Welcome to my blog!

Hello, my name is Mark Olson and I am the founder of Gardencrafters Landscape & Design. I have enjoyed over 25 years of designing and building custom residential and commercial landscapes in the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern California. I am educated in Horticulture and Design with extensive practical experience in construction, materials, irrigation, drainage, walls, patios and driveways, water features, outdoor kitchens, fireplaces, lighting and plant materials. Plants are my passion.

Over many years I have learned quite a few things from designing and building gardens for my many clients. These include answers to common questions about landscape design, materials, plants and maintenance to ensure they are satisfied with their gardens. Common questions I have encountered –  what  landscape design is best for my home architectural style and personal taste, what is this plant I like called, how do I keep my landscape flourishing, e.g, when is the best time of day to water, when do I prune, fertilize, etc.? What is a drought tolerant landscape, what can I do with this space I have, what plants survive wildlife, pets and children? And my favorite, what is a low maintenance garden?

In addition, I have been blessed with an adventurous spirit for the outdoors and have travelled near and far to pursue my wanderlust. I have led many group backpacks, hikes, mountain climbs and adventures. I have visited many gardens both here and abroad and have an interest in the art, architecture and way of life of other cultures. Landscaping and plants are my passion and my vocation, but travel and experiencing other cultures is my avocation. I plan to lead small groups to experience some of the gardens I have explored overseas in the future. For now, Thailand, it’s culture and gardens are my passion and I plan to showcase more of them to encourage you to visit in the future.

In my blog I look forward to passing along my knowledge and hearing from you.

Best regards,

Your Gardencrafters Guru, Mark

SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA # 925-998-8870

SACRAMENTO AREA # 916-933-1010

 

Whimsy and Water in Provencal Gardens

There are whimsical surprises around every corner in Provence. Medieval towns had drinking fountains and they are still gathering spots today.

This variation of a white picket gate would work in many small gardens.

This variation of a white picket gate would work in many small gardens.

This gate creates a feeling that something different awaits you behind this gate. Entrances to gardens are often overlooked, but they can really set a feel for the space beyond.

This style of fountain must have been all the rage in it's day.

This style of fountain must have been all the rage in it’s day.

Fountains similar to this seemed to be in every small village in Provence. These were places to get water for the house in the past. On this day it was definitely a hit with these kids.

A not so ordinary mailbox with a playful kitty daring you to put the mail in.

A not so ordinary mailbox with a playful kitty daring you to put the mail in.

No room for a vine? how about a faux vine? The French love of art is apparent everywhere in Provence.

Different town, same fountain.

Different town, same fountain.

Was there a fountain franchise? Mass production? Church approval? Don’t know.

No room for a real tree? Then we'll make one.

No room for a real tree? Then we’ll make one.

Those are colored soaps, it was a soap shop. I’m betting there was something growing there in the past and they removed it to renovate the stone work. If you live in a place that is hundreds of years old, plants can become a problem.

 No really, it's a different village.

No really, it’s a different village.

Remember, this was your water supply. If the design worked well, why not use it again.

 This is in the area that is famous for its Mistral winds, having experienced them I can attest to their ferocity.

This is in the area that is famous for its Mistral winds, having experienced them I can attest to their ferocity.

The Mistral wind is similar to the Santa Ana winds in Southern California. The scrolling in this iron work evokes the wind bending branches, the grapes just hanging on and the snail looking for cover. Or is the snail heading over to eat the grapes?

Finally a different fountain!

Finally a different fountain!

But you don’t want to drink from it, non-potable. I’m sticking to the tried but true.

Yes, the ubiquitous Cigale or Cicada.

Yes, the ubiquitous Cigale or Cicada.

Cigale images are everywhere, pottery, tableware, tablecloths, souvenirs, etc. In the summer, the sound of the Cicadas is there to remind you it’s hot outside. Anyway, I found this iron Cigale very appealing.

Obviously a very different fountain from a different time built for a different reason.

Obviously a very different fountain from a different time built for a different reason.

What can you say, those people in Aix had all the money, no drinking fountains here. The point being that fountains add allot of sight, sound and feel to a landscape. If you are going for grandiose, have the right setting for it, like this one does. So many times I see fountains that don’t match anything about the architecture of a home or the style of the garden.

Guard kitty, not quite sure of me, but with a little petting he came around.

Guard kitty, not quite sure of me, but with a little petting he came around.

 Dog Guide...hey you, for a bite of your sandwich I'll give you the tour.. . and he did!

Dog Guide…hey you, for a bite of your sandwich I’ll give you the tour.. . and he did!

Just go and see for yourself, no guide needed!

