Saul Zaik: Integrated Indoor & Outdoor Spaces

Zipping with speed thru pics, this deck, below, stopped me.

A hearty bravo to the brainwave.  Then, overdose-on-a-theme, the roof !

Another bravo to whoever designed the interior of this home, from my favorite vantage point, the garden.  Landscaping along the windows is a bit odd, glass rectangle edged with ferns, creating a terrarium’ish style.  What to do instead?  (First, replace sofa with a pair of similar styled chairs, that turn 360.  Why the fortification of sofa only looking in?)  Remove ferns & existing path, replace with bluestone rectangles, sized in width from outer edge of deck, fully to the house, scaled in length to each window, spaced the same distance apart as the window frames.


Color of patio chair, echoed inside with the bowl, and dark gray from chimney top to foundation.

Next.  Axis looking into the home is marvelous.  What is its opposite axis?  Double axis.  If you have a focal point in one direction you must have another in the opposite.  Has me curious.

Lawn & large shrub at corner are thriving, sculptural.

Almost a Garden Design course in a single pic.

Notice the gutters at the roof line?  Great example of darkish color rising up into the roof.  Too often, gutters are painted much lighter than a roof, pulling the height of the roof lower.  Another counterintuitive Garden Design layer.

How To: Break Garden Design Rules

Made me laugh, below.  Know why?

Think back to a Garden Design Rule.  Broke it here, in triplicate.  Backhand down the line winner.

Shooting this Garden Room, many angles can be shot, proving this particular Garden Design Rule reigns.  Pull the shot back, Garden Design Rule broken.

Know the Garden Design Rules into your DNA, break a Garden Design Rule when it makes your soul smile, a wicked smile.  That’s what made me laugh, below.

Garden Design is a language.  In the beginning, Garden Design was what I wanted it to be.  Rules?  Not for me.  In time, a koan arrived.  In bed last nite, zero desire to read on my phone, instead, wildly strong urge to read from a book, though the lamp would have to be turned off.  Oh my, the bother, yes?

Two books, grabbed, Daily Strength For Daily Needs, by Mary W. Tileston. Recommended by Celestine Sibley, a well known columnist for the AJC when I moved to Atlanta over 3 decades ago, and used in many of her columns thru the years.

Thomas (1795-1880) Carlyle, puts it clearly about why you must break Garden Design Rules, “Know that ‘impossible’, where truth and mercy and the everlasting voice of nature order, has no place in the brave man’s dictionary.  That when all men have said ‘Impossible’, and tumbled noisily else whither, and thou alone art left, then first thy time and possibility have come.  It is for thee now: do thou that, and ask no man’s counsel, but thy own only and G*d’s.  Brother, thou hast possibility in thee for much: the possibility of writing on the eternal skies the record of a heroic life.”

With this quote, above, Tileston chose, Matt. xvii. 20, Nothing shall be impossible unto you.

Along with,

So nigh is grandeur to our dust,
So near is God to man,
When Duty whispers low. Thou must,
The youth replies, I can.
R.W. Emerson



Garden Design Rules, now I trust them, knowing how to break them.  More, they are the tools to break them with.

Garden Design Rule broken, above?  Garden Design Rule: One Focal Point per Area.


Marital Counseling

For 3 decades I’ve had the honor of being hired to design residential gardens.  Included is the privilege of being asked into my clients homes.

Aside from noticing the transition across the years, “Do you want iced tea?”, to, “Do you want mosquito repellent?”, to, “Do you want a bottled water?”, I’ve noticed how people live their lives, their relationships, children, responses to life not in what they say but how they pattern their home.

Then there are the babies.  Many of those babies are out of college & their mom/dad have hired me as a gift to design their first home.  How can this be?  I’m already wondering ‘when’ will I design a garden for my ‘first grandchild’?

Of course there are the divorces.  One particular divorce I kept both ex-spouses, when each remarried, I designed those pair of homes.


During one Garden Design, over a decade ago, ‘mom’ & I were talking the garden while her children and their friends were playing a theatrical dress-up, swords & crowns included, performing across the backyard with whirls through the kitchen where we were talking.  The family dogs were part of the theater too. One of the funnest, enriching homes I’ve been in.

Last weekend this particular ‘mom’ called me back.  Time to enclose a front porch, change some windows into doors, turn a patch of Earth into a stone terrace, and lastly, remodel the kitchen.  We’ll be doing it all in layers.

Life is still percolating richly in their home.  In their early 20’s both children still live at home.  This time it’s mom whirling and performing.  She’s mere years away from retiring, a French teacher at the local school, and just finished licensing for being a yoga instructor.

