Elements: Water Features In the Landscape
When summer heat starts to set in out here in the East Bay, we appreciate even more the element of water in the designed landscape. Water features can take many forms. A swimming pool, of course, offers the ultimate refresh on a hot day. But even the presence of water in other forms – a pristine reflection pool or the soft background noise from a fountain, refreshes the senses and cools the space. Integrated into the landscape, water features on all scales provide a sense of the oasis. Here are just a few of the ways we enhance outdoor living with this element that sustains all life.
The Swimming Pool
A classic feature in Landscape Architecture, pools have seemingly infinite possibilities when it comes to style and experience. As a style element in the designed landscape, the many factors that influence a pool’s visual appeal must be carefully thought out. A pool should be a joy and a feature attraction, so we consider everything, from shape and depth, to materials used in and around the pool, to the way it connects with the surrounding landscape.
Contemporary-style pools often appear to be at level with the surrounding landscape. Angular shapes with clean lines surround a high water level. A spa may be separated with the most seamless of barriers, for an effect that is at once elegant and modern.
Naturalistic pools can be stunning in the landscape. Natural boulders, fitted along the water’s edge, anchor the pool and can provide great sunbathing. The shapes of these pools can be free-form, mimicking a pond or lake. A sandy beach entrance is even a possibility, as we added on this fun project!
The Reflecting Pool
Not all pools have to be for swimming. A reflecting pool or still fountain can have exquisite aesthetic impact on a landscape. The shape of this kind of pool is not regulated by human swimming needs, so a long, linear form or a small square can create just as much appeal as a large pool. If you are considering creating a reflection, it’s just as important to consider what will be featured in that watery world. A shade structure or tree can create a stunning reflection, or a treasured piece of art.
This infinity-edge pool reflects only golden hills and ever-changing sky
Falling water has an effect on a space like little else. It can be incredibly useful for blocking undesired noise and for creating atmosphere. And fountains themselves speak to the style of a space- as a focal point or a detail in the landscape, they are one of our favorite elements for instant ambiance.
Sheer descent falls cascade into this contemporary lap pool.
When adding a fountain, we consider what John calls the ‘volume button’. It’s true that a poorly sited or overly powerful fountain can make a real racket, counteracting the desired effect. Flowing water in the landscape can be understated and quiet, just enough to attract notice without driving anyone crazy.
This antique wall spigot is as quiet as it is graceful.
Water gardens and ponds are a world unto themselves. While we love fish, some of us are nervous at the thought of keeping them alive… a healthy pond requires specialized maintenance knowledge that we land gardeners don’t always want to deal with! That being said, some water plants are not only easy to care for, but can be used to enhance a reflection pool or fountain provided it runs on fresh water.
Water Lilies (Nymphaea) are classic water plants that are remarkably easy to grow. If keeping them in a freshwater pool or fountain, simply submerge the pot they are planted in, raising from the bottom if needed so the leaves float on the surface. Make sure to get a species in scale with your water feature since some can get huge, and remember, no chlorine or saltwater for these guys.
Container water gardens can even enliven a courtyard or balcony. Any style of sealed container can really shine with even a few plants… imagine one of these blue glazed urns with tall standing reeds and water lettuce floating on the surface. Of course, standing water requires maintenance. Be sure to use regular mosquito pellets (non-toxic ones are easy to find at most nurseries and garden centers), and to clean the water surface occasionally of volunteer algae. If you get inspired, you may even get an aerator and add some fish!
Summer water garden by Denver Botanical Garden’s water garden specialist Joseph Tomocik. Click for expert information on growing water plants.
If you need help envisioning a water feature for your landscape, reach out! We love projects of all scales to help you transform your outdoor space on an elemental level. View the Contact page of our website to connect with our design studio.
