Can you tell there’s a change about? You’ve probably noticed that the light has evolved in the last couple of weeks, becoming less potent, but also more golden. The air has also stilled a bit. Except when hurricanes come ashore, that is. The scents borne on breezes have also taken on a bit of an edge. Fall approaches. And aren’t we glad? No sense waiting for crisp mornings and forests of turning foliage to give you official permission to create a bit of change in your seasonal décor, however. Select a couple of surfaces you want to use for fall bounty, start now, and add elements as the season progresses.
Don’t you wish occasionally that you could just plant something and walk away? Never have to prune, water, feed, deadhead, divide, or replace when it turns up its toes? Then maybe I have an idea for you. What if I told you you could just about have it all? Year-long color and zero maintenance. Never have to reach for your snips because your garden addition would always be exactly what you put in the ground. I’d like to show you some ideas for additions to your garden that will last and last.
We all want people to enjoy themselves when they come to our home. How does that enjoyment come about? We serve good food, encourage hearty conversation, give our guests an experience they wouldn’t necessarily have at home. The best get-togethers entail a certain magic, don’t they? Your job as host is to attend to the details, so the magic can take place. And no detail should be beneath you. I suggest you prioritize, maybe make lists, but then stand back and look around. Is each room, each corner, each setting, done up in expectation that your guests can make themselves comfortable and delight in their surroundings? Have you anticipated and provided everything you think they’ll want? Once you’ve attended to the big stuff, it’s time to pay attention to even the smallest of details.
Sit a spell. Many of us entertain around the pool during the warm months. People love to be near the water, even if they aren’t taking a plunge. Dress up your pool area with towels you‘ve selected for this purpose, and provide ample seating. When I say ’seating,’ I don’t just mean chairs and chaises. Drop pillows poolside and provide a towel for each. Your guests might want to dangle their legs in the pool and you’re giving them a way to do it. Even the most formal party will benefit from this touch. Your guests may not take advantage of your offer, but they’ll appreciate it just the same.
Stack ’em up. Move a chaise even nearer to the pool edge, then plunk down a towel and pillow. If a guest doesn’t want to sit directly on the concrete, he or she can still access water’s edge with this seating nearby. And pay attention to color, either contrasting or complementary.
Fire and Water. After you’ve provided seating and towels to wick away moisture, don’t forget to add candles for a glow that will take you into twilight and dark. Scented or unscented will do, and to ward off mosquitoes, don’t forget the citronella. Exterior lighting can be abrupt or harsh, and candles go far to soften it.
Bringing it together. This photo is deceptively simple, but it encompasses quite a bit. You’ll find the seating, towel, pillow, flickering candle, and finally a robust plant in a pot. You’ve set the stage for your guests to stay as long as they wish. Isn’t that what we all seek when you entertain? That our guests linger and enjoy the conversation and surroundings? It’s all in the details you provide, the staging you set.
You’ll notice I didn’t state that everything must match, or that there are rules to follow for success. The towels should be selected for poolside use, but that’s the only requirement. Maybe you want to mix it up with contrasting colors or pattern, or use the same color palette all the way around the pool. And the diverse selection of cushions and fabric made to use outdoors has skyrocketed, so you’ll find a wide selection to chose from anywhere you shop. Once you‘ve paid attention to each detail, when people arrive, they can relax and spontaneity will set in. Not only is it in the mix of guests and entertaining elements, it’s also in your eye for detail. And all that means is taking a look around and anticipating what your friends and family–and you–will enjoy.
Live Life to the Fullest,
Chris H. Olsen
A great landscape design is not just about the plants, or color at specific times of the year. You’ve heard me say that before, but it bears repeating: In order to truly enjoy your outdoor spaces you need to provide points of interest and novelty, not just perennials and annuals, growing cheek by jowl. Further visual interest can be incorporated with rock and what’s known as ’hardscape,’ These additions can contrast perfectly with what’s growing. But how about adding another sensory element, such as sound? No, I’m not talking about a speaker system. What can work well can be a water feature, which adds much, much more to your visual design. I’ll show you two distinct fountains that can add real pleasure to your outdoor spaces.
This traditional fountain placed at a strategic point in the garden performs a great task; it serves as a destination and focal point. It has all that typical fountains provide, such as low maintenance, attraction for songbirds, and a style that is complementary to the house. Bust as you gaze at this photo, you know what’s also here: The calm and lovely sound of trickling water. That one sound makes a fountain, no matter its size, a point of interest to all. Something else cool about this one is that, no, it’s not made of cast iron. It’s concrete stained black. Talk about low cost and upkeep. And your foundation plantings and annual planted for seasonal color seem to almost lean into this water feature.
