Thursday, October 29, 2009

Stone + Water in a small space.

When space is limited in the garden yet the desire for a watery element is present a small vessel of sorts can fulfil the longing.

This carved granite stone , stylized in the form of a New England grindstone, quietly trickles in a small back yard in Belvedere CA.
It is surrounded by salvia leucantha and miscanthus.

From Water fountains in the landscape

From Water fountains in the landscape

The granite stone was purchased from Stone Forest.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Lawrence Halprin, passes away at 93.

Article written by John King for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Lawrence Halprin, the Bay Area landscape architect who pushed the design of America's urban spaces in new directions over a career that spanned 60 years, died Sunday of natural causes. He was 93.

He left his mark at all scales, from the crafting of San Francisco's Ghirardelli Square in the 1960s to the transformation of the 52-acre base of Yosemite Falls that was completed in 2005.

Mr. Halprin's best-known national work is the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C. - a saga that began when he won a design competition in 1976 but wasn't completed until the memorial opened in 1997.

"He was the single most influential landscape architect of the postwar years," said Charles Birnbaum, president of the Cultural Landscape Foundation. "He redefined the profession's role in cities."

Exuberant persona

Mr. Halprin's persona was every bit as exuberant as the cascading water features found in many of his parks - whether it was his 1969 arrest to protest a flood-control project on Tamalpais Creek in Marin, or his 1968 pronouncement that if a fountain by Armand Vaillancourt in Mr. Halprin's large plaza at the foot of Market Street didn't turn out to be one of the nation's "great works of civic art ... I am going to slit my throat."

Not all of Mr. Halprin's work was embraced by the public. Vaillancourt Fountain, with its contorted concrete piping, remains controversial. Spaces designed by Mr. Halprin in several cities have been altered or closed, and his U.N. Plaza on Market Street is known more for social problems than its sculptural air.

Respect among peers

But Mr. Halprin's ambitious desire to reshape cities earned him lasting respect from other designers.

"When he hit it, he hit it, and you can't say that for any of his peers," said Frank Gehry, America's best-known living architect, who designed the 1986 exhibition on Halprin's career at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. "He saw there was a need for a new way to express the (urban) landscape at the end of the 20th century."

All along, "I rejected any implication that what I do is decoration," Mr. Halprin told The Chronicle in 2007. "Landscape architecture deals with things that are so important. It's partly nature, it's partly culture, it's partly social - it's all of these."

Mr. Halprin was born in Brooklyn on July 1, 1916. His mother, Rose, was an advocate of a Jewish state and in 1933 she took her son to Palestine, where they spent two years helping establish a kibbutz near Haifa.

Education, military

In 1940, while a horticulture student at the University of Wisconsin, Mr. Halprin married Anna Schuman, a dancer and fellow student who became his creative as well as marital partner. It was Anna who suggested that they take a weekend trip to see Taliesin, the home of infamous architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

"Having been at Taliesin and having listened to Mr. Wright play the piano and talk a little bit ... that's what I wanted to be," Mr. Halprin reminisced during a talk he gave in 2007 to the American Society of Landscape Architects at its convention in San Francisco.

The young couple moved East when Mr. Halprin entered the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, but in 1943 he left school to enlist in the U.S. Navy.

During the invasion of Okinawa, a Japanese kamikaze plane sliced through the destroyer on which he was serving. "The damned thing hit my bunk," Mr. Halprin said in a 2005 Chronicle interview.

The Halprins settled in the Bay Area after the war. He joined the office of landscape architect Thomas Church and then, in 1949, opened his own firm.

For the next 30 years, Mr. Halprin followed his muse in ever-larger directions. He placed a park atop a freeway in Seattle, created a downtown transit mall in Minneapolis and designed several large plazas in Los Angeles.

Cityscapes rethought

Two jobs from the era had particular influence.

One was Ghirardelli Square, the 1968 recasting of a chocolate factory into an urban destination. Mr. Halprin designed the plazas and passages that helped bring the buildings to life.

"I wanted people to see a unique piece of a downtown area that was enjoyable," he recalled in 2007.

The other was his design vision for Sea Ranch, a 5,000-acre stretch of the Sonoma coast fashioned to remain a distinct terrain despite the addition of more than 1,500 houses.

Mr. Halprin's work won recognition at all levels. During the 1960s, he served on the National Council on the Arts and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. He received a gold medal in 1978 from the American Society of Landscape Architects. In 2000, a Presidential Design Award went to the FDR Memorial, one of Halprin's personal favorites.