The Wild Paving Styles of Portugal

The pavers in Portugal varied from “I can’t believe she is walking on this in high heels” to exquisite works of art and craftsmanship.

This is the ankle breaking stuff and it's everywhere.

This is the ankle breaking stuff and it’s everywhere.

Every sidewalk and Praca (plaza) has it. It’s approximately 2 X 2 inches set in a bed of coarse sand with no mortar at all. The pavers settle, twist and buckle and puddles quickly form during rain storms. The pavers are easily lifted by tree roots and the spaces between the pavers are large enough to swallow the point of a high heel. To top it off Lisbon is a very hilly city! The residents were great walkers, you would be too if this was where you walked all of the time. Renovating this paving is a full time job.

In this patio you can start to see the possibilities multiple colors provide.

In this patio you can start to see the possibilities multiple colors provide.

Most of the paving in entrance areas like this was set more carefully, still no mortar, but more thoroughly compacted. This is crucial in installing any paver, there must be a deep enough bed of roadbase and sand under the pavers, 6″-8″ for patios and walkways, and 12″-18″ under driveways. The base must be compacted in layers, usually with a vibra-plate compactor. The entire patio must be compacted again after the pavers are installed and the sand has been broomed into the spaces between. If done properly it should last for years.

These are interesting geometric grids using color and shape to define areas.

These are interesting geometric grids using color and shape to define areas.

Here the colors separate pedestrians from auto traffic, never mind her walking in the street. In case you still didn’t understand, bollards alternating with Windmill Palms were installed to leave no doubt. The elliptical shapes are modifications of the waves in the next photo.

  This is a flat promenade but the "waves" in the paving create a visual distortion.

This is a flat promenade but the “waves” in the paving create a visual distortion.

It looks like the paving undulates. Allot of the new paving in Portugal is being done in this pattern, the lack of straight rows should more thoroughly lock the pavers together. This pattern is inspired by the famous Brazilian Landscape Architect Roberto Burle Marx whose Copacabana Esplanade in Rio de Janeiro goes on for miles and was itself inspired by the ocean waves.

OK, Obviously not paver tiles, but the only concrete paving I saw in a month of travel in Portugal!

OK, Obviously not paver tiles, but the only concrete paving I saw in a month of travel in Portugal!

You really don’t see much concrete paving throughout Europe. I was surprised to see this brand new concrete paving abutting an old fortress along the Atlantic, I didn’t think it blended very well with the fortress, but it may have been part of protecting the foundation of the old fortress.

I love the alternating diamonds in this public square or Praca.

I love the alternating diamonds in this public square or Praca.

The use of three colors of pavers in this repetitive fashion is wonderful. It has a very dynamic flow to it and later in the day this was a very lively place to be, even in January.

This is another view of the same praca in this village in Southern Portugal.

This is another view of the same praca in this village in Southern Portugal.

It’s really not that large but because of the diamond pattern your eye follows the diagonal lines and the praca feels larger than it is. Your perspective also changes as you move across the praca.

Notice the intricacy evident in both the tile patterns, the iron work in the gate and the masonry wall beyond.

Notice the intricacy evident in both the tile patterns, the iron work in the gate and the masonry wall beyond.

These design patterns are evident throughout southern Portugal and remind me of the much more detailed patterns you see in Andalusia, Spain. Since both areas were under Moorish rule for close to seven centuries they have similar design influences.

The swirling lines in this paving pattern grab your attention.

The swirling lines in this paving pattern grab your attention.

The curving perimeter lines are accentuated by the thick, dark bands mirroring them. They lead both into and out of this park. The curving red bench further emphasizes the flow of energy through this space. This dynamism created a space that didn’t feel welcoming and no one was in this park. Or maybe it was the benches.

In this highly stylized version of waves the designer again attempts to fool the eye.

In this highly stylized version of waves the designer again attempts to fool the eye.

As you move through this space  and view the pond from different angles, the pond appears to tilt towards one side or another,  even though the water line is obviously level. I love that in Portugal designers like to play with perception.

As one moves away from the fountain it takes on a different appearance.

As one moves away from the fountain it takes on a different appearance.

Now what were waves appear to be ripples in the pond caused by the marble “boulders”. I think it is fascinating how they try to blend contemporary designs with existing architecture. I love how the waves are integrated with the arches.

This view of Praca de Dom Pedro 1V shows the effect of the undulating paving pattern.

This view of Praca de Dom Pedro IV shows the effect of the undulating paving pattern.

This is a flat space. One could almost experience vertigo walking across this praca. It is a popular area at night and the bar traffic spills into the area. It must be a fun experience while under the influence!

Quite simply, stunning!

Quite simply, stunning!

