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Show #14/4401. The Garden Of A Great Garden Designer

Show #14/4401. The Garden Of A Great Garden Designer

Summary of Show

Alex’s Office And Gardens
It’s great to see ALEX’S OFFICE AND GARDENS and they have a wonderful story. Alex tells us about that story. Alex and his wife bought their first house in Chamblee, Georgia which is where we are now. As his landscape architecture design and build firm grew he needed a work location so he acquired a lease on a small filling station, in Chamblee, built in the 1920’s. As the company grew they acquired a design studio a few houses up the street which meant he had both locations going at once, which meant he was paying two leases at the same time. As they continued to grow he realized he would need to acquire a piece of property he could own himself.
For More Information Click here

Climbing Plants
Alex and Eric talk about CLIMBING PLANTS They've done a particularly good job with climbing plants and there so many uses for climbing plants, so many great things to do with integrating different vines. Covering up a chain-link fence that is not attractive, softening the wall of an exterior, are just two examples of using vines creatively. Alex agrees, they like the flexibility and uniqueness of designing with vines. Not a lot of people do that anymore and it's lovely. It is beautiful and sets Alex's group apart from other designers. They grow out of antique roses - he buys them, grows them out longer, in bigger pots, so they have long runners.
For More Information Click here

Fragrant Vines
Eric wonders what are some of the vines Alex likes to use that are particularly FRAGRANT? That is something clients ask often. Alex likes to use a semi deciduous vine, Fiveleaf Akebia. The flowers are subtle, the fragrance is sort of subtle too, but when you do smell it, it is sort of a sweet smell. They use that often, but it is a fairly aggressive vine. They use a lot of Confederate Jasmine when looking for evergreen qualities.
For More Information Click here

Pruning Hydrangeas
HYDRANGEAS are definitely one of the queens of the garden and they are so versatile. Eric cannot think of many gardens that he has visited that have not had multiple hydrangeas and he knows it factors heavily into the kind of design Alex likes. Alex agrees, most of their clients feel hydrangeas provide a real sense of nostalgia. Hydrangeas remind Alex of working in his grandmothers garden, the gardens he grew up with. Although not entirely bulletproof they are pretty easy to grow as long as you understand when to prune them.
For More Information Click here

Changing The Color Of Hydrangeas
One of the questions we frequently received from viewers is - How do I turn my hydrangea macrophylla into that really, really dark blue or even purple? Alex tends to lean towards the blue varieties because that's what he remembers from childhood. Often times he finds plants come from a grower and are grown in a certain type of soil. The plant doesn't have the right pH to make them blue. So they use aluminum sulfate to manipulate the PH in the soil. They can really CREATE A NICE BLUE COLOR by using that product. There are a range of blues and one can almost design the color for your hydrangea. If you want a Perry Winkle blue that is probably going to be a PH around 5 or 5.5.
For More Information Click here

New Hydrangeas
In the world of hydrangea breeding there are many NEW PLANTS COMING OUT EVERY YEAR. The breeders are really pushing the boundaries from the standpoint of form, size, color and amazing new foliage. One can find chartreuse leaves, variegation, red stems, purple stems, etc. Eric wonders, what are some of the favorites that have come out recently that have impressed Alex? Well they certainly are working hard to develop new hydrangeas all the time. They use a lot of hydrangea cordifolia or oakleaf hydrangea. It has become very popular on the market. Munchkin is a new plant and an example of a smaller growing variety of oakleaf hydrangea.
For More Information Click here

The Meadow
Eric and Alex next visit the MEADOW. It is just now coming into its own, and one of the most fascinating features in the garden. It looks so carefree one might assume a pretty simple garden feature. But meadows are not necessarily for everyone and they are not always as easy as they look. A lot of people do think a meadow is a no-brainer and that they can be pulled off easily. That is not the case. A lot of these plants do self seed and Alex leans towards plants like that. The Queen Anne's lace somewhat takes care of itself. They have also supplemented the meadow with a lot of self sowing annuals, as well as a lot of herbaceous or perennial plants.
For More Information Click here

Creating A Meadow
As far as setting something like this up what are the considerations with regards to drainage, soil type, what should one think about if they had a section of their garden they wanted to TURN INTO A MEADOW? Believe it or not there's such a thing as a soil being too rich. That was not the case here, this area had a sandy, clay soil mix which is not very good soil in terms of nutrients. So they needed to first build up the soil and added organic matter.
For More Information Click here

