Tag: Anna Gresham Landscape Design School

End of a Long Journey

About three years ago I embarked on a new journey … that of becoming certified in landscape design. The journey took a full year longer than I had planned and hoped, due to work, family, and general life responsibilities, but that’s all in the past now. I finally reach the end of this long journey.

It involved teaching myself computer aided drafting, following twenty-five in-depth lessons on site and level surveying; developing concept, hardscape, and planting plans; designing all aspects of a residential property including fences, walls, steps, water features, garden structures, habitat gardens, vegetable gardens, border beds, lawns, low-maintenance plantings, and native plantings;  delving into landscape design history and, among other things, honing my knowledge of botanical terminology.

For one lesson I designed a garden as if I were a female settler at Plimoth Plantation. For another lesson I designed a butterfly and herb garden.

I became lax on blogging about the lessons simply because of time constraints, but the lessons marched on.

There was the border planting in front of a brick wall, with both summer (top drawing) and winter (bottom drawing assuming all perennials are cut back) views. (For unknown reasons when converting to a jpeg for posting here, the drawing lost its sharpness, but it still shows the general design ideas.)

border planting in front of brick wall-summer and winter views


The working drawings, both plan and elevation views) of a pergola.

pergola drawings


The fence lesson that gave me the chance to design a garden fence for espaliered fruit trees.

espalier style fence


Plus, there were many full property design lessons too large to show here in any meaningful detail. Living and working in a rural section of Connecticut means there are very few small properties to practice design skills upon. As my instructor noted in her assessment of my final project, “I think you have designed more acreage than any other student to date. Large properties are a lot more difficult than average-sized ones and this last assignment shows that you are very capable of handling the task. The design, presentation and documentation were all excellent.”

Am I an expert? Not by any means, but, I have a lot more knowledge and understanding of what it takes to design beautiful and functional landscapes, and … I fulfilled a long desired goal … and this makes me happy.

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A Seventeenth Century New England Garden

To fulfill one of my landscape design lessons, I sunk my imagination into what the gardening life of a female settler at Plimoth Plantation might be. I needed to design a small garden to show key characteristics of an authentic garden set in a period of my choosing. I’ve long been fascinated by the survival skills learned and adopted by 17th century New England colonists – even tried my hand at braiding onions and garlic – so I opted to develop a series of garden beds indicative of this time.

One of the main characteristics of gardens of this period is their randomness. To optimize planting space beds were created wherever they fit. Beds were not necessarily evenly spaced or arranged. Paths between each bed were narrow and often filled with weedy growth. Garden size depended on the size of each family and the number of mouths to feed. Principles of more modern landscape design such as unity, balance, proportion, rhythm/movement, and interest were not an important consideration. Instead, the driving forces behind early settlers’ gardens were function, convenience, efficiency and productivity. They had to grow as much food as possible plus all herbs, medicinal, and dye plants they might need throughout the year. Survival depended on the harvests from smaller garden or kitchen plots and from larger field-grown corn, beans, squash, grains and other edible crops.

Ethnic Garden-Colonial New England


Settlers took care to fence edible gardens from roaming livestock and edge raised planting beds with large rocks or the trunks of felled trees … tasks likely relegated to men. Otherwise colonial women did most or all the gardening chores, including digging/hilling the soil, spreading manure, planting, harvesting, collecting seed … all with little help from other family members who were busy elsewhere.

My design shows perennial herbs such as hyssop, lemon balm, sage, thyme, sweet woodruff or mints in green. Yellow shades are annual vegetables like pumpkin and other squash, cabbage, carrots, melons or beans. Fruit trees, perhaps an apple, pear and plum,  and berry brambles are planted along the western edge. Additional berries and fruiting shrubs like mulberry or quince run along the north fence line. The heavy black line in the upper right is part of the house. The lighter line just below it is a livestock pen.

Portraying this garden accurately meant squelching the urge to build planting beds of uniform size and shape; to ignore creating paths that could accommodate landscape machinery or garden carts; to forget aesthetically pleasing plant placement; and to forego any thoughts of hardscape or grassy pathways. Settlers did not have herb gardens or beds of dye or medicinal plants. They intermingled all the plants they needed to grow. They placed plants wherever they found space. Pathways were overgrown with weeds, worn down to bare soil, or possibly scattered with the crushed shells from seafood harvests.

These were rough, rugged working gardens. But I think their simple functionality shines through. There’s still balance, rhythm and movement, but it’s that of a period when garden design took a back seat to growing edible plants to survive.

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