In this view of Praca de Dom Pedro IV the wave pattern is so pronounced that the pavers look almost like someone has grabbed the side of the praca and given it a snap, like a blanket or tablecloth. It has a magical, surreal effect at night.

 

 

 

Provence in the Garden: Observations on Provencal Landscapes

When I think of the mountain villages of Provence the first thing that comes to mind is the dry stack stone walls.

When I think of the mountain villages of Provence the first thing that comes to mind is the dry stack stone walls.

They are everywhere and have been standing for hundreds of years. The craftsmanship to build such tall walls is outstanding. While it is usually cost prohibitive to build dry stack stone walls in the garden, when suitable rock is readily available on site we have used it with great success.

I was glad I didn't meet another vehicle on this road.

I was glad I didn’t meet another vehicle on this road.

The stone walls on the left have recently been reworked, the walls on the right have slumped a little but are still doing the job. The vertically laid sharp stones capping the wall are there to keep unwanted guests out of the property. I have seen broken glass or even broken bottles set in the top of walls for the same purpose in other countries.

I love the corner of this wall.

I love the corner of this wall.

A great deal of work went into this corner and it has held up to the wear and tear it obviously has taken. This is typically recreated by the manufactured corners used for veneered concrete masonry. More expensive projects will use real ledger stone veneered over concrete block, a great substitute, but there is nothing like the character of a real stone wall.

 I don't know if these plants were placed into this wall or if they took root over time.

I don’t know if these plants were placed into this wall or if they took root over time.

Either way it’s a great look and we have incorporated plants into walls. Sedums, Sempervivens, Alyssum, Thyme and Germander all work well. The trick is either to set up a drip system within the wall or start the plants in the rainy season and remember to water occasionally in the summer.

 Lavender, Lavender, Lavender, it's everywhere in Provence.

Lavender, Lavender, Lavender, it’s everywhere in Provence.

This is the back of the Gite I stayed in early spring. This gravel walk is actually 6 ft. wide but as the lavender grows it spills into the walkway. When it blooms it brushes against you, which is wonderful if you like the smell of lavender. We created a Lavender walk in one of our gardens, it has a magical quality to it.

Olives, Olives and more Olives.

Olives, Olives and more Olives.

There are a surprising number of Olive orchards and Olive trees in the Gardens throughout Provence. They are a smaller more cold hardy Olive tree than you find in Spain. Portugal, Greece or Italy. Picholine olives come from from these trees which were planted during medieval times and are being rejuvenated. Olive trees are remarkably well adapted to Northern California. In the right place in a garden their silvery foliage and magnificent trunks add a wonderful ambience. Their fruit can be a real nuisance when planted in the wrong place, like turf areas or over patios. large specimen trees readily transplant and create an instant Mediterranean feel. There are many more varieties beside the Mission Olive to choose from and I especially like the mature Sevillano Olive trees we installed on our projects. Mature is a relative term as Olives can live for over 1000 years.

Cypress Trees are used in the landscape throughout Provence.

Cypress Trees are used in the landscape throughout Provence.

Unlike Italy however, they aren’t used just in the cemeteries. So often in our gardens in California they are planted in very narrow areas as a screen. Most of the time they become much to large for the space and either get removed or a hack prune job. I like to use them either singly to emphasis the verticality of a structure or in groupings, especially at an entrance.

 Grape Vineyards are planted throughout Provence.

Grape Vineyards are planted throughout Provence.

Vineyards range from large operations to someone planting their private yard for their own wine production. If you have the space and the interest this is a fantastic way to landscape a property. We have incorporated a few small vineyards into our designs. This area reminds me of the upper ridges on the east side of the Napa Valley. In fact Provence has many similarities in feel to both Napa and Sonoma Valleys, excluding the incredible Roman, Medieval, Renaissance and Belle Epoch history and Architecture…lol. That is Mont Ventoux of Tour de France fame in the background.

These gorgeous red poppies aren't as plentiful in Provence as Italy or Spain but they are stunning.

These gorgeous red poppies aren’t as plentiful in Provence as Italy or Spain but they are stunning.

This wall was recently added to create additional parking near the entrance to a small mountain town. The poppies were probably part of a hydro-seed mix to cover the soil and prevent erosion. I have seen them used just a few times in the Napa Valley. I would love to see them used more.

Hollyhocks seem to have disappeared from gardens and it's a shame.

Hollyhocks seem to have disappeared from gardens and it’s a shame.

I clearly remember the tall Hollyhocks my aunt planted in her Bay Area garden. As a kid, it was fun to wait for them to go to seed and pick the seeds for use the next year. They are rather dramatic against this ruin of a stone monument.

Plants are jammed into spaces where their seemingly is no room.

