Sensational Artwork Using Water


This stunning and creative photographic capture is among a series of wallpaper pictures from this website: FantasyArtDesign. Photography may be the art form which has most enhanced the  appreciation of water in terms of possibility and incredibly exotic representation………  But, then, photography is passive. It needs  subjects to do its work. As a partner in such stuff, you are reading the blog of one of the most satisfied appreciators of photography in history.  ;-)

But this is only tangentially a photographic blog. Landscaping and the range of possibilities in design and implementation is what this blog and what I am about. And today, I want the whole enchilada – let’s visit water and all the wondrous edifices and constructions which humans have made to celebrate our relationship with this vital and helpful element.




The work of water is fascinating. We see modern fountains which seem utterly other-worldy and which fascinate us beyond measure. Sometimes even huge, gigantic constructions comprising computer generated pumps and jets which throw coordinated spouts of water into hitherto-unheard of heights such as this monster in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia referred to as the world’s tallest fountain – shooting water 1,024 feet above the Red Sea.


Or the famous works of kinetic water sculpture such as those made so famous at the Las Vegas Bellagio, of course:



Barcelona, Spain  finishes second to no one with their miraculous fountain, so appropriately named “The Magic Fountain of Montjuic”.



Enough Of Fountains

Let’s visit a couple of other water wonders artists have tossed together out of those creative minds over centuries of washing, swimming, boating and drinking the stuff.

The painting below was constructed by a lady with the absolutely appropriate name, April Waters. It can be resourced here, at the Oregon State University Agriculture Art Gallery.


What’s most unique to me about this particular painting  is its utter realistic depiction of Winter on the American North West – complete with the deluges courtesy of the Pineapple Express’s warm ocean current and the plenty of weather it brings – the (cough, cough)……….AMAZING AND OFTEN DEPRESSING AMOUNT OF RAIN;-)

Other visual artists have become far more famous than April throughout history for their own representations of the liquid of life. Among my favorites is this gorgeous Chinese painting of a leaping carp, an ancient symbol of wealth. The artist is the contemporary Chinese artist Zhou Wen Xi (周文熙)


Since running water in Chinese symbolism also represents money in its ephemeral forms, I’m hoping this carp visits my house down the Ohio River and stays a while. I’ve always been a carp fan!

Speaking of which, here is some material art composed of animated substance, muscle and even a modicum of brain power who also enjoys the life afloat as well as beneath the currents and flows:


We should also take a moment to reflect at the vocal expressions regarding water. We sometimes do indeed acquaint ourselves with what water brings as our borderline single most precious resource. These people celebrate water in song -


A ‘Pond In The Woods’

I am in the process of filtering through older posts and pictures to come up with book-worthy materials. In the end, while browsing through this blog, I find myself somewhat surprised at my persistence, yet discomfited in the realization of how incredibly many projects I never got pictures of. There must be 100 projects I have managed which are interesting and maybe pretty enough to include in a retrospective, but for which I have no photos. Vancouver being on the other side of the continent doesn’t help, or I would delight in taking 25 year shots which I can strictly guarantee will not resemble their beginnings.

Perhaps the single most remarkable fact about this one is in its origins. What we are talking about is looking out a back porch and seeing forest such as is now moved back to allow in the landscaping, but which basically abutted the home itself. We had loggers in, dug up stumps, produced a mess like nobody’s business, then we dug this ginormous hole in the ground and did all this cosmetic work. It was one hell of a chore.

Rumor has it this place is now on the Portland Garden Walk, officially an “important” local feature. It caused various degrees of consternation and some panic during its construction, but then, every single project does that, bar none. Enjoy.


My recent visit to Portland included revisiting this eye candy project and some speaking with the new owners who were delighted to know all the ins and outs of the construction of this place.

I have featured this project in other posts but I have recently unearthed a new little trove of pictures taken as we were leaving. These pictures were taken on the day we actually finished the project. It’s hard to believe a month or two earlier the area was all mud, complete with the broken and sawed up tree parts and underbrush which comprised the entire area prior to our excavations and then landscaping. Interestingly, the water clarity in these pictures, although it gives a really pleasing mirror-like reflective finish, is still a bit dirty, proving the “unfinished” nature of it all. Later, it was crystal clear.

There were numerous and very intimidating challenges to it all. For one thing, the deck seen hovering over the water was always designed to stay just an inch above the waterline. Naturally, installing the deck preceded almost all the landscaping work save for the excavation. In typical fashion, therefore, it became our typical logistical nightmare.

