All posts by david bockman

Stick Artist Patrick Dougherty Coming to Dumbarton Oaks– Volunteer!

Back at the beginning of April I had me some scoop: Stick artist Patrick Dougherty would be coming to Dumbarton Oaks to create one of his famous art installations sometime in September of 2010. I spoke with the wonderful Assistant to the Director at Dumbarton, Jane Padelford, who promised to let me know when the call for volunteers went out. Well brothers & sisters, it’s happening:

Dear David, I know you called a while back asking to be put on the list to volunteer on the Patrick Dougherty garden installation at Dumbarton Oaks, so I wanted to give you first dibs. Please see attached the call for volunteers for the Patrick Dougherty garden installation which shall take place September 1 to 21. Mr. Dougherty is a renowned sculptor who creates artworks out of sticks. Please forward to anyone you think may be interested in volunteering. The application form is attached as both a pdf and word .doc format. Many thanks.


Jane Padelford
Assistant to the Director
Garden and Landscape Studies
Dumbarton Oaks
1703 32nd Street, NW
Washington, DC 20007
P: 202-339-6464
F: 202-625-0432
padelfordj [at]

I’m trying to figure out a way to host the application form on my site here so you can download them yourselves, in the meantime feel free to drop Jane an email and get the form sent to you. Hope to see you there! EDIT: Here is the PDF Form

Na Hale ‘o waiawi (Roughly translated from the Hawaiian language to mean: Wild Dwellings Built from Strawberry Guava). The Contemporary Art Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii, 2003. Photographer: Paul Kodama.

Nine Lives

Call of The Wind

Around The Corner

Sittin’ Pretty

Cell Division

The Woodland Client

A tiny copse of mature lovely deciduous hardwood trees. No understory plantings to break up the strong vertical lines of the mature trunks. Two bare earth beds with a turf path running between them. What to do? I say plant in massive amounts of colonizing woodland ephemerals and perennials, along with flowering vines.

Crocus-Spring – chrysanthus ‘Snowbunting’
Galanthus – elwesii
Iris Dwarf – reticulata ‘Alida’
Muscari aucheri ‘Dark Eyes’
Narcissus – Minnow
Triteleia – ixioides ‘Starlight’
Colchicum – bornmuelleri
Arum – italicum ‘Marmoratum’
Crocus-Spring – sieberi ‘Firefly’
Tiarella cordifolia ‘Spring Symphony’
Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight’
Parthenocissus quinquefolia
Matteuccia pensylvanica

All of the bulbs are ‘colonizing’ and will spread to fill the space over time. The planting plan is a suggestion for an aesthetically pleasing start, which can then be maintained in small ‘islands’ or ‘pools’ of flowering bulbs by judicious pulling or transplanting wherever the bloom color is not desired– or the bulbs can be left to naturalize, spread, and intermix over time– either choice will look great. There will always be something nice to look at, and the view will change throughout the season as one variety finishes blooming and another starts. probably the most dramatic views will be in early to mid spring, when the Muscari is all in flower– it will looks as if there are two rivers of flowers moving through the beds.

A Lovely Mention

Several weeks ago one of my designs caught the eye of Michelle Gervais, an editor at Fine Gardening. We had a fun exchange of tweets and emails about various aspects of the design– especially the eye-popping colors of the furniture, which she loves– and she was kind enough to ask me to submit a few photos and a blurb about the space (an exquisite patio you can learn more about through the link below), which were published today. Thanks Michelle, I am over the moon and grateful for your encouragement!

The Catonsville House

This lovely, priceless home is an authentic Queen Anne style house in Catonsville Md, where it sits among other German-influenced Victorian houses on generous lots. I basically threw myself at the owner in a bid to design the space and he was kind enough to agree.

The house has an interesting history; just one family owned it from its construction in 1905 until very recently, the Stude family. The house’s interior had never been updated (in fact it had never been touched, and while the basic structure was quite sound, the new owner was greeted with decaying ribbons of 105 year-old original wallpaper hanging from the walls, plaster walls turning to fine powder, and a side door privy/outhouse. A bit of a hoarder, the previous owner left truckload after truckload of stuff which had to be removed, sorted, and either donated or sold (among the pile of treasures, an original, complete Ouija Board game from William Fuld manufacturers in Baltimore.) The landscape too sat completely unattended for at least 80 years and perhaps longer.

The new owners have gone to great, even heroic lengths in order to wrest the house back from the underbrush, ivy, and volunteer trees. Expending enormous rivers of sweat equity, they are moving towards a kind of tabla raza from which a bold design may move forward:

Below, the detached garage. This would make a superb entertaining area, private study, guest house, or artist’s retreat. As purchased it had a bare earthen floor, which the new owners have changed to a poured concrete slab.