Plants are jammed into spaces where their seemingly is no room.

This defies common sense but with the right plant material it can really soften up too much hardscape. I have incorporated tiny planting pockets into walkways and patios and have planted small vines and espaliers in them. This works especially well in paver patios, just pop out a few of the pavers and plant directly into the mix below. It requires very tough plant material, a drip system or occasional hand watering. I have had great success with espaliering Fig trees, just don’t let them get too large.

Stone Pines are found in the gardens and surrounding landscape of Southern France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and many other Mediterranean countries.

Stone Pines are found in the gardens and surrounding landscape of Southern France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and many other Mediterranean countries.

In Portugal they are planted in large plantations and used in the pulp industry. They are great landscape specimen trees only for a large garden. Some of the specimens planted in Capitol Park in Sacramento in the 19th century are gigantic and require special support. These pines trees have a rounded shape and blend wonderfully with Oaks, Bay trees, Madrones, etc.

This pattern of alternating wavy and straight sections is very common in the iron work in Provence.

This pattern of alternating wavy and straight sections is very common in the iron work in Provence.

It is so simple yet it has a very dynamic feel to it. Note the short, sharp spikes between the uprights. I wouldn’t want to put my foot on those to try and jump the gate, yeeow!

 This shade structure covers a patio outside a village post office.

This shade structure covers a patio outside a village post office.

The simplicity of the structure, it’s slight arch, diminished scale and color are very attractive. I’m not sure it can support a Virginia Creeper vine, but it felt incredibly sturdy to the touch. I’m also not sure of the window covering, how do you escape in an emergency? Obviously different building codes.

This gate swings inward behind the arch.

This gate swings inward behind the arch.

The design motif was very different, more similar to architectural patterns you see in Southern Spain or Portugal. Maybe there is a Moroccan iron worker in town?

A Low Maintenance Garden: Is there really such a thing?

Most of my clients ask for a low maintenance garden. Unless they have unlimited resources, most of my clients would prefer to keep their ongoing maintenance costs to a minimum. The initial maintenance of getting a garden established is very basic, provide enough water for the new plants to thrive, don’t over water and keep weeds from getting a foothold. The amount of long term maintenance is really a function of design choices. If you have a turf area you will have higher ongoing costs for watering, fertilizing, herbicides, pesticides and mowing than a garden that has little or no turf. But just because a garden has no turf does not mean it is low maintenance, in fact it could require more maintenance than turf. A classic garden of clipped hedges and topiary requires constant maintenance to retain it’s form, that is a consequence of design choice. The ultimate expression of this would be the miles long clipped al-lee at Versailles in France. When a tree becomes to large to continue pruning it is cut down and a new one is planted in it’s place.

A traditional Japanese Garden also requires considerable maintenance in order to achieve and keep a certain look. As these are highly stylized interpretations of nature, the plant material is not allowed to reach full size but is kept at what is desired to be the correct size. Bonsai is the ultimate expression of this, but even the trees growing in the garden are almost a  larger version of Bonsai. This is a design choice.

Paving choices influence maintenance costs. A brick on sand patio will eventually suffer from underlying erosion and sink here and there. As the brick settles and the spaces between open up, weeds can get a foothold and speed up the process. I usually design a brick patio, or flagstone patio to have a concrete pad underneath, to mortar the brick and have a grout joint. This will last much longer. If the patio is going to affect the rooting area of an existing tree, not usually the best place for a patio, pavers on a compacted base will have less affect on the tree and can be reset if they are displaced by tree roots. A decomposed Granite walkway or patio may hold up extremely well in the dry desert southwest, but in much of Northern California we get enough rain that weeds will grow on it and it will erode when water runs across it. I usually have a stabilizer added to it, which works well, but is allot more expensive. Again, these are design choices.

The choice of irrigation systems and drainage systems also affect maintenance. A sprinkler system is simple and  easy to see if there are problems. However, many people ignore problems with their sprinklers until it’s painfully obvious. In the meantime, some areas have been getting too much water, some not enough,  plants are dying, weeds are growing from all the watering and run-off is a major issue. A drip system has it’s limitations as well, but it doesn’t have the under/over watering issues, doesn’t grow weeds and doesn’t waste water. If grading and drainage aren’t properly installed they can create wet areas during the both the growing season and the winter time. This can kill plant material and grow weeds.

Mulches can lower maintenance by limiting (not eliminating) weed growth, provided they are at least 2″ thick and promoting better plant health by improving the quality of the soil as they break down.

