As I write this on a dreary gray day of winter, my home’s second floor office area overlooks the detritus of what were planting beds and shrubbery that are now in their winter slumber before spring comes again. My flowering plants have crew cuts that disclose no hints of their spring finery and the dead shrubbery that succumbed to last winter’s weather must be dug up. This will alter my landscape and clearly it is time to bring in a professional for planning help. Landscaping is cyclical, of course, and winter is the optimum time to work with a landscape planner to assess your lawn and garden to get ready for spring planting.
So many things to consider! What plants need to be moved? What would be the best replacements for dead plants or shrubs given the sun, shade and soil conditions? How to best build upon the three-dimensional aspect of the garden, keeping in mind the maximum height and breadth of plants and shrubs so each mature plant or flower can be appreciated when in full bloom? It is time to add more hardscape or perhaps a pergola? As Charlie Brown was fond of saying, “Aaaaagh!)
To inspire me, I recently visited the landscape designer Jan Kirsh in her studio to discuss winter planning. As we talked, we both realized our approach to design is quite similar-as I do with my architecture clients, Jan first visits the site to evaluate the sun path, prevailing breeze, existing conditions, drainage issues, privacy issues, outlook from the house to the garden and vice versa, shade, hardscapes, etc. She takes extensive photographs and measurements of existing conditions that will guide her design process. After she has absorbed the project challenges, she sits down with her clients on-site and engages them in a conversation about their wish list for the garden and their target budget.
She showed me one project in St. Michaels’ Historic District that beautifully illustrated her design process. The owners retained Jan to transform both their street side front yard and fenced rear yard off an alley. Jan’s design drew inspiration from the house’s exterior color palette of blue and yellow. For the front garden beds, she added a native shrub, itea virginica, along with spring blooming spirea, and an ornamental grass, the dwarf form of Miscanthus Zebrina, which has yellow and green striped foliage. A remarkably hardy clump of Pretoria ‘Bengal Tiger’ tropical cannas adds to the colorful summer show. The Owners requested that Jan include space so summer annuals or fall pansies can be added to further play off the house colors.
The rear yard needed Jan’s creative skills for both landscape and hardscape. She first added a parking area at one corner and an equally sized area for a small garden shed at the opposite corner for symmetry. The original wood steps from the house to the yard were removed and Jan designed a new brick landing and steps beyond the French doors. To solve drainage issues, the original brick patio at the bottom of the steps was removed and replaced with a higher brick terrace. The former rectangular planting bed was replaced with a water feature that is on axis with the center point of the French doors at the rear of the house.
Jan continued and deepened the serpentine form in front of the fencing that was painted white as a backdrop for the colorful plants. The existing pear tree at the top rear of the yard was relocated and Jan incorporated the existing shade trees along the perimeter into her design.
I especially liked Jan’s design for the garden shed that was designed to blend with the neighborhood vernacular outbuildings along the rear alley. The garden shed matches the house’s architectural style, light yellow siding and white trim color. Details included a bright blue half French door with a transom above flanked by two small 2/2 windows with pendant downlights. Now the garden shed is a visual destination and not just a storage area.
The serpentine planting areas with their low bushes were transformed by plantings of different ascending heights to just underside the top rail of the white fence with its arrowhead points as a backdrop. New plants added texture, variegated leaves and color. The juxtaposition of the spherical pink hydrangeas (one of my personal favorites) against the tall, spiky pink astilbe is a great example of variety without a change of color.
Now the owners can relax on their brick terrace that extends into the garden for 180 degree views of the colorful serpentine borders and listen to the soothing sounds of water accompanied by the songs of birds. Even a relatively compact urban yard like this one can be transformed into a verdant oasis with the creative talent of a landscape designer.
Jan enjoys working with small spaces and their corresponding budgets as much as the waterfront estates for which she is best known. She is also available for a one-time consultation if a garden enthusiast needs to discuss their ideas, so I will be seeking her assistance for my small planting areas to enhance my property!
Known for functional, artful four-season gardens, Jan Kirsh has worked collaboratively with clients for over 30 years to bring her unique hardscape and planting style to homes on the Eastern Shore and beyond. Ever conscious of the existing architecture and surrounding site, Kirsh’s successful garden making experience allows for dramatic results, whether she is providing a quick on site consultation, staging a home for sale or drawing a master plan. She delights in turning her clients dreams into reality.
Jennifer Martella has pursued her dual careers in architecture and real estate since she moved to the Eastern Shore in 2004. Her award winning work has ranged from revitalization projects to a collaboration with the Maya Lin Studio for the Children’s Defense Fund’s corporate retreat in her home state of Tennessee.