Category Archives: Places

A few weekends ago, I attended the Association of Professional Landscape Designers’ annual international conference in Toronto, Canada.  It had been several years since my last conference and I was extremely happy I attended.  It is great to spend time with my peers from around the country and world.  There were designers from England and Saudi Arabia in attendance.   This conference is packed with great speakers and amazing gardens from the area.  The annual conference has been held in various locations including Detroit in 2013, Boston in 2017 and next year in Seattle. 

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One of the great talks was by Susan Cohan, APLD of Susan Cohan Gardens in New Jersey.    She is an award winning, nationally certified landscape designer and is well-known in the landscape and design communities for her design work and for her writing about design. Her residential landscapes for private clients and concept gardens are frequently published and have won numerous awards. Susan has been a contributing editor to Garden Design, an American voice on the British Thinkingardens, as well writing about gardens and design since 2007 on her own blog Miss Rumphius’ Rules.

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Susan’s talk was about three overarching styles of gardens: traditional, contemporary and rustic.  Most designers try to be specific when describing a design’s style, but in reality, all landscape design can be easily divided into one of these categories.  Each of the styles has elements that can crossover into another to create a unique hybrid that will ultimately tilt one way or the other. 

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Traditional landscapes tend to be the most common type of landscape, especially here in Michigan.  These type of landscapes would incorporate brick, stone, pavers and wood and look alike material that fits in regionally.  Vintage and antiques could also be possible but not necessary.  The overarching goals of a traditional garden design are to create a well-defined and beautiful outdoor space.  This type of style is very broad and would include many sub categories of gardens (i.e. English Gardens, Mediterranean Gardens, Oriental Gardens, etc.)

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The hardscape manufacturers we use offer products that would fit in each of these styles.  Most of their products could fit in the traditional style.  Some of the great products we enjoy using include Unilock’s Rivercrest Wall for walls, Unilock’s Enduracolor and Enduracolor Plus pavers, Oaks Ortana and Ortana Plus for walls, and Rosetta Dimensional Flagstone for floors & Rosetta Kodah Walls.

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Although different designers have different opinions on what is or isn’t a contemporary design, I believe Susan’s definition is more towards modern design.  Her definition is a simple design.  Simple does not mean easier, but there is a lot of orderly repetition, limited amount of plants used, sleek and lacking ornamental and geometric.  This style is known for its streamlined aesthetic and sleek sophisticated style. Overall the garden will feel controlled and organized. Typically, the focus is heavier on hardscape and structures than it is on plants. Plants used have very little color, mostly green with maybe a little white.  Materials used on a typical contemporary design would include steel, glass and concrete.  You will see unexpected details in the design while incorporating technology to its fullest.  One of the main goals of contemporary design is to create contrast. For example a large massing of ornamental grasses pops out against a grey concrete wall, orange cushions draw your eye when placed on otherwise simple patio furniture and a fire pit filled with colored glass demands attention when set amongst a bed of bluestone. It is important to be selective when creating contrast, too much can be overwhelming and make the space seem disjointed. Pick two or three spots in your yard and focus on one contrasting element for each.

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Hardscape materials would include material such as Unilock’s Artline paver & Porcelain tile; Unilock’s Lineo Dimensional Stone wall; Oaks Eterna, Presidio, & Molina pavers; and, Rosetta’s Miros Patio Slab

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Rustic landscapes are similar to traditional landscape but are not as neat more natural.  Whether you’re in a woodland setting or out on the prairie, rustic landscape design is all about reflecting the natural surroundings. This type of style uses handmade and aged look products.  Relics, shards and artifacts help define this landscape. The rustic style is very eclectic.  Using natural material such as flagstone and boulders is essential for this style.  Natural-looking man-made products could be used such as Rosetta’s  Grand Flagstone and/or Outcropping.

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By Steven D. Thoms, CGIP, APLD, CLP

 

A Look Back – MNLA/MSU/APLD-MI Annual Landscape Design Tour 2014

by Steven D. Thoms, APLD, CLP, CGIP

What a crazy year 2014 was! It has gone from my worst year in business (2011) to my best year in business in three short years.  Talk about pent up demand!  The one thing bad about a prosperous year is that I wasn’t able to write like I was planning.

August 20, 2014 was the annual Michigan Nursery & Landscape Association (MNLA), Michigan State University (MSU) and Association of Professional Landscape Designers Michigan Chapter (APLD-MI) Landscape Design Tour. This past year’s tour took us to the Saginaw Valley area of Michigan.  And, it did not disappoint!  The tour included seven private home landscapes, a tour of Blue Thumb Distributing facilities, a bonus stop at the Dahlia Hill and ending up at Dow Gardens for a dinner reception.  This year’s event was sponsored by Michigan Horticulture Industries Worker’s Compensation Fund, Blue Thumb Distributing, Inc., and Unilock.

As difficult as it might seem to break away from work to attend tours and/or education events, it is much needed. Socializing with fellow landscapers and getting inspired by beautiful gardens definitely help me make it over the hump for the season.

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Our first stop was a less glorious landscape just on the outskirts of Saginaw Township, but was very educational. This site was not about what you saw but about planning and preparation of some difficult conditions.  This residence had bad drainage issues.  The designer talked about the permeable pavers, drainage around the pool and foundation of house, and all that was needed to make this property functional.  Sometimes as designers we want to avoid problems like this because it is not visual, but we do need to remember that our work needs to be functional as well.

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It always fascinates me to hear how people change their mind.  Our next stop was a koi/specimen plant lover’s dream.  The large house right next door to our first stop was sprinkled with specimen plants from Larix decidus ‘Pendula Prostrate Form’ to Ginkgo biloba ‘Pendula’ to everything in between.  But the real showcase of this landscape was the water features in the backyard.  The original backyard included a small pondless waterfall.  The client did NOT want fish or the upkeep of a pond.  After receiving a koi as a gift, the client did a 180 degree turn.  They wanted a koi pond and water gardener’s dream.

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This bog with its grandeur Lotus plants helps keep the main pond area clear.  This lower pond was five feet deep with minimal plants and rocks.  It housed the two dozen large exotic koi that the client had to grown to love like family.  She even had a tank in her basement to transition new fish into the pond and to also use as a hospital when a fish got sick.  Her favorite fish was black and yellow colored with the longest lashes.  It ate food out of her hand.

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From the sounds of it, I believe it was everyone’s favorite stop.

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Our next stop was definitely a plant collector’s garden.

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It included many great plants and a very intense water filtration system. The homeowners designed, installed and maintained their landscape themselves.  It had won several awards.

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We then stopped and had lunch at one of the tour’s sponsors, Blue Thumb Distributing. I was excited for this stop because they had just purchased a company that I had used on many jobs, Aqua Bella Designs.  It was great to see all their products, many in functional displays and to also hear about their business procedures.

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The next site was a charming historical home in Bay City. It was interesting hearing from the landscape architect on the whole landscape procedure of designing and satisfying the historical committee on this 100+ year old house.

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Our next three locations included tranquil water features, quaint gardens and lovely plant combinations.

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Our bonus site was Dahlia Hill in Midland. This highest point in Midland was started by artist Charles Breed, financially supported by private companies and foundations, and maintained by over fifty volunteers.

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The terraces were created by the use of 300 tons of Bay de noc Limestone from the upper peninsula.

With over 250 varieites in the 3,000 dahlia plants in this open-to-the public garden, it is a sight to see. To learn more, please visit http://www.dahliahill.org.

IMG_3130aThe evening ended with great food, drink and company at the restored barn at the wonderful 110 acre Dow Gardens in Midland.