• Neil Atzinger

Updated: Oct 23, 2020


Can an artist be an entrepreneur? Our work at Fourth & Walnut needs to be both beautiful and efficient. Are these opposed? It would seem so – the pressure to be as efficient as a lawn & landscape crew shrinks creative space. Most meaningful artists were poor and hidden in obscurity for most of their lives. Why? Is art marketable?

These were my questions when I walked into a lecture by Professor David Clayton at Acton University this week. David Clayton is an artist and writer, and Acton University is a think-tank on free markets in relation to the good of the human person. Heady stuff for a gardener. His lecture gave a case for how competitive business can enhance beauty rather than stifle it.

The lecture began by setting down a definition of beauty. “Beauty is ‘each part in proportion, and the whole in relation to its purpose.’” That may take a second read. Or a twentieth. What a beautifully dull definition! An emotive or sensational definition would leave you with emotions and sensations, but wouldn’t open up mysteries, and to open up mysteries is the work of the artist.

I felt affirmed by the definition because it’s what we do in each garden design – relate each part to the other proportionally. There are principles and guidelines for this that have stood the test of time – golden ratios and mathematics that, when given physical form, naturally please the eye (my favorite definition for beauty - that which being seen, pleases). We use lines, heights, and variations of plants and textures that repeat or extend architecture and other elements of the garden so that it pleases intuitively.

But in garden design, it’s nearly impossible to control every variable. Duration in time and plant growth, soil health, seasons, gardening maintenance, the scale of the outdoors, borrowed views, and sense of space all need to come together magically. This welcomes the second part of Clayton’s definition – the whole in relation to its purpose.

Ultimately, all we can do is follow the principles as artfully as possible so that magic can happen in delightfully unexpected ways. The garden designer needs to leave room for the cosmos to enter in – the light of the sun illuminating the leaves of a red maple at the end of a sightline, the fading foliage of sedum mimicking the bronze of an oakleaf hydrangea in fall, bees giving kinetic energy to repetitions of nepeta along a boarder. This is the skill and discipline of the artist – to show, not tell beauty.

But can beauty be bottled and sold? Can this be marketed? Yes, I think that only businesses that last and thrive can do this - businesses that give customers what they truly value. A confession– I hope this blog markets and even teaches what it's good to value. I hope to get you to value gardening that is beautiful, not just efficient and clean. This is the whole in relation to the purpose of our business- that if you have us work for you, it will add value to your life, integrate you, give you peace, and connect you and your home to the cosmos.

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  • Neil Atzinger

Updated: Oct 23, 2020


For folks in the green industry, masters golf weekend is an important benchmark. Its occurrence on the first week of April (usually) coincides with genuine spring weather, the blooming azaleas and rhododendrons seen at Augusta can indicate how successfully our trees and shrubs will bloom this year (although it’s rumored that ice is used around plants that threaten to bloom early there) , and, more to the point of this blog, viewing scenes of these beautiful grounds on TV gives some major design inspiration.

While watching the masters today, I’ve been adding to my list of Design Principles to Follow. These principles are more-or-less universal and can be applied to any garden and its design. Using principles such as these are what separates great design from a mish-mash of plantings. As we start writing more faithfully in this garden log (glog?), you’ll soon find more posts under this design principles heading.

So what makes Augusta National Golf course so beautiful? I offer these 3 principles…

1. Lawn is a design feature

The first thing you’ll notice when you turn on the masters is the unblemished carpet of green. Then you’ll notice the green against the red pine straw - a contrasting color that they intentionally use to make the green greener and the red redder. And if you watch long enough, you’ll see the most beautiful hole in golf – #13, “azalea.” The combination of green grass, bleach-white dogwoods and sand, spires of loblolly pine trunks, and fuchsia-colored azaleas is breathtaking. It speaks for itself, but note how it's all set off by the subtle shades of green.

