Steve Martino: desert gardens

I have always been delighted with the graceful form, vibrant colour and modernist shapes that constitute the very personal aesthetic of the landscape architect Steve Martino.

Simple selections of form, plants that hold the space visually and structurally, are enhanced by bursts of colour and strongly toned contrasts.

Below is a selection of garden projects that marry  formality with the poetry of desert light. The wild and sharp features of the planting, organised against the planes of built  and naturally occurring colour, are some of esterni's favourite juxtapositions in residential garden design.

All images courtesy of

Best drought tolerant plants

Apologies for the short break in posting...the summer is lovely and busy for Esterni, and we have been working on plans and planting!

Here is a lovely set of recommended plants, if like most of us, you would like them to survive without too much watering involved.

Most of these will need good drainage, so try to improve the soil by digging in some grit: some of these plants will overwinter if not sitting with their roots in cold, wet, claggy (not technical but gives the picture!) soil conditions..

The images are courtesy of  Better Homes and Gardens: handy names if you go to garden centres, or as a colour and planting planning tool - print them out and mix them in colours and textures that are right for you.

Starting with Achillea, above, I would suggest that it looks a bit old fashioned (my gran used to have it everywhere), but is much better teemed up with grasses, narrow leaved miscanthus or perhaps pennisetums...

Agastache 'Desert Sunrise', common name hyssop, below, offers orange blooms that feature pink and lavender tints. It attracts tons of hummingbirds and is a great cut flower, too. I would say again excellent with more recumbent grasses, greener such as anemanthele lessoniana, to the make the most of complementary form and texture.

The useful and lovely Russian Sage, Perovskia Atriplicifolia, is a stalwart in the Esterni palette of plants: starting to bloom now in early July  it looks good in SE England until October and after that provides good winter texture. Rabbit and deer proof!



below, is very tough, grows well in a range of conditions and attracts hummingbirds. 'Raspberry Delight' offers gorgeous raspberry-red flowers over a long season: From late spring to early fall. Full sun.

    The image below is only really for delight, as Salvia pachyphylla, common name Mojave sage, is only truly happy in the arid conditions of the desert, as you can see from the glaucous small leaves..... what looks though!
    Echinops takes a couple of seasons to bulk out, but is reliably perennial in SE England: in my own garden they were planted in February and are now sporting lovely round seedhead/flowers: mine are facing east and are searching for light, so make sure you plant in an open sunny spot.Sedum 'Frosty Morn' is one of many varieties of reliable clump forming plants, with a understated variegated leaf slightly succulent in look. This grows to 50 cm and is good for mass plantings with grasses...
    Have fun planning and planting combinations.

Creating Outdoor rooms- French furniture from Fermob.

Fiona has recently shown me this link to Fermob, a company mainly specialising in metal outdoor furniture. There is a revival of metal, due to its longevity, recyclable properties, and lower maintenance demands than wood. The metal furniture of Fermob also seems appropriate for smaller, Victorian urban settings with upbeat colours and bold shapes. The traditional-looking shapes echo recent 60's and 70's styles, while the colour choices stay firmly on trend.

Below is the Sixties Garden Chair:

Surprising Lounger:

Latitude chair:

Inside Out Chair: available 2012.

Craft table:

Flower armchair:  Lovely with dinosaurs...

Flower armchair detail........enjoy the sunny days and wilderness walks!

Italian echoes in a grotto at Stowe Landscape gardens

During this Easter there has been much gardening and visiting of open gardens and National Trust properties. Some time ago, I heard garden designer Chris Beardshaw talk on Gardener's Question Time of his initial interest in gardens being inspired by Stowe Landscape Gardens, Buckinghamshire, and so went to visit last week.

The large proportions of the landscape are  brought into human scale by the follies, ornamental monuments and pleasure temples dotted around the estate. The naturalistic style of the landscape is punctuated by large trees and shrubberies of box, yew and mixed native species, within which the garden buildings contrast their geometric, architectural forms. This is quite reminiscent of the renaissance approach seen in some of the Bosco Sacro gardens in Tuscany, where the esterni design influences are well embedded!

Among these we came across an Italianate grotto, of which we may see other lovely examples in Monty Don's current programme on Italian Gardens.

The grotto is unusual in that it is a semicircular shape, and that it is reminiscent of a mosaic decoration as seen in the roman villas of Southern Sicily, but it is entirely made of coloured pebbles set in pale, old cement mix.

We propose it in our blog as it has a light contemporary feel, and it is something that could be included in the treatment of pebbled flooring...a contemporary approach to decoration-  coat of arms may also be applicable.....