Crop Rotation For A Meadow
Eric wants to know how Alex keeps things LOOKING GOOD YEAR ROUND. There is a trick for sure. And it is somewhat trial and error. They start out with clover and bulbs, Daffodil bulbs for sure, and various old species or varieties. That moves into what they have now which is poppies, Queen Anne’s Lace, Verbena bonariensis, bachelor buttons, different types of coreopsis. As they move into summer they have a very colorful display of zinnias that they sow, lots of sunflowers, which are great, Mexican sunflowers, lots of different varieties. There are so many different, wonderful sunflowers these days. Moving into fall they will have salvias, astors and a second crop of cosmos and other sunflowers.
For More Information Click here

Supporting Or Stabilizing Plants
There are so many unique ways of displaying plants in the garden. Yet often times that is what makes a garden whimsical, gives the garden that extra touch of creativity and provides a glimpse into the personality of the gardener. It makes it distinctively yours. Alex often finds himself looking at old gardening techniques, many of which he has seen throughout his travels and experiences. For example, he has been drawn to creative ways to STAKE OR SUPPORT PLANTS. A good example is the way they stabilize peonies.
For More Information Click here

Espalier Plants
Alex uses a lot of plants that have been espaliered, they train a lot of their plants into ESPALIERED PLANTS. They do that with camellias and as well have been successful in doing it with Althea, or rose of Sharon, in the hibiscus family. Espalier means sort of flattening off the plant and treating it as a wall shrub. It is very two-dimensional. You flatten it against the chimney or wall and it becomes almost a piece of art it's own right.
For More Information Click here

Alex’s Plant Bag Of Tricks
Most DESIGNERS HAVE A BAG OF TRICKS, which often consists of unusual plants or cool plants that are emerging, plants that the designer is falling in love with. Eric wants to know some of the plants Alex likes. Alex responds, “How long does the show last." Alex has always found himself drawn to certain types. One of his favorites is the American beech, a native tree - he loves the bark and the habit of the tree. He likes the foliage when it first emerges, he likes the coloring and the fact that it holds its leaves in the winter time. They are sitting next to a Spanish lavender, he's always liked lavender.
For More Information Click here

LINKS:

Alex Smith Garden Design Ltd.
Alex Smith Garden Design, LTD - Residential garden/hardscape design and installation company dedicated to creating classic, timeless outdoor spaces

Plant List

Show #14/4401. The Garden Of A Great Garden Designer

Complete Write Up

In this episode GardenSMART visits the design studio/garden of a world-class garden designer who has created gardens from coast to coast. And it is impressive.

Some of our favorite shows involve spending time with great garden designers and talking with them about the principles they employ to create amazing spaces. We always come away with useful nuggets of wisdom that we can then take home and use in our own gardens. Today we are catching up with Alex Smith who we met several years ago in the Ozarks. Alex is truly an original designer with meticulous attention to detail, importantly he's focused on quality above all else. He combines an artistic talent and horticultural knowledge to execute his vision for each individual client and create a garden of lasting beauty.

Prior to launching his own design firm Alex worked as a lead designer and project manager for renowned garden designer Ryan Gainey. Alex also spent two summers in England working under the tutelage of British designer Rosemary Verey. He opened his own design company in 1999 and today we will be taking a stroll through his many display gardens as we talk about the timeless principles of garden design that often elevate even the smallest space.

Eric welcomes Alex, they both exchange pleasantries. It's great to see ALEX’S OFFICE AND GARDENS and they have a wonderful story. Alex tells us about that story. Alex and his wife bought their first house in Chamblee, Georgia which is where we are now. As his landscape architecture design and build firm grew he needed a work location so he acquired a lease on a small filling station, in Chamblee, built in the 1920’s. As the company grew they acquired a design studio a few houses up the street which meant he had both locations going at once, which meant he was paying two leases at the same time. As they continued to grow he realized he would need to acquire a piece of property he could own himself. They came across this property. It was in total disrepair, covered in kudzu, The house was falling in on itself. He asked his late father, Cathey Smith, if he thought this was a project Alex should take on. His father was from Macon, owned a custom millwork company and trained as an architect. Alex and his father walked the property together, his father felt it would be a lot of work. The price was high at that time but later came down. When the price dropped Alex took on the challenge but unfortunately by the time he acquired it his father had passed. So he never got to see this project complete. Alex thinks that today that this is one of the best facilities for a landscape company in the Southeast. And Eric agrees, it is superb.

