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Program looks at creative collaboration behind Greenwich, New Canaan gardens

Published 9:55 am, Tuesday, June 10, 2014
  • Landscape architect Susan Cohen designed a new path to the water's edge at this Greenwich, Conn., property. She will talk about the details of the design and the collaborative effort among the design team during a talk on Saturday, June 14, 2014. Photo courtesty of Susan Cohen Photo: Contributed Photo, Contributed Photo / Stamford Advocate Contributed
    Landscape architect Susan Cohen designed a new path to the water's edge at this Greenwich, Conn., property. She will talk about the details of the design and the collaborative effort among the design team during a talk on Saturday, June 14, 2014. Photo courtesty of Susan Cohen Photo: Contributed Photo, Contributed Photo

 

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If you go
Garden Dialogues, Saturday, June 14, 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. for Greenwich and 2 to 4 p.m. for the New Canaan home. $45 each. To sign up, visit tclf.org/event/garden-dialogues or call 202-483-0553.
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During the past 40 years, Susan Cohen's creativity has taken root in all sorts of places and spaces, blossoming into the kind of artistry that can transform a house into a home.

"Every project is different; every site is different," said Cohen, a landscape architect who is based in the Riverside section of Greenwich. "If you have done a good job, no one knows you have been there. Even a slight change in landscape can make the space look more welcoming. It can welcome you home."

It is in that subtlety that a client's style and personality can shine through, she said, and a site's best features can be seen. "You don't ever want to compete with the best of what is there."

Cohen will be on hand next weekend to delve a bit deeper into her design practices and discuss the importance of collaboration as part of Washington, D.C.-based Cultural Landscape Foundation's Garden Dialogues program, which was launched in 2012.

The seminars bring together homeowners, their landscape architects and other members of their design team to talk about the collaborative process of designing an exceptional space. Two properties will be featured in Connecticut on Saturday, June 14, including a waterfront home in the Belle Haven neighborhood of Greenwich and a New Canaan home that was inspired by an Italian vineyard.

Cohen, who worked with the owner of the Greenwich home, said she is looking forward to participating in her first "dialogue." She plans to cover the importance of collaboration in creating a design that is welcoming, wanted and in sync with the environment.

She said in this particular instance, she, the client and the architect worked as a cohesive design team to add new elements to the site, such as a sweeping driveway that makes the most of the views of Long Island Sound and a small grove of crab apple trees. She also culled a crowded cluster of trees to create a new path to the water's edge.

"We planted grasses to the left and right of the path, as ground cover," she said, noting they came with high visual appeal, but with low maintenance. "It created a very pleasant journey."

Not all is new, however. An old magnolia tree sits strong and secure on the lot, a nod to the owner's desire to keep it.

"Great gardens are about great collaborations between owner/clients and landscape architects," said Charles Birnbaum, founder and president of the foundation. Since gardens do not naturally reveal all the behind-the-scenes decisions that went in to creating them, however, the program was launched "to make that visible," he added.

Over the years, Janice Parker, of Sherman-based Janice Parker Landscape Architects, has participated in the program and said she loves the opportunity to inspire others to think about transforming their own space, however big or small. "They get to see how (a plan) was executed, fabricated and maintained," she said.

Parker, who has worked on the New Canaan home for the past six years, said she has enjoyed creating a space for the site that has evolved with the growing family. There is a vegetable garden, fruit trees, a pond, waterfall and outdoor entertaining space.

"It is a constant balance of functionality and design," she said.

Those interviewed said the past few years have been rough, thanks to their muse -- Mother Nature. Hurricanes, damaging snow storms and a bitterly cold winter have had a major impact on gardens in the area and beyond. It is likely to be a topic that comes up during the seminars. "We just had a very challenging winter and a slow and cold spring," said Parker, who noted that on the plus side, such extremes tend to add to her body of knowledge.

"You see what is strong and healthy and perhaps what doesn't have what it takes," she said.

These honest assessments are the kind of revelations that have made Garden Dialogues a popular and growing program, Birnbaum said.

"People are hungry for information," he said. "And it's great to get all of that knowledge firsthand."

Christina.hennessy@scni.com; Twitter: @xtinahennessy

If you go

Garden Dialogues, Saturday, June 14, 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. for the Greenwich location and 2 to 4 p.m. for the New Canaan home. $45 each. To sign up, visit tclf.org/event/garden-dialogues or call 202-483-0553.