All of this being said, I think the number one design choice that creates high maintenance is plant material. Planting a plant that will easily grow 20 ft. X 20 ft. in a 3ft. X 3ft. space is a recipe for high maintenance. I see this all of the time, people have to constantly prune plants to keep them from taking over their garden and most of the time there are many plants in the same garden that are too big for the space. it could be the choices made by the developer, they often choose large plants for that immediate look, but aren’t doing anyone any favors. Or it could be what was on sale at the nursery or department store, or what a landscaper chose to plant, just because they call themselves a landscaper doesn’t mean they know anything about plant material.

If you want low maintenance in your garden, and most of my clients aren’t gardeners,  they are paying someone else to do the maintenance, you have to understand plant material and choose appropriately. This is much easier now than it was a mere fifteen years ago, today there are countless plant varieties that have been grown specifically for their dwarf size. It requires a greater number of these smaller plants to fill the space, but it results in much lower maintenance.

If you want a low maintenance garden make the right paving choices, grade correctly, install proper drainage, a drip system, mulch, no turf and above all think small when it comes to the plant material choices.

Cordyline ‘Electric Pink’ , Dracena Palm

This outstanding plant is not for the weak of heart.

This outstanding plant is not for the weak of heart.

A bold accent in the garden, multiple shades of pink, white and red bronze. Forms a multi-trunked clump to 4 ft. tall and wide, much shorter than it’s other Cordyline relatives. Will do well anywhere in the Bay Area, Sacramento Valley and Foothills. Full sun to partial shade, don’t over-water  I’ve had good luck planting on a slight mound. Moderate to fast growth rate. Excellent in containers. Can be used in Tropical gardens, Mediterranean gardens and Contemporary gardens.

BRONZE LOQUAT (Eriobotrya deflexa)

Bronze Loquat is a beautiful, small, broad-leaf evergreen tree.

Bronze Loquat is a beautiful, small, broad-leaf evergreen tree.

Is it a good street tree? You decide. These specimens are about 40 years old. Usually I see this tree as a large shrub, I have even used it as an espalier against a building. This is in San leandro in the east bay area.

It has beautiful branching structure and is usually multi-trunked.

It has beautiful branching structure and is usually multi-trunked.

These have been pruned up to be able drive under. The smooth bark is quite attractive, but scars easily. In a different setting the trunk and branches would look outstanding with lights highlighting them from below. Notice how small the planting area is.

The white flowers in the spring are beautiful and have a slightly sweet fragrance.

The white flowers in the spring are beautiful and have a slightly sweet fragrance.

These flowers later become small dry fruit, that fall in mass. In fact the tree is quite messy, with a combination of the large leaves and fruit falling for most of the year. Scale insects and aphids can be a problem too, resulting in sooty mold and aphid dew covering the cars parked under them. The fruit are not nearly as messy as the Loquat tree grown for its edible fruit (Eriobotrya japonica), a tree that would be a disaster in this situation.

Obviously these are tough trees, they receive no irrigation and this specimen has no planting area left at all!

Obviously these are tough trees, they receive no irrigation and this specimen has no planting area left at all!

The inevitable paving heave is occurring and it appears that areas of the sidewalk have been replaced before. This is a problem with most trees used as street trees. I love the bronzy new leaves of this tree, it’s bark, trunk and canopy are outstanding, but it’s litter and insect problems would rule it out for me to choose; If you park under it for just a few hours, you need to wash your car! Great tree in a different setting, what do you think?

Royal Flora Ratchaphreuk, Chiang Mai, Thailand

The Royal Flora Ratchapreuk Garden in Chiangmai, Thailand is an amazing collection of gardens. It opened for a flower festival in November 2006, so it is very new. It is named for the Ratchapreuk Tree, Cassia fistula, also known as The Golden Shower Tree. This is the national tree and flower of Thailand. This park is very large and as I wandered through it, I came to feel as if I was wandering through a horticultural zoo. The zoo like quality was exemplified by the many gardens that were built within it to showcase different garden styles from around the world. I spent the better part of a day here and still felt like I was rushing through it. This is a place to return to again and again, to see it grow and change and to notice what was not noticed before.

The Royal Pavilion is the focal point in this photograph.

The Royal Pavilion is the focal point in this photograph.

The axial lines created by the paving, plantings and ornamentation clearly draw your eye and attention to the Royal Pavilion. I was surprised by how formal the plantings were and how much topiary was used. The mountains create the backdrop for all of this visual drama and are themselves topped by Wat Phrathat Doi Kham, a place of Buddhist worship for over 1300 years.

This photograph was taken from Wat Phrathat Doi Kham

This photograph was taken from Wat Phrathat Doi Kham

Getting to the top of the mountain was a fun bicycle adventure, the central axial lines leading to the Royal Pavilion are clearly visible. Again the formality of the plantings stands out, and from this height the plantings in the oval have the feel of a formal  Parterre garden. This is the Homage Garden, and it is filled with symbolic sculptures.