Planting Inspiration – Remembering Beth Chatto
The Beth Chatto Gardens, Essex, England
We are passionate about plants – the living element to great landscapes. When we design planted landscapes, we follow in the footsteps of countless gardeners who understood that the principles inherent in nature could be used to create exquisite works of art. One of the greatest inspirations in the planting design world, British horticulturist and writer Beth Chatto, passed away this May. She leaves behind a legacy of artistic and horticultural genius, embodied in her writings and her public gardens in Essex, England.
Beth in her garden, from The Guardian obituary by fellow gardener Penelope Hobhouse
When she began her garden in the 1970’s, Beth had no formal horticultural education, but her love of gardens gave her ambition and her natural aesthetic sense quickly led her to push the boundaries of style and plant variety in her exquisite plantings. With ideas far ahead of her time, Beth’s writing often waxes poetic, showing her appreciation for the landscape as a work of art:
“We may have a wider approach to garden design if we have been helped to appreciate other forms of art: to be aware of basic principles – balance, repetition, harmony and simplicity – (these ideas have) certainly influenced me as much as knowing whether to put a plant in the shade, or in full sun.” – Beth Chatto
Beth emphasized above all the importance of growing the right plant in the right place, and she loved to create unusual combinations in a variety of challenging sites. Her gardening guides cover a broad range of site conditions, recommending plants based on year-round performance and design potential. We take inspiration from her unique plant combinations that layer colors and textures in the landscape, and her commitment ecological sustainability.
A planted border at Beth Chatto’s Garden, Elmstead Market, Essex.
Here in the California Bay Area, plants from Mediterranean climates are often the best performers. Beth was one of the first to recognize the potential inherent in these plants and to use them with great aesthetic success. Her first book, The Dry Garden, was published in 1978 and is still one of the most influential guides to drought-tolerant gardening today.
Original publication of The Dry Garden, 1978
There are infinite styles one can achieve with Mediterranean plants, many which can be substituted for water-hungry East Coast or Asian plants more traditionally used in the landscape. When we design our gardens, these hardy plants offer invaluable structure and durability, and can complement more traditional plantings for an elegant look with a lower water bill.
Euphorbia, a low-water Mediterranean native, combines with traditional plantings in this garden by Roger Platts
If you are looking to replant part of your landscape this year, consider taking a leaf out of Beth’s book – observing the conditions of your site, whether dry and exposed or deeply shaded, and finding successful new plant combinations. In choosing plants, look for harmonious relationships between color, structure, and form. For inspiration, we recommend Beth’s illustrated guides, as well as the classic Sunset Western Garden book.
A dreamy dry-garden planting of lavender, lantana and ornamental grasses by J. Montgomery Designs
To learn more about Beth’s life and legacy, view the garden website at www.bethchatto.co.uk
Take a virtual tour of the Beth Chatto Gardens below:
Summertime, and the living’s easy… Days are long and that feeling is in the air again. With summer truly upon us, we are looking forward to having gatherings of friends and family with the outdoors as our setting. Here at J. Montgomery Designs, we are incurably creative people who are all about the outdoor life! So when we aren’t designing, we are sometimes thinking of how to creatively enjoy our own outdoor spaces. In appreciation of what the summer has to offer, our team has pulled together some of our favorite quick decorations and simple summer refreshments for you to enjoy.
In setting up the style of an outdoor space, it’s the smallest touches that can make the biggest difference. Authenticity is the key, and if your decorations mirror your personal style, or reflect elements of your summer garden, you really can’t go wrong.
Flowers are beloved for so many reasons. Ask any florist and they will tell you that the impact of flowers is not to be taken lightly! Just as important as the flowers themselves is the vessel that holds them. Having friends over for tea? Consider a teapot as a vase. If you’re a collector, incorporate your own personal touch into a table display with elements from your collection. As for the flowers, the style of arrangement can make all the difference between a formal and a casual feel. Pick a color or a theme and go with your instinct. For a summer feeling, grasses and lush foliage can make an arrangement feel like a miniature vignette of your garden.
