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The South Facade of 381 West End Avenue

Frederick B. White was a prolific yet short-lived architect from New York City. Considering his untimely death at the age of 24, it is remarkable to see the amount of work he completed in the short time after graduating from Princeton University. 381 West End Avenue is a shining example of Flemish Renaissance Revival architecture and is one of few private residences White Completed in the city. Though the exquisite brickwork and roofline are still in tact, the curb appeal and landscaping left much to be desired when I passed by the building this week.

Buckets and Garbage Adorn the Front of 381 West 81st Street

One of the biggest influences on perceived value of a home is the level of maintenance. Cosmetics may seem skin deep, but when a potential buyer (renter or otherwise) sees cracks on the surface of a wall, they always wonder what’s going on beneath the surface. This building was originally constructed and completed in 1886 for Henry H. Hewett (supposedly a dry goods clerk), and now stands in a state of disrepair. Buckets, garbage and construction debris filled the fenced area around the front entrance. Overgrown shrubs and lackluster English Ivy provide some greenery, but the overall effect is unkempt.

A Simple Rendering of 381 West End Avenue

I can’t help but imagine the front of this building with more attractive landscaping. An arched gate could mimic the top of the front door and lower hedges would help make the space feel more open and inviting. Wisteria climbing up the southern facade would be magnificent in spring. Additional layers of grasses and an ornamental tree could transform the corner of 78th street and West End Avenue into a sidewalk sensation. Read more about properties in the West End Collegiate Historic District here.

The Stinson Dining Table, Restoration Hardware

Every retailer is flaunting sales right now. As a result, you can find some terrific deals on outdoor furniture from last season. I will preface this by saying I have no obligations or ties to Restoration Hardware other than the fact that I like a lot of their interior pieces. I haven’t been as fond of their outdoor furniture collections because the scale is so big it isn’t appropriate for many city rooftops and patios that I design. However, the Stinson collection is a refreshing modern take on teak furniture finished with stainless steel legs.

Stinson Lounge Chair with Sunbrella Fabric

This collection is clean and simple which ultimately makes it more versatile. You can dress it up or down depending on cushions, fabric selection and how you pair it with other pieces. With a multitude of fabric options from Sunbrella or Perennials offered at a great price point, you can’t go wrong. This is the perfect time to pick up some patio furniture. Once spring is in full swing all you’ll have to do is enjoy it!

Cupressus Arizonica Bark at the Botanical Gardens of Jerusalem

While strolling through the Botanical Gardens of Jerusalem I came across several impressive Cupressus trees. The most striking species, C. arizonica, displayed multi-colored exfoliating bark. The Arizona Cypress is native to the southwestern United States. The botanical gardens have collections from around the world with a special section for species from North America.

Cupressus arizonica

The Arizona Cypress can grow 40- 50′ tall and has dense grayish green needles. This tree makes an excellent wind break and the bark is extremely ornamental. The cones mature 20-24 months after pollination and only open after being exposed to fire. This is an evolutionary trait shared with many Pine trees which allows seeds to grow in bare ground cleared by forest fires. Cupressus sempervirens (Italian Cypress) is more commonly used throughout Israel in afforestation and planned landscapes. C. sempervirens has the classic columnar shape associated with Cypress trees.

Distinct Columnar Shape of Cupressus sempervirens

1000 Designs for the Garden by Geraldine and Ian Rudge

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then 1000 Designs for the Garden and Where to Find Them is priceless. This book is sure to melt away the winter blues with a healthy dose of imaginative garden designs and accessories. Originally referred to me by a client, I immediately picked up his book which now has a select spot in my reference library. Over 300 pages are filled with everything from modern planters and watering cans to artistic trellises and unusual furniture. Hopefully some of my favorite pieces below will inspire your imagination to take your garden to the next level.

Aluminum Dividing Screen by Paul Kerlaff

This powder coated aluminum room divider is a brilliant way of defining a wall area in an open outdoor garden. With several patterns to choose from, Paul Kerlaff designed this screen to filter a view or to adorn a wall as an independent panel. I could easily see this attached to a fence or brick wall with a delicate Clematis vine growing through the ‘Maple’ design. The panels are available in a variety of colors and patterns. A similar piece pictured below by Michael Koenig is available in zinc-plated sheet metal.