In this photo, also from Doi Kham, the scale of the gardens is revealed.

In this photo, also from Doi Kham, the scale of the gardens is revealed.

In the center of the photo, the road leading into the complex is visible, running at a different angle to the central axis line of the Royal Pavilion. I did not have time to explore the entirety of the gardens and some areas were closed. The buildings in the left foreground were part of the maintenance facilities and I believe the buildings in the right foreground were growing grounds. The gardens cover almost 200 acres. Doi Kham, while not one of the highest mountains around Chiang Mai, is a must see. It has a long history and it’s seated Buddha is amazing. The fast descent on a bicycle is the pay-off for the climb up!

This photograph is looking from the centrally located "hill" back towards the entrance.

This photograph is looking from the centrally located “hill” back towards the entrance.

This “hill”  with a road circling it disguises the transition from one central axis line to another. The formal layout and use of topiary creates a very grand entrance. The patterns created by the low hedges along the entrance appear to spell something, but from this angle I found it impossible to discern the meaning in Thai or English.

This view is looking towards the main visitors entrance from the "hill".

This view is looking towards the main visitors entrance from the “hill”.

The Royal Pavilion is visible in the mid-ground and Wat Phrathat Doi Kham is on top of the peak in the background. The sculpture in the foreground is a stylized Umbrella representing the development of Thailand under the King. I’m not sure about the purpose of the large paved area in the foreground. I’m guessing that it was used for the initial International Garden Expo in 2006-2007. It was empty the day I was there.

In this view of the main garden the Royal Pavilion is in the mid-ground and Doi Kham is the mountain in the background.

In this view of the main garden the Royal Pavilion is in the mid-ground and Doi Kham is the mountain in the background.

The head of the seated Buddha is visible on top of the mountain. I am standing in the middle of the Homage Garden and there is allot going on in this garden. There are vertical accents everywhere, all representing various aspects of Thai culture. However, it still feels like everything is being directed towards the Royal Pavilion and the mountain beyond. Notice the stylized cast bronze Bodi tree  sculpture in the mid-ground.

This is under the sculpture looking through the "leaves" hanging from it.

This is under the sculpture looking through the “leaves” hanging from it.

I loved the feel of looking through this curtain of leaves under the Bodi tree towards the pavilion, very surreal.

Close-up of a "leaf".

Close-up of a “leaf”.

It has what looks like a Wat, or temple on it, I’m not sure, there are many things in this garden that I wasn’t sure about. I would love to tour this garden with a Thai person who understood all of the symbology.

This one I am sure about!

This one I am sure about!

This was so cool and it made me laugh as well. Talk about a bathroom with a view. One word to learn in Thai, hongnam, bathroom!

The Royal Pavilion is quite stunning.

The Royal Pavilion is quite stunning.

It features the Lanna style architecture of northern Thailand and seems to float over the surrounding landscape. This is a beautiful building with most of the exquisite ornamentation at the front entrance. The wood work was wonderful and I loved the attention to detail. Notice the cool color scheme, very different than the warm color scheme of a Central Thailand temple.

This was definitely the place to have your picture taken if you were Thai.

This was definitely the place to have your picture taken if you were Thai.

This was funny to watch as the Thai people politely lined up to have their pictures taken and to take the pictures of their friends and family, all with the same backdrop.

This walkway bridging the change in elevation change from the Royal Pavilion to the surrounding landscape was one of my favorite structures.

This walkway bridging the change in elevation change from the Royal Pavilion to the surrounding landscape was one of my favorite structures.

Technically not balusters or a balustrade, but  these large urns with stylized crowns (?) on them evoked the feel of a balustrade. I love the linear repetition of elements typical of Thai architecture and landscapes, you see this in the ruins of very early architecture in Thailand.

The landscape surrounding the Royal Pavilion was a mix of formal layout, carpet bedding and topiary.

The landscape surrounding the Royal Pavilion was a mix of formal layout, carpet bedding and topiary.

I think this is Thai lettering around the pond but I can’t say for sure as I don’t recognize the font! LOL! We are moving to the tower beckoning in the distance.

This tower wasn't particularly beautiful, but it was a high point with a view and I simply can't resist that anywhere I go.

This tower wasn’t particularly beautiful, but it was a high point with a view and I simply can’t resist that anywhere I go.

The juxtaposition of the conical conifers and this structure seems jarring in this photograph, but it was balanced by an equal size planting area opposite that was framing the Royal Pavilion.

The view from the tower was a great way to get a feel for the surrounding landscape.

The view from the tower was a great way to get a feel for the surrounding landscape.