Tea roses in a tea pot make a simple and elegant presentation
If you want to keep it really simple, a bowl of seasonal fruit can grace a table as nicely as any bouquet. If you’re picking from the garden, keep stems and leaves on for a natural effect, or group colorful lemons en masse for a Mediterranean summer look. Herbs such as mint and lavender make beautiful fragrant displays or sweet garnishes for each dish. Keep it simple, but think abundance! It’s summer after all!
Photo SF Gate, The Italian Table
We like to keep our libations simple, but even simple can be fun! Summer drinks are easy to make ahead of time, and serve in pitchers for ultimate ease. One of our favorite ways to use edible flowers is in ice cubes- simply add borage, nasturtium or rose petals to an ice tray to make any drink, even a glass of ice water, into a work of art.
For a summery twist on a classic, our office manager, Debbie, loves to make the blackberry gin and tonic below, adapted from recipe by Serious Eats writer Kelly Carámbula. Refreshing and delicious, the color is also a stunning compliment to your table:
Photo by Kelly Carámbula, Serious Eats
DEBBIE’S G+T TWIST
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 to 2 tablespoons simple syrup
(to taste, based on sweetness preference)
1 shot gin (1 ½ oz)
2 shots tonic water (3 oz)
Muddle blackberries and lime juice in a shaker until well crushed
Add simple syrup, gin, and ice and shake.
Strain and serve on the rocks, or serve up in a gimlet glass.
If you grow squash or zucchini, by this time of year you may have more squash flowers than you could ever imagine on a plant. Some of these blossoms will of course become squash, so you don’t want to harvest them all, but if you can spare a few, these edible flowers make for a unique and delicious snack that will surely grab everyone’s attention! Thanks to our planting designer Arlene, we have this awesome recipe for stuffed squash blossoms, adapted from the recipe by Lindsay Landis of Love & Olive Oil:
Squash flowers are either male or female. If the flower lacks a round, developing squash at its base, that makes it a male flower, and a more ideal candidate for stuffing since you won’t sacrifice so many squashes. (This is what they look like)
Photo by Lindsay Landis, Love & Olive Oil
ARLENE’S SQUASH BLOSSOMS
1 dozen squash blossoms
5 ounces warmed goat chevre
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons chives, minced
1 tablespoon parsley, minced
1 tablespoon tarragon, minced
2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup light beer
Vegetable oil, for frying
salt and pepper
Carefully rinse the flowers and remove fuzzy stamens from inside.
Heat vegetable oil in a pan or fryer, about 1 inch deep.
Mix together goat cheese, herbs, honey, water, salt and pepper until smooth. Spoon into a piping bag or use a small spoon to fill each flower with about 1 tablespoon of mixture. Fold or twist the top of the flower to keep the cheese inside.
In a bowl, combine flour and beer and whisk until smooth. Quickly dip flowers into batter and place in hot oil. for 30 seconds, then flip and fry for another 30 seconds until golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack or paper-towel lined plate. Salt to taste. Serve immediately.
John, our founding architect, can always be relied on for creative desserts. He wanted to share his mouth-watering summer favorite, grilled nectarines. These beauties are as simple and perfect as they sound, and can be eaten alone or with ice cream for a decadent experience:
JOHN’S GRILLED NECTARINES
4 yellow nectarines, ripe but not too soft
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 teaspoons agave nectar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat charcoal or gas grill
Slice nectarines in half and remove stones, keeping the skins on
Brush lightly with olive oil on all sides.
Place nectarines inside-up on the grill and spoon agave nectar into the center of each
Sprinkle with cinnamon and grill for 1-2 minutes, until softening
Flip nectarines carefully with tongs and grill for one minute or until lightly charred.
Remove from grill and serve immediately
We hope you enjoy our ideas for your summer festivities! Maybe you will find yourself trying them out, or maybe they will inspire you to create something none of us have ever thought of! Either way, we hope you get outside and enjoy this beautiful season!
