GardenSmart :: EPISODES :: 2006 show23
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Show #23/410

For many, work is just a job and they leave it behind at the end of each day. Others are fortunate to work in their area of passion. In this show we meet such a person. Don Milbier realized 20 years ago that it was time to put his passion to work as a landscape designer. Now Don brings his work home everyday. His amazing talent and passion for gardening come together beautifully in his own backyard workshop. And this setting is made even more special because of its beautiful setting in Cape Cod. Don's work inspires and energizes us to try to duplicate this in our own backyard. Magazines, pictures and books are great but a one on one conversation with this landscape designer is hard to beat.

Jill Morgan Mason is what you would call a Harwich townie. Her grandfather didn't grow up here but she was born in Harwich on Cape Cod. And, this is a beautiful place. It has 3 harbors, which is unusual for the area. The town is now a little bigger than when Jill was growing up and things now don't end on Labor Day like they used to. It is a tourist destination and if you haven't seen it, you should. They're in close proximity to the backside of the Cape, where the mighty Atlantic Ocean is rolling in. Nantucket Sound is very sheltered, a quiet kind of environment with warm waters and shallow beaches. Dogs, kids and families all enjoy swimming in these waters. Most of the time winters on the Cape are not as severe as the rest of New England, although they do get their share of snowstorms and they sometimes get significant ice flows on Nantucket Sound. But generally, the weather is pretty nice. It's a little colder than the Carolinas but doable. There is an influx of a new, year-round population and these people are bringing in new ideas. For example, the Cape Cod lawn has gone by the wayside and people are introducing new kinds of landscaping ideas. Jill likes these new landscape looks, they give her new ideas. Specifically, the house and yard we'll see today is extraordinary.

Don Milbier is a landscape designer. We meet him on the street next to his front yard fence. Joe feels that if this is any indication of what's behind the fence we're in for a real treat. Don tells us a little about his background. About 25 years ago he decided he needed a career change. He had always had a passion for landscaping and the outdoors. So, he was at the right place at the right time and had the opportunity to meet Frank Patrissi who owned a landscaping business. Don eventually purchased this landscaping business and has been following that dream for 25 years. Don had some skills in place at that time. He had a solid educational background but the industry offers certifications and licensing which he has diligently pursued over the years.

A lot of his landscape look has been created through experiences and through working with clients. He tries to get to know the client, their space, their needs and how they live. Some people have children and they want play areas; others want small intimate areas; others, entertaining areas, music, water features, etc. So, Don tries to plan and incorporate those things into appropriate spaces.

Joe and Don walk into Don's backyard. Joe is speechless. It's beautiful. When Don started this was a vacant lot and was a flat, open area filled with poison ivy and brambles. They decided to create a space that is special and unique. And it is. This was originally one level. The first area we visit was dug out, they literally used buckets and dug the area out by hand and created a huge sunken area. Don has utilized materials that were readily available as well as things he's collected. For example, there is a fountain he found at an antique store and the fencing was from a house in Hartford, Connecticut that had been demolished. The fence is now used as a wall topping. It then, inspired the walkway. When looking from above down into the grand view, Don imagined a serene space. He envisioned sculptures, interesting plants, viewing areas. He wanted to create a sense of space, something that would be inspirational, but not necessarily religious. And he did just that. He has created wonderful views all the way down. And there are many different spaces around the top that provide views down below. Joe is anxious to see the views from down below, looking up. They take the path down. Don has created a sunken garden with a reflecting pond. The reflecting pond was created by a sculptor from the Cape, Steve Lynch. They've created a pond in which the water level comes right up to the edge of the perimeter walkway. The water seeps through the seams and that is done purposely. The pond has fish and it's surrounded by sculptures. He particularly likes the otter, the hare and turtle by Roger DiTarando from Vernon, Connecticut. Don points out another water feature made from blue stone and copper. This area is a actually a sitting area, which allows it to be more fully enjoyed. The staircase was built and created by his son, Kyle, who also does stonework. Kyle now runs the construction end of the business, the field operation, while Don now handles the design aspects.

Joe notices a Forest Pansy Redbud tree. It's an ornamental tree and has a maroon leaf. The maroon leaf is very refreshing and stands out because everything else is green.

Looking up, the wall seems to go on forever. This wall evolved as they were building it and became a climbing wall. They are, literally, able to climb the wall, because of the spacing of the ledges. Joe doesn't want to climb it, rather walk around and visit other gardens.