Having said that, once a “level” is decided upon, at least we have something solid to base the rest of the construction on.  The impracticalities all come home to roost right around then.

picture 29

This project was pretty gnarly to make. The liner itself was something like 80′ by 60′, meaning it took 7 of us just to spread it out, much less to adjust it all. EPDM Liners are heavy as heck. Just getting it into the back yard required a machine. Nor was this the only liner on the project. We also had a creek to construct because we wanted at least some water recirculating and oxygenating instead of becoming an algae-infested mess. Yes, it is pretty much shady back there, but it still got enough sunshine to make algae an issue.

So we made a good sized creek, with a fairly good rate of flow. Making it look natural was pretty easy, frankly, owing to the density of plantings and the availability of plants we had relocated, ready for planting, upon the commencement of the project:

(click images to enlarge)


The look from the patio:


The project was complicated by the desire of the owners for a small island. Man, anything but that! ;-)

This is not easy when designing with liners. The little mound where the island goes has to be made just right, at the proper height and width, nor can it eventually sink. So it got compacted to a large degree but not so it would become impossible to plant.

Hey – hand me that piano, OK?


When all was said and done, we had ourselves a real winner, I think. We found abundant forest material to insert into the edges of the water, making it appear far older than – ahem – one day old.



The Springtime effects look gorgeous in many of these shots – there were blooms galore and bright shiny new leaves everywhere.


The project remains a rather epic achievement for yours truly, shared by many others, of course. These sorts of projects can be frustrating and challenging but they seem more than worth the effort with a little ‘remove’.


Cutting And Shaping Rocks And Boulders – Part One

This is an old favorite post of mine I thought I might recirculate. The subject matter – shaping rocks – is about as old as prehistory – and we know that is some really, really, really old stuff. In fact, it is an excellent concept for placing the interaction between Mankind and Rocks closer to Infinity.

Generally speaking, my landscape designs most often featured massive boulders in their natural “finished shapes”. By this I mean using what nature had wrought after rolling the rocks and boulders which chipped off mountains and fell into rivers or were formed under advancing glaciers. The river rocks of the West are these delicious and shapely granite pieces of amazingly sensual form and which fit incredibly well into gentle, humane landscapes.

(Click on pictures to enlarge)


These natural assets can even double as seating around a warm seasonal fire in Reno………


Disguising drainage swales by creating a semblance of a natural creek has always been yet another trick of artistic misdirection and a hugely satisfying one at that.


The “beauty part” of this is in creating an alternative universe, complete with riparian plantings which in just a few seasons produces a scenario a naive person might deem as natural, rather than some construct on the side of a newly-created land shaping.

Modern concrete technology is now proud of its replication of rocks. When replicating rocks is considered “modern”, then you have to realize rocks carry some value which might just mirror their age – often counted in billions of years, which is dang old.

Anyway, here is my experience with these hardbodies. ;-)

As if anyone wondered…… are some incredibly hard stuff. ;-)

Particularly rocks such as granite, marble and the various basalts landscapers encounter on a regular basis. Concrete products are obviously much the same – hard, unyielding and perfectly suited for their roles in pavements and building construction.

During the processes of landscaping, we are often asked to make products we use conform to our weird ideas and plans no matter how seemingly impractical on the face of it.  In terms of your basic rock impediments, we can encounter huge boulders right smack in the ground where no one guessed they would be. Take it from one who knows – as is illustrated further down – this happens.

So we learn ways of dealing with all aspects – boulder impediments, shaping stuff for practical and aesthetic purposes, slicing bricks to help us make a curving effect, cutting rocks up to clear room or to actually use.  We learn about cutting brick pavers and wall systems; we learn about the tolerable gaps which maintain the security while allowing us to provide a curving element to the landscape.

(enlarge any picture by left-clicking – some, twice, to get real detail)


What happens in the length of a landscaping career for the luckier – (or is that “Unluckier?” I forget!)  is that we run into these great persons with great tools, who can direct our energies to rectifying our little problems. Being willing to learn and listen comes in very handy when dealing with some of these smart fella’s who specialize in things we never even heard of.

As a perfect example, I was taught by an elderly Italian guy how to cut granite into increasingly small sizes. Here’s the formula:


Seems simple, eh? These little items go by various names – we called them “Pins and Feathers”, although I have also seen them as “Plugs and Feathers”.

