea!  And once planted at the proper depth, don’t drown them in mulch. It’s looks bad and it’s suffocating for tree root systems. And it’s double worse if you use dyed red mulch! Ouch on so many levels!

     The Suburban Lot is a monthly blog that highlights topics and issues unique to the suburban landscape.  For assistance with any of the above information, please contact Mierop Design, a complete resource for landscape design, installation and property maintenance services.

  • FRENCH LESSONS

    January 2017

    I have traveled to France many times over the years, and even lived there for one year of high school and later, a college semester. Somehow though, I never visited Versailles. No particular reason. Just never got there. Until last week.

    Being January, that rare time of the gardening year that permits a work absence, we decided to join friends and travel to Paris. I made up a list of not-to- be-missed stops including Versailles. As a landscape designer I thought it high time that I set foot in the place! Plus I had coincidentally just finished watching the French-Canadian TV series, Versailles, which piqued my interest even more. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Louis XIV’s obsession with turning his father’s hunting lodge into a grand residence for the French nobility while creating a monument to the grandeur of France. What I didn’t realize was that Louis’ drive to control both Nature and the unruly aristocrats of his day, was so voracious and unstoppable that in the process he nearly bankrupted his nation!

    JANUARY IN VERSAILLES

    Paris is bone cold this time of year, and the day we chose to go found even a dusting of snow on the ground. You could ask why visit at this time of year if gardens are the primary focus? As it turns out, the timing was ideal to understand the structure which underpins the greatest of classical French landscapes. The snow gently chalked water features and paths in white, etching out the footprints in wide open space.  The absence of leaves made the long allees of pruned hedges and topiaries, the parterres and water features easily visible. There were no containers in sight to distract the eye – those famed ‘Versailles tubs’ that line the garden walkways in season. It was a magical and reductionist view into history.

    DEFINING TERMS

    Allee, from the French verb ‘aller’ meaning ‘to go’, is a linear path or walkway, typically defining a long view or perspective into distant space.

     

    Parterre, from the French words ‘par’ meaning ‘by’ and ‘terre’ meaning ‘earth’, are formally shaped beds, often mirroring one another, that are established using low plantings (often annuals) in symmetrical patterned arrangements.

     

    Topiary, shrubs or trees clipped into ornamental shapes.

     

     

    Versailles tub, a distinct, square planter with one hinged side used as a door, allowing the installation and removal of large containers. Massive wood paneled Versailles tubs were carted manually into place every season and then removed in colder months to the indoors. Tender plants, like palms, were housed in the ‘Orangerie’, a protective structure that kept ‘tropicals’, out of their native habitat, alive during the winter.

     

    MONUMENTAL SCALE   

    You often hear about the scale of Versailles, and I thought I was prepared for what I was about to see, having studied it in Art History and later Landscape Design classes.  Nothing, however, can convey the vastness of the space better than scaling your own body within the massive formal parterres and hedged allees that define these gardens. Photography completely fails to capture the monumentality of the space.

    COMPLEX OR SIMPLE?  

    My clients today often ask for more formal garden design. Look through any shelter magazine or on-line resource and you’ll see gardens featuring clean lines and highly edited plant selections with often monochromatic color schemes. Formal spaces are visually satisfying. They convey strength, unity, harmony and peace. Being timeless, they look completely modern and flow well with today’s preference for mid-century and modern styling.

     

    AND NOW A WORD OF WARNING…

    Formal gardens can appear to be deceptively ‘simple’. In the world of gardening, however, never confuse ‘simple’ with ‘easy’ or ‘low maintenance’. Perpetual pruning and maintenance are critical to the success of this garden style. In the case of Versailles, an army of full time garden staff are still employed to keep things looking clean, crisp and defined – not to mention the massive task of changing out all the annuals in the parterres and Versailles tubs seasonally. Although the look is simple and clean, remember Nature is not. Keeping up this type of garden involves a commitment in terms of time and money. Strict schedules of pruning, shearing, clipping and annual replacement are necessary.

    Louis XIV realized an out-sized vision to control both Nature and the French aristocracy. Our goals are surely less lofty, although we still long to offset the busy complexity of our over-saturated, high-tech lives with the calm and peace that a more formal garden offers. Allez-y, or as we say ‘Go for it!’.