We next visit a bird sanctuary, a place of serenity, a place that allows Don and his guests to enjoy not only the birds but additionally the plant material. He tries to keep in mind water, food and protection when creating a space like this. There are birdbaths. All are fed from the water spigot, so the water doesn't become stagnant. The bird feeders all prevent squirrels from invading and the abundant plant material provides protection and a place for the birds to hide. The birds not only have protection overhead but the surrounding plant material offers protection and additionally is a source of food for the birds throughout the year. Don has incorporated plants like viburnums, hollys and winterberries and Cardinalflower (Lobelia cardinalis) which is great for hummingbirds.

Next to this area is a blueberry and blackberry area. It is caged and the birds love to eat any of the blackberries that make their way outside the cage. This area, too, has sitting areas that allow one to sit and enjoy the birds and plant material. Joe agrees this is a peaceful area. He could sit here all day. Don has created spaces to do just that. In this area there are benches, chairs, there are areas that one can come and have a cup of coffee, read the paper, listen to the birds, take in the whole feeling.

Joe notices there are a lot of birdfeeders but additionally there are a lot of birdhouses throughout the property. Don has 60 birdhouses of different sizes and shapes placed throughout the property. Some are architecturally featured, some are just tucked away. Different birdhouses attract different types of birds. Some of the birdhouses are just for looks, others used as architectural elements.

We next visit Don's vegetable garden. Joe thinks this is the most attractive vegetable garden he's ever seen. He has always believed that vegetable gardens must look industrial. They're never pretty. This is great looking. Don has tried to make it interesting because vegetable gardens do oftentimes look basic and functional. They get ratty looking. He has done that by utilizing vertical pieces. He has created arbors and created an area for espaliered apple trees. The vertical pieces give an additional depth to the landscape and garden. Additionally it provides an area to grow plants on vertical pieces and provides more space in the garden. It has been designed with bark-on cedar posts.

Don also grows vines on vertical pieces. He has a trumpet vine (Campsis radicans), the Dutchman's pipe (Aristolochia durior) and the five leaf akebia vine (Akebia quinata). The akebia vine is an aggressive vine. Don has stripped the leaves off the lower 6 or 8 feet and created a braided look. It's an impressive architectural feature.

The vegetable garden is next to to the work shed and potting area. These work areas are important for a garden and gardener. Whether it's a compost pile or a storage area for ones tools, this is where one keeps supplies and does much of the garden work. It has a sink and all the other elements normally used in a garden. Joe believes that Don has a knack for making things look good. This work area and compost pile is one of the most attractive he's seen. It's important for Don that as you pass through you feel comfortable, not be confronted with anything negative about the area.

Don also has beehives that help cross-pollinate. This is important for any vegetable garden or flower garden. The bees help contribute to the success of the fruit and flowers.

Joe notices that we've walked from garden room to garden room and so far he's had a sense of enclosure. How big is this property? Don tells Joe it is less than an acre - .93 acres. Joe now feels like he has entered into a huge open space. The spot we enter is a large, grassy area yet is less than a quarter of an acre. Don has purposely created this space and it does provide a feeling of an open area and is used for a wide variety of reasons. For example, it has been used for a wedding for his niece, they've had 190 people for a fundraiser for the Family Pantry in Harwich, it has been used as a volleyball court, for croquet, Frisbee, for slip and slides or whiffle ball. But it can also be used for relaxation. They have hammocks, Adirondack chairs, an adjacent hammock area and a fountain that has an enjoyable sound. Interestingly, by changing the level of the water the tone changes. Here there are beautiful colors and textures. The wind goes through and the rustling of the leaves is enjoyable. In the hammock area, because they don't have 2 natural trees close together, they took 2 bark-on cedar posts and created a structure to support the hammock. There are 3 entrances to the area, 1 off the driveway, which has an arbor that is brownstone and steel, 1 entrance is from the vegetable garden, which has a cedar arbor with vines on it and areas for birds and the 3rd is actually a reproduction of an arbor from Elizabeth Park in Hartford Connecticut that is a steel and cedar post arbor. It is filled with Kiwi vines and the Kiwi's are edible. The leaves are variegated so it gives a whole different feeling and look. As big as this area is, it's still enclosed. Don has taken plant material and built walls around creating the enclosed space, yet it's open enough to attract a large crowd. Joe likes the fact that Don has created a beautiful garden, yet one that's very functional, one can relax in it or play in it or entertain in it. It has it all.

