Another in a 2014 guest column series which builds on the one in 2009 where 50+ had written about how science /tech has evolved their hobby/interest.
This time it is Katie Nittler, with a long career in technology business development and marketing. Here she describes her passion for “fusion” gardening design – English and California blend.
When I was young I lived in a cottage in the middle of my grandparents’ nursery garden in deepest Shropshire: rural England at its best. By the time I moved to California in 1998 I had designed and planted four gardens; my friends and family would bring cuttings when they came to visit and leave with them too. It was where I could create and learn at the same time – it was and still is a shared interest with multi generations of my family as well as my best friend, Gail.
Gail and I worked together at HP in the early 90s in marketing and while I continued in high tech, she went back to school to do landscape design.
Landscaping in California was a completely different experience as it was hard to reproduce the passion and collaboration that naturally exists in England. In 2000 we bought a new house in Walnut Creek with a sizeable plot of land that was an empty canvas for design. I worked with a local landscape designer to marry my knowledge with what California had to offer. Citrus was‘exotic’ to me, and my slow growing English roses and Wisteria grew at an amazing rate with the non-stop sunshine (and plenty of irrigation of course). Gail and my grandmother (now 92 and a compendium of plants) critiqued the plans when I carried them back to England and over the next ten years my garden grew.
Then it was time for a new challenge. We bought a house on an acre of land overlooking Mount Diablo; built in the 1960s the house (and property) had never been modernized. The first phase was the house remodeling and landscaping the front of the house – it followed a similar path to before with me hand carrying my designs to the UK for validation and ideas.
After ten years gardening in California, I was fairly self-sufficient but knew the rest of the project (the Back Forty) was a far bigger task.
Almost 2/3 an acre; a 9’ deep kidney shaped pool that was no longer heated; collapsing outbuildings; 60’ palm trees well past their prime and a division between the garden and field that I wanted to remove to create a more integrated space.
None of the local landscape designers understood what I was trying to achieve – you really needed to be English and have grown up walking through acres of gardens! I am really not sure any of them knew of Capability Brown , let alone Piet Oudolf (an amazing Dutch landscape designer if you are interested!).
Starting with the end in mind we created our wish list for the property: a modern pool; pool house and outbuildings; herb garden; sport court; larger vegetable garden. Somewhere along the way we added a bocce court, a fire-pit, vines and a fountain. I wanted to compliment the Spanish revival style of our remodeled house, which meant researching different planting styles.
Here is where technology has really changed how I work – the difference from ten years ago was the web. It has transformed how I have been able to drive this project. Ten years ago I did not even send emails to Gail, let alone share photographs and designs. I wanted my English landscaping friend to help me and while it was still important to walk the property the use of Skype and wireless on the property gave us instant access and Shutterfly albums of photos gave Gail the chance to review the property. Houzz has been a great resource for research into the style– I use it to identify what I liked, get input from my husband and Gail. I found that it is also a great way of communicating with our contractors – show them vs tell them!
Technology does not replace the fun of collaborating in person and Gail & I spent two separate weeks working and reiterating the planting plans – those garden designs have now been integrated into the formal CAD plans for the pool and out buildings.
The sport court, bocce and vegetable garden are also in overall plan. This is now the blue print to manage multiple contractors from.
It is important to me to be able to collaborate across the ‘pond’. Technology has allowed iterations and ideas on design to pass between California and England and gradually I have been achieving the vision for our property. The planting is still to come and resources on line allow for better visualization for that perfect color and shape.
It is still work in progress but 10 grape vines are planted along the Bocce Court, bare root English roses are waiting to be planted and there are fruit trees (including plenty of citrus!) already planted in the orchard.
And now to wait 5 years to really see it take shape!