Eric wants to know more about Alex's work. There are so many interesting and exciting projects Alex is involved with, what are some of the most exciting projects, what are some of the projects he's the most enthusiastic about? Alex feels they have a good time on all projects. They love what they do, they are very passionate about all projects. They are fortunate that way, because of their hard work they have many projects. Right now they’re working on six projects on the Georgia coast and they have projects as far north as New Jersey. They always seem to have a wide geographical range, thus are constantly learning about plant pallets in different areas as well as different construction techniques and hard scape details.

Alex explains this location - For a landscape designer there is a tremendous benefit in having a very well designed display garden. Of course, they have more land here than many designers have available. And they have made great use of that space. This is a great place to bring a client and showcase different types of plants and combinations of plants that they like to use in their projects. And there is nothing better than being able to take a stroll through this acre and a half that they have cultivated and show people what can be done in their landscape and gardens. They have planted a lot of specimen trees, different varieties. They have a herbaceous border, a vegetable garden and a meadow. The meadow may not apply to everyone, but it shows the range of what they're capable of doing and designing.

Alex and Eric talk about CLIMBING PLANTS They've done a particularly good job with climbing plants and there so many uses for climbing plants, so many great things to do with integrating different vines. Covering up a chain-link fence that is not attractive, softening the wall of an exterior, are just two examples of using vines creatively. Alex agrees, they like the flexibility and uniqueness of designing with vines. Not a lot of people do that anymore and it's lovely. It is beautiful and sets Alex's group apart from any other designers. They grow a lot of antique roses, he buys them, grows them out longer, in bigger pots, so they have long runners. Alex shows us a little out building that they renovated years ago. On it they have an old antique Rose, a hybrid muskrose called Rosa Cornelia. Often times they will take clematis and run it up through the antique roses which means the rose acts as a step ladder for the clematis. Eric wonders if Alex has any secrets or tips for this process. Alex says there definitely is maintenance involved. Pruning is important. They often take "I" hooks and drill them into the structure whether masonry or wood. If they then need anchors they oftentimes use copper wire because it lasts longer and looks good. They then constantly watch the growth of the vine and train and weave the roses and various plants through the structure they have created.

Eric feels one of the underrated features of vines, and many climbing plants is fragrance. Not all of them but many are pungently fragrant. Not only do they do a good job of screening in the garden but adding fragrance. A huge plus.

Eric wonders what are some of the vines Alex likes to use that are particularly FRAGRANT? That is something clients ask often. Alex likes to use a semi deciduous vine, Fiveleaf Akebia. The flowers are subtle, the fragrance is sort of subtle too, but when you do smell it, it is sort of a sweet smell. They use that often, but it is a fairly aggressive vine. They use a lot of Confederate Jasmine when looking for evergreen qualities. It is intensely fragrant early in the spring, sort of an old southern favorite. They also use a fair amount of wisteria. They don't use Chinese wisteria because it is so aggressive even though it has a great fragrance. They use evergreen wisteria, which actually is not a wisteria at all, it is called millettia, it is a different genus but the flowers are similar, so often called Evergreen wisteria as a common name.

They also use a cultivar, a native wisteria, called Amethyst Falls. Wisteria sweet peas is an old garden favorite that Alex first learned about when working in England. He fell in love with them. It is considered a cool season annual in the south, but try it. It's very colorful, very fragrant. Here they have trained them on the little sticks, teepee sticks or tudors, if you will, and they are lovely. They were able to cut lots and lots of these flowers during the growing season. It is such a fun plant. Eric likes what they have done with the stakes. These plants can be a little floppy, they basically want to trail along the ground. But what Alex has done here is brought them up to eye level. These are some nice plantings and a great garden feature.

HYDRANGEAS are definitely one of the queens of the garden and they are so versatile. Eric cannot think of many gardens that he has visited that have not had multiple hydrangeas and he knows they factor heavily into the kind of design Alex likes. Alex agrees, most of their clients feel hydrangeas provide a real sense of nostalgia. Hydrangeas remind Alex of working in his grandmothers garden, the gardens he grew up with. Although not entirely bulletproof they are pretty easy to grow as long as you understand when to prune them. They must be pruned at the right time of year and they must be cited properly with the correct light exposure. He has heard over the years many sad stories about different lawn maintenance services that didn't understand that concept and have pruned them incorrectly. Since most hydrangeas bloom on old wood, pruning at the wrong time means no flowers the following spring. The best rule of thumb for any flowering shrub is to prune them when they are in bloom or immediately thereafter. By doing that one almost never goes wrong.

