Archive for the 'random thoughts' Category

Cornus florida | American Dogwood


IMG_6717.JPG IMG_1740.JPG

DESCRIPTION | native, small, deciduous, understory ornamental tree

SIZE | 20′ – 30′ tall

FLOWER | lovely, 2″, white (or pink), April, before the leaves come out

NOTES |  pretty fall color, beautiful bright orange red berries

Light & Shadow National Park | wld*project


Adele Medina O’Dowd, principal, willow landscape design
contact us | or 202.255.0728
references available upon request


California to East Coast transplants, the active nature-loving family who live in this house wanted to transform their large expanse of turf and trees only (blah) yard into a terrain worth exploring.  The 3 kids in this family are the kind who spend hours outside getting dirty and climbing everywhere so we wanted to keep them at it, or better yet, give them more to discover.  When the owner walked me around to the side yard and told me that, although she never spent time there it was her favorite part of the yard.  Why?  The quality of the light was wonderful despite the fact that there was hardly a shrub to be seen.  Just then, the sun cascaded down onto us through high up pine branches and we both knew what had to be done.  Identifying the Sassafras in the front was the first step to building a Piedmont forest environment of dappled light and quiet wonder.


The lawn was drastically reduced by 50% (so the project was awarded a “Rainscapes Reward” tax rebate by Montgomery County for “conservation landscaping”) and was replaced mainly by native trees and foliage, and woodland trails, lined with cedar rounds and “timbers” made of recycled plastic — which are great for kids to balance on.  In addition we were especially careful about siting the plants in the right micro-climates and addressing many storm water run-off issues.  In several spots around the yard, plantings were created to slow down and re-direct water toward acceptable areas.  At the front entrance to the house we designed a more tamed look and lavished it with refreshing Annabelle hydrangeas and Creeping Jenny.

BEFORE (Below) Too much grass!  You  can just see a bit of the inspirational Sassafras off to the left.


AFTER Now (below), the new Limber Pines (Pinus flexilis) and Dogwood are surrounded by Oakleaf Hydrangeas and evergreen Christmas ferns.  The pines will eventually get to be 40′ tall but add lustrous beauty to the once exposed corner even now.  The leaning Sassafras is much more at home now.


Several beautiful boulders were incorporated into the landscape specifically for the children to climb on and enjoy.

IMG_5284.JPG IMG_5225.JPGIMG_5235.JPG

Toward the street corner, a sweep of Carex comens breezes across the recycled “timbers”. the Solomon Seal makes a sweet green highlight on the ground.


IMG_5295.JPG IMG_5230.JPG

[above] The remaining lawn is now tamed and makes the perfect canvas for the shadows of the day that move across it.  The front entrance is now lush with happy Annabelle Hydrangeas and Creeping Jenny.  [below] This native Gray’s Sedge has a distinctive star-shaped flower that many would describe as medieval. I’d been wanting and waiting patiently for just the right people for whom to plant this amazing native. Here, it marks the edge of the wilderness before arriving in a tamed shady glade at the home’s entrance.



[above] Though several new canopy and understory trees were planted, one full sun spot was left as transitional forest edge meadow. We created a berm in this spot to emphasize the change in the landscape.  The meadow berm is spilling over with Achillea ‘Anthea’ (Yarrow, native), Carex comens ‘Bronze’ (Bronze Sedge, non-invassive) Carex grayi (Gray’s Sedge, native – my favorite plant of the project), Echinacea paradoxa (Yellow Coneflower, Protected in US), Panicum virgatum ‘Prairie Fire’ (Prairie Switchgrass, native), Persicaria microcephala ‘Red Dragon’ (non-invassive), all warm colors to soak in the sun. We’re hoping the butterflies will discover it as a new home.


[above before and after] In the backyard on the south side face of the house the Ac units were to naked to the sun until we protected them with a beautiful native Southern Magnolia and many Inkberries (Ilex glabra)


The atmosphere in this spot influenced the entire design. But before only the 2 trees and some on the property line existed there. Now as you walk towards the secret path, you pass a new Nyssa silvatica (Tupelo, native), Ilex opaca (American Holly, native), Inkberry, Clethra alnifolia (native), ferns and Plumbago making it a special trail entrance to the back yard.


The elegant purity of nature can now be appreciated here.  It brings out the kid in all of us as we get lost in time to enjoy it.