Wall Trellis by German Designer, Michael Koenig

Nenufar Parasol by Yonoh

For a modern take on an umbrella, consider the Nenufar Parasol by Yonoh. The eye-catching design allows the piece to blend with traditional furniture or make a statement on its own. It would be the perfect shade element by a pool or an accent for a secluded patio in an intimate landscape. The small sculpted ‘Dew Drop’ by British glass designer, Neil Wilkin, are like jewels for the garden. A handful of them clustered together in a patch of Artemisia ‘Silver Mound’ would be gorgeous.

Glass Dew Drop by Neil Wilkin

Finally, to warm up the patio or terrace visually, consider the urBonfire fireplace designed by Michael Hilgers. Made from borosilicate glass and polished stainless steel, flames don’t come any more chic than this.

Modern Fire Pit with Chic Stainless Steel

Jeffrey's Childhood Garden Created for a 4-H Project

When I think about 2012 I am excited by a lineup of fantastic projects. I look forward to tackling new design challenges and creating even better gardens. I never miss the opportunity to reflect on how lucky I am to do what I do. I love my work and I love sharing it with others. From my humble first backyard bed my father built, to a magnificent Manhattan penthouse terrace, the gratification I get from completing a well planned garden is always rewarding.

Planting a Knot Garden with Germander

From a very young age I spent summers working in gardens behind our house. It all started in a 10′ x 10′ raised planting bed which I cared for as part of my local 4-H program. No education can replace the experiences I had watching my Castor Bean (Ricinus communis) prosper, or clipping my Germander (Teucrium chamaedrys) into a small hedge. It is the knowledge I gained from years of gardening that brought me to the place I am at today.

Planting Annuals While Volunteering at a Local Park

I now realize that my fingernails will perpetually have soil underneath them and my farmer’s tan will always grace the back of my neck. They are merely visual reminders of my passion for plants and landscape design. I wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year. Life is too short to do something that doesn’t make you happy. Once you know what that is, don’t let it go!

Winter interest is important in any garden but not all evergreens are built alike. It is important to research which plant species hold their color and which grasses and ferns will still look good through the holidays so you know what to expect after the leaves drop. Happy Holidays from my home to yours!

Nubian Ibex Standing at the Ramon Crater, Negev Desert

Nubian Ibex Standing at the Ramon Crater, Negev Desert

I consider my trip to Israel to be a pilgrimage, not for religion or history, but for learning new plant species. Israel is home to a diverse selection of flora due to the contrasting geography found in its relatively small borders. Late November and December proved to be a rewarding time to explore the natural landscape. My travels took me all the way from the streams of Golan heights to the Negev Desert and from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River Valley. Now I share with you some of my favorite wintertime plant finds in Israel.

Anabasis articulata Found on the Rocky Slopes of the Ramon Crater

Anabasis articulata (pictured above) blends into the rocky hillside of Makhtesh Ramon in the Negev Desert. Growing around 12″ tall, brown “jointed” stems give way to  pinkish fruiting bodies which appear in October and November. The plants store large amounts of salt which is typical for members of the Chenopodiaceae plant family. Anabasis shares drought and salt tolerance characteristics with its family members which include beets and quinoa.

Nimrod's Fortress Covered in Clusters of Oak Trees

The Leaves and Acorn of Quercus calliprinos

Nimrod’s Fortress sits at the foot of Mt. Hermon in Golan Heights. The scenery in the north is in stark contrast to the south. The ruins of this massive fortress are covered in Palestine Oak trees (Quercus calliprinos). This evergreen Oak is more of a shrubby tree growing anywhere from 10-20′ tall. The glossy leaves which appear more like a Holly, are tiny and measure 1-2″ long. This is the most common Oak out of 5 species which grow in the wild in Israel.

Delicate Single Bloom on Cyclamen Persicum

Lower down in the valley in the Golan Heights lies the Banias spring and waterfall. Here Persian Cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum). The fragile blooms range in color from white to pale pink with a deep pink center. The signature variegated leaves growing between the moss-covered rocks are a telltale characteristic of the plant, and are easy to spot even when they are not in bloom. This species is in full flower from October-March.