Don feels when designing it's important to find things you love, then incorporate them into the landscaping. For example, when shopping or salvaging, if you find a grate or an old space heater floor grate, use it as a coffee table, then for legs use old cast iron downspouts. Use pig troughs or old urns as planters. One doesn't need to spend a lot of money to do this. Find things that are classically beautiful, accent the positive. For example, the patina on old items can't be reproduced; these type things are what make a landscape rich looking.

Don next shows us his horseshoe pit. It is in a much smaller space. Don, once again, has a sitting area and sculptures that are interesting. Part of the area is for horseshoes but people may be congregating, observing and waiting for the next game. Here they can sit on lounge chairs, benches, stone benches or wooden benches. Thus 6-12 people can wait, which is oftentimes the making of a party, certainly a relaxed atmosphere.

Don now shows Joe a trail. Don describes it as a passageway from 1 room to the next. He has tried to create curved areas because curves create intrigue. When one can't see what's ahead but see more and more as you go further down the walk, it creates excitement and interest. That's important to Don; don't tell the story all at once. Don also addresses elevation change. It's not just mounds, it's really changing heights of an area. Here one goes from a lower patio to an upper patio; one goes from a a sunken garden to a play area. All are on different elevations. Remember, this lot was originally flat. Joe agrees it does make the area feel much bigger, one feels that there are different rooms with different pathways as well the tree material on the sides creates a sense of enclosure. Don feels sculpture and creative plant material is important. Whether it's a cutleaf Japanese maple (Acer palmatum 'Dissectum'), the fernleaf new moon maple (Acer japonicum 'Aconitifolium'), a seven sons tree (Heptacodium miconiodes) with its color, bark, texture or flowers, it's all important.

Another important element in landscape design is maintenance. Bartlett Tree has been helpful in this regard. They come out and root fertilize the trees. Don utilizes an IPM (Integrated Pest Management) program to make sure all the plants, which are a big investment, are protected.

Don has used an extensive lighting program in his yard; up-lights, down lights, flush lights. It's not just for safety, he has created an atmosphere, whether romantic or just ambience, good lighting does that.

Another aspect of landscape design is framing pathways. This can be done a number of ways. Steel arbors, wood arbors and trellises or any combination of those, all add interest. Plant material is another way to frame a view. Plants provide a charming and interesting viewpoint and they're economical. The framed pathway emphasizes the view. It draws attention to the space you're going into. So, if going from a driveway out to the play area, it's a transition area and the view draws you into the space. Don shows Joe a dramatic view draws you out to the water. Plant material and an arbor are utilized to emphasize this water view. And it is a fantastic view.

Don and Joe are walking in an area just off the house. They do a lot of entertaining here. Here Don has used evergreen screening and it's a raised area. This walkway and surrounding plants were designed to provide a sense of intimacy and some relief from the fact that the property line is anywhere from 3 to 16 feet away. By staggering the plants, rather than putting them in a straight row and by mixing the varieties, which provides interesting texture and flowering at different times, it creates interest and a sense of enclosure. The most important design technique in this area has been to change the elevation. The space behind the patio wall was created, it wasn't that way previously. When you raise the level 3 to 5 feet, instead of purchasing 8 to 10 foot plant material specimens you can then purchase 4 to 6 foot specimens. With the raised area you're achieving the same thing. But, you get more plant for the money.

Joe feels every garden room has been beautifully designed which stands to reason because Don is a very skilled landscape designer. But, if a homeowner wanted to save money, should they invest in a landscape designer? Don feels that all depends on the scale of the project. A landscape designer offers an incredible choice of textures, materials, selections and varieties that the average homeowner may not know exists. For example, drainage may not considered; the pitch of things is ignored. When that occurs, long term problems may surface. Don feels the most important thing a landscape designer has to offer is insight into new ideas or trends. But first, the landscape designer needs an understanding of the lifestyle of the particular client. What do they have in their life - children, do they like music, are they big entertainers, etc. A good designer should try to get to know as much as possible about the client, so they can design for them and make sure that designed space is something they can use and enjoy for a long time. A landscape designer should provide more options, provide a wider perspective. And that's important.

Joe thanks Don. Joe has learned a lot and gained a great perspective walking through his garden. Joe now has a lot of ideas to take home. This is a beautiful place.

Links ::

Daniel Webster Inn, Sandwich, Cape Cod
Cast Lighting
Enchanted Faerie Castles
Patrissi Landscape
Kingsley Gallery
Roger DiTarando
Scotts Lawn Service
Bartlett Tree

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