One of a pair, this fountain is fabricated from recycled brick, vintage waterspout, and glazed jars we offer at Botanica. I designed this pair to serve as a sort of boundary in the garden, and everything to build them was found and repurposed. I created an open top, and installed four LED uplights within. The fountains are also lit at night. I used vintage spouts and inserted the motor in each. You can just plug these water features in and walk away. What’s nice here is that they’re upright and not bulky, which means they won’t overpower the space and you’ll have plenty of room to nestle plants all around. Fountains, by the way, don’t call for specific or traditional plantings only. A water feature will only bring out the best of your plant groupings, no matter the style or quantity.
Remember this fountain is not cast iron, but concrete. You wouldn’t know that unless you studied it closely. It is a great addition to this garden, however, because it’s on another level and creates further dimension to the design. And, like I said before, the sound of the water–soothing and tranquil–will attract and delight your guests.
Because this pair of fountains would be part of the garden boundary, I wanted to make sure the fence itself didn’t detract from them. And, in keeping with the recycle-reuse-repurpose philosophy I was mindful of while creating the fountains, I chose iron salvaged from an old carport on the property. The brick fountains pull the eye up, and aren’t hulking or massive, yet are also unexpected. These fountains have spouts that control the water flow, so what you get in the way of sound here is a ’burble,’ not a splash. Which means you can convene the book club nearby, and everyone can be heard.
Garden design doesn’t have to be confined to elements that we can see only. Don’t forget your other senses when planning your space. And fountains don’t have to be expensive or large. You can find a fountain design–or design one yourself–that will fit any budget and any space. The sounds of water flowing up, over, and down as it follows gravity will delight you and your guests, no matter the season.
Live Life to the Fullest,
Chris H. Olsen
When you think of the word ‘landscape,’ you think of plants, right? For any project, especially curbside or at the entrance of your property, you endeavor to create the right mix: trees for height, canopy, and anchor, shrubs for depth and dimension, select perennials, cheery annuals you change out seasonally. But what if instead of creating that massing of plant material at the center, the eye level of your design, you used large rock instead? And planted around it. One boulder–or two or three–can provide every bit as much interest as all those specimens and be a real focal point for your design. I didn’t create the landscape for this home, but I love the impact of natural stone incorporated here. The plants grow up, over, and around the rock, and there’s still room for seasonal interest.
A mature landscape area often loses depth and scale because plants grow. That shrub you admired when you bought it can outgrow its allotted space in just a few seasons. The bloom cover you so love is now eight feet in the air, not three. Those beautiful glossy leaves now tend to turn their backside to you. Which means you have to pull it out and start over every few years. A rock won’t do that to you. It remains as reliable as the day you brought it in and rested it under the trees.
And a large rock is also a good staging area. Does a certain vine attract you? Plant behind or alongside your rock and let it grow and scrabble over the top. And that froth of blooms you get annually is nice against the color. You can add a bit of middle ground height behind it, like these cannas, to give your design depth, and pull the eye up. Next to the boulder are grasses and daylilies, their lance-like foliage a contrast in growth form. Plus, they provide dependability, as do all perennials. They’re also hardy, which may be necessary; stone tends to radiate heat in thewarm months.
Once it’s all in place, you’ll perform a bit of maintenance on these plantings as they nestle in with the rock. But you save your energy for seasonal plantings right up front. Annual color pops when it is featured with stone.
And another good idea about combining rock with plants is that you can adjust the size of your design according to the space. If you wish to use the same idea in a courtyard or create interest in a lackluster corner, just size down your rock accordingly, and use the same mix of (downsized) plants. You can have this combination in full sun or shade. Another good thing about stone in the landscape is that stone doesn’t have a list of requirements to grow.
As always, I encourage you to think of new ideas for your landscape. Ideas that will give you pleasure and maybe a bit of a thrill when you turn in your drive. Natural rock can be as exciting as any plant recommended at the nursery. Just place it, use it as a complement to your favorite plants, then stand back and admire your work. And that chunk of granite or sandstone won’t get thirsty or overgrown or need maintenance. How nice is that?
Live Life to the Fullest,
Chris H. Olsen
Reuse. Repurpose. Recycle. Reimagine. You know these words and their common use. We’re all serious about sustainability, because we should be. It’s a worthy pursuit and the subject of much discussion, but that’s just it. It’s sometimes a little too serious. I’ve always had a philosophy about elements of design, which I use in many, if not most, jobs: Use what you have, any way you can, and the result can be both fun and powerful. I call it Jhemajang. You pronounce it the way it looks; ‘hema-jang.’ As in, ‘Just jhemajang that [combination] together, and it’ll look great.’ It’s nothing more than repurposing something laying around, already bought, and maybe even still in use.
