A Word About Landscape Architecture and Garden Design

At least twelve years have passed since landscape construction was completed at the Finn Hill Meadows Garden. Designed by Seattle landscape architect Brooks Kolb for a client with a passion for plants and gardening, this unique landscape surrounds a large house on a circular lot. The centerpiece of the garden is two water features – a rocky waterfall above the house and a tranquil water lily pond below. Lovingly maintained by the owner and a professional gardener, this garden has now achieved an almost stately maturity. Edible plants including Blueberry and Strawberry abound and the garden is always in bloom somewhere around the circle, which is edged by an angled split rail fence. Ample shade is provided in the courtyard of the house. Stair-step stone seating next to a potting room with a large Wisteria arbor affords perches to view the garden. Look for an article about this garden to appear in the Seattle Times “Pacific NW” magazine, tentatively scheduled for early February, 2015.

The "mother rock"

The “mother rock”

lily pond

lily pond

The Wisteria arbor at the garden potting room

The Wisteria arbor at the garden potting room

Water lilies

Water lilies

The stair seats

The stair seats

The garden walk with Smoke Tree

The garden walk with Smoke Tree

DSC08897 The entry drive

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Seattle landscape architect Brooks Kolb writes:

In the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, I had spent a couple of months in France with my French great aunt, first at her apartment in Paris, and then at her country home in the small town of St. Aignan-sur-Cher. Located in the heart of the Loire Valley chateau country, known as “the valley of the kings,” St. Aignan is a picturesque town that boasts both a 16th Century renaissance chateau and an adjacent twelfth-century church, with belfries and parapets high above the Cher river. I immediately fell in love with the town, and especially with Aunt Muguette’s picturesque U-shaped house surrounding a walled garden on two levels. The first morning I heard the “Angelus,” the beautiful song of the church bells, I was enchanted and my enchantment quickly turned into a wonderful summer of exploration and family fun with my young French cousins.

Now, flash-forward to May, 2014, and I had the opportunity once again to stay in my aunt’s lovely house, which is now a bed and breakfast run by a delightful couple, Marie-France and Richard Caillaud. Once again I fell in love with the house and with the intimate, medieval character of St. Aignan. But what astonished me was what the Caillauds have done with the garden. Its bones – parterres of low Boxwood hedges separated by gravel paths under the shade of a large Horse Chestnut tree – were exactly as I remembered from my first visit, but the Caillauds have made something wonderful with the garden beds between and behind the parterres. Now with their Hydrangeas, perennials and Mahonias, I can’t imagine a lovelier place for strolling than the upper garden; nor for sipping a glass of local Tourraine rose than on the terrace below the lovely curving stone steps.

Why is the house called “Le Sousmont?” Quite simply, my aunt named it that in tribute to the person who owned it before her, a World War I-era American gentleman named Dr. Underhill. “Sousmont” means “under the mountain” (or under the hill) in French. If you decide to book a room there, Monsieur and Madame Caillaud await you with terrific hospitality.

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The chateau viewed from the lower garden

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The upper garden with the chateau beyond

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The upper garden parterres

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The house enfolds the garden, with the medieval church beyond

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The garden from the third floor, with the chateau and church beyond

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Le Soumont from the street, with its rose vines – you would never know there is an enchanting garden beyond!

 

 

In a story titled “Fairy Tale on a Hill,” Seattle Times garden writer Valerie Easton described Seattle Landscape Architect Brooks Kolb’s recent Blue Ridge garden in the May 4, 2014 issue of “Pacific NW” magazine. When Brooks first viewed the property in 2009, the dilapidated stone path to the fairy tale house pierced through such a dense, dark tangle of trees that it might have led Hansel and Gretel to the big bad wolf. Still, there was much charm in the low fieldstone walls and haphazard flagstone paving. The beautiful 1925 Tudor house, with its mixed stone and clinker brick chimney built from materials partly found on site, needed to be revealed in all its glory.

Brooks edited out trees, allowing others like a giant Coulter Pine and a tall Larch to take the limelight. He widened the paths, adding bluestone steps, stone benches with thick bluestone caps, and a thick new wood gate. The fieldstone walls were reshaped and, perhaps most successfully, two existing artisanal stone pillars, mixed with river rock and brick, were replicated to frame the gate. Now giant pine cones grace the wall caps, serving as companions to the graceful copper frogs on the original pillars. But the garden doesn’t stop at this re-worked entry; it sweeps around the house to a large lawn and then descends abruptly to a lower law nestled against a greenbelt maintained by Seattle Parks and Recreation. The natural patina of a mature Pacific Northwest garden, with plenty of ferns and moss, graces all the grounds.