But wait. The addition of a small sledge hammer and a masonry power drill complete the picture. Generally, as can be seen, the process does not involve dramatically pneumatic or gas-powered machinery. Nor does it involve psychic power to discern “weak spots” or advantageous lines for the work. The nature of these stones are somewhat uniformly crystalline – with some exceptions being breakage in handling – so one can literally create the line one desires to establish.

When all are engaged, it looks something like this piece of marble prepped for sectioning – prior to gentle taps which serve to break the stone:


To relate all this to my existence, a small story:

We encountered a project in Deep Cove, British Columbia (a gorgeous suburb of Vancouver, hard by the Burrard Inlet) on a chunk of land which was something like 30′ wide by about 200′ long – one of those chopped-up residential sections specially-inserted to allow more people to savor the salt air and shoreline. The property was shoreline property with a severe slope to the rear and a long boat pier extending outwards in to bay. Our client was interested in our  somehow providing some specific landscaping wants – walls for perennial beds, the irrigated lawn, a paver walkway and landscaped stairs to conduct folks down easier to the pier and his boat (s). Needless to say, it was an architectural feast for an innovative home designer and I was the chosen fool to implement the outdoor plan. The house itself was marvelously eccentric – as was the owner, lol.

Well we ran into “issues” right off the bat. Needless to say, the sloping nature of the hillside was the geological result of rock behaving very much like rock – in this case, the common granite which composes so much of the area’s geology. To make matters worse, the home was a replacement and “improvement” over what had once been there – all landscaped and apparently full of great pockets of soil.

Here, thanks to the Deep Cove Yacht Club (link provided) is a look at the small burg and it’s lovely setting. The home referred to in this post is on the left back, about a mile from the harbor park, one of the piers jutting out into the bay. It’s pretty easy to see why someone would want to live there.


All that aside, we return to how great the landscaping looked to deal with and how simple this was going to be.  ;-)

Au Contraire.  Not really. I was kidding and so was Fate.

“Hey, Steve! This crap is all rock!”

As we stuck one of our first stabs of our ubiquitous shovels into what we figured was a great lush dollop of dirt, we heard the clang of all clangs and, as we explored more, we realized we were plain on top of good old rock. Lots of rock. Tons of rock. Uh oh.

“There”, thought I, “goes a perfectly good plan.”

We had a wall designed to be out front and, to be honest, we had not really investigated very thoroughly, seeing as how it was a long ride out through traffic to assess the place and it was in the midst of a rainy season. But – the saving grace: the “Price was Right” – we had something of a license to make it all work. It was an interesting moment.

Fortunately for me, I had been watching another construction project down the street that very first morning. Indeed, my attention was ostensibly focused on how they arranged parking (my original impetus) on the narrow little street. (One learns as a contractor – real early – to grease the wheels of all trades in a neighborhood, including those on separate projects! This is called “Survival”, for those wondering.).

That then led to more than one handy discovery, as I illustrate below. I also advised them that we had deliveries of fairly large stuff scheduled which might block access at a future point – always a landscaping dilemma.

As we conversed about logistics and what we could do for them to trade favors during the course of both projects, I could not help but notice the masons who were constructing the entire face of this other cool home with a Granite facing. I watched, fascinated, as an older gent ran his rock drill into a large slab of native granite, piecing off chunks of the stuff for the guys inserting these “chunks” into cement, and into what was an absolutely gorgeous finish.

He was amazing. He’d drill holes along this line of his devices – usually no more than 3 holes – and then add some grease to his “Pins and Feathers”, then insert them into the holes, wedges facing out. He tapped on the “pins”, just firmly, not terrifically hard, very patiently, running from one to the other in sequence. As he did this, suddenly you’d hear this cracking sound and the entire rock would split, exactly where he wanted . It would just fall right off into the pile of other pieces.

Here is a Youtube vid of a guy doing much the same thing. The short film was made by Coquitlam resident and professional instructional designer Brian Thorn who noticed my placement here and who delivers a perfect rendering of the process on a small scale. His  lesson is perfect and the video aptly describes the process to a ‘Tee’. The virtue of this video is in how it deals with a general stone – one which could be used as either an example of creating shapes or in removing obstacles. Both are the same, in the end.

Remember to wear your ear muffs as you watch this drilling festival – it ends soon enough,lol:

Indeed, cutting huge slabs of granite into increasingly smaller pieces turns out to be somewhat simple. It hurts, “giving away the store” like this – I mean, it seems so specialized – but this is one highly satisfying chore, in the end. It always seemed so “Lilliputian”!  ;-)

Anyway, as we discovered our rock hard impasse, I returned to the guy and asked if he’d give me some advice on how to deal with things. He was kind enough to wander up with me to assess my situation.