You could go to your favorite source for outdoor furniture and plunk down a lot of money for serious seating, or you can do it like this. These pieces are from my custom line. Recycled treated wood cut and sized for any space. And check out the table and pots. You can create something in any size and configuration, then paint it all in thrilling combinations. Don’t try to treat these pieces with great dignity; treat them like the fun, unusual elements they are. And they’re easy to move around, even going indoors for extra seating at parties.
Since these pieces were designed to go poolside, we incorporated planter boxes on the backs of the chairs. Once again, custom sized, so you can drop in specimens you pick up at the nursery. Looks like they’ve been leading an enjoyable life, huh?
How about carrying out that idea even further? We attached an entire planter box—contrasting color, natch—to the back of this longer piece. Because these are recycled boards, they’re light weight, so a planter box on the back is not a big deal, even full of plants. The seat can be moved with ease.
And check out how the color pops when you do nothing more than place three different bromeliads in them. Not only does this furniture need little maintenance, bromeliads are real workhorses, too, that require very little care.
Not only are these stripes pretty cool, the color combination is nice and cooling as well. And all plants look good with bright, colorful pieces surrounding them. Another truism. Check out the nice square table. See how the plant in the center seems to be peeking at you? It is. Because we created a recessed pocket in the table center, in which it sits. If you don’t use the compartment for a plant, you could always use it for an ice bucket, or even to hold bottles or cans. When more table surface is needed, just put the lid over the pocket. Multi-functionality is another advantage these pieces have.
If you’re not a fan of fan backs, you should be. Just stripe them up in contrasting colors and see how they pop. What’s so great about this recycled wood is that it can be used in many ways.
If you want to add pop to your patio—or any indoor room—these customized pieces will do the trick. Remember, landscape is not just about growing elements; it incorporates what makes you feel good, too. Don’t be afraid to be adventurous, and also remember to use what’s already available when you can. And create unexpected combinations, because that’s the Jhemajang way. We built these pieces with recycled treated wood simply because they’ll add life to any area. Create fun spaces, use unexpected color combinations, and, above all, enjoy what you have.
Live Life to the Fullest,
Chris H. Olsen
A landscape, no matter its size, is not just one contiguous area filled with growing things or concrete. It is divided into ‘rooms,’ which can contain different elements according to use, space, and growing conditions. And even if you live in a smaller space, you can still bring in some great—and personal–design to that courtyard, or corner. Creating something unexpected is the point, and it’s not hard at all.
Here, you see a typical garden wall and gate. Functional design, varied and hardy plantings, lighting and security in place. Ho hum. But see past the gate? What lies within is key. It’s a small space, so an easy design. We used Chinese elements here, installed fairly simple plantings, provided a water feature for real interest, and an imposing pagoda to anchor it all. Design theme, water, plants, architectural element, rock and stone. That was the checklist. Notice it isn’t a long list of requirements. Start out with one connecting idea, then implement it with plantings and other elements.
Because it’s a small area, we wanted to make use of sound as well as sight. Hence, the flowing water. It cascades down the rocks and collects in a pool at the base of the Japanese maple. That maple is the workhorse of the design because it gives a great show twelve months of the year. The foliage of these small landscape trees are what gives them value. You’ll find hybrids with leaves that pretty much run the color wheel between black red and pale chartreuse. Even in the depths of winter, a Japanese maple’s trunk and bare branches provide interest. It always works in corners and small spaces because, depending on the cultivar, will never outgrow its space. Use of a small tree with brilliant foliage also meant we didn’t have to rely on annual plantings for color, which further simplifies the design. Just some water-loving grasses were all we needed to finish this part of the design.
Contrast, which you’ll want to be aware of, comes in the use of natural rock slabs, river rock, and pavers. Don’t forget to incorporate texture into your design. Natural juxtaposed with manmade, straight lines versus what’s found in nature.
And the best kind of contrast comes with the interplay of light and shadow. The kind of shade cast by elements of our small garden means it looks great at 6 AM, as well as 6 PM.
A touch of whimsy is always welcome. This globe was used because the fire engine red color can be seen from afar, and is merely the outline of a circle; the plants can grow through and over it. Let your plants run free every time you can, but give them something in the way of support.
Pools call for frogs, and this one’s no exception. Stylized and amusing, he splays out on the rock sunning himself, and adds that element of personality you’ll want in your design. I write a lot about showing your personality in the landscape, but that doesn’t mean you have to create a major production and spend a lot of money. Often, just one element, like our metal lounging amphibian, will do the trick.