Set the Mood: Ambiance for Outdoor Entertaining
As designers of space, we understand that the feeling of your outdoor living space makes all the difference, and never is this more key than when it comes to outdoor entertaining. The feeling we refer to as ‘ambiance’ could better be thought of as the transformative experience of a space, and it is something we are really aiming for when we design! So how does one create ambiance for entertaining? While the answer is a little abstract, we do consider a few factors when we design, and even when we set up gatherings of our own. Here’s how we create ambiance when we design, and set the mood for outdoor gatherings of all kinds.
This is really elemental, but when we design one of the first things in our minds is actually geometry. Believe it or not, the shape of a space affects our emotional response to it. Closed shapes, in particular squares and circles, are restful for us to inhabit because we have an innate sense of the center. These spaces also tend to be more intimate. Rectangles and ellipses (elongated circles) have a similar effect, but can read as more formal especially with corresponding furniture. A gathering, since it often centers around a single point, is natural in this kind of space. In contrast, long linear spaces should be avoided as they encourage movement. As a Landscape Architect we know once told us, imagine having a dinner party in your hallway! Promoting restfulness with geometry is an amazing tool to make space feel inviting.
A simple round seat wall encircles a matching firepit alongside a bocce court, which is a very linear space. Without the strong defining geometry of the circle, the gathering space would feel exposed and the intimacy would vanish.
Scaled to Fit
From indoor entertaining, many of us know that scale is also a crucial factor. There is nothing more awkward than a small gathering at a huge table, or more uncomfortable than the other way around! (Dinner party in the closet, anyone?) When planning a gathering space, defining the size of your party and how you want interactions to take place is major- should it be more intimate or more spacious? Should the kids have their own space? Combine the right scale with the right geometry and you have the right effect right away.
This courtyard has multiple sitting areas, creating a café-style atmosphere. This space is designed for small gatherings with a less formal feel. Spreading a formal dinner between multiple tables would definitely break things up when it comes to conversation, but might be ideal for the right crowd.
A Sense of Enclosure
One aspect of a gathering space is what surrounds it. The sense of gentle enclosure can make a space feel safe, intimate, and cohesive. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways. A ‘ceiling’ structure, like the pergola or even umbrella, walls as in the image below, even a low wall surrounding part of the space will give the illusion of enclosure. If you’re on a budget, well-placed decorative pots can even serve the purpose. Think of our geometry lesson – define the center of your space and the size, then work around the borders to give definition to the space. You’ll notice the change in atmosphere!
Lush ivy walls surround the rooms in this sweet Spanish-style courtyard, and a custom-tiled fountain fills the scene with an instant grounding effect. This project also made use of decorative pots and structural plantings to define spaces on a narrow site.
Arrangement of furniture and accents can sometimes be enough to define space. Don’t underestimate the use of color to draw attention to a space you want people to find. The same rules apply here as in interior design, with an inviting tone set by artistic as well as geometric principles. Place seating facing inward, and define the center of a table with a point of interest to draw people in.
These couches form an ‘L’ shape around a square table, providing an irresistibly inviting nook. The repetition of orange accents in the pillows and pottery draw the eye, and the planted arrangements give a fun touch to define the space as classically outdoors.
When night falls, lighting transforms your evening experience. Lighting can be used to highlight a gathering area, illuminate the floor plane, create a mood-defining centerpiece, or twinkle overhead. Lighting around a seating area should be directed so as not to shine in your guests’ eyes. Down-facing riser lights and patio lamps are made for just this purpose. Café lights and pendant lamps can be dimmer – more for the effect than for bright illumination.
Down-facing lights illuminate this formal outdoor dining area, defining the walls for a cozy effect. The simple lanterns are a perfect addition for a contemporary take on traditional table lighting.
A few pendant lights and tea candles are all it takes for inviting ambiance around this outdoor bar.