But he never defined himself by awards or finite landscapes.

In the 1960s, Mr. Halprin launched a series of "experiments in environment" workshops influenced by his wife's avant-garde dances. He wrote nine books, and his documentary on Salvador Dali, "Le Pink Grapefruit," won an award at the 1976 San Francisco Film Festival.

What defined her husband's work, Anna Halprin said Monday, is that he never saw a job as just a job: "He always wanted to do the most magnificent, uplifting thing he could. He strove for the ideal, and nothing less."

Mr. Halprin is survived by his wife; his daughters Daria of Kentfield and Rana of Mill Valley; and four grandchildren. A memorial service has not yet been scheduled.

Bay Area projects

Spaces that Lawrence Halprin played a role in designing, with date of completion:

Marin General Hospital: Novato, 1952

Greenwood Common: Berkeley, 1958

Sproul Plaza: UC Berkeley, 1960

Ghirardelli Square: 1968

Embarcadero Center: public areas, 1972

Levi's Plaza: 1982

Stern Grove: redesign, 2005

Letterman Digital Arts Center: the Presidio, 2005

Sources: Chronicle research, catalog for 1986 exhibition "Lawrence Halprin: Changing Places" at SFMOMA

E-mail John King at

Read more:

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Modernist house and garden, Marin County CA

In Marin County, a community located across the golden gate bridge from San Francisco, there are several housing tracks designed and built by Joseph Eichler who was quite prolific during a 20 year span between 1950 and 1970. He designed houses with a distinctive modernist flair, which I adore.

This past Sunday I noticed that an Eichler was open to the public for viewing during its real estate open house and decided to see how the house and garden was remodeled.

For more information about this particular Eichler, there is a dedicated website - asking price , $ 1,399,00.00 .

Front entry
From New Album 9/26/09 8:37 PM

From New Album 9/26/09 8:37 PM

From New Album 9/26/09 8:37 PM

Interior courtyard detail of fountain
From New Album 9/26/09 8:37 PM

And at night time. Photographer unknown, but probably from Met Home because this house was featured in the Sept. 2009 issue
From New Album 9/26/09 8:37 PM

And two additional photos I just found of the courtyard taken by Met Home magazine
From New Album 9/26/09 8:37 PM

From New Album 9/26/09 8:37 PM

I LOVE the Mark Chatterley sculpture pictured here, it is called The Swimmer .

Back yard looking towards the house
From New Album 9/26/09 8:37 PM

Across the back yard
From New Album 9/26/09 8:37 PM

View of the back yard from the house
The dark brown solid wall at the fence line were painted Wonderboard panels and seemed to be falling apart.
They look pretty good from a distance but once you get a few feet from them it is evident that they will have a very short life span.
Looks good for that Kodak moment though.
From New Album 9/26/09 8:37 PM

Off of one of the side yard bedrooms is a small sitting area complete with two Schultz chairs
From New Album 9/26/09 8:37 PM

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Preparing for winter in Northern California

Who says that California doesn’t have any seasonal changes ?
Sure we do. We have seasons.
We have our drought season. Our fire season. Our mudslide and rainy season.
While much of the country will be experiencing a snowy cold winter, we here in Northern California will be experiencing a rainy ( with luck ! ) and chilly winter.
I often have several nights of chilling frost in my garden. Occasionally it has reached down to 27 degrees F.
A couple of nights of frost is usually not too threatening, but if we have a long hard prolonged frost that persists for a week or so then there will be painful plant loss if protective measures are not taken.
Some years have been worse than others so to prepare for the chilly winter I move my tender subtropicals into an unheated greenhouse.

That is how I spent my Saturday, cleaning out the greenhouse and moving plants.

View through the garden towards the green house.
From Pina Colada

Welcome to the small 8 x 10 greenhouse which will house some of my bromeliads and succulents
From Pina Colada

Some of the larger bromeliads that are still in their black plastic nursery pots were sunk into the ground all summer. I find this a lot easier than taking them out of their pots and transplanting them. They actually pup quicker when in a pot too, at least the more tropical varieties do.
When winter comes I pull the potted plants out of the ground, wash off the dirt and pop them on a shelf for their winter retreat. Come summer time, they go back into the ground, pot and all.
From Pina Colada

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Climate Change + Wood Burning Smoke

Most people still haven’t connected the dots about burning wood and the toxic polluting contaminants that infiltrates into our air when they throw a log in the fireplace which sends plumes of carbon monoxide, dioxin and other carcinogenic cancer causing chemicals into the air that we breath.