He was a virtual fount of information. I showed him the parameters of the dilemma and he had a very ready answer: “No problem! Just cut that granite out and use it for the wall!”

I blinked and asked if he’d help us out. We could wait for him to finish down the street seeing as how we had major work first, out back. He then informed me he was booked for 2 years, lol. My heart sank.

He smiled at me, seeing my obvious disappointment. “Tell you what,” he said. “You stay around after work and I’ll teach you how to do it. You’ll learn this in about 20 minutes.” I was dubious, but I was young and dumb and this guy was one interesting as heck guy. I gladly complied.

He came up and I delivered the promised beer – (a detail I omitted). In the end, it turned out he was right. Within 30 minutes, I had cut through two big portions of the impeding granite rock. I could barely contain myself, I was so crazy happy. He saw my wonder at the result and he well knew he’d “hooked me” into the whole “rock-shaping” world – a place where no one can be unaffected. I guess it’s short of “orgasmic” or “Cathartic” – but I wonder. ;-)

All of you “Closet Rock Fans” should thoroughly enjoy this next video!

True Rock Fans will endure this next one as well – especially inasmuch as it displays authentic and melodic Music. It’s a party. You also have to love the safety boots.

The project was an unmitigated success in the end – except for the raccoons – but that’s another tale.

Bamboo – Beauty And The Beast

I am hardly a bamboo expert. I did, however, stay in a Holiday Inn one night. ;-)

Having said this, my experiences with Bamboo over a long period of years in my different roles as equal parts designer, installer and “maintainer” have led me to various conclusions and not simply about their single most primary reputation: their unruly nature for anyone who hosts them.

The fact is, Bamboo can present an uncommon beauty of its own. And well it is that this is the case, because the “unruly nature” is a stone cold fact.

From the incredible other-worldly effects of bamboo forests in China such as the picture below, to the unusual coloration and clumping style of the various species featured below, we can all see the merits of this tough, enduring, troublesome plant.


I wonder how many folks realize there is a Blue Bamboo?

blue bamboo(picture courtesy of Joseph Clemons)

Golden Bamboo has always been a plant I enjoyed planting – along with other more water-loving bamboos for swampy or bog-like conditions.


The above began here:


Dealing With Bamboos – Root Barriers

The various cultivars and native species of Bamboo have waxed and waned in popularity over the decades. For a while, the glories of Japanese and Chinese Gardens were imported to the British isles and the US, including every instance of elegant bamboo screening and beauty. Inevitably, certain problems almost invariably showed up – almost always involving problems with rampant root expansion or else the issues of bamboo getting “too happy”, with where it was planted. Acculturation to new geographies’ for some plants can often be a synonym for “Thriving beyond measure”. ;-)

Bamboos are divided into two very distinct root patterns: “Running bamboo” and “Clumping Bamboo”. Running Bamboos have an impressively Imperialistic manner. They send out “rhizomes” – roots – which travel surprising distances and in water-hogging ways. In rainier climates, they can chew through a sidewalk or even cross under a street, simply because it can. Maintenance of these plants’ tendencies has historically involved “root pruning”. This implies digging down and find the expanding roots and rhizomes, then cutting them off. To say that this is ‘labor intensive’ is quite an understatement.

Clumping Bamboos have a far more manageable style. This varieties hold their roots closely without the rampant expansion of the “Running Bamboo”. Having said that, they also expand their very structure, growing at a reasonably rapid pace. All Bamboo – it seems – grow rather rapidly. In the end, true maintenance involving this plant can most easily be accomplished upon planting them.

Root Barriers

Modern technology has provided us with an excellent product for containing these gorgeous plants. Plastic root barriers are now readily available with which to contain the expansive qualities of the more aggressive types and which can reduce root pruning to “never”. Set around 24-36” below grade, during the planting process – or retroactively, of course – these plastic containment mechanisms act to prohibit expansion.


The limits, in terms of distances, around which these barriers can act are limitless, since the barriers themselves are segmented and easily attachable by hand. This can provide a truly wonderful scenario as we watch the expansion take place and halt at out predetermined dimensions.


The other truly marvelously efficient factor with barriers such as these are that many specialists in this product provide barriers which are also made completely from recycled plastic. As a Green Technology, this is a wonderful development. Efficient and Green both are a wonderful way to design and build are most gorgeous gardens.

It is hard to express enough appreciation for a well-conceived garden at any time, but some are more Heavenly than others.