Here’s a link to the full article:  http://seattletimes.com/html/pacificnw/2023387569_0504nwlbrillongarden1xml.html

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Entering the garden

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The fairy tale house revealed

 

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Owner Maureen Brillon and Garden Writer Valerie Easton enjoy the sunny garden

Along with fragrant Winter Daphnes and crocuses, Hellebores are one of the main harbingers of Spring in Seattle gardens.  Many gardeners are crazy about Hellebores, valuing the pastel shades of their flowers, which look like they were painted on with water colors.  A naturally bashful plant, the Lenten Rose (Helleborus orientalis,) which is not at actually a rose, points its flowers downward, as if too modest to aim them at your eye.  Many hybrids of the Oriental Hellebore cover a gamut of white, chartreuse, pale pink and rose pink shades.  Seattle landscape architect Brooks Kolb’s favorite Hellebore, though, is the Corsican Hellebore (Helleborus argutifolius.)  This is a work-horse of a flowering shrub:  It blooms in late February and holds its flowers in view well into the summer months.  Many people would discount it for having a light-green flower, but when it first blooms, that burst of light green is so lively and iridescent that it shouts, “spring is here!”  Framed by the darker leaves, the flowers just pop out at you.  And this plant also has heft:  it’s great for filling spaces where you need something that will get about three feet tall.

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Helleborus orientalis Hybrids – Lenten Rose

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Helleborus argutifolius – Corsican Hellebore

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Corsican Hellebore, flower detail

Fences and Trees

What do you do when the fence alignment you’re planning is blocked by a tree or another large object?  Most clients tend to assume you either have to cut down the tree or move the fence.  Seattle Landscape Architect Brooks Kolb advises otherwise.  Often you can adapt the fence design to the tree’s position.  To share with you a particularly extraordinary example, Brooks designed a fence in the Mount Baker neighborhood of Seattle to envelop the gigantic limb of a mature Western Red Cedar.  While the tree limb itself provided good visual screening of an alley from the client’s back yard, it did nothing to keep their large dog safe from running out into traffic.  Here’s a photograph of the stunning solution, which reminds Brooks of the Chinese puzzle of rock/paper/scissors.  Which element is conquering the other, the tree or the fence?Image

 

Little used in the Pacific Northwest except for highway projects, a terrific landscape construction device called a gabion wall is used to great effect in gardens and parks in Europe.  Gabion walls can either be free-standing space dividers or they can retain steep slopes.  The concept is simple:  rather than using heavy, giant boulders to retain soil, you make a metal wire cage and fill it with much smaller rocks.  The inert mass of the caged rocks holds the slopes in place.

For an enterprising client in Bellingham, Washington who had admired gabion walls when she lived for several years in Germany, Seattle landscape architect Brooks Kolb designed the three-tiered wall system pictured below at the client’s cottage overlooking Bellingham Bay.

Although gabions are usually filled with any commonly available rock, Ocean Pearl stone from Marenakos Rock Center was selected to line the top and front of the cages, while basalt rock filled the invisible backs.  The blue-gray color of the Ocean Pearl stone harmonizes with a similar retaining wall in the back garden.  The planting terraces behind the gabions were backfilled with drain rock and a top layer of organic soil to provide an extensive rooting zone for a diversity of shrubs and ground covers.  When finished, the end result will be an elegant terraced slope unlike any landscape in the neighborhood.  Rock construction was by Russ Beardsley (see related blog article), and the custom fence was built by Tony Keslau to a design by Brooks Kolb.

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Gabion Walls in Progress, March, 2013

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Planting Nearly Finished, September, 2013

The future of Volunteer Park’s reservoir as a reflecting pond looks bright.  As mentioned in past blog posts, City officials will reach a decision in the next few years about whether to “lid” the reservoir or decommission it.  Either way, this significant water basin will look better than in the past, because Volunteer Park’s new status as a Seattle landmark means that changes to the reservoir will have to be consistent with its historic value as a reflecting pond viewed from the plaza in front of the Asian Art Museum.  The unsightly chain link fences keeping people out can come down and a wading pool or reflecting pond can be installed, filling the basin to the brim.  This exciting turn of events was reported in Valerie Easton’s column, “The Natural Gardener,” in the September 29, 2013 edition of the Seattle Times’ “Pacific NW” magazine.  The article featured Seattle Landscape Architect Brooks Kolb’s sketch rendering of the reservoir re-conceived as a model boating basin.  Already several local model boat racing clubs have expressed enthusiasm at the idea!

Improvements to the reservoir in the offing also underscore the opportunity to re-create the “Sunset Promenade” envisioned by the park’s original  landscape architects, The Olmsted Brothers.  As Doug Bayley, chair of the Volunteer Park Trust put it in the “Pacific NW” article, “We want to create a promenade where people could stroll and watch the sun go down over the city and the water.”  And as Valerie Easton concluded, “That sweeping westward view now incoludes the Space Needle, a sight never imagined when the Olmsted Brothers designed the venerable park.”

Volunteer park sketch low res