Four Square Deck Steps

Dear friends outside of Chicago recently purchased a lovely old home in Oak Park; they’re gearing up for renovations/additions and want a better way of utilizing their narrow but deep yard in the rear. This elevated door is the usual entrance for both husband and wife, after parking in the garage they use this entry rather than the front door.




That back addition will be renovated to become a proper mud room, and that small cramped landing has to go.

click picture for larger image 

I wanted to create floating steps generous enough in tread that they can be used for seating, placing container plants, and allow for an easy transition to the door. The landing area is increased as well. The tread width echoes the Four Square’s typical generous eaves above.  The area can be further lightened visually by placing pale buff gravel below the deck. More soon!


Thanks, Timber Press!


What a pleasant surprise after a long day! I find this waiting in the mailbox, a gratis copy of the wonderful new book The Food Lover’s Garden: Amazing Edibles You Will Love to Grow and Eat, by Mark Diacono, published by that bastion of superb gardening and landscape books, Timber Press.

It turns out someone over there liked my little gift box idea so much they wanted to show some love and sent this title to me as a way of expressing that. Yay!

Back before Valentines Day this year the Timber Press blog posted these Valentines Day cards:


Here is the birchwood box, which I have already sanded and stained purple:



I changed the color values slightly in Photoshop, enlarged the image also, and printed it on good cardstock, then applied it to the lid using spray adhesive:

My wife filled the box with her cake bites (all the rage here), and off it went to a dear friend of the family. Thanks again Chani, the book is awesome! 

Michael Dirr’s Tree & Shrub Finder App for iPhone Reviewed

Manual of Woody Landscape Plants

Anyone connected to gardening, the plant trade, landscape design, and ornamental horticulture knows the name of Michael Dirr. Dr. Dirr’s books are a must have for any serious gardener, in my opinion– so when his Tree & Shrub Finder came out a number of years ago in CD-ROM, I knew I had to have it. It made a wonderful adjunct to his Manual of Woody Landscape Plants and other books, if for no other reason it was a pleasant and entertaining way to peruse the wide variety of ornamentals available to us in this temperate region. To be sure, the interface was a tad kludgy, slow, and I wished for a greater control over search results and the ability to print my plant lists. Nevertheless, I literally wore out my CD (it exploded in the drive one day), and when I sought a replacement I saw that it was out of production (as well as the follow-up DVD).

So it was with great excitement I saw this recent release by Timber Press, Dirr’s Tree & Shrub Finder app for iPhone, iPod Touch, & iPad. It’s not a stretch to say a great deal of the reason why I finally bought an iPhone was this app! Indeed, the purchase was quite worthwhile, and I find myself referring to this app regularly. Gone is the kludgy, cumbersome interface, instead one is greeted a no-nonsense main screen from which a variety of searches may be launched. I appreciate the speed of search results, and especially nice is the ability to email the illustrative plant photos and line art, as well as the simple plant descriptions. One can also quickly build a ‘favorites list’, which I could see being used as a sort of ad hoc client’s plant schedule, set up prior to nursery crawling or client meeting.

Overall, I find this app extremely helpful and well worth the price. It might be fun and useful in future versions if the ability to share information across social media and platforms might be considered: For example, geo-tagging notable examples of specimen trees in the landscape using the app so that others could see them as well, share comments/experience using the plant in question, etc. The tag could link to the tree or shrub’s photo in the photo library with a ‘See this tree in your area here!’ note, or something similar. Champion trees could also be linked through a Google Earth viewer. It could be useful to have the ability to Tweet or share on Facebook selections as well, which would allow for a more broad promotion of the product.

Great job Timber Press!

Great Advice

Use “denial and reward” to enrich passage through the built environment.

“As we move through buildings, towns, and cities, we mentally connect visual cues from our surroundings to our needs and expectations. The satisfaction and richness of our experiences are largely the result of the ways in which these connections are made.

Denial and reward can encourage the formulation of a rich experience. In designing paths of travel, try presenting users a view of their target—a staircase, building entrance, monument, or other element—then momentarily screen it from view as they continue their approach. Reveal the target a second time from a different angle or with an interesting new detail. Divert users onto an unexpected path to create additional intrigue or even momentary ‘lostness’; then reward them with other interesting experiences or other views of their target. This additional “work” will make the journey more interesting, the arrival more rewarding.”–101 Things I Learned in Architecture School, by Matthew Frederick

Great Falls Revisions

Last weekend we had a productive meeting with our Great Falls client– I was relieved to see the early design concepts were met with great & positive enthusiasm. The client expressed some concerns with a couple of the elevation choices and stair combinations, so they have been slightly altered from the original– specifically, a lower landing area has been increased in size just off the front entrance, the retaining wall has been lowered to below seatwall height, and a truly lovely old semi-dwarf Japanese Maple has been re-sited to directly in front of the minor entrance.

One of the original design elements missing in this space is the lack of sufficient visual differentiation between the major and minor entrances along the front facade– the pantry or butler’s entrance ‘feels like’ the appropriate door to approach. We have changed that through several layers of the design. First, two sets of formal container plantings are used, the lesser entrance is flanked with containers slightly looser in feel and composition. These are also smaller in stature than the main entrance’s containers and compositions. They are also at a lower elevation during the approach. Next, the lesser entrance will be visually ‘blocked’ by careful placement of an old and quite lovely Japanese Maple already onsite. Finally, the walkway coming off the main path is more narrow in width than the main, and is at a direct right angle to help direct visitors forward.

click drawing for gargantuan sized image

Thanks for reading, your feedback is always welcome!

inside the work, clients, & life @greeneyedesign