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Early in the spring of 2010 we were invited to submit a design proposal for the restoration of an historic Kent home. The home’s new owner was very knowledgeable about historical architecture and period design. He expressed his desire to integrate the property’s historical significance with contemporary needs. The drive entrance and barn/garage, for example, were neither in good shape, nor accomodating to the owner’s needs. Our challenge was to preserve the simplicity of an earlier era, and the emphasis on practicality, with what was practical to modern times, as well as enhancing the overall condition and appearance of the property without making it look newly done-over or merely cosmetically improved. Darrell Cherniske was the perfect designer for this job. The Cherniske family goes back many generations as  working and living in  the farmlands, fields and woodlands of the South Kent valley, and Darrell participates in many programs to maintain the village heritage of Kent and its neighboring rural areas.

Darrell proposed an approach that integrated the practical work needed (correcting drainage, improving the drive, with a elegant curvilinear parking court and formal garden that really complimented the property in the best way possible. The design was so far superior to others that the owner received, he was worried that it would be cost prohibitive. But the design was made of practical solutions that could be approached in a very cost-effective manner. A little bit of nip over here, a bit of tuck over there, and voila!

Overall Master Plan/ Approach

The client was very pleased with the overall approach, and was excited about the details of the formal garden that could be nestled in the courtyard. The idea was to attach the formal garden with a fieldstone path system that connected the drive and parking court to the inner patio between the buildings.

Courtyard Design/ Path System

An early American pickett fence was included with dowel rails, and stained the same color as the buildings, integrating them with the garden and the path system. Topiary Miss Kim lilacs were planted in the middle of an “x” weave of blue lace-cap hydrangeas, inside a Green Velvet boxwood border.

The Courtyard Garden

On the far side of the fence, Green Mountain Boxwood and hydrangea are planted as a border for the path and foundation planting for the building.

The Fieldstone Path Bordering the Courtyard Garden

On the outside of the courtyard fence we planted a mixed border of roses, viburnum, ostrich fern, and perennials including tiarella and heuchera in red, coral and bronze colors that complemented and stood up to the strong red architectural elements.

Border Garden

One of the finest touches in the design is the way the fieldstone path system weaves along from the border plantings, through the lawn, and hugs the drive all the way through the courtyard, where it becomes part of the foraml border. This is emphasized ith a perfect design element – the traditional light post/ lantern.

Gravel Drive & Flower Borders

You can see below how the border and the path cross like crossed fingers as they split the lawn on their way to the drive, with the lantern functioning like a beacon when coming and going.

Interweaving Path, Border & Drive

A client came to us recently, looking for new design ideas for a pair of garden terraces overlooking Central Park in New York City.

The client  wanted one of the terraces to express a Japanese aesthetic, and the other terrace to have a Chinese aesthetic.

We wanted to make sure our designs made a clear enough distinction between “a Japanese” and a Chinese” aesthetic, while also maintaining a nice complement between the two. As if each were a different side of a coin, we toyed with the notions of yin/yang and the tension between opposites that mirror each other or are in many respects integral aspects of each other — height and depth in terms of elevation, water and stone in terms of featured elements, shaped versus random forms in the foliage, visual or alternately, auditory sensations,  the passage of time and timeless stillness, and the opening and closing of space.

To the Japanese garden we assigned visual precision in a sand pendulum sunken in a raised mahogany deck with a formal, circular motif as the sand bowl,  and on the other end carried over the complementary elements  with random, flowing foliage edging a river-stone paved floor, and a raised, upright topiary wall.

Alternately, we designed the Chinese garden as exploring the contrast between stasis and flow, with the primary elementals of stone and water. At one end the pattern was regular and rectangular,  the foliage formal and stead. At the other end these motifs were complemented by an irregular carved circular stone-basin surrounded by mosses and prostrate dwarf shrubs planted in a semi-circular raised planter over decking and backed by an upright half-moon arch from which an ancient iron bell could be hung.

Original Chinese Garden Design

You can see from the elevation studies below how the two gardens complemented each other in various ways. They had raised walls at either end of each other, but in the Japanese garden design the raised wall was opposite the circular focal sand feature, whereas in the Chinese garden design the raised wall abutted the semi-circular planting holding the stone circular stone water basin. In the Japanese garden, the focal sand feature was sunken below the deck-floor grade, in the Chinese garden, the focal water feature was raised above the deck-floor grade.

Elevation Study - Japanese Garden Original

Elevation Study - Chinese Garden Original2nd Design Chinese Garden

Our client loved these ideas, and had the drawings framed as a conversation piece — but they wanted to explore a more nuanced, and less permanent installation, that was simple to build and easy to take apart. We created two versions of the major themes we had started as illustrated in the two pairs of drawings below:

 

2nd Design Japanese Garden

2nd Design Chinese Garden

3rd Design Japanese Garden

3rd Design Chinese Garden

 

Eventually we specified the terrace gardens to be installed inside custom-manufactured copper pans that would function both as trays and as inserts that would define the patterns of the garden.

