Dawn Szelc, LDG Secretary, Clear Blue Landscapes
Taking a walk in the garden with Jane MacLeish is an eye-opening experience and a delight. In January LDG was treated to an evening video walk with Jane, touring the various garden projects she has completed in recent years.
Jane began by talking about her childhood in England where her parents were avid gardeners around their house, and she and her siblings were expected to help with the work. Jane’s brother is now an eminent tree pathologist and her sister is an experienced gardener. As an adult Jane came to the United States, and was married and then divorced. She needed to have an income so decided to work as a gardener. She also enrolled in the GWU Landscape Design program but describes herself as a terrible student, so she quit. She requested garden nursery jobs and learned much about plants and dealing with people there. She also worked with contractors and did “take-offs”- pricing landscapes for new building projects. She worked with a Dutch gardener who taught her a great deal about design and balance – also never to work for one person. She worked with a number of other people who provided additional learning experiences.
Jane has always worked in private gardens – not commercial. She described how she worked at the Vice President’s residence on the garden surrounding the pool. For another prominent family she did a garden rework and created a circular lawn area that could handle party tents if needed. She also worked on Blair House, the President’s guesthouse, where the Empress of China had provided a silver birch that needed to possibly be removed, but finally was not. Then there was Trinity Graveyard in Upperville, VA, at a church built by the Mellon family. A local family gave $85,000 for 2 pavilions and a garden for this area.
Jane then moved into her slide presentation, starting with a garden of the family of Giant Foods. The wife wanted a garden that provided a view into the yard. Her brother lived next door and gave up part of his land for the garden. The next slides were of a prominent family garden in Georgetown. They wanted a rose garden among the stone and brick walls, and bowls of water for the bees. Jane showed photos of a trough fountain she installed, uniform pots and bowls, and used mazus to fill between the stones on the walking paths. People from Dumbarton Oaks come to prune the wisteria four times per year. The large trees on the site were craned in. One in particular was notable as Jane discovered the perfect tree in Connecticut. Bartlett Tree was on site when it was brought in and unfortunately the main branch broke in the process. Bartlett ended up wrapping the tree and it ultimately did just fine.
Jane worked on a 68-acre project for a wealthy family in New York near the Hudson River. She used a helicopter so that she could hover from above to see the views. She worked on the gates with Noel Putnam, now a well-known ironworks in the United States. A large rock outcropping was near the site of the house and the plan was to blast it out. Jane asked them to keep it and it butts up right against and into the house making a beautiful statement. She also received two sculptures that needed to be placed. She created walks and resting places to host these. Next was the Glenstone property which LDG visited last fall. A team worked on this property for five years. They met every week to go over details and meet with the owner, Mitch Rales. One day a dam on the property burst and flooded the area, but did not do major damage. Jane suggested having good insurance was important. They moved a large tree on the property and had to have a bridge on the road coming to the residence rebuilt to handle the weight of the crane needed to do this.
For another project in Upperville, VA, the first part of the landscape design was a question of where to site the house. After reviewing it from many aspects Jane told the owners that there was no good place to build a house and suggested they find another property instead. They ended up purchasing 500 acres in another location. A small cabin was on the property, Jane is able to stay here when visiting, which was the site of the “Lipstick murder”. She relayed the story that a fellow who lived there would get coffee at the nearby 7-11 and apparently met a woman there who then murdered him at the cabin with an axe. The owner wanted to plant trees from the property. She looked for trees that would be appropriate and those would be dug out at the roots and pulled by tractor to new locations. Ace Tree Movers http://www.acetreemovers.com/ did this work, and Jane described them as very professional and experienced. For planting around the swimming pool Jane found hornbeam trees in Maryland to move to the location. They also requested a Ha-ha wall be put in near the pool. The design of the house and barn was completed by a Canadian firm that also did the Shakespeare Theater.
At the next property the owners were planning for the April wedding of their child. They had a number of fastigiate hornbeams that were there originally, and Jane continues to look after these. The King's Masons did the paths which were a mix of many types of stone – cobles, brick, and bluestone. A pavilion was constructed after which the owners decided they did not like the design of it. Jane decided to assume that cost of $15,000 in exchange for good will of the client and has made that back in the long run with this client. She stated that at times this is necessary and the results are often positive.
There was a small garden at a home in Georgetown that had a small goldfish pond with decking all around. Jane took things in quite a different direction and changed it into a Pop Art garden with many bright colors. The pond is now wood painted to look like water and surrounded with plastic tulips. The trees are dead trees painted bright purple and red!
At Dumbarton Oaks Jane worked with a brick mason to connect the main building with the pre-Columbian art collection building. The brick mason laid out a path with a beautiful swirl design. This project was completed 5-6 years ago.
Jane worked on a residence in Arlington with stone masons that she did not have experience with but found they were wonderful. She had them build a wall with steps in the backyard. The couple had multiple children and they are able to climb the wall, sit on the steps, and hide treasures in little nooks. The wall has an amphitheater type structure so the kids can use it to present plays. She included beautiful pots and a terrace with a spa. They also had sculptures which are sited in the woodland part of the garden.
Finally, Jane discussed her own garden, which is undergoing some new changes. Jane loves humor in the garden and is working with Tony Weaver, Olsen Weaver, LLC Lighting Design and Install, to install a clear mannequin with the top half lighted with changing colors. It will be put on a pedestal. Jane stated that she loves photographing different or weird gardens. When she travels she looks for “unusual spots to see unusual things!”
Jane shared not only her beautiful gardens with us, but also several of her very challenging experiences and lessons learned as a garden designer. It was an inspirational evening and one not to be forgotten by the large group of admiring LDG members fortunate to be present. Thank you Jane!
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