One of the questions we frequently received from viewers is - How do I turn my hydrangea macrophylla into that really, really dark blue or even purple? Alex tends to lean towards the blue varieties because that's what he remembers from childhood. Often times he finds plants come from a grower and are grown in a certain type of soil. The plant doesn't have the right pH to make them blue. So they use aluminum sulfate to manipulate the PH in the soil. They can really CREATE A NICE BLUE COLOR by using that product. There are a range of blues and one can almost design the color for your hydrangea. If you want a Perry Winkle blue that is probably going to be a PH around 5 or 5.5. So, slightly acidic. If one wants a really deep intense blue, then a PH of around 4, which is quite acidic as far as plants are concerned. If you want a pink color, lime the soil. You will need to make the soil more alkaline, get the pH up to around 6 or 6.5 or so, which for many plants is a more normal growing PH. It is so much fun when you can have pink and blue flowers on the same shrub. But remember, when going through the process of trying to manipulate the colors it can often take a season or two to get them exactly right. And there could be a period in mid stride where one gets blues, purples, pinks, light blues, all sorts of colors, it could be a quite interesting combination.

In the world of hydrangea breeding there are many NEW PLANTS COMING OUT EVERY YEAR. The breeders are really pushing the boundaries from the standpoint of form, size, color and amazing new foliage. One can find chartreuse leaves, variegation, red stems, purple stems, etc. Eric wonders, what are some of the favorites that have come out recently that have impressed Alex? Well they certainly are working hard to develop new hydrangeas all the time. They use a lot of hydrangea cordifolia or oakleaf hydrangea. It has become very popular on the market. Munchkin is a new plant and an example of a smaller growing variety of oakleaf hydrangea. There is one called Ruby Slippers that is a smaller growing variety of the hydrangea cordifolia. It also has the attribute of turning sort of reddish color as the flower matures. One of Alex's favorite native Annabelle hydrangea, hydrangea arborescens, has a new cultivar called Bounty. It is bred to hold its flowers a little more upright whereas Annabel has a tendency to flop. One that is new within the past seven, eight or 10 years that Alex likes is hydrangea macrophylla Endless Summer. We spoke earlier about hydrangeas blooming on new wood or old wood. Endless Summer actually blooms on both old and new wood. This attribute makes it very useful for designers because a lot of their clients are in the mountains. That factor becomes important because if there is a late frost and the buds get knocked back it will reset flowers which means they will bloom in July. That, of course, is nice. There is another cultivar in the Endless Summer series called Blushing Bride. It has a pink tip as it matures.

We talked earlier about vines. Alex uses a lot of climbing hydrangeas, one selection, schizophragma rosium starts out white and is it matures develops a pinkish tint. It is very useful, unusual plant plant. There is so much diversity, so much interest in great garden plants.

Eric and Alex next visit the MEADOW. It is just now coming into its own, and one of the most fascinating features in the garden. It looks so carefree one might assume a pretty simple garden feature. But meadows are not necessarily for everyone and they are not always as easy as they look. A lot of these plants do self seed and Alex leans towards plants like that. The Queen Anne's Lace somewhat takes care of itself. They have also supplemented the meadow with a lot of self sowing annuals, as well as a lot of herbaceous or perennial plants. They have Astors that bloom in the fall, Joe Pie Weed, some rudbeckias and some other mainstay plants that provide structure and bones for the meadow itself. There are a lot of poppies and lark spur. Because the seeds are so small they often times start them in the greenhouse, grow them from little seedlings, then plant them in the meadow. There is a fair amount of thought that goes into planning but once it gets going it is a lot of fun. It is fun certainly, but one almost needs something like a vacant lot or it is not very practical because most homeowners may not have the facilities or space for a meadow.

As far as setting something like this up what are the considerations with regards to drainage, soil type, what should one think about if they had a section of their garden they wanted to TURN INTO A MEADOW? Believe it or not there's such a thing as a soil being too rich. That was not the case here, this area had a sandy, clay soil mix which is not very good soil in terms of nutrients. So they needed to first build up the soil and added organic matter. They didn't test it or anything like that, rather observed how the plants performed, which plants performed and which didn't. There is a bit of a grade here, from top to bottom, so they created steppingstones within the meadow and dug in a swale so that when it rains water runs into the meadow and perks into the flowers. The swale also breaks up the water flow. They do have supplemental irrigation. But they try to grow plants that don't require as much irrigation because at the end of the day one wants to think of a meadow as somewhat maintenance free.

