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Collaboration is Key: Inside the JMMDS Design Process

By July 28, 2010November 22nd, 20118 Comments
by The JMMDS Team

Take an inside look at the JMMDS design process as the team collaborates on planting schemes for a residential client. Be sure to vote for your favorite design!

A snapshot of each different planting scheme. Illustrations: Erica Bowman.

I love working with talented people, as I do at JMMDS. My challenge as principal is to make sure that they are always inspired. I know that creative people tend to feed off each other’s ideas, so it’s my job to create a studio-like atmosphere where collaborative brainstorming is the norm.

That’s why I took my colleagues on a two-day “field trip” in April to work on a range of projects, both new and old, together. First we stopped at the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain, MA, where we set out stakes (in the pouring rain) for trees and entry gates for the seven-acre Bradley Rosaceous Collection Garden that we’ve been working with Arboretum staff on for the past two years. Next we visited Shore Country Day School in Beverly, MA, where Jana, Anna, and Val set out the last of the plantings, while I set the beaver stone with Chance Anderson and his crew. That night, we ate (and imbibed) at Legal Seafoods, and the following day were off to meet members of the board and staff at Heritage Museum and Gardens in Sandwich, MA and take a look at a possible project for a private client in Dedham.

L: View from the driveway; R: Planting troughs designed by Watershed Studio to serve as a water collection and storm water management system, as well as planting spaces–a true “rain garden.”
Photos: L: Daniel Johnson, Watershed Studio Architecture; R: Julie Messervy.

Upon our return to the studio, I decided that, since we had all seen the Dedham property (except Erica who was home on maternity leave), we should all brainstorm solutions for it together. This post gives you an inside look at our collaborative process. Enjoy!

Our initial client meeting gave us some good starting points for beginning the design of the entry garden. The clients’ artistic background informed their vision for a landscape design with a sensibility for color, texture, and composition. They recognized the capacity of plants to set a mood and tone for the overall appearance of their property and had an interest in using unique plants and maintaining year-round interest in the planted spaces.

Privacy and screening were also a couple of the practical concerns, as was integrating the planting with the distinctive, contemporary architecture of the house while allowing each to stand on its own. The scale of the architecture added another challenge: how to complement and soften the structure with plant material without covering it up?

The house includes a screened lookout room facing the pond.
Photo: Daniel Johnson, Watershed Studio Architecture.

And, since the planting area was located at the entrance to the home and would be one of the first things to greet guests, it was particularly important to get it right. Planting options that would work from both far away and up close were necessary since visitors would experience the planting both from the driveway approaching the house and more intimately as they entered the house itself.

One thing we didn’t have to consider in creating the planting schemes was the design of the planting spaces, which had already been determined by Watershed Studio Architect Daniel Johnson and installed in conjunction with the house. Narrowing our focus to a single aspect of the overall design—the plants—became an advantage during our brainstorming. Creating a mood using only plant combinations was freeing and fun. Ideas for different planting schemes came quickly and easily, but as you might expect, the same situation that allowed us the freedom to focus on the plants and the feeling we could create with them also became a design challenge.

The “rain garden” planters and water management system. Photos: Julie Messervy.

Since the location and architecture of the planting spaces had already been set, we were limited in the types of plants we could use because of factors like snow load and grade change, but in reality these were just some of the constraints that every site presents. Instead of concentrating on these, we focused on what we could adjust, and came up with a variety of planting schemes that each conveyed a different mood and theme. The brainstorming process highlighted how easily the feeling of a design could change just by modifying the plant palette and reinforced how integral a solid planting combination is to a successful overall design.

We developed five themes and corresponding conceptual planting plans; Meadow, Texture, Asian Influence, Minimalist, and Edibles:

Meadow Scheme. Illustration: Erica Bowman.