Bethesda Magazine features willow landscape design

The DeBruce Blackman home and teal blue swing

The DeBruce Blackman home and teal blue swing

see the section "Let the Children Play"

article p220 | “Lawn-Free | see the section “Let the Children Play”

We are delighted to share this article with you.  It’s published in Bethesda Magazine September / October 2009 issue called “Lawn-Free”.  We hope to work with more friends and neighbors soon.  Stay tuned for more episodes of the exciting adventures of willow landscape design.

dogwood design becomes willow landscape design

Hooray. You hear it here first. My company name is changing with the company I keep. My new partner is Laura Will and together we are willow landscape design, as seen in Bethesda Magazine September/October issue that just came out today featuring our project in Laura DeBruce’s yard, page 220.

SCARY | invasive grasses of the Mid Atlantic

Oh no!!!!! This calls for lots of exclamation points. Please don’t use these invasives. They ARE attractive, but the typical Zebra Grass (aka Chinese Silver Grass) is invasive in the Mid-Atlantic:
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Little Zebra’
Miscanthus sinensis Anderss
Miscanthus sinensis, the species

check it out…

Other bad boys include:
Pennisetum alopecuroides
Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hamelm’

Alternative non-invasive grasses include:

Carex grayii and other sedges [native = bonus points]
has amazing medieval looking flowers

Molinia caerulea
Digging Dog Nursery has a good selection

Muhlenbergia capillaris

Panicum virgatum ‘Cloud Nine’ [native = bonus points]

Panicum virgatum ‘Prairie Fire’

Design Ideas | Wrought Iron Italy

IMG_2628.JPG, originally uploaded by dogwood*designer.

Design Ideas | Wrought Iron Italy

So last summer I was in Italy: Rome, Tuscany, Venice. And this trip was extremely inspirational, especially for wrought iron work I saw everywhere. Their wrought iron is so much more interesting than what we have here in good old USA, no surprise, and much of it was so modern even in the oldest cities. I suppose it has to be great to stand out there. The door above is one of my absolute favs! The design motif is the purest – circle. But take a look at what else was there, just waiting to be appreciated. It was a feast for the eyes, especially in Venizia where wrought iron was everywhere we turned on every bridge and door. I will be thinking about these patterns for a long time.

Design Ideas | Garden Rooms

Design Ideas | Garden Rooms

Dunbarton Oaks, Washington DC:  There are so many beautiful “Garden Rooms” to experience at Dunbarton Oaks.  We are so lucky to be able to visit and barrow from this joyous place.  Even the surrounding park and Georgetown neighborhood have bountiful inspiration.  I visited on the most gorgeous October day with my two daughters who were so drawn into the garden rooms that I had a hard time keeping them together and going in the direction I wanted to go.  Each of us was attracted to different spaces and even though this is a formal garden, they played and galloped happily enjoying the colors, textures and especially the transitions.


ABOVE:  Garden entrance, I especially like the drainage swale at the bottom of the wall. Simple, attractive and effective.

ABOVE:  Here are two adjacent rooms dressed up in fall colors.  The one on the left is a couple steps down from the one on the right.  Taking this photo, my perspective was from a wonderful wrought iron balcony (see below) in a third room – the rose garden.  Each room in this big garden has a well-designed view to at least one and usually more adjacent rooms.  This is what created the sense of journey we felt as we explored.  The patio on the left, makes you feel as though you are surrounded by water, when really there is only a little still water which acts like a glassy floor under the pavilion (see Lucy playing in the “glass floor” two photos down).




ABOVE:  The fluid lines of the concrete patio edging make you feel as though you are inside of a fountain.

Every room in this garden has beautiful attention to walls, ceiling and especially the floor.


ABOVE:  This is Lily in the “Prunus Walk” hallway orchard.  Lining the path is epimedium for ground cover with warm brick edging the aggregate walkway.  The growing garden is to the right downhill and the vegetable garden to the left uphill, now in fall is filled with windflowers.


ABOVE: The famous pleeched American Hornbeams Caropinus caroliniana a.k.a. the “aerial hedge”.  The circular shape of this room couldn’t be made more apparent than by the shaping of these cool trees as walls.

ABOVE: As I mentioned, the floors in this garden are phenomenal.  I will use this idea for brickwork.  The landing above has a diamond pattern in it.

ABOVE:  “Pebble Garden” has THE most amazing floor, as you can plainly see.  The 4″ high raised bed is planted with sedum amoung other things. The walls in ths room are covered with lattice.  There is a beautiful espalied magnolia on one wall to the left and just beyond it a wonderful window with a view (below).  Lily and Lucy couldn’t resist laying themselves down smack in the middle of the stone design (Two photos down).