Custom Copper Trays

 

We added custom-built planter boxes and all-weather granite containers to complete the layouts:

Layout for Japanese Garden

Layout for Chinese Garden

The client then chose a granite lantern as the focal feature for the Japanese garden, and a stone basin to be part of the Chinese garden.

 

Lantern for Japanese Garden

Stone Water Basin for Chinese Garden

We designed mosses attached to a woven-wire substructure to create a lush,  undulating effect.

 

Final Japanese Garden

Here you see the stone basin set on the river rock. To the right, the client set a fantastic “scholar stone” nestled into the woven-wire moss ground cover. The wood benches were located where the client’s bonsai collection could be placed during clement weather. (See the individual bonsai below.

Final Chinese Garden

Ficus Bonsai

Philippine Tea Bonsai

Threadleaf Maple Bonsai

Cypress Bonsai

This was a fun project, working with the client on design development and sharing a wide range of ideas was enjoyable for all of us. We learned a lot, and really appreciated the way the terraces came out, with a simple, but elegant feel. Simple is not always easy! But together with the client’s help and creative eye, we made elegance look simple and timeless.

I grew up in rural Connecticut. When school was out, my mother went on permanent vacation from the kitchen and my father took over the cooking. Back then, of course, my father wouldn’t be caught dead in front of the kitchen stove, or bent over the oven. That was “female” cookery, and he would have none of it. No, any other time of the year there was not a chance he would stoop to the ordeal of cooking. But as soon and as surely as the grey achy days of April gave way to the pellucid greens of a junebug in spring, and certainly, by the time the lazy haze of summer followed behind the cottonwood and dandelion billows, my father, like the cantankerous but skillful cook in the wagon train going forth to finer pastures, was well equipped and prepared to barbecue. 

     

When stationed there at the helm of the charred steel, he transformed from the somewhat recalcitrant machinist he was, into a facsimile of John Wayne — his legs gone all bowed and his word studded over with a peculiar kind of Texas drawl. Back then, of course, we barbecued only meat, and “meat” meant only dogs and burgers. Our friends would visit us, and we them. The same story played out in different back yards. There must have been hundreds of thousands of us.                                                

The trade organization Hearth, Patio and Barbecue has statistics going back just to 1995 — a year when over 11 million BBQ Grills of various kinds were shipped to American homes. By 2007, that number had grown to be 17 million units in a single year. In the collective imagination of Americans, dads might be associated with BBQ the way moms are associated with apple pie.

Today, outdoor grilling has become more sophisticated, and one of the fastest growing sectors of home-improvement contractors is designing and installing complete outdoor kitchens, fireplaces, firepits, and all types of grilling stations.

I asked a few designers (men who have their own grilling stations) why they so much like to recommend outdoor kitchens. Sure enough, their enthusiasm spilled over themselves like ketchup over a bun:  

I just love to barbecue! I just love my grill, love the smell of the smoke, the roasted flavor everything has, hanging with friends while it all cooks, how it all adds up to summer in the evening, with the peepers singing and the fireflies sparkling over the meadow.


A quick search on the internet leads to all kinds of articles linking this phenomena to “man’s search to fulfill his primal urge to go back to prehistoric roots as the hunter and food provider.” If this is true, then the “New American Outdoor Patio-cum-Kitchen-Dining Area,” like the understated backyard barbecue that came before it, is clearly a trend — call it the American Primal Revival.  This revival has been nicely accommodated to modern lifestyles through the integration of sophisticated outdoor appliances with innovative patio designs that create complete outdoor kitchen-dining areas that satisfy primal concerns, but most certainly are not primitive.

With the large range of features available, outdoor grilling can be as much as a primal experience as nature can provide, as uptown as your audio-visual surround system can provide, or as downtown as my fathers’. The good news is that you get to fashion your own style.

POSTSCRIPT PHOTOS:

Custom Copper Cooker

 

Side View Copper Cooker

18.36.54 House

Architectural Record - Image Gallery

just released an article on the extraordinary art-project/ house in rural Connecticut designed by Daniel Libeskind — four exterior photos which are reproduced here.

Kent Greenhouse has played an important role in engineering and managing the steep drive that cut its way through rough ledge and thick woodland, and oversaw the complex installation of underground utilities.  Darrell Cherniske worked closely with our mason to restore the farm walls as they might have been originally built. He chose seed mixes that would thrive over reclaimed ledge & woodland soils in order to create the large the forest-meadow grasses that allow the house to sit in a sea of native grasses that change colors throughout the day, and with the season, adding dramatically to the effect of light, reflection and color that are part of the architect’s and owners’ vision.