The Royal Pavilion is in the left mid-ground. The covered amphitheater below me was a surprise. I kept hearing jazz fusion music as I was walking around and it turned out to be a live band playing in the amphitheater  Thailand is full of surprises and odd mixes of the new, not so new and the very old. This area in the view is the start of the gardens of the World section. Some 30 countries are represented in the gardens constructed in this area. This was my favorite part of the place and was the reason I described it as a garden with a zoo feel to it.

I've posted this picture before, but this is so unusual it needs to be done again in context.

I’ve posted this picture before, but this is so unusual it needs to be done again in context.

This garden was from Belgium and was absolutely startling. It resembles a cornucopia, one formed of bark and filled with Bromeliads. The floor of this structure is an undulating carpet constructed over some sort of frame work, reminiscent of clumping Zoysia grass or a Japanese Moss Garden, and the bark structure has the feel of a cave or grotto about it.

Continuation of the cave emerging from the earth, very wild idea!

Continuation of the cave emerging from the earth, very wild idea!

I still haven’t seen anything else like this in a garden.

Totally crazy Bromeliads, but what a way to use them. Is this sustainable design?

Totally crazy Bromeliads, but what a way to use them. Is this sustainable design?

I have been back to see this and it still is amazing! I suppose it is a stylized Vertical Wall garden.

The walls are an amazing checkerboard of stacked rock and grass.

The walls are an amazing checkerboard of stacked rock and grass.

I loved the contrast of color and texture and the “moat” really sets the whole thing off!

The steel structure of the wall is featured in the design rather than hidden.

The steel structure of the wall is featured in the design rather than hidden.

I love the paving pattern which has the feel of water moving through the patio, continuing the idea of a grotto. This design and installation is quite simply amazing as a living sculpture!

This is the garden from the Kingdom Of Bhutan and it was such a contrast to the ultra contemporary feel of the garden from Belgium.

This is the garden from the Kingdom Of Bhutan and it was such a contrast to the ultra contemporary feel of the garden from Belgium.

The natural dry stack and mortar walls have an old world feel to them, like they have been here for a long time. The rough cut slate cap, the lintels over the wall openings, the coarsely carved ornamentation on the walls, combined with the slightly faded pastel colors all work extremely well together. The plantings are very simple, but they work well to lead you to the entrance.

The massive entrance with its roof, large doors and knocker is wonderful.

The massive entrance with its roof, large doors and knocker is wonderful.

I love that you can see the wood grain through the paint, again it feels like it has been here for centuries. The whole of the entrance has a mysterious, enchanting feel to it. What lies behind this wall?  Similar to the aura that surrounds the Kingdom of Bhutan, a country in the mountains of South Asia shrouded in mystery, famous for it’s Happiness Quotient.

Behind the wall was a courtyard garden with trees around the perimeter, very simple plantings and paving material, gravel and these pavilions with a small water feature.

Behind the wall was a courtyard garden with trees around the perimeter, very simple plantings and paving material, gravel and these pavilions with a small water feature.

The same material from the front walls was used, dry stack rock with mortar, nicely laid corners! But here the ornamentation of the windows and the roof is much more intricate than the front walls. Notice the seated Buddhas running around the walls and the other symbols that decorate the roof structure.

This is another pavilion within the courtyard.

This is another pavilion within the courtyard.

This one is more like a gazebo than the other pavilions and the woodwork and painting detail is exquisite. I love the 4-chamfer cuts at the end of the beams that are painted different colors, this adds dimension and depth to the wood working. This can also be created just by painting alone. The detailing in the roof structure reminds me of Talavera Tile from Mexico. The walls surrounded this entire garden, the plantings in the background are from the next garden.

This is the front of the garden from Kenya.

This is the front of the garden from Kenya.

This garden was the opposite of the last garden. Here the wow factor is the contrast between textures and colors of the plant material. The bold texture of the Travelers Palm( Ravanella madagascarensis) towering over the Yucca aloifolia ‘Variegata’ and Agave angustifolia ‘Marginata’ clustered amongst the boulders stops you in your tracks.

Another photo of the plantings along the front of the garden.

Another photo of the plantings along the front of the garden.

The effect is of an informal wall. The plantings are so bold that they stop your eye from moving beyond into the interior of the garden. You don’t immediately notice the buildings behind the plantings.

This is the entrance to the Kenya garden.

This is the entrance to the Kenya garden.

This garden is really quite subdued compared to the plantings that led up to this point. Very plain materials are used, the most striking element is the brightly robed statues. I did  like the simple thatched roof house, but the interior of this garden wasn’t that interesting to me, YMMV!

The collection of gardens within the grounds goes on and on.