One of the huge benefits of having a meadow is all the wildlife it brings or attracts. They see butterflies and bees, and of course, birds. The birds love this part of the garden because of all the dry seed heads. Alex loves the fact that there are a lot of bees, which are fun to watch in action. As well Golden Finch arrive once the zinnias start to come in. The Zinnias are all sorts of different colors which makes it fascinating. He finds it very rewarding to see a yellow finch perched on a pink zinnia. That is a huge bonus to having a meadow.

Eric wants to know how Alex keeps things LOOKING GOOD YEAR ROUND. There is a trick for sure. And it is somewhat trial and error. They start out with clover and bulbs, Daffodil bulbs for sure, and various old species or varieties. That moves into what they have now which is poppies, Queen Anne’s Lace, Verbena bonariensis, bachelor buttons and different types of coreopsis. As they move into summer they have a very colorful display of zinnias that they sow, lots of sunflowers, which are great, Mexican sunflowers, lots of different varieties. There are so many different, wonderful sunflowers these days. Moving into fall they will have salvias, astors and a second crop of cosmos and other sunflowers. So they can stage it pretty well from early April through the end of October. In the winter they, for the most part, pull everything out, at least the annuals, although sometimes they leave things for winter interest, for example the seed heads of the Queen Anne's Lace or some of the Astors. They then top dress the area with some good organic compost. Just put it to sleep for the winter and it falls under the category of "it is what it is." They just let it kind of ride in the winter. Eric thinks it looks fantastic now, perhaps a little more ambitious than what many folks might want to try, but if up for it, it is hard to beat a meadow.

There are so many unique ways of displaying plants in the garden. Yet often times that is what makes a garden whimsical, gives the garden that extra touch of creativity and provides a glimpse into the personality of the gardener. It makes it distinctively yours. Alex often finds himself looking at old gardening techniques, many of which he has seen throughout his travels and experiences. For example, he has been drawn to creative ways to STAKE OR SUPPORT PLANTS. A good example is the way they stabilize peonies. They are a beautiful plant when in flower. The way Alex has them displayed by taking a wisteria vine, sort of repurposed it and created hoops or wreathes, they are supported with bamboo stakes then tied off with Jute twine, the peonies then grow up through them, so they act as cages.

They also use the jute twine with daffodils. As gardeners know we're not supposed to cut them back after blooming until turning yellow. Here they take the Daffodil foliage bend it over and tie it with Jute twine. It's a very kempt way of handling daffodils and you can tell that somebody cares. It's a nice personal touch.

Alex uses a lot of plants that have been espaliered, they train a lot of their plants into ESPALIERED PLANTS. They do that with camellias and as well have been successful in doing it with Althea, or Rose of Sharon, in the hibiscus family. Espalier means sort of flattening off the plant and treating it as a wall shrub. It is very two-dimensional. You flatten it against the chimney or wall and it becomes almost a piece of art it's own right. It is a clever way to display plants and and very effective in gardens where space is limited and one might not have room for the entire canopy of that plant. It's an old world way of decorating walls, covering up a chimney, but also in the courtyard or patio where one might not have the space for a giant apple tree, for example. In these instances espalier is perfect.

Most DESIGNERS HAVE A BAG OF TRICKS, which often consists of unusual plants or cool plants that are emerging, plants that the designer is falling in love with. Eric wants to know some of the plants Alex likes. Alex responds, “How long does the show last." Alex has always found himself drawn to certain types. One of his favorites is the American beech, a native tree - he loves the bark and the habit of the tree. He likes the foliage when it first emerges, he likes the coloring and the fact that it holds its leaves in the winter time. They are sitting next to a Spanish lavender, he's always liked lavender. Although we can't use certain lavenders in the south because it's too hot and muggy but Spanish Lavender seems to do well most everywhere else. Alex believes it's a nice plant and not often seen. Golden Honey Locust or Golden Rebeccia is a plant Alex learned about when traveling in Europe. It has beautiful chartreuse foliage and he likes its habit. There are so many plants Alex likes a lot.

Eric congratulates Alex. He has done a great job here and appreciates the time Alex has given us today. We’ve learned a lot. Thanks Alex.

LINKS:

Alex Smith Garden Design Ltd.
Alex Smith Garden Design, LTD - Residential garden/hardscape design and installation company dedicated to creating classic, timeless outdoor spaces

Plant List

 


   
 
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