Imagine a meditation garden for your home. If you live in rural New England or New York, and you are only thinking of an austere Japanese Zen garden of meticulously groomed sand sweeping through a rock garden, you might reject the suggestion entirely.  I want to expand your ideas about what qualifies as a meditation garden. Throughout the world, there is a very large variety of garden styles that accommodate the notion of a meditation garden.  Outdoor spaces to facilitate meditation or contemplation have been created throughout the world, incorporating design aesthetics that fit local climate and culture. These fall into three basic categories – the Zen garden, the Dao garden, and the monastic garden. Japanese Zen gardens emphasize meditative quiescence and stillness. In a Zen garden, the mind that notices is the focus of meditation.  Chinese Daoist meditation gardens are based on principles of feng-shui that emphasize natural harmonies of the five elements and the four directions. The Daoist garden is a meditative representation of the ways of Nature.

The western Christian monastic tradition produced two completely different approaches to meditation gardens – the secret or cloistered garden, and the walking or contemplation garden.  The secret garden is traditionally surrounded by stone walls, fences or is enclosed by living-fences such as espalier or clipped hedges. The arrangements of these gardens were incorporated into an overall architecture that mirrored the design of cathedrals – with isles, naves, and focal features. Small ponds and water features were an important part of the monastic garden, as were healing and edible herbs. The walking or contemplation garden provided an entirely different way of meditation. The central narrative of a walking garden is that of pilgrimage – of seeing life as a journey on a path toward a kind of promised land. The story of Exodus for example, came to be re-presented in Kabbalism as labyrinths designed with intricate paths based on numerological and symbolic patterns. The Romans incorporated these designs into their architecture and gardens, and the early Christians carried them through their monastic traditions where they were easily accommodated by the northern Celtic whose traditions included similar intricately woven symbolic designs.

Despite these differences, there are key aesthetic elements that recur in all types of meditation & contemplation gardens throughout the world. Meditation gardens are composed of simple materials arranged in harmonious patterns or designs. The patterns are symbolic and suggestive of something about our humble place in the greater scheme of nature, the size of the universe, and long reach of time.

Paradoxically, meditation or contemplation on the relatively small role we play with respect to the grand scheme of everything, can also evoke a profound relationship to the immensity and grandeur of the whole of space and time. Along with plantings, meditation gardens incorporate each of the elemental materials – water, earth, air, fire and stone – either in actuality, or through symbolism and narrative metaphor. A rock garden that cascades down a hillside, or a woodland garden that hugs a ledge can both be designed to evoke river courses. Iron and bronze symbolize fire and air, while fieldstone, brick and shale are earth elements.  Water themes such as “the river of life” or “fountain of youth” create symbolic stories about life. 

Here is a design for a modern, Romanesque garden that combines a walking path laid out inside a walled garden in rough stone that leads to a focal  feature of a pagan god, itself tucked inside a secret courtyard. The garden is planted with aromatherapeutic healing herbs, while the fountain head is planted with grape vines.  A good place perhaps to contemplate both the joys and sorrows of life lived fully.



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Single plants, flowers or ornaments can support the design of a meditation garden. A single lotus flower can evoke feelings of enlightenment, while a crane symbolizes a long life lived gracefully. Even foliage plants, when framed correctly, can draw the eye to some small magic like the entire sky reflected in drops of dew.

Our native woodlands offer a special opportunity to re-envision design elements for a meditation garden. Woodlands evoke another Japanese aesthetic called wabi-sabi – which is somewhat difficult to define. Wabi-sabi points to that which is beautiful and at the same time ephemeral. Wabisabizen.com, defines wabi-sabi as “ a Japanese aesthetics that is associated with the earthen & elemental materials, whose form has grown organically, and whose shape, textures, shades and hues are a result of being weathered by natural processes over time.” These are natural aesthetics for woodland gardening. When combined with the idea of a walking path along the woodland edge, the woodland meditation garden becomes one of the most beautiful landscapes in early spring, when the woodland wildflowers bloom for just a a short period of time – reminding us of the fragile and ephemeral aspects of beauty. Woodland shade plantings also make a wonderful meditation garden when planted inside a courtyard or framed by ironwork or espalier. A closeup of the photos below shows how the stones recreate the feeling of a Zen garden, especially in the pattern of the millstone post base.

On a very small scale, homemade “hypertufa” troughs  are wonderful ways to combine the stone and moss elements of a meditation garden with small alpine flowers and herbs of the cloister garden. The trough itself symbolizes both the rock and water elements. The way the trough matures, aging over time, adds a great deal of wabi-sabi character.  Adding a small wooden stool would emphasize its offerings as a meditation piece.

On the other end of the scale, carving out wide walking paths in the larger landscape, that lead to hidden vistas, can entice the solitary sojourner into a state of reverie. Islands of perennials and grasses serve as temporary stopping points to ponder nature’s processes.

This past winter, the display gardens here at the Kent Greenhouse were shrouded in deep snow. With the sun low in the long horizon down the Housatonic valley, the effect was silent and eerie, but also somehow strangely serene. It occurred to me that under these conditions, this was a meditation garden, too.


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Kent Greenhouse

Working with a large woodland property has been both a once-in-a lifetime challenge and the best opportunity of our lives.