The rear of the house. A planned addition will bring this back another 14′.

The design has many goals, all of which center around paying homage first to the wonderful masses and lines of this home, celebrating the ebullience and life of the new family who have taken on this massive renovation project, and honoring the gentleman’s longstanding love of horticulture. Mixed in with this are the desires for permeable surfaces and responsible, sustainable plantings. The generous circular driveway will be redone using Gravelpave2, a permeable yet loadbearing paving system which allows for maximum water infiltration onsite. My first task is addressing the space contained within that driveway, and for that I made a short video for the client explaining where I was going (as I drew it):

I will update you all soon with the finished drawing seen above partially rendered. Ciao!

Update: White Egret Flowers

You guys might recall my swooning over the prospect of owning a small, deliciously wonderful terrestrial orchid known as ‘Egret Flower’, Habenaria radiata in this post back in March (go look, I’ll wait). After receiving the tiny, currant-sized bulbules in the mail several weeks ago and potting them up, I’m happy to say that they are all doing quite well:

The plantlet is only about 2 inches tall in the photo above, I have it in a small glazed pot which is commonly used for accent plants in bonsai arrangements. I’m using a mixture of akadama soil and chopped, unmilled sphagnum moss. The small round balls you see on the surface are Osmocote pellets.

The Carver School Memorial Park

Several years ago I was approached by a representative of a large Multinational Oil Corporation with the idea of designing a particularly challenging space in Baytown, TX.

The green pushpin area, enlarged:

I say “challenging” while many other words are certainly applicable, as I’m sure you’ll agree when you read more about the history of this particular area.

A little background: For well over a hundred years Baytown has been the site of vast  petrochemical complexes and refineries. Believe it or not, for many years in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, oil companies stored their crude oil in enormous earthen pits, usually at least 600 x 600 feet, and sometimes covered with shade cloth and/or wood type structures to keep out debris, birds, and the occasional wayward person from wandering in.  Such was certainly the case in Baytown Texas, where on this particular 11 acre site, one of these pits existed.  At some point in the growth and development of the oil industry, executives became aware that so much oil was lost through evaporation and absorption into the earth and the aquifer below, that it actually makes economic sense to build above-ground metal containers–the birth of the modern oil tank farm.

But what to do with this space?  In approximately 1940 it pumped out as much crude oil as possible, caved in the side walls with bulldozers, leveled the space, and then sold the land to the city of Baytown Texas for one dollar. Baytown built a segregated middle school on the property… the George Washington Carver Middle School.

Skip ahead to the 1990s, when decades of production of nearby oil pumps as well as the taxing demands of water consumption began causing subsidence, at which point  black tar and various hydrocarbons began oozing up to the surface— as bad luck would have it right in the middle of the playground facilities at the school. The furor which ensued  closed the school and fenced the entire 11 acre space.

At some point, the city of Baytown gave the land back to the petrochemical company, and the land has sat vacant ever since, except for a school bus park, which sits on the northern end of the property. The legal wrangling is just ridiculously sad, and the end result is that my design has been in stasis for some time now. And what is that design?

Among the design objectives were such diverse elements as:

  • A permanent memorial to the children, parents, and faculty of George Washington Carver Elementary
  • A destination park
  • Native trees, shrubs, and grasses creating a certified wildlife habitat
  • Phytoremediation to alleviate existing problematic soil conditions (tarsands)
  • Migratory feeding station for the Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) as well as the Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus)

Engineers and legal folks fought tooth and nail for a clay cap over the contaminated area. ‘Clay caps’ are in my opinion ridiculous,  short term solutions to alleviating the problems which arise when humans interact near toxic or contaminated soils: Lay 3-4 feet of clay on top, and it’s a job well done. It’s primitive. (Obviously there is more to it than that, however not much more.)

Among many other solutions, one I suggested was a dense stand of tall prairie grasses such as Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum), Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans), and Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardi).

The tall prairie grasses have enormous, deep rootsystems that easily plunge 12-15′ in depth. Over time, these grasses break up and accumulate via nutritional uptake methods, a wide variety of heavy metals and other materials, which are ‘vacuumed’ up and stored in the plant’s tissue. Such plants are called hyperaccumulators, and there’s ample evidence supporting the efficacy of using phytoremediation in this space.

Here is the original rendering, a 3 foot by 5 foot color sketch on vellum which outlines the proposed solutions as well as ways in which the history of the space could be memorialized (please click the image for greater detail).

To date the space sits as it did when I first saw it. A complex and baffling layercake of fireblankets weigh it all down from moving forward.