In my densely spaced suburban neighborhood where our side yard set backs are 6 feet , ( this means our houses are 12 apart from one another ) all of the houses were built with central heating systems.
There is no reason to use the fireplace as a source of heat. Creating a fire is simply an act of aesthetics.

This is my next door neighbor’s house. He loves to build a roaring fire at the slightest dip in the temperature.
From Wood Smoke Pollution

The smoke from his fireplace blows directly into the attics and into the surrounding homes causing the adjacent neighbors to turn on attic fans, shut our window and doors and in some cases turn on the air filters and bring the kids indoors who have asthma.

Asthma is a huge problem in many areas of the country and wood smoke contributes greatly to it.
Respiratory diseases are the most obvious of the widely acknowledged effects of wood smoke inhalation. Children's studies show that living in homes or communities where wood is burned causes increased respiratory symptoms, lower respiratory infection and decreased pulmonary function.

This is another neighbor. She is one of the grossest polluters in the ‘hood.
She burns wood even on warm days and could care less about the negative environmental impact she is making. She also drives one of those huge SUV’s that is so big it sticks out into the street because it can’t fit into the driveway.

From Wood Smoke Pollution

There are several excellent educational websites that can provide you with more in depth information in how to keep our air cleaner and our habitants healthier :

Burning issues -

Bay Area Air Quality -

Spare the Air -

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

October Bloom Day - Marin County CA

These photos were taken during the calm of our first big rain storm of the year, October 13, 2009.
The rain felt fantastic and the air should have smelled wonderful but instead it smelled horrible due to the heavy wood smoke pollution spewing from my neighbors chimney.

This storm brought a lot of wind so the yard looks a little beat up and messy yet it felt great to see the soil and plants so totally saturated with wonderful natural rain.

The photo below capture a snippet of the front potager garden. This winter it is planted with a variety of lettuces, peas, calendulas, lobelia, and the year round evergreen herbs such as oregano, sage, chives, verbascum and marjoram . I plan on planting some cilantro and spinach later on this weekend.
From New Album 6/2/09 4:27 PM

The succulents in the front yard are doing well but my poor mosaic path is taking a beating from my new house guest who spends hours trying to dislodge stones from the path.
She has succeeded in loosing up a 6 inch area by digging under the soil and undermining the foundation. BAD MOCHA.
From New Album 6/2/09 4:27 PM

From New Album 6/2/09 4:27 PM

The back yard is mostly a study in textures. Some of the bromeliads are blooming as well as a few shrubs and succulents.
From New Album 6/2/09 4:27 PM

From New Album 6/2/09 4:27 PM

From New Album 6/2/09 4:27 PM

Abutilon Victor Reiter and Iochroma.
From New Album 6/2/09 4:27 PM

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Jack Russell Terrorist

I’ve been foster caring for a Jack Russell terrorist for the past month.
As with all Jack Russell dogs, they have big charming and alarming personalities.

Mocha :
From Alida Blair Landscape Design

She is quite a curious little cutie who has some interesting tastes.

For instance she does not like Country Home or Traditional Home magazines and tore them up on my Le Corbusier chaise lounge one day when left home by herself. She obviously has modern tastes because she didn’t tear up Met Home or Dwell.

She has a fascination with two antique Chinese paint brushes that sit on a side table in my living room.
Sitting along with the antique paint brushes is a stainless steel lamp with a metal ball pull chain.
The metal ball makes a ding ding ding noise when it swings back and hits the metal body of the lamp.
This has proved to be an “AH HA” epiphany moment for both me and the dog.

The side table with metal lamp and the alluring paint brushes:
From Alida Blair Landscape Design

Whenever the dog tries to pick up one of the paint brushes the lamp makes a ding ding ding noise and I am able to stop the dog from picking up the brushes, as well as shoo her off the furniture.

This epiphany has given me the idea of putting little bells on other tasteful tempting items that little Mocha wants to chew, such as my slippers and an area in the garden that she likes to dig in.

So I’m off to the craft store to purchase some bells in hopes of training the dog and myself during her stay at my bed and biscuit inn.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

AIA Tour - Two Topher Delaney Gardens on view

Several weeks ago we went on the AIA garden tour which included two gardens designed by Topher Delaney’s firm SEAM.

