Category Archives: container gardening

Arlington Renovation

Within the same neighborhood as our ongoing improvements  at The Old Lacey House (click the link for detailed history of this Civil War Era home), green•eye•design recently completed a landscape improvement project for a lovely 21st Century-constructed home.

The owners approached for improvements over the ‘pre-installed’ tree & shrub choices the building contractor installed as the home was being finished. I have observed quite often that a builder will become comfortable with a small palette of trees and shrubs and then never waver from those selections, often to the detriment of both the home’s lines as well as site conditions, sun exposure, etc. Another move is to simply find whatever is on sale at the local big box chain store and use that.

Certainly this landscape was no exception, with trees planted near the foundation that– when mature– would have completely eaten the facade. Boxwoods were planted in southern exposure and were baking in the all-day sun. (indeed, several were already dead). Plants which need even moisture were planted in raised rain gardens in which their roots would be periodically inundated with the stormwater runoff from the roof’s downspouts. So, I whipped up this design:

front raised rain gardens, click for humongous version

For this:

An existing Crape Myrtle was transplanted down to the small front lawn area where a flowering Cherry had expired over the winter, and a small specimen of Amelanchier canadensis ‘Autumn Brilliance’ (Serviceberry, Shadblow, Saskatoon) was planted at an appropriate distance from the foundation.

A few soil issues were addressed also. Now all the plants are both floriferous and attractive, and have the benefit of enjoying ‘wet feet’ during times of periodic root inundation. Many of the choices also produce attractive berries for wildlife or for cutting. This came together very well, next we’ll talk about the backyard’s improvements.

A to-do list and plant materials list:

  • Pop out grasses & nandina for replanting after grading
  • Remove Boxwoods and save best for rear yard transplanting (4-5 total for both sides)
  • Remove Crape Myrtle for replanting where dead Prunus is on front lawn
  • Remove and discard dead Prunus
  • Add approximately 4″ high quality, largely organic screened topsoil, regrade so front of bed elevation matches front right raised bed. Regrade to take out 2″ or so of the depth of the catchment shape to the bed.
  • Plant in new plants as per drawing
  • Top dress with double shredded hardwood or pinestraw

Front right:

  • (Boxwoods)
  • Transplant existing Japanese Maple to rear yard corner garden focal point
  • Plant in new plants as per drawing
  • Top dress with double shredded hardwood or pinestraw

Myrica cerifera ‘Fairfax’, Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’, Chionanthus virginicus, Camassia quamash, Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’, Clethra alnifolia ‘Hummingbird’


Virginia Hospital Center

Several months ago I began discussing with The Virginia Hospital Center the possibility of designing several planting areas scattered around the hospital grounds, difficult, high traffic or neglected areas of opportunity. During the course of those conversations we were offered a fabulous opportunity: Develop & design a new outdoor space at the confluence of three major structures: Between the main hospital building & the Women & Infants health center and above the subterranean Radiation Oncology suites.

click images to embiggen

It is the Oncology Department which is the driving factor in this project;  a new,  state-of-the-art Linear Accelerator (pdf file) and its encompassing support suites are to be built below the space, resulting in a seven million dollar major engineering and architectural change to the facility.

To date, the space seen above has over time become a bit of a catchall in terms of engineering solutions– by that I mean, the outdoor environment has been utilized primarily as a repository and support system for the existing radiation suites below.

Here we see the cooling units for the Cyberknife® suite and supporting equipment. Obviously maintaining optimal temperatures is critical with multimillion dollar equipment, and this space represented the nearest, most cost-effective location.

The raised planter in the foreground is an integral part of the radiation shielding assembly, which consists of several feet of reinforced concrete, lead lining, brick, and of course the several feet of earth inside the planter. The planter’s shape reflects the radiation oncology suite below ground.

A space was opened up at ground level in order to crane in various pieces of heavy, precious medical equipment, and a skylight was seen as a beneficial solution in case repairs or replacements ever had to be made in the future. Unfortunately, it’s been plagued with leaks and has been quite a liability overall.

This much taller planter is part of another suite’s shielding assembly, and again the brick and earth are absolutely critical in terms of radiation abatement. Removing this planter would result in hundreds of thousands of dollars being incurred in additional lead shielding and the structural support required to bear the additional load (around forty additional tons on this small footprint).

Stowmwater runoff is dealt with inefficiently, as a problem to be moved as quickly as possible away from the space.

It strains credulity, but a stairwell (over on the left) pops up into the space as well, a mandatory fire safety element the need for which thankfully will be eliminated with the new construction.