ABOVE:  Here is yet another charming path, very simple in design and materials which could be done at anyone’s house going around the corner to the back.

ABOVE: We took a little rest in a private “Star Garden” just next to the house.  We wanted to drink tea here.

ABOVE:  Then we couldn’t resist going back for a look over the veranda to this view of the swimming pool, the “Pebble Garden” is just beyond and then of course you can see some majestic trees and rolling hills beyond that.

ABOVE:  Here is one of my favorite rooms.  This room is called the “Beech Terrace” where you can also see down the rolling hills and pool.  But the simplicity of the ceiling here is fantastic.  One unbelievable Beech tree shelters us, Fagis grandifolia.  We can really appreciate it’s beauty this way.  If I lived closer, I think I would read in this part of the garden.  Its very quiet.  Apparently, the roots of this tree are covered in blooming bulbs in teh spring.  I can’t wait to see that.
BELOW:  The finale – The “Orangery”.  Many people start their tour in this room but I’m so glad this was our last sight.   Covering the walls is a Fig tree that has been here since before the Civil War.  YIKES!  I’m in awe.

Design Idea: Steel Beam Trellis

小弟作品 – CMT6, originally uploaded by ‘navopaul.

This bright red steel beam “trellis” walkway is a beautiful addition to the urban landscape. The color works so well with other primary colors on the building behind and the lush green ground cover.

thanks, navopaul 小弟作品 – CMT6

Cornus florida | American Dogwood

Cornus florida | American Dogwood

Native to MD and the East Coast Piedmont woodlands, yes, I admit that I love them. I can’t help it. They were everywhere in Atlanta where I grew up and definitely have a southern charm.  Dogwoods are so happy. Their upturned swooping branching habit creates the illusion of floating blossoms when they bloom in April before the folliage. They are at home in almost any type of landscape design, formal and informal. They look great in mass or as a focal point specimen. I’ve even seen them used succesfully as a screen.

Dogwoods should be planted in shade, since they are an understory tree.  This is very important to successful growing conditions and preventing undue stress which could make them suseptible to disease.  Dogwoods have been famously suffering from an “anthracnose” in recent years which can kill a healthy tree in a couple of seasons.  The first noticeable symptoms are when leaves turn fall color and drop early, even in July.  If you see this begin to happen while it is only affecting a few leaves, you still have a chance of preventing the disease from taking over completely, but you must act by cleaning up any fallen leaves and removing any new water sprouts which tend to spread the disease.  There are many good articles on this topic.  Here is one from Clemson.



The name “dogwood” may have been originated from the Gaelic term “dag”, a pointed tool used to punch leather or meat. Another possibility comes from England. Years ago, people there used the bark of the bloodtwig dogwood (Cornus sanguinea) to bathe mangy dogs. On this continent, flowering dogwood has been used by Native Americans to make scarlet dyes and tinctures. Although the fruits are poisonous to humans, in the late 1700s, colonists made a tea from dogwood bark to reduce fevers and soothe colds. The wood of the dogwood tree is used today to make small tools and ornaments. It has been under cultivation in North America since the 1730s. Today, flowering dogwoods are popular landscaping trees. They are slow growing (often only a few centimeters per year in dense shade), resilient, and beautiful.

‘Cherokee Cheif’ available, heavy fruiting 15′ tall
ZONES HARDINESS | SUN OR SHADE ….. 5 – 9 | full sun to full shade
GROWTH RATE ….. medium
HEIGHT / WIDTH ….. 20′-30′/7′ to 15′
PLANT SHAPE & BRANCHING ….. Loose, rounded; many horizontal and ascending branches
LEAF FORM & SHAPE ….. 1.5″-3″ obovate, impressed veins, obtusely serrated, thin, light
LEAF ARRANGEMENT ….. simple, alternate
LEAF COLOR ….. Deciduous | dark green, turning bright orange and soft red in fall
FLOWERS | small white in spring
BERRIES | beautiful bright orange red

SOIL does well in moist to dry and slightly alkaline
Native MD to FL and west to TX

Design Idea: Japanese Garden Stairs

Japanese Garden – Stairs 01, originally uploaded by darthservo.

These garden stairs are so beautiful, I had to stop and add it to the garden ideas posted here. The contrasting colors and shapes of the stones make a great effect, especially where you see the smaller darker stones laid within the smooth treads. The curve down the hill is so comfortable and slow. I’m going to try this at home, I think.

Next Page »