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

Ulf Nordjfell- the romance of the North

Ulf Nordfjell's garden style is beautifully illustrated and explained in Fourteen Gardens, a monograph published by Frances Lincoln, with photos by Jerry Harpur.

The introduction, named Inspiration- the desire to create, states that:

I take my inspiration from the urban landscape of Stockholm, bubbling with the energy of everyday life, combined with a longing for the 'romance' of the Tuscan landscape and the familiar atmosphere of  the norther Swedish province of Argemanland where I grew up. I love contrasts, and in my work I move freely within these extremes".

And in another section, Experiences, Nordfjell shares his techniques of planting design scaling down the broad brush plantig effects of his larger works to suit the domestic sphere:

Large drifts of perennials can be emulated in a normal-sized garden by groups of 5-15 plants of each variety. Let the plants appear in different parts of the garden, in different combinations.This creates both drama and calm. Individual plants of the same species can usefully be employed as spot plants in other parts of the garden.

A trademark planting style is reminiscent of meadows and fallow, untouched open land, where grasses, Deschmpsia cespitosa 'Goldschleyer', Calamagrostis acutiflora 'Karl Forster' and Miscanthus sinensis 'Poseidon', are interplanted with giant white foxtail lilies, Eremurus x isabellinus ' Obelisk', or Anemone x hybrida 'Honorine Jobert' for late summer/ autumn.

The book is delightful for gardeners, as it clearly tracks and labels the plant species in the photographs,and in this way adds to our enjoyment!

I leave with images of the Chelsea 2009 garden, Best in Show.

images courtesy of the Daily Telegraph and

Carlo Scarpa & Fernando Caruncho- water

In this post- we're having a short break in the next couple of weeks - I would like to speculate on connections between the architect Carlo Scarpa's and the garden architect Fernando Caruncho's use of water. This is prompted by an interesting post by an architecture student at Curtin University, Australia, blogging at architecture moves us. I am indebted to him for the use of the images below:

Here is his quote:

Born as Venetian, water is one of the greatest elements of Carlo Scarpa’s architecture. The cemetery is carved with a series of everflowing canals; sometimes flowing aside the path and sometimes within a pond surrounding the steps and pavillion.

This put me in mind of Caruncho's equally impressive, but more positive and sundrenched water parterres, large and reflecting to Scarpa's minimal but exquisitely detailed.

S'Agao garden
Caruncho garden

And in turn, there is something about how both these men imagine and build with water which reminds me of Calvino's meanderings in recollecting the city of venice...

"Kublai Khan does not necessarily believe everything Marco Polo says when he describes the cities visited on his expeditions, but the emperor of the Tartars does continue listening to the young Venetian with greater attention and curiosity than he shows any other messenger or explorer of his." So begins Italo Calvino's compilation of fragmentary urban images. As Marco tells the khan about Armilla, which "has nothing that makes it seem a city, except the water pipes that rise vertically where the houses should be and spread out horizontally where the floors should be," the spider-web city of Octavia, and other marvelous burgs, it may be that he is creating them all out of his imagination, or perhaps he is recreating details of his native Venice over and over again, or perhaps he is simply recounting some of the myriad possible forms a city might take.

Quote from review for Invisible Cities,

Happy summer break, see you at the beginning of September.

Trees and Plants in Italian Renaissance Gardens

Summer is advancing, we are enjoying the layout and hard work of spring so  we are taking this opportunity to do some reading ...and research. Always seeking to extend the knowledge of planting that underpins our mediterranean, low water usage ethos, we're tracing the use of plants in antiquity,  understanding the use of these  traditional plants and the impact they might have within a 21st Century design layout.

Claudia Lazzaro's in depth study of the Italian Renaissance Garden, Yale University Press, 1990, focusses on the planning and historical development of the gardens around Rome and Florence, with an excellent bibliography and a useful Appendix gathered from many textual sources, documents, treatises and inventories of the gardens. Here she subdivides fifteenth and sixteenth century plant material according to its use in the gardens, also mentioning "exotic" plants introduced in the late sixteenth century.

Here is my take on the list.

Herbs and flowers to follow!

The Secret Garden- Tom Stuart-Smith

Tonight I'm looking forward to another excellent talk by Tom Stuart-Smith at the Garden Museum, London. The full title of the talk is The Secret Garden or Attachment, Separation and Loss: a Meditation on Spatial Design. It was introduced last week as an insight into the formative influences of Italian Renaissance gardens, including Caprarola and Villa Lante, and the 1740's William Kent garden at Rousham, Oxfordshire.

Giardini segreti are spaces hidden away, for pleasure or escape, and it will be interesting to see the conceptual transaltion of this idea in the contemporary, garden room style that he is known for.

Below is an almost iconic image of planting style: multistemmed rhus tiphina embracing and enclosing the space, underplanted with  hakonechloa and evergreen box.

Talks, events and exhibitions are all on the Garden Museum site.

More well known imagery.... its seduction is about its inevitability;  even in a show space such as Chelsea it seeks to make space for us, to re-establish a connection with an inner space of thought and wonder.

Stuart-Smith commented last week on the relationship between psychology (or being married to a psychologist) and the making of his gardens; listening, I was relieved to find that gardens, like the Renaissance ones, are still being thought of as spaces to delight the body and the mind.