An abandoned door into the space will be removed with the construction, but what of this narrow ‘hallway’? A recent awning removal reveals stained brick which adds to the feeling of disjointed uneasiness.

As patients/visitors drive in, this is what they see from curbside.

Conclusions: This is a fabulous area, rich with the patina of age and full of unique design challenges. In my next post, I will start to lay out our design process, our goals, and how we will achieve them.


Gorgeous Containers

Although their website is sorely lacking in aesthetics, the containers certainly are not. I was introduced to Duracraft garden planters through a good friend (and excellent designer) Jason Dengler of Wildwood Landscapes.

Let’s be honest; the vast majority of ‘fake’ planters and outdoor containers look just that: Fake. Fiberglass, blown plastic, various concrete castings, they all can look pretty awful and none of them age well. Duracraft containers are a notable exception: They are bonded fiberglass and resin castings in which the gel coat is completely suffused with metallic powders (such as bronze). The end reult being a gorgeous metallic finish which does not scratch off, peel, flake, delaminate, etc. AND which patinas over time in the same ways a solid bronze piece would. While not inexpensive, they’re substantially less expensive than worked or poured bronze. I’ve spec’d these now for several designs and they are just wonderful additions. Here are some of my favorites:

Century Square

Century Planter

Fluted Vase

Basket Planter Box

Lion Jar

R.R. Wide Rectangle Planter

Fluted Urn

Tuscan Urn

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!

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.


Despite the unusually chilly spring (is it Eyjafjallajokull?), design work, installations, and general landscaping has reached its typical insane pitch here at greeneyedesign central. Several weeks ago I began container designs for a new client, Fresh Lunch Catering. The owners, Matt Bressan and his irrepressible, wildly creative wife Jenn, found a wonderful new location recently on the first floor of the historic Joshua Gunnell House in old town Fairfax:

Joshua Gunnell House

Another view of the Joshua Gunnell House

The good news is that the space conveyed with a gorgeous old brick courtyard in the rear of the house. There’s little doubt that the construction was much later than the house’s build date (sometime around 1830), nevertheless it’s quite old and the patina is fantastic. The previous tenants have, over the years, made some unfortunate design choices (or lack thereof), the result being a hodgepodge of plants and shrubs that really don’t need to be memorialized in photos. Oh what the heck:

Interestingly, the high degree of calcium inflorescence you see in the center wall segment perfectly mirrors a small lined pool & fountain on the other side. Time for a new liner?

These lovely trees need to be limbed up and thinned, and deadwood pruned out.

The rear entrance– really charming, but all these plants have to go (except the large Saucer Magnolia, all it needs is a good Christmas light de-wiring)

Eventually the owner would like to have a professional outdoor kitchen from which to serve lunch. Here perhaps? These poor Rose of Sharon have to go. An espaliered fruit tree will go in at the base of the wall on the left. Uplit at night, it will look fantastic.

The courtyard is a lovely 3 levels of interest, with almost limitless possibilities in terms of staging and design. I knew early on that I would like to contrast the old brick walls and floor with eye catching container arrangements with an emphasis on ‘edible compositions’. The space conveyed with a variety of disused terracotta pots and urns, all of which sported old soil of dubious quality and about 10 billion cigarette butts– EW! With a launch date of June 1, the pots, troughs, and urns are all potted up with a lovely variety of annuals, herbs, and veggies like Dinosaur Kale– also known as Lacinato Kale or Italian Heirloom (cavalo nero, ie black cabbage):

Dinosaur Kale, (Brassica oleracea ‘Nero Toscana’), Sage

Million Bells™ Calibrachoa, Lavender Hidcote, Arp Rosemary, Mint

Variegated Lemon Sage, Fiberoptic Grass, Limelight Licorice Plant, Sweet Allysum

Scotch Moss, Columnar Variegated Basil, Million Bells (white bloom)

I am looking forward to photographing these arrangements in place one they have rooted and filled in– they will look spectacular. Just before staging them, I will lay down fir bark nuggets to topdress the soil and eliminate soil splashing up onto the leaves in hard rain or when watering. I’m leaving it off for now to keep the soil as warm as possible to encourage root growth.

Terracotta jumbo box, Creeping Thyme, Lavender ‘Munkstead’, Sweet Allysum, Lavender ‘Jean Davis’

Grow, grow my little ones!

‘Limelight’ Licorice Plant, ‘Nonstop Yellow’ Tuberous begonia, orange blooming Profusion Zinnias, Basil ‘Purple Ruffles’ ,  Calibrachoa ‘Superbells® Dreamsicle’

Stay tuned!