The stone pagoda adds gravitas, yet also a bit of fun. Plus, it telegraphs the importance of Chinese elements in our design. It anchors the space year-round and, while formal, is welcoming. Find one large piece to serve as focal point like this one, and your design comes together. You can design a small garden around something you already have, or you can look for something as you go.
It’s really fairly simple to put together a small garden in a small space. Limit your design and its elements. Think functionality, but don’t forget whimsy and the occasional piece that will delight you and your guests. Don’t be afraid to experiment. After all, you aren’t creating a five-acre park. Think of it more as an inviting little space where you make unexpected use of what you can find all around you.
Live Life to the Fullest,
Chris H. Olsen
Ever notice how, often, the yards and gardens you really like seem to incorporate more than blooming annuals, stately perennials or swaths of grass? That’s because they do have more than simple plantings. They have small—personal—additions that make them stand out. It’s the little things that can make your plantings fresh and interesting, and also express just a bit of your personality in the process.
Yes, everyone waters with an automatic sprinkler system or hose, so it’s nice to see that old-fashioned metal watering can still make its appearance. If you don’t own one, you can source them many places, either still-functional or timeworn. It’s not about their use. It’s about them adding a quaint quality to a border or pot grouping. The fact that a watering can left among growing plants, and out in the weather, can also be turned up to water that wilting begonia, is a plus.
See the faded antique metal daffodils poking their heads above this mixed shade bed of foliage plants? I found them in a vintage store in Dallas and, because I was flying home, had a friend bring them in his car later. When you take a vacation or business trip, always be on the lookout for such objects. Not only do they add that unexpected whimsy to your garden, they are dear to you just because there’s a story behind them or their acquisition. And they are not something picked up at a big box store, either. I don’t know what their original use or site was, but they look like they’ve been blooming in my yard for quite a while. And who needs a shrub for height when you can have these lovelies?
A phalanx of watering cans marches to its own beat, nestled among ferns that have naturalized along the gravel path. Why have one can, when you can have several? A good rule to remember: using more than one of the same item adds strength to your design.
If you have a tree in your landscape, you just might need a table beneath. Often, we set up our gardens solely for the plants, and provide paths to get close to them as a sort of afterthought. But don’t forget your guests and a vantage point for yourself, so all can sit within what you have created. A table that can withstand the elements is apt, and then you can stack it with whatever you wish. I found this table on someone’s curb, waiting for the trash pickup. A coat of paint, and I wheeled it into place, under this mature tree. Functionality is good, but improvisational design is better. (Meaning, don’t worry too much about table surface area. Just so long as there’s room for you slide in, maybe with a cup of coffee and the newspaper, it’ll be fine.) I used weathered terra cotta pots, spheres and glass bottles bound for the recycler, plus a couple of plants I already had potted up. Looks like it’s been here a long time, doesn’t it? And to get to it, you get to hear that delicious crunch of gravel underfoot.
Think texture with your design, not just plants. The bonsai ficus, from my collection, is perfect scale for the table, and I tossed in interesting rock and pebble, along with overturned lichen-encrusted terra cotta.
An what better to hang above than wire acrobats? I found this tribe of metal people at Pike’s Market in Seattle. Yes, I had them FedExed home. How many times have you seen an ordinary wire basket of fern hanging from an overhead limb? These acrobats are a nice—and unexpected—touch.
Squirrels run rampant in all our yards, but this painted concrete fellow is an import; I brought him home from a trip to San Diego. He’ll always be ready to dash up the deck railing.
While on a trip, if you encounter something unexpected that really speaks to you, I encourage you to bring it home and find a good place for it. And that good place doesn’t mean the garage or attic. What can make your garden design special is not always the plantings themselves; it’s also what you add and blend and meld into them along the way. Little things can make big impact.
Live Life to the Fullest,
Chris H. Olsen
My last posting showed you how to make shine an active presence in your Christmas decorating. Now, for something different. How about a natural tree, bedecked with simple ornaments and glittering white lights instead? A tree that, while holding its own, is in sync with its surroundings and fits into the room without fanfare. If you seek a tree that harmonizes with your existing décor, incorporates natural elements, and isn’t an exclamation point in search of the right sentence, then here’s an idea for you.
A classic Christmas tree in a classic room creates its own music. Its natural approach fits into the existing scheme, yet brings in every element we think of in seasonal decorating. The tree, instead of being a huge presence, fits into the space between two chairs, not receding into the background, but becoming part of the room. One advantage a live tree has over its manmade counterpart is that live ones have boughs that aren’t uniform and contain plenty of space between. While we may love the symmetry and fullness of manufactured trees, they don’t become a part of existing décor as well as a real one can.