Here’s the deal with their happy home.  All are thriving, and mom/dad are going to a marital therapist learning how to get their children to move out.  I get it.  Both sides.  Their home is a love fest.

This theatrical will end well, interesting, but well.


Mid-Century Ranch: A New ‘After’ Pic

Most mid-century USA ranch homes still wear their 1st landscape installation.  A landscape predicated by banks for builders to close their construction loan, and get the certificate of occupancy issued.

Starting from that point, for improvement, using existing plants, moving a few, getting rid of some, adding 1-5.  Copying the aesthetic, below, “With a little imagination.”, (Anne of Green Gables), a landscape suffering the uglies for over half a century, enters the new century, with beauty, simplicity, and a setting for the home instead of a detractor to the home.

Truly, this landscape design, below, is art.

Great for a non-gardener, and even better for Aging-In-Place.  Within a subdivision, if those original ranch landscapes decided to reform into, below, the entire subdivision would experience a bump up in value.  No small feat to transition from ugly to pretty.  Happy, is the result.  Home value bump, lovely, but happy is the hunt, priceless.


This garden, above, is the fine line of green meatballs/bad vs. green mounds/good.  Yes, love the piquant success of this landscape, above.

Tone Change: Basket

The basket, below.  Changes the tone, with intellect.  A bit light hearted, a little sassy, nice narrative, good textural contrast.

Lightweight, easy to use.  Keep plant in its nursery pot, no worries.  If the bottom rots away, who cares, basket still perfect for your needs.  Use whatever rubbish at hand to raise potted plant to correct height.  Spanish moss at the rim, if needed, to hide the pot.

Best place I’ve found these baskets?  Thrift store.  Especially the ‘laundry hamper’ round (classic) or rectangular (modern) baskets.

Brought one home last weekend, $5, best find ever, about 4′ tall, round & tapered toward its bottom, the style depicted in 18th century French toile fabrics/wallpapers.  Go me !!

Destined for the front porch atop a table, sourcing the perfect plant after Thanksgiving.



Front Door Garden Design

One reason, below, I must see your home interior before being able to design its garden.

Was it obvious, at first glance, below, the problem?

A dark foyer.

Many houses I’ve designed the ‘matching’ glass door.  We source the door to match the existing front door, and our carpenter cuts away the panels, replacing with glass.

Have never tabulated a list, but so much about Garden Design does not involve plants.


Have had the opportunity to walk into several big box stores this fall, always going in via the Garden Center.  Vulgarians at the gate have won.  Literally.  Greetings via shelves, rows of shelves, dedicated to chemicals, and seemingly innocuous fertilizer.  Beware, n-p-k fertilizer is toxic to ground water, kills earthworms, kills mycorrhizal fungi on roots.

Had a knowing laugh reading Schopenhauer yesterday, “When we read, another person thinks for us; we merely repeat his mental process………read themselves stupid.”  Yep.  Me.  At the front end of gardening I read myself stupid.  Realized popular garden writing wasn’t for me, went back to college for horticulture degree, more stupid.  To the core of my DNA, knew it was stupid.  Thus began decades of studying historic gardens across Europe.  No more books, foot on Earth.

Then to Machiavelli, “A wise man ought always to follow the paths beaten by great men and to imitate those who have been supreme, so that if his ability does not equal theirs, at least it will savour of it.”

On to Seneca, “Men who have made these discoveries before us are not our masters but our guides.”

Further with Farnum Street, “We need to digest, synthesize & organize the thoughts of others if we are to understand….It’s how we acquire wisdom.  How we acquire foundational knowledge…..Without this foundational knowledge we are unable to separate the signal from the noise.”

Garden Design Course: In a Photo

More a Garden Design course, below, than simply another garden.  What can you label, below, as the Garden Design ‘rules’ followed?  Decades I’ve taught at the local college and Atlanta Botanical Garden.  Never, ever, tire of this phase of Garden Design.  Name it to claim it.  If you know what you are looking at, and can name it.  YOU can do it.

Color, contrast, flow, layers, mystery, expanse, minutia, shapes.

Color, did you know green gardens are the ‘fastest’ to look like something?  Green gardens are also calm, less drama, perhaps best said, more of the right drama.  Then, within the green are myriad greens.

Contrast, big leaves next to small leaves, rounded shapes next to cone shapes, woody plants next to herbaceous.

Flow, the pathway has me, feet want to travel, finding what’s around the curve, mystery.