In garden design, a lawn functions similarly to a massive, manicured hedge. When you place flowing, painterly perennials and flowers next to a strikingly monochromatic, sheared hedge or lawn, the contrast creates depth and an intentional-feeling sense of space. Without a bit of lawn or hedge (or some other similar feature) a planting of perennials gets lost. Instead, use the hard lines and monocolor that a lawn can give to draw out the plants that are most interesting – perennial flowers.

How to apply this in your garden design

Spend as much effort designing the voids in your garden as you would spend designing the solids. Solids are those things you add to a garden – the beds and plantings. Usually, a lawn is a void. That void can be beautiful if used in right proportion. A good guide is to use 1/3 lawn and 2/3 bedding. For most of us, this means reducing our lawn size and escaping the idea that a garden is only for that space 8' in front of our home's foundation.

Another guide is to consider making your lawn/garden edges perfectly strait instead of curvy and to cut your edges deep (and never use plastic edging!). Strait edges are dramatic and in style (for a modern home look). If you use curves, use as the fewest curves possible to get from point A to point B (avoid switching back from concave to convex more than absolutely necessary). Making an edge sweep slowly back and forth over a long distance is more dramatic.

What about lawn care? If you want to know what’s possible in terms of gardening and maintenance, you look at what the British do. In England, maintenance of the lawn is not separate from maintenance of the garden. They tend to do it themselves or hire someone who also specializes in gardening. One day, we hope to offer cylinder mowing for small, dedicated garden lawn areas. In the meantime, if you have a lawn care company that offers aeration, dethatching, mowing, and fertilizer that you think we should recommend, please let us know.

2. Simple is Beautiful

Augusta’s beauty is found in restraint. The club have the financial resources and expertise to accomplish any number of architectural and design feats, yet you see the same 70s bi-color umbrellas and astroturf around the clubhouse, the same garden gnome style and plastic outdoor furniture around the buildings, and the same color pallet you saw decades ago. They stubbornly stick to a very narrow style that’s utterly theirs, and it works.How to apply this in your garden design

This could be the most important design principle for amateur garden designers. This is because, when searching for ideas on style and design for any project, they get on google, Pinterest, houzz, etc., and are inundated with photos of the most amazing designs they've ever seen– hundreds of thousands of them. Temptation to use inspiration from each and every one of them is irresistible and leads to tragic results.

Consider this - The greatest moments of design inspiration come at times when you’re furthest from a computer or garden design magazine. They happen at the end of the day when work is done and you can leisurely appreciate a garden you’ve worked on all day. You notice a pattern, color, shape, or line and a resulting theme pops into your head. As you hold the thought of that theme in your head, you can use your imagination to instantiate it in different playful ways in your garden. Sticking to this theme and holding yourself to it as a strict rule allows you to be creative and playful. You use this theme in the same way that the great composers used a 3-note theme to create an entire symphony.

The garden that results from a restrained design is not less interesting - it's more intelligible. You want visitors to your garden to get your theme. You want to carry on a color pallet or repeat an idea that they can see. What this allows you to do is to direct their attention and add a few dramatic flourishes that will stand out more strikingly because you were restrained elsewhere. Such flourishes would be lost in a busy garden.

3. Enhance Existing Beauty

The rolling hills, some of them with their lids removed to expose brilliant white sand traps, is the greatest feature of the course. Their have been many changes to the land at Augusta, including the undulations of the greens and fairways, but the course is typified by its larger rolling elevation changes. It’s the one thing that has not been heavily manipulated at Augusta. The maintenance of the property is brilliant because it lets the land and its history speak for itself.

How to apply this in your garden design

I’m a believer in the idea that to do something meaningful in design, you must be ruthless. If existing features get in the way of an overall goal, it’s got to go. That said, you can't get rid of everything, and you’ll be kicking against the goads if you fail to take in and enhance the surrounding landscape, home, and their features.

By way of example, we recently designed a garden area that included two large silver maples. By themselves, they were uninteresting trees, but their trunks were massive and beautiful. The trees also shade the home from sun in the summer but allow sun through to heat the home in the winter. So we will keep them and likely plant a third, ornamental maple (acer pseudoplatanus eskimo sunset) as part of a pathway and perennial planting. The new maple will be planted equidistant from the two mature maples, drawing them into the design.