    The Suburban Lot is a monthly blog that highlights topics and issues unique to the suburban landscape.  For assistance with any of the above information, please contact Mierop Design, a complete resource for landscape design, installation and property maintenance services.

  • HAVE A VERY BERRY CHRISTMAS

    December 2016

    Even though I was tempted to do a Grinchy repeat of my last year’s observations on ugly holiday decor, I’m going high and talking about plants, my favorite topic.

    Winter can be challenging for the garden. No flowers, dead leaves, naked branches and soooo cold. But, there are ways to make the winter garden interesting, and planting beautiful berried shrubs or trees is at the top of that list.

    Massed or as single specimens, berried plants add needed color to the monochromes of winter. Aside from providing visual relief, berries feed the birds, create great winter views from interior spaces, as well as providing useful materials for holiday decorations. Many of these are Native Plants indigenous to our region, so are naturally adapted for winter survival. Finally berry ‘sets’ as they are called, typically last for months – far longer than flowering performances. Here are a few standouts to consider:

    winterWINTERBERRY

    Ilex verticillata or winterberries are technically hollies, but they bear little resemblance to their prickly cousins. They are good looking, tall shrubs that are beloved for their profusion of red berries in winter. They are probably the showiest of all winter berry shrubs, and are especially magical when contrasted against the dazzling whites of a big snowfall.

    nandinaNANDINA

    Nandina domestica, or heavenly bamboo, is one of my favorites. Not to be confused with real bamboo, they have an exotic, tropical feel that is lacy and delicate. They are heavily used in southern zones which is their normal habitat, but as our climate warms they have become more common here. Some varieties, like Firepower, have foliage that turns bright red but in this case, no berries! Can’t have both! Nandinas only downside is that they can defoliate in bad winters, but they do generally recover very well and are worth considering.

    pyracanthaPYRACANTHA

    Pyracantha varieties, firethorns, are not the most attractive of shrubs having a somewhat floppy awkward form with indistinct leaves.  However, when sited flat against a wall as climbing vine, they show their superpowers and are spectacular for a late show of red, orange or yellow berries. Especially if placed against a light colored wall or background, firethorns can brighten the fall/winter landscape with unexpected color. Beware – they do actually have thorns, but nothing your average gardener can’t handle.

    coralberryCORALBERRY

    The first time I saw a coralberry (symhporicarpos obiculatus) was at The New York Botanical Garden in fall. It had an imposing form and was spectacular for its masses of large, lavender berries.  Similar in color to beautyberry (callicarpa varieties), another great fall berried shrub, I was stunned by the profusion, size and color density of the berries. Coralberries come in several colors including red and white plus lavender. Other common names like snowberry, waxberry or ghostberry make this genus somewhat confusing, but any which way they are beautiful

    crabappleCRAB APPLE

    Moving over to trees, crab apples (malus varieties) are at the top of the list. Crabs, beloved for their compact form and good spring flower shows, don’t stop there. Fall brings fantastic berry sets in assorted colors. Nothing like true year round interest! My favorite variety, Sugar Thyme, is noted for its strong red berry set,

     

    king2WINTER KING HAWTHORNE

    The name says it all. A little used medium size tree, Winter King hawthorns (which like pyracanthas do have thorns) are standouts in the winter landscape. They offer a lovely spring show of delicate white flowers and have interesting silvery, exfoliating bark to boot. Years ago I planted an allee of them all along the road bordering an Essex Fells property, and it has stood the test of time. Four season interest keeps this tree variety at the top of my list for exceptional specimens.

    The Suburban Lot is a monthly blog that highlights topics and issues unique to the suburban landscape.  For assistance with any of the above information, please contact Mierop Design, a complete resource for landscape design, installation and property maintenance services.

  • CLIMATE CONTROL?

    November 2016

    Applied to the out of doors, climate control is an oxymoron. We expect to be able to manipulate temperature and humidity in our homes and cars, but have no control over what happens outside of these bubbles we inhabit. Controlling Mother Nature was never reality, however, as the years unfold, there is less pattern and predictability to weather, and more harsh events that leave damage and destruction in their wake.

    thermometerIn our corner of the Northeast, we have been relatively fortunate (so far) not to have suffered the catastrophic flooding, wind, drought, fires and landslides seen in other parts of the US and globe.  Things, however, are not what they used to be, even compared to five years ago. Regardless of your position on climate change, each year new records are set for high temperatures, and despite the copious rain of late, this summer was defined by weeks of drought in addition to scorching temperatures.

    earth-from-spaceAs an individual with global climate awareness, who also happens to be a gardener, I spend a lot of time witnessing (and worrying about) changes I observe in my work, and their effects on plant life and local landscapes. I was raised on the organic paradigm in which the complex and holistic interrelationships of all life forms are respected.  Plants such as rhododendrons that thrived twenty years ago now often struggle due to weather extremes.  Other plants such as crepe myrtle or southern magnolias, once avoided due to marginal hardiness in northern New Jersey, have become everyday selections.