The Meadow scheme is meant to invoke the feeling of a wild grassy meadow. Some of the actual plants include: blue bluestem grass, purple moor grass, poppies, Alliums, Amsonia, Russian sage, daylilies, Rudbeckias, and catmint. The trees include a row of aspens in the middle ground and a Stewartia as the centerpiece of the corner garden.

Texture Scheme. Illustration: Erica Bowman.

From sinuous grasses to waxy sedums, the Texture scheme is a mélange of plants with contrasting visual and tactile qualities. Some of the plants include: Blue oat grass, purple moor grass, blue bluestem grass, heathers, sedums, and bearberries. The middle ground showcases a collection of willows. The trough near the building bears a tall collection of plume poppies, and the corner garden uses a Japanese white pine as its main focus.

Asian Influence Scheme. Illustration: Erica Bowman.

In the Asian Influence scheme, we used a simplified palette with clean lines, broad strokes, standing stones, and evocative trees. Some of the plants include: junipers, Siberian cypress, bamboo, and azaleas. A pagoda dogwood sits in the foreground and a Japanese maple is the focal point of the corner garden.

Minimalist Scheme. Illustration: Erica Bowman.

The Minimalist scheme is simple in nature like the surrounding architecture. It contains two different types of sumac, one the low-growing aromatic sumac for the trough and two of the tall staghorn sumac for the middle ground. It also uses junipers, Siberian cypress, Japanese hydrangea vine, and Senna. A collection of multi-stemmed birches gives height to the corner garden.

Edible Scheme. Illustration: Erica Bowman.

The Edible scheme makes a beautiful landscape from edible plants. Using the ferny asparagus plant as a hedge is just the beginning. This plan also uses rhubarb for its glorious leaves and flowers, strawberry plants as groundcover, and chives as flowering centerpieces. Some of the other edibles include: blueberries, sage, thyme, lavender, Jerusalem artichoke, and rosemary. The annual edibles include lettuce, parsley, sunflowers, and other herbs. Hazelbert shrubs edge the garden bed and a quince tree is the specimen in the corner garden.

Cast your vote! Let us know which planting scheme you like best by leaving a comment below.

Join the discussion 8 Comments

  • I’d vote for the asian plan as first place as it will look good year round and seems the best match for the architecture. Second place is the minimal for best year round attractiveness.

    Edible is a great concept but not for the entryway. Too many holes and variables. Rhubarb is so seductive with its big leaves. It’s a tropical look, yes, but also goes totally dormant in cold AND heat. That leaves a big hole for 2/3 of the year….

  • Val Whiteman says:

    My vote is for the Asian Influence!!! I like gardens clean and uncluttered! I find the clean lines appealing to the eye and mind!

  • I vote for the minimalist because of the complexity of the architectural form in its repeating linear aspect of both building and site design. Asian would be my second choice because the building nods to this style of design, but the water feature is more contemporary in feel.

  • Meadow!Meadow!Meadow! I love the idea of naturalized, loose plantings against such a stern background. The juxtaposition of styles is unexpected but effective. Throw in some evergreens (inkberry, bearberry) for additional winter interest!

  • Rod GIsick says:

    I prefer the Minimalist, but without the sumac, which would look terrible all winter, as opposed to bamboo, which has year-round interest and reflects the Asian architectural influence. Frankly, you have not presented enough clear info as to entrance, approach to entrance, water features, and exact planting areas. A simple drawing of the ground plan would help immensely.

  • Doreen Papsadore says:

    I must say I have to go with the Edible Scheme, from what I can see it has so much color and that’s what I love about it.

  • Val says:

    Hi Rod, thanks for your comment. We’ve updated the post with thumbnails in plan view, so hopefully this provides some more context. Great to see what everyone’s voting for (I think I’m partial to Meadow)!

  • Anne Brewer says:

    I’m loving the Asian influence- it carries out well with the architectural style of the house.The clean lines and mostly evergreen plant material keeps it interesting year round. The Japanese maple has such great character, with both the foliage and the branch structure making it a great choice as a focal point.