Layers, all checked, pocket of open sky, canopy trees, understory trees, walls of tall bushes, wainscoting of medium bushes, low bushes/groundcovers are flooring & carpet.

Space too large, 100’s of acres, a garden room similar, below, nearish your house will warm & own the expanse.  Space to small, neighbors homes jutting into your face, a garden room similar, below, around your home, creates a huge landscape, eyes drawn to the expanse of canopy trees and sky, which is infinite.

Minutia of hair like foliage, velvet like moss on the trees, chartreus with dark greens and etc.  Drama change for winter, the garden, below, holds together in all seasons.

Understanding the Garden Design ‘rules’ and principles, above, please tell me this makes you laugh, below, in the ‘knowing’ what they’ve done, below.  Well done, dramatic pairing, fun drama with Garden Design ‘rules’.


Yesterday, my harvest table was finally unloaded from the truck.  Temporary location while ‘macro’ garden construction is completed, you know, drilling a well, graveling drives, renovating sheds, adding a porch, and too much other garden infrastructure keeping me away from my beloved ‘micro’ gardening.

Laskett immediately on top of harvest table, owning it.  Behind him, the materials yard awaiting its new barn.  Yes, chaos of materials yard getting on my last nerve.  Alas, at least another full year before it’s cleared.

Harvest table denotes 1st move into my shed, Beloved using my shed until his barn built.  “Where is the Gator going if you put your harvest table there?”, Beloved asks.  “No, they both won’t fit there.”, he responds to my answer.  I smile in return, thinking, “Go away, I’ve got this.”  Poof Beloved’s gone, I arrange table, Laskett & I do what we do so well together, bask in each other’s adoring presence, Laskett affirms every thought in my head.  Sitting a moment to shoot table/Laskett/setting sun, I glance at the open space for the Gator, with a smile.

With great pleasure, I walk to the gravel drive where the Gator is parked, crank it up, pull it into it’s new space, 2′ to spare, turn the Gator off, pull the brake lever up enjoying its sound, surveying the Gator’s new domain.  Beloved still working in back at the pond, Laskett & I walk to the house, gardening day done.

Best irony about my shed, it’s a century old, Beloved moved it last year, renovated it, new walls, new window, new door, new floor, added a tin roof to two sides, and it’s my shed.  We knew up front he had to use my shed for many of his things, many, until his barn is built.  Has been a great chapter getting here, I’m not in that chapter anymore.    You’ve already noticed this new chapter title, My Shed.

Thought you would appreciate a little raw reality gardening.

Why Fall Planting is Best

Fall is for planting.  A longer window too.  In my zone, 8-7B, have not lost plantings from late September through Christmas, bought from nursery.  Beware nursery bought plants after Christmas, they have residual fertilizer activity and not hardened against the cold.

Beware, too, camellias kept in covered greenhouses.  Nurseries keeping the blossoms ‘pretty’ for sale, yet weakening them to cold.  Won’t kill them, typically, to the ground, yet camellias bought in fall from a covered greenhouse, then planted ahead of a hard freeze will burn significantly.

Story line changes for fall & winter planting for plants already growing in your landscape.  Acclimated, I move them in winter.

Another fall-is-for-planting fact.  Best plant sales of the year are ahead of Thanksgiving, clearing space for Christmas trees.

Roots grow better in cool weather, better at getting established, versus roots being the workhorse for water transport to foliage during spring & summer.


I know, it’s counter intuitive, fall-is-for-planting.

Simplicity of Narrative

Last question, finishing a Garden Design, What can I take out and it holds together?

There is so little here, below.  Yet overwhelmed in layers of narrative.  I see a story/stories, below, you must, too.

Not, simple-gardens-are-the-best, it is simple gardens including narratives of classic aesthetics across the ages, tied to the life of their home’s interior, and owner, with an ease of maintenance, those are the gardens lasting centuries.


Front door, above, reminds me of a story I was told by a friend, decades ago, in Savannah, GA.  The story teller lived in the historic district.  The story told happened ca. 1950’ish.  An elderly widow lived in elegant deep decay in a large historic mansion.  Her handy-man, an African-American, took care of her, the house, garden, and it was well known he brought her food from one of the best restaurants, he waited tables there several nights a week.

More, they lived outwardly their proscribed rolls. Yet, within her home they were lovers, in a committed relationship.  Further, the city knew, yet lived the lie.  Protecting both, beloved members of their community.

The lady in the story, born 19th century, lived the story in 20th century, I’m telling you in the 21st century.  Her home still standing.