    As with many things in life where Nature is in charge we have far less control than we want. What is new is that the patterns that held the unpredictable within understood boundaries are literally melting. The ‘general rules’ have been thrown out and parameters that once defined New Jersey ‘normal’ are gone. There isn’t even a ‘new’ normal.

    drought-resistant-plantsSo what to do?  Aside from supporting local and international climate organizations and their political efforts, we must plan for a future that is different than the past, while accepting that change is our only constant.

    Gardening in and of itself can be a positive for the environment, assuming we’re not spilling chemicals into our lawns and water systems.  It can’t, on its own, change the climate, but it could, if practiced organically by large enough numbers, slow the process of negative changes we experience.  Regardless of the effort, our expectations have to adjust accordingly.  Following are a few suggestions for dealing with the new reality of overly hot, cold, wet, dry, windy or otherwise challenging weather circumstances:

     

    PREPARE SOIL DEEPLY, THEN MULCH

    prepare-soil-deeply-2The more effort spent to prepare soil deeply with plenty of organic amendments, the more you will find plants thriving by absorbing available moisture and nutrients. It’s a lot like battling the flu by being well nourished and rested.  The stronger the immune responses are, the better the resistance to infections and illness…the same goes for plants.  The stronger their environment below the soil line, the better they can survive extremes of temperatures or precipitation.  Mulching regularly ensures that the soil continues to be protected.  Mulch insulates soil from heat and cold by maintaining even soil temperatures.  It retains moisture within the soil reducing water requirements, especially important during droughts.  Finally mulch breaks down into organic components that continue to feed soil and plants.

     

    GO ORGANIC

    go-organicStop using chemicals unless absolutely necessary.  Lawns are the most needy in terms of their chemical needs and many lawn care companies are offering ‘organically based’ programs now that minimize the use of chemicals. (See blog post from May 2016)  In tree and shrub areas, organic fertilizers can be used to fertilize plantings.  Make your garden weed-less the ‘old fashioned way’- pull the weeds by hand!! It takes time, but it’s better for the planet to stop using chemical controls.

     

    SELECT PLANTS FOR LOWER WATER NEEDS

    lower-watering-needsAs temperatures climb and water becomes an ever more precious resource, consider plants that have lower watering needs. Especially in full sun where I am seeing plants crisp and burn under otherwise normal circumstances, try substituting plants that thrive in these conditions.  Mediterranean plants that are accustomed to unrelenting sunlight can work here, as can some desert species.  Some perennials that historically thrived in full sun may do better moving to part sun/part shade locations.  Situating plants properly will be important going forward as we adjust to their changing ability to perform.

     

    REDUCE WATER CONSUMPTION

    water-consumptionUse water sparingly. This trains plants to seek for water, not expect it.  Many automatic systems are set for run times that are too long and/or frequent.  A rain sensor is important to shut the system off after precipitation, but it does not take you ‘off duty’ in terms of monitoring things overall.  Experiment with your contractor to find the sweet spot between plants thriving and minimal runs/frequencies. For shady zones, run the system less often and for shorter times than in the sunny spots.  The deeper plants have to source for water, the stronger and longer their root systems become.  After heavy soaking rains, consider turning your system off completely for up to five days.  Just remember to turn it back on!!

     

    PLANT A TREE, OR MANY

    trees-handsAside from making shade that offers a cooling respite, planting trees (or any plants for that matter) increases the air’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen.  Globally, vast parts of existing forests and treed areas are being destroyed, forever altering the planet’s delicate eco-system. If you google ‘what can I do about climage change’….planting trees is one action step suggested.

    The Suburban Lot is a monthly blog that highlights topics and issues unique to the suburban landscape.  For assistance with any of the above information, please contact Mierop Design, a complete resource for landscape design, installation and property maintenance services.