The collection of gardens within the grounds goes on and on.

I stumbled upon this garden by just following an unmarked path, no entrance of any kind. The paving material is what caught my eye and as I followed it I came upon this structure in the middle of what felt like a rain-forest. It looks like a very old jungle house, complete with wood for cooking. I really liked the natural feel of this whole garden, as if I really was out in the wilderness. In this setting I wouldn’t be surprised to see an Elephant rambling by. What gives away it’s origin is the Thai National Flag hanging under the roof.

Royal Flora Ratchaphreuk

Royal Flora Ratchaphreuk

 

These two photographs are of the paving material in the “jungle” garden. Very clever use of leaf imprints in concrete to create this. Of course it helps if you live where there are lots of tropical plants to chose from. Something about this garden reminded me of Disneyland, or perhaps it was the opposite.

I loved the simple elegance of this pavilion, water feature, patio and sculpture beyond.

I loved the simple elegance of this pavilion, water feature, patio and sculpture beyond.

The pond was more like a reflecting pool this day. Normally this would be a fountain with jets of water shooting into the bowl in the middle with water coming from it as well. It seems no matter where you go in the world, water features are not always functioning! This garden from Turkey was all about the view of the sculpture in the background and water, or the illusion of water,  directed your eye towards it.

I loved the curves in this "stream" leading to a conclusion or perhaps a question?

I loved the curves in this “stream” leading to a conclusion or perhaps a question?

The sensuality in this garden is wonderful, the subtle interplay of the shadows from the pavilion, the sun, or is it the moon behind the couple, all of it works together quite well. Though I really like the cut through the patio, this garden would need to have lights at night …to keep people from falling into it and spoiling the mood!

This pavilion in the Indonesian garden is a simple design.

This pavilion in the Indonesian garden is a simple design.

This simple design works well with the variety in the tropical plantings surrounding it. The small Plumeria tree in the foreground reminds me that a plant that I would really struggle with growing  here in the San Francisco Bay Area grows anywhere in Thailand…sigh

The pebbles turned on edge in this patio hardscape in the Spanish garden are amazing.

The pebbles turned on edge in this patio hardscape in the Spanish garden are amazing.

The checkerboard look achieved by turning the pebbles at opposite angles is clever. I would love to be able to do something like this for a client, but I can’t imagine what it would cost! Access to inexpensive labor makes many things possible in Thailand that would be hard to replicate here. Though I never saw anything like this in Spain, maybe the designer was inspired by Thailand.

This garden is from Vietnam and I loved the patio, planted containers and the sculptural water feature.

This garden is from Vietnam and I loved the patio, planted containers and the sculptural water feature.

As much as I loved it, unfortunately there is a problem with the water feature, it’s falling apart! But the ideas are great, they just need better materials or execution.

This screen in the garden from India caught my eye.

This screen in the garden from India caught my eye.

It felt like it was constructed from resin, but I liked the intricacy of the panels. It reminded me of some of the architectural detailing I saw in door and window panels in southern Portugal, influenced by the Islamic architecture of the Iberian Peninsula.

This pavilion in the garden from China was beautiful.

This pavilion in the garden from China was beautiful.

I particularly liked the roof lines and materials. But what I found most striking were the curving lines of the patio leading to the entrance. The use of two contrasting colors and dissimilar materials really accentuates the curves in the patio. There is so much more to see and explore here, time to plan for another tour of Thailand!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bromeliads!

No specific Bromeliad here, but wow!

This is just an incredible example of the versatility of this plant family. This family includes both epiphytic and terrestrial species. Many species of Bromeliad can be grown in Bay Area gardens, but you won’t see this here!

Ravenala madagascariensis, Traveler’s Palm.

Native to Madagascar. Related to Bird-of-Paradise.

These incredible specimens are in the Royal Flora Ratchaphruek Garden in Chiang Mai Thailand. I have seen these in sunny, wind protected locations in the warmest winter parts of the Bay Area, as well as many places in Socal, South Florida and Hawaii, and they are eye catching, but they are almost always wind tattered. These are grown in a climate that is almost always hot and seldom windy. These would be great in a Topical Garden or in containers that you protected in the winter or moved inside.

Nymphaea Cv. Tropical Water Lily.

This Maybe the Cultivar ‘Tina’.

I’m not sure because there is so much color variation and the monks at this temple (Wat) in Chiangmai, Thailand had no idea, lol. But this photo is true to the color. This or other Day blooming water lilies would be outstanding to use in a small informal pond in a Tropical garden, Asian garden or a formal pond in a Patio or Courtyard garden. These will need special over-wintering care in many parts of the bay area, but they are worth the trouble.

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