Category Archives: Garden Ideas

Pitching Perfection in Baseball, Homes, and Gardens

Matt Cain, the Villa Rotunda, and a Perfect Barbecue Garden

I learned a new definition of perfection the other night when I witnessed the San Francisco Giants’ Matt Cain pitch a “perfect game” against the Houston Astros: 27 batters up; 27 batters down — the first such milestone in the 129-year

history of the Giants franchise. The sell-out crowd — and the water cannons (at right in photo) — erupted. And naturally this made me think about the nature of perfection in other fields of dreams. In his wonderful book The Perfect House, architectural historian Witold Rybczynski explores the concept as it applies to the Italian villas by Renaissance luminary Andrea Palladio. Take the Villa Rotunda in Vicenza, for example, with its four identical temple fronts,

central cross-axis, and dome (photo courtesy The Culture Concept). It’s an exemplar of perfection, at least according to the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius, quoted by Rybczynski: “…in perfect buildings the different members must be in exact symmetrical relations to the whole general scheme.” The simple

geometric clarity of the plan (image courtesy Wikipedia) — as well as the way each temple front frames a different vista across the landscape — creates an impression of wholeness within the hilltop setting. It’s hard to see how anything can be added or subtracted; i. e. the equivalent of 27 up and 27 down!

Geometric order often contributes to an idea of perfection, as in “perfect circle,”

illustrated here by Plan 64-165 (though it’s actually a hexadecagon), or

“perfect rectangle” as illustrated by Plan 491-10.

Perfection also depends on context — does it fit the site, the culture, the needs, the dreams? And though I subscribe to the Vitruvian principles of function, strength, and beauty (aka commodity, firmness, and delight), perfection for me often combines usefulness and practicality with artfulness and surprise. An example is this small rear garden by landscape architect Robert Sabbatini, FASLA. It’s multifunctional, with a dining patio, built-in barbecue, espaliered

pears and rows of lettuce, peas, and herbs. The deck, steps, and tapered path into the vegetable garden all revolve around a marvelous central stone cairn — a cone-shaped barbecue. It’s a well-head that cleverly functions as its opposite:

a fire pit. Robert bought the crank-up grill from an ironmonger and designed the fire pit around it.  I admire this garden’s multiple roles, elegant lines, and innovative practicality. And I like that it’s also a little rough around the edges because, as the late landscape architect Thomas Church once said: “Don’t fret if your garden is never quite perfect. Absolute perfection, like complete consistency, can be dull.” I think almost perfect is true perfection because you can actually live with it. So what’s your idea of the perfect home? Maybe it’s somewhere between the Villa Rotunda and Giardino Sabbatini. It turns out there are many ways to pitch perfection — and by the way, grilled prosciutto-wrapped shrimp is delicious!

Plant Globes, Wrightian Doormats, and Other Holiday Ideas

Random Access Gift Online Update Tips (or RAGOUT)

Now that we’re in December it’s time to browse the i-cloud for holiday present possibilities, so here’s a quick website round-up. To set the mood: seasonal items from Flora Grubb Gardens online shop, an unusual design-oriented nursery in San Francisco (and mentioned in a previous post) famous for their vertical wall plantings. The hanging globe containing tillandsias — so-called air plants that need no soil (a species of epiphytes and part of the Bromeliad family) –

caught my eye for its elegant simplicity. And it’s growing. Another ingenious product is the succulent ornament consisting of a special hanger

for one plant. Living ornaments for living trees! Speaking of succulents, Flora Grubb now offers a do-it-yourself kit to help you approximate their impressive succulent wall gardens, like this one

Here’s the tray that holds all the plants.

(Previous photos courtesy Flora Grubb Gardens.) If you plan to be in the San Francisco Bay Area during the holidays this

place is worth a visit — and there’s even a cafe so you can sip while you search. I photographed the wall of succulent wreaths when I visited last week.

To continue the nature/diy approach, what about drink coasters made from  your own images downloaded from the computer?

I used my photos of things like — naturally, for me, chiseled granite  — and they seemed to work well. I ordered the photo coasters from Shutterfly.

Candles are an easy and festive present but it can be difficult to find simple ones.

I found these slender vividly-hued, 13-inch tall, dripless tapers at Terrestra, a store of well-curated modern objects.

Industrial designer Eric Pfeiffer over at The Utility Cooperative continues to produce innovative furniture. His most recent introduction is the series of  memorably monikered “Cross Dressers,”

so-named because each bureau or end table rests on crossed legs. The handsome contemporary units are made of hand-selected veneers mounted to formaldehyde-free plywood panels. 

If you have followed this blog you know my fixation with architectural toy blocks. I recently found other sources for the artificial stone Anchor blocks, made in Germany: Fatbraintoys offers a basic set of the blocks, which can build a small Medieval 

gateway like this (photo courtesy Ankerstein, the key Anchor Stone Building Block site in Germany). The sets are numbered and provide plans for larger and larger structures, from houses to castles. The Toy House website offers a variety of sets, explains the building sequence, and provides resources for the surprisingly large and devoted world of Anchor Block aficionados (that includes — as you would expect — an associate professor of Medieval History at the University of Chicago.)

Ever since boyhood when my mother gave me a set of Swiss Naef blocks I have loved these Bauhaus-influenced smooth wood elements. A new set is called Tectus and

is perfect for building the odd Miesian apartment house.

Toy block-talk makes me think of Frank Lloyd Wright (his mother gave him Froebel blocks — maybe I just got the wrong set…). The Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust has a large and exciting new website — ShopWright — devoted to products inspired by Wright, from textile block planters to Fallingwater T-shirts. I was intrigued by the nightlight

based on a geometric railing design from the Rookery in Chicago (the building was designed by Burnham & Root, then remodeled by Wright) and by the doormat

inspired by the glazing pattern in Wright’s famous Robie house, also in Chicago. The tough coir fibers are anchored in black rubber.

So now that you know where to get the doormat, how about a house plan like

Design 530-2 from Classic Colonial Homes. Why not put something substantial under the tree.