The simplest touches can make the biggest difference! In next week’s blog, we will celebrate summer with creative outdoor dining embellishments and a few of our favorite garden recipes to bring your next outdoor gathering to life.
Love your Leisure – J. Montgomery Landscape Architects
Edible Landscapes- Getting Started
It’s starting to feel like summer, and around here we are all excited about what that means for gardens. Not only do we love to see flowers in all their summer splendor, we also love thinking about what we can enjoy eating from our gardens, and how we can help our clients do the same. Integrating vegetables and fruits into designed landscapes has become a real trend. In addition to being a wonderful addition to your table, vegetables and fruits can be a beautiful element in your outdoor living space. Since it is peak gardening season here in the Bay Area (though to tell the truth, you can grow hardy vegetables year-round in our climate), we have put together this intro to home gardening for anyone aspiring to grow some seasonal fruit or veg. Check back later in the season for articles on backyard orchards, and how to plant and use backyard herbs.
The ‘Green Thumb’ myth is one many people have heard and smiled at, but we find that thinking you lack one can make you feel limited in the garden! If you want to grow something, and have the climate, resources, and time to do so, there is no reason that you can’t. It just requires practice, and believe us, we have all had our share of failures. Understanding the needs of your garden is the first step to keeping it happy. If something dies, try again with a new approach, or a different type of plant! It’s not your thumbs, we promise.
A Place to Thrive
You can plant vegetables and fruiting plants in a variety of spaces. Raised beds and planter boxes are a popular solution, giving a clean look to the space and helping maintain enough water and nutrients for the garden to thrive. You can also plant straight into the ground if you have done work to amend the soil, or use pots to create a complete container garden in a small space. Generally speaking, vegetables and fruit-bearing plants prefer full sun and regular water. This makes most vegetables compatible for planting together, though some are better friends than others. To ensure sunlight for all plants and prevent overcrowding, be sure to leave space for tall plants, such as tomatoes, to grow without shading out the small ones. Plant in a rich soil mix high in compost. This will get your plants off to a great start and maximize your harvest!
Planter boxes are generally most successful with soil at least 18” deep. Wood and Corten steel are stylish materials with a variety of aesthetic possibilities.
Growing Leafy Greens
Nothing is more refreshing than fresh-picked garden lettuce or more robust than home-grown kale or collard greens. These plants are easy to grow from seed, but this requires a little care. The young plants can also fall prey to common garden pests, such as snails. To protect against hungry critters, you can start some seeds indoors or in protected starter pots to transfer to the garden later, or visit your local nursery for tips to deter these pests. Nurseries also sell ‘Starter Packs,’ or baby vegetables that are ready to plant. Remember that some greens will eventually get big, so if you don’t want more kale than you ever knew what to do with, start only with a six-pack or two.
Here at our studio garden, John and Cynthia grow lettuces almost too pretty to eat! A variety of colors and textures make for a beautiful, mouthwatering display.
Growing Summer Favorites
Not everyone loves tomatoes, but if you do, you know that once you’ve had a home-grown one, you can’t go back. Tomatoes love heat, and if you live in a cooler area of the Bay you will have more success with a cherry-type with smaller fruits. (That’s right, tomatoes are technically fruits! But we won’t bore you with botany…) If you live in an area blessed with real heat, you can grow beautiful giant heirlooms and slicing tomatoes.
Still green, this Better Boy tomato is coming in beautifully! …Ever get those weird black spots on the bottoms of your tomatoes? It’s a calcium deficiency. Ask your local nursery for fertilizer to help with the problem.
If squash is more your style, or cucumbers, they are just as rewarding and easy to grow. One thing to consider is space. A single pumpkin plant can spread up to 8 feet around, so you may not want it next to your door. Cucumbers can stay smaller, and can even be allowed to trail out of a large container.
Squash blossoms are also edible! Our designer Arlene has a great recipe to share with us in our next series on entertaining in the garden.