Enjoy the last day of the tournament tomorrow, and let me know if you come up with principles to add to my list!

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  • Neil Atzinger

Updated: Oct 23, 2020

LET'S BEGIN!

This is our first update - we'd like to make them monthly and post them permanently on our website under the garden-log heading. In our updates, you'll see timely gardening tips, garden inspiration, and offerings from Fourth & Walnut.

LATE WINTER GARDENING

Now then, the experts predict a warm and early spring, but you can bet we'll get another bout of winter. Take this opportunity to get some vitamin D and assess the state of your garden and plants (but don't assess them orally like my son did). Note die-back, remove any invasive weeds that remain (now that the ground is so, so loose), and go ahead and cut down perennials that have flopped before spring growth makes traversing your garden more precarious than -->

AND WAIT! Whatever you do, wait a bit longer to remove any residual leaves or winter debris from around your plants. They'll need that insulating layer for the next cold spell that will be sure to come.

Speaking of leaves and protecting your soil...

WE OFFER LEAF MOULD

... the British have an excellent solution to the leaf raking and re-mulching cycle that we all go through every fall and spring. It's called leaf mould (the British spelling makes it sound so sophisticated, but it's very simple).

Basically, fallen leaves are what provide the earth-cover that plants need to retain moisture and help them to out-compete up-and-coming weeds. Also, broken down leaves from years past make for perfect, crumbly, sweet smelling soil! However, we gardeners routinely sanitize our gardens of those leaves. There is a good reason for this! Fallen leaves are unsightly and can smother smaller plants and ground-cover. Also, freshly fallen leaves have a knack for stealing nitrogen from your soil.

But there's another way to use those leaves, and it's offered by your Fourth & Walnut gardeners! Store your leaves in a sunny, yet moist spot for at least a year and you'll have the most wonderful mulch - leaf mould! Here's a brief introduction from Crocus Gardens in the UK -->

Creating leaf mould is considered "cold composting," because it relies on beneficial fungus rather than heat and bacteria to break down its ingredients, and it allows other great microorganisms to survive and be transplanted back into your garden.

Use Fourth & Walnut's own storage location for turning your leaves into leaf mould, or if you have a hidden spot in your garden, have us turn it into a place to make your own leaf mulch. Avoid high mulch costs, and make a healthy garden with leaf mould. Ask us for an estimate!

PRE-SPRING INSPIRATION

The saying, "___ is like riding a bike," does not apply to gardening. Yes, we develop a certain muscle memory when we go through our garden every day and perform tasks by rote, but to approach gardening only in this way misses the point - Gardening is not something we learn and then move on with. It involves experimentation, openness to new ideas, and collaboration with other gardeners. That's why gardening can give you such a rush - it's new every day.

Here are two books than can get you back in the saddle this spring...

In The Layered Garden, accredited gardener David Culp gives us a personal tour of his own garden at Brandywine Cottage. As Culp walks us through distinct parts of his garden, we're easily able to pick up his design principles and apply them to our garden. Culp humbly shows us his past mistakes and how he fixed them by using a long-term garden plan to introduce bold features into his garden. Pick up this book even just for it's incisive photography. I admit, I've plucked a few ideas from photos of his hillside garden.

The second book, Planting: A New Perspective, introduces us to plantsman and designer Piet Oudolf. Anyone with a naturalistic garden should be aware of Piet's ideas. He, with a group of Dutch and English nurserymen started our current naturalistic movement in the 70s. The way that he designs by mixing and grouping perennials is a Copernican revolution. It's common to think of native and naturalistic plantings as amorphous and lacking intelligability and design. This book will make you see the exact opposite. There's perhaps more design involved in Piet's work than in the garden at Versailles. Agree or disagree with his style, this book makes the reader aware what they will never exhaust what there is to know about plants and how they can interact in a planned garden.

Interested in implementing the principles of these books in your own garden? Give us a call. Let us know what you think! What inspires you? Respond to ruth@4thandwalnut.com - (734) 272-7321