The first garden that we visited was a commercial public garden in a modestly rough area of the city.
This building houses the offices of a medical complex that is part of the University system.

The garden is touted as a botanical garden planted with medicinal plants. A sign within the garden makes this announcement :
From New Album 9/26/09 8:37 PM

Using core ten metal sheets as raised planter beds a lovely swath of medicinal plants were planted in situ.
To assist the viewer in understanding what variety of plant they are viewing , the plant names are printed on the side of the planter. Hence a botanical garden.
( who would of thunk it was that easy ! ... pooof, a sign, some plant names, now you are a botanical garden ! )
From New Album 9/26/09 8:37 PM

From New Album 9/26/09 8:37 PM

From New Album 9/26/09 8:37 PM

The designer, Topher Delaney was on hand to describe the garden.
From New Album 9/26/09 8:37 PM

The second garden that we visited designed by SEAM studio was a serene residential garden located on one of San Francisco’s steep streets.

Looking down from the deck, this is the view of the garden.
From New Album 9/26/09 8:37 PM

A close up shot of the metal fire bowl juxtaposed against the metal reflection wall. The surface material was crushed gravel which lent the area a warm Cotswold glowing touch.
From New Album 9/26/09 8:37 PM

Pulling back a bit, a slightly wider angle.
From New Album 9/26/09 8:37 PM

There were no conventional seats in the garden ( it appears to be more of a viewing garden than an interactive garden ) so I am assuming that these wonderfully sculptural large rope wrapped orbs were serving as the occasional seating purpose.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Gardening on steep slopes , Marin County CA

The topography in the area that I live and work in is very hilly.
Often times you will look up and see a house clinging to a cliff side and wonder why anybody would choose to live in what looks like a perilous situation.
Usually the answer is ‘the view’.
Once you get over the thrill of your fabulous views people get anxious to get off of their porches and into their gardens.

That’s where I, as a landscape designer comes in.
I help tame a steep hillside into manageable usable space that people can be in, rather than just look at.

The blog site called “Gardening Gone Wild” is offering another design workshop this month with the subject matter ‘ Coping with Slopes”. -
In conjunction with 'Gardening Gone Wild', I'm posting this photo essay on how we have handled the taming of slopes.

Below are a few slopes that I have reworked so that people can be integrated into their landscapes.

My most recent project was a very steep hillside that came tumbling down against the house. The hills separated the back yard from the side yard.
We excavated the hillside back and installed a series of retaining walls ranging in size from 18 inches, to 7 feet and 12 feet.
A water feature and planting box was infused into the 7 foot tall wall.
From Raised Garden Beds

From Raised Garden Beds

From Raised Garden Beds

On another project located in Mill Valley CA we were faced with a steep shallow front entry.
Using stone steps and retaining walls we created a more comfortable entry.


This project in the Olympic Village of Squaw Valley was quite a challenge.
The site was so steep that heavy equiptment could not navigate down the hill.
All the excavation had to be done by hand.

From Squaw Valley Lake Tahoe California

From Squaw Valley Lake Tahoe California

From Squaw Valley Lake Tahoe California

From Squaw Valley Lake Tahoe California

From Squaw Valley Lake Tahoe California

Several years ago I had the opportunity to work on a master plan for a new home located in Carmel Valley.
The large lot undulated up and down a native oak meadow.
Per county code we had to keep all of the trees on the site and yet the owners wanted a house that was all on one level, with the most used entry door at grade level .

This is the result of many hours of grade planning and site development.
Front Facade:
From Carmel Valley Estate

Mid level side entry.
From Carmel Valley Estate

On grade terrace
From Carmel Valley Estate

Back side of guest house with natural grade untouched.
From Carmel Valley Estate

Probably the most intensive and ridiculously expensive sloping hillside project that I have worked on was installing a swimming pool on a 2 to 1 slope.
There are a series of 5 retaining walls stepping up the hillside ranging in size fro 3 feet to 14 feet tall.
A set of fake doors were installed into this retaining wall to take your eye off of its shear volume.
From portfolioMay08.jpg

A corner view of the sauna and pool equipt. room showing the steepness of the hill that we tamed.
From portfolioMay08.jpg

And one last hillside project. This was installed quite a while ago. We used a series of stair cases and terraces to climb the hillside. A putting green awaits you if you make the trek to the top of the hill.
From portfolioMay08.jpg

Mid level
From portfolioMay08.jpg

Photo by Lee Anne White :
From portfolioMay08.jpg

From portfolioMay08.jpg