Growing strawberries is a fun activity for both kids and adults, and the attractive flowers and fruits can add beauty to any garden or container. You can even mix them in with flowering plants for a sweet effect! Strawberries are as tasty to many insects and animals as they are to us, so be sure to protect yours from being eaten by someone else!
We tucked strawberries into the rocks in this naturalistic landscape design. Our clients love picking the berries, nostalgic of their childhood summers!
All of these plants love summer heat and can be planted now! Provide regular water and fertilizer at least once a year. These plants are heavy feeders, which means they will eat up soil nutrients that you must replenish.
Peas, beans, and fruiting vines will need a structure to climb. Given a pole and a little encouragement, beans and peas will quickly shoot skyward and begin producing prolifically! As legumes, these plants also add nitrogen to your soil. Grapes, passionfruit vines, and other fruiting vines will need a much larger structure- why not train them up an arbor or landscape structure for a beautiful effect?
Blue Lake Pole Beans climb and flower on a custom trellis in our studio garden. As each flower has the potential to become a bean, try to resist picking the cute little things.
Grapevines grace this arbor for a lush effect. Grapes can even be trained to fill in a shade structure to provide a cool green ceiling in the warmer months. John and Cynthia’s vegetable beds, behind, show an example of a well-thought-out edible garden.
We hope you get growing right away with these tips on introducing edibles into your home landscape! Next week we will begin our series on backyard entertaining, so check back in for ideas to throw the best garden party. Happy Summer~
John Montgomery Landscape Architect Launches New Website
Alamo, CA – June, 2018 – Founded by John and Cynthia Montgomery, J. Montgomery Designs has been designing personalized outdoor living environments for over 40 years. As a full-service landscape architecture and design firm, their renowned landscapes are crafted to function, inspire and last. Their new website, designed in conjunction with Covert Communication, gives new visibility to their exquisite projects and the range of services offered by the firm.
The portfolio at jmontgomerydesigns.com showcases the best of J. Montgomery’s completed landscapes, displaying the team’s commitment to artistic vision and design integrity. “We wanted to be able to tell our story in a concise but beautiful way,” states John Montgomery, Founding Landscape Architect. “As always, we believe that function must be paired with beauty – neither stands alone.”
J. Montgomery creates ‘dream yards’- outdoor living spaces that enhance the home and inspire unforgettable moments. Each landscape is custom-designed with elements that combine to meet the design vision and the clients’ desires – pools and spas, shade structures, outdoor kitchens and entertaining spaces, fire features, gated entrances, and engineered terraces. Artistic elements, custom fountains, sports courts, and golf greens add a personal touch to their clients’ outdoor living experiences.
A design-only firm, J. Montgomery offers concept, planting, grading & drainage, lighting and irrigation plans, consulting and guidance during the construction process. Clients are connected with prequalified contractors to ensure that their landscapes are created with the highest level of care, a commitment noticed by many of their clientele. One client states, “We originally hired Montgomery Designs because of their reputation, but now we refer them because they sincerely cared about us and our project.”
“After 40 years, we still love our work,” states John Montgomery, who looks forward to the next chapter in the life of the firm. Montgomery sees the new website as a platform to communicate the firm’s vision and passion for designed space and outdoor living.
About J. Montgomery Designs
John Montgomery acquired his license from the California Architects Board in 1994 and is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects. His hands-on experience and unique background in Art, Architecture, and Design-Build Construction are reflected in his celebrated landscapes. With his wife (now CEO) Cynthia, John founded J. Montgomery Designs, expanding to form an elite team of Landscape Architects, Garden Designers, and Administrators who take the firm’s vision to a new level. From their design studio in Alamo, they serve Orinda, Lafayette, Alamo, Danville, Diablo, Blackhawk, Pleasanton, and a range of locations in the Bay Area. View their full portfolio online at Houzz.com and follow them on Facebook or on their outdoor living blog at jmontgomerydesigns.com/blog.