A natural tree also won’t impede traffic flow. While you might think you need to buy a smaller manmade tree for a smaller space, you don’t have that much of a concern if the tree is real. And it’s a softer, welcoming presence.
Decorated with natural elements—handmade cardinals perched on branches, circles of dried orange slices suspended by slim red ribbon, punctuated by pine cones, and lit simply—the tree is almost dreamy in its appearance. An added bonus is the architectural detailing around the door behind, which almost frames the tree. A tartan tree skirt forms a contained pouf at its base. While tartan is what we think of when we think ‘Christmas plaid,’ it also fits perfectly into the traditional setting of this room.
Dried orange slices are the primary decoration of this tree. Held by thin red ribbon, which is worked between the rind and sections, they are translucent, as well as providing a good punch of color. And you can’t beat pine cones to underscore the natural aspects of its decoration. You can dry citrus slices yourself, or buy them already preserved. And they still have that great citrus scent.
Tiny birds and Christmas seem to go together, don’t they? In keeping with the simplicity of this tree, redbirds were used, and provide a whimsical touch perched on the ends of branches.
If you aren’t one of those people with boxes full of ornaments in the attic that you use every year, and fill the tree to bursting, then maybe this idea is for you: Limit your decoration types—like the three items used here—and use as many as the branches will allow. Strength in numbers, yet a limit on ornament assortment. The same tree-trimming philosophy can apply, no matter whether your tree is natural or manmade.
You can bring an all-natural approach to your tree and accompanying décor, which will ‘wow’ your guests every bit as much as something enormous and gleaming. Sometimes, we all seek a bit of quiet and serenity, and this tree provides just that. And another fun bit about using a live one is that you get to bundle up and go to the tree lot, and find that perfect, yet individual, tree for your space. Oh, and then there’s that Christmas smell that you won’t find with anything out of a box. You can’t beat that.
Live Life to the Fullest and Happy Holidays,
Chris H. Olsen
Let’s talk about pairs. You have lots of pairs in your life, but here’s an idea you might not have thought of: Put up a pair of Christmas trees this year. No, not green trees, either fresh or man-made. How about some shiny aluminum? These trees are lightweight, reflect and attract light, are easily decorated, and store with ease. And they require no maintenance, which is great, when you think about what you have to do about consistent water level and temperature around the live variety, and the amount of space a man-made green tree might require up in the attic, even if it breaks down into branches and trunk. Aluminum trees can be the answer for practical reasons, but anyone who seeks a fresh approach to Christmas décor will be thrilled at the use of, not just one, but two. They can flank each other in front of a mantel, or in a large window, or within seating areas, and two trees are just as easy to incorporate along with existing furnishings as one.
You can purchase these trees pre-lit with clear lights, and then add old-fashioned colored light strings, like I did here. Adding additional lights means even more reflection. Decorate your trees as much alike as possible. Use the same colors on both, and the same assortment of ornaments, if possible. I used vintage ornaments, because I have many. Making the trees mirror images of each other will also mean making your design statement more emphatic. There’s something about matched pairs that’s pleasing to the eye, whether it be racehorses, chairs, or an (unexpected) Christmas tree twosome.
And don’t concern yourself with erecting a mountain of wrapped packages under your trees, either. Potted poinsettias are easy to maintain, and can take up that space nicely. With the number of poinsettia colors now available, you’ll be able to find the right shade to contrast or complement your tree decorations nicely. You can paint terra cotta pots for your poinsettias, and place all on a tree skirt.
Now, it starts getting good. Once your trees are in place, create echoes of that shininess in other area of your room. You may recall these stacks of antique slide boxes I use most of the year on my mantel. I got them at an estate sale in San Diego last year. I added miniature Mexican-made trees to the box assortment. These table-top trees are also aluminum, like their large brothers, and are painted in clear, yummy colors that just happen to work with the color palette of the big pair.
When you place something right at eye level, like the small trees on the mantel, details are important. The colors of these little trees pop, and the glass bead centers of the flowers are easily seen. Using vintage lights on the mantel underscores the look of the tree pair in front of the fireplace.
And don’t forget tree toppers for both, like this aluminum number to finish the shiny effect. Same color, same feel. Use the same touch throughout your design, the same palette and elements. Keeping this sort of unity means your design is that much more important.
You can purchase the table top trees, pre-order the full-size aluminum trees, and find an array of cool and unique holiday décor at Botanica and Plantopia. Think about the glow your holiday guests will encounter, when cast by, not one, but two lovely, shiny Christmas trees.
Live life to the fullest,
Chris H. Olsen