If you are interested in reading more about wild flowers and plants of Israel, I highly suggest starting with this this website as well as the Nature in Israel pocket guides by Noam Kirschenbaum.

The Courtyard of the Mamilla Hotel

Very rarely do I visit a garden that I think is perfect. However, this was the case when I walked through the courtyard garden of the Mamilla hotel. Perched at the edge of the old city in Jerusalem, the Mamilla was designed to blend historic buildings with cutting edge modern design.  Moshe Safdie, the project architect, succeeded in creating a stunning building worthy of standing next to the walled city. Italian designer, Piero Lissoni, collaborated on the furnishings and interiors.

Suspended Swings and Canopy of in the Mamilla Courtyard

With a full restaurant and bar, the rooftop is a great place to have a drink and enjoy killer views of Jerusalem. The mirrored bar on the second floor is oozing with ambience, but the courtyard on the lower level of the hotel is what I found most captivating. Built in a triangular space, the courtyard features a sleek black trough fountain, mirrored walls, romantic lighting, suspended swings and whimsical furniture.

Mirrored Wall Design and Trough Fountain

The courtyard is a place that you want to spend time in, not just look at. Though it is a small space, the layout and furniture arrangement allows you to find your own niche while enjoying the garden. The arched mirrors built into the architecture of the walls make the space come to life while the swings hit the right notes of surprise and quirkiness.

Night Shot of Trough Fountain

When I create a garden my design solutions are balanced between aesthetic, price point, lead time and maintenance. What looks amazing now may be a liability to deal with later. Cost effective planters sold through mainstream retailers and interior design stores don’t always hold up well outdoors. They may last for a season or two at most. Seams split, bottoms fall apart and soil goes everywhere. Inexpensively crafted zinc and cedar planters are some of the worst offenders on my list of terrace nightmares.

Prefabricated Cedar Planter on a Terrace

Though prefabricated wood planters seem like an inexpensive option, the lower initial cost is offset by the numerous issues they will bring. After years of experience building gardens, demolishing gardens for renovations and maintaining them regularly, here are three reasons why you need to consider planter options carefully:

Splitting Seams of Cedar Planter

1. Seams burst: The corner seams and base are the first to go. Eventually the middle slats buckle and fall apart on prefabricated planters.

2. Roots grow through wood slats: Aggressive plants and small trees quickly outgrow planters and their roots go right through untreated slats. Not only will the bottom bust right off the planters, but the roots can eventually grow through pavers and into the roofing membrane which can cause leaks and void roofing warranties. These are two things that you want to avoid at ALL costs.

Roots Protruding from Bottom of Cedar Planter

3. Soil loss: If your planter isn’t solid and you encounter the first two issues, then you are going to experience this third issue too. In addition to making your terrace dirty and unsightly, loose soil will find its way through pavers and into drains. If enough soil builds up there will eventually be drainage issues and possible leaks. That’s reason enough for me to ensure the planters I use can stand the test of time!

As I continue to scour the streets of Tel Aviv for inspiration I came across a delightful take on outdoor seating at Primitive Gallery on Yehuda-halevi St.  Furniture materials that stand up to the exterior elements are limited, but this line designed by Gaga & Design is refreshing.

The Spot Stool by Gaga & Design

Israeli product and furniture designer, Yaacov Kaufman, created these clever outdoor pieces from stainless steel and synthetic roping. The line is surprisingly comfortable and provides excellent support. I love the spot stools which are only about 10″ in diameter at the top. They could easily be scattered around a terrace for extra seating or used as a small footstool. The openings between the roping allow enough wind to pass through that uplift is not an issue.

Bar Stool by Gaga & Design

Barstool by Gaga & Design

The furniture comes with several color choices for the roping and is beautiful enough to use for interiors. If nothing else, it makes for a great conversation piece. Distribution of Gaga & Design furniture is currently limited to Israel, Europe and Japan. I am going to have to see if we can change that!

2 Rings Chair by Gaga & Design