Edgeworthia papyrifera (Paperbush)Native Range: China

USDA Hardiness: Zones 7-9

Height: To 7’

Growing Conditions: Light to moderate shade; deep, moist, high organic matter soils

Though this has been a particularly mild winter in Washington DC, I still find myself watching intently for signs of spring.  This week, the Paperbush outside my front door has rewarded me by unfurling its unusual spherical yellow flowers.  The dangling blossoms hang like large pendants from the bare stems. Welcome spring!

Paperbush’s silvery leaves emerge after it is done blooming and are reminiscent of Frangipanis. DC is near the northern edge of Paperbush’s hardiness range, and through the spring, summer, and fall it looks like its tropical cousins. Its graceful, vaselike form, smooth reddish bark, and prominent buds that form in late summer keep gardeners enticed through the winter. At OvS, we use it as a stand-alone specimen shrub in spots where it will be sure to be appreciated in late winter (near a front door or sunny terrace, or prominently visible outside an important window). Its sweet fragrance fills the air and gives all who pass by a breath of spring.

Hibiscus moscheutos 'Plum Crazy'

Hibiscus moscheutos 'Plum Crazy'

Native Range: Eastern North America

USDA Hardiness: 4-9

Height: 48″

Growing Conditions: Full sun; moist soils

This showy cultivar of one of our regionally native perennials has found its way into several of OvS’ recent gardens.  Its large, vivid, plum-colored flowers steal the show when in bloom (July through frost).  We were surprised however by its bold-textured purple foliage that is a striking complement to tall ornamental grasses.

We planted it recently on a waterfront estate on the northern neck of Virginia, where it contrasts nicely with Panicum virgatum and Eupatorium ‘Bartered Bride’.  Swamp mallow is native to the edges of salt marshes and freshwater wet meadows throughout the east coast, but has also found a happy home in the moist, rich garden soil of several of our townhouse gardens.

Amsonia tabernaemontana 'Blue Ice'

Amsonia tabernaemontana 'Blue Ice'

Native Range: Eastern North America

USDA Hardiness: 5-9

Height: 12″-24″

Growing Conditions: Part shade; moist soils

Though best known for its dense clouds of vivid blue flowers in the early spring, this woodland native has proved a beautiful plant throughout the growing season in several of Oehme, van Sweden’s recent projects. Its blue-tinged, finely textured foliage and compact habit make it an excellent companion for woodland sedges and ferns. It also glows an eye-catching golden gold in the autumn landscape.

We planted it this spring with Carex appalachicain the new Native Garden at the New York Botanical Garden and are already impressed by its large blue-green sweeps through the dry woodland.

Amsonia tabernaemontana 'Blue Ice'

Eastern Bluestar in bloom

On November 5, OvS Principal Sheila Brady spoke on “Distilling the Essence of Native Landscapes” at the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh. Sheila’s talk was part of the Conservatory’s Native Plant and Sustainability Conference, an annual event celebrating native plants and sustainable landscape management.

Sheila’s presentation focused on Oehme, van Sweden’s work on the New Native Plant Garden at the New York Botanical Garden. In a significant departure from the habitat-based model that has shaped many previous native gardens, the approach to the New Native Plant Garden distilled the visual essence of the region’s native landscapes without replicating them. Sheila highlighted the diversity of native plants that were included in the garden, and the selection and enhancement of patterns from nature.

Joining Sheila as presenters at the Conference were Patrick Cullina, Vice President of Horticulture and Park Operations for the High Line elevated park in New York City; Dr. Linda Johnson, Professor of Plant Sciences, Ecology and Native Plant Communities at Chatham University; and Dr. Carol Mapes, Professor and Chair of the Biology Department at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania.

James Burnett Sunnylands Annenberg

James Burnett leading the tour of the Sunnylands Annenberg Center

On October 28th and 29th, OvS Principal Eric D. Groft attended The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) Board Meeting in Palm Springs, California. The meeting was held at the new Sunnylands Annenberg Center. Sunnylands is the 200-acre estate that was the West Coast home of Ambassador and Mrs. Walter H. Annenberg. Prior to her death in 2009, Mrs. Annenberg identified 15 additional acres adjacent to Sunnylands on which to construct a center and gardens for public programs. She commissioned Frederick Fisher and Partners to design the center and the Office of James Burnett to design the gardens. The nine-acre gardens now feature more than 50,000 low-water-use plants and include walking paths, a labyrinth, green lawn, and a natural wildflower area. Sunnylands Center and Gardens and the renovated historic estate are scheduled to open in early 2012, but the TCLF Board got a sneak peak during a walking tour led by landscape architect James Burnett.

The events of the weekend began on Friday evening, when Eric attended a book signing for Charlotte Freize’s new book Private Paradise: Contemporary American Gardens. Amongst the gardens featured in the book is Casa Luna, a garden designed by OvS on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Cocktails and the book signing were held at the home of Marc Ware, a Palm Springs resident featured in the book, followed by dinner at Johannes.

Saturday started off early with a tour of the Kaufmann Desert House designed by Richard Neutra in 1946. The home was later restored by Marmol and Radziner, with material input and consulting by Albert Frey. The home’s original gardens were designed by Patricia and Chester “Cactus Slim” Moorten around 1949-1950 and have been updated a number of times over the years.

Elrod House

Elrod House

Later that day, the group enjoyed a tour of Elrod House, a John Lautner-designed five bedroom, five and a half bathroom residence commissioned by designer Arthur Elrod in 1968 and featured in the classic James Bond movie, “Diamonds Are Forever”, in 1971. The home’s 60 foot-wide circular living is surmounted by a conical dome that fans out in nine petals between nine clerestories angled up to bring in light. Retractable curved glass curtain walls open the entire living room and pool terrace to panoramic views of Mount San Jacinto, Mount San Gorgonio and the full sweep of the valley below and mountain ranges beyond. The very rock of the ridge is incorporated into the design throughout the home.

Saturday evening, Eric drove to San Diego for the ASLA Annual Meeting and Expo with Mario Nievera, Keith Leblanc and Dennis McGlade. The drive over the mountains at sunset was an inspiration! And as anyone could imagine, so was the company and conversation!

Sunnylands Annenberg

Fountain/reflecting pool at the Sunnylands Annenberg Center


Detail of Fountain

Detail of Fountain


A pomegranite tree grown by Jack Benny's mother!

Monroe Street Market

Architects Rendering of Monroe Street Market

Last Wednesday, November 10, OvS designers Marisa Scalera and Sara Fiore attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the Monroe Street Market in Brookland, Washington DC. The project, developed by Bozzuto Group, Abdo Development and Pritzker Realty Group, is a $200 million mixed use, multiphase development adjacent to the Brookland-CUA Metrorail station. Monroe Street Market project will transform the Catholic University of America’s South Campus by creating a college-town-style Main Street. It will include 720 multifamily residential units and 45 townhomes, 80,000 square feet of street-level retail, 15,000 square feet of artist studio space, and a 3,000-square-foot community arts center. There will also be an 8,500 square-foot public square, a 15,000 square-foot Arts Plaza, and a17,000 square-foot residential courtyard with pool.

OvS is the landscape architect for the project. Approved plans include design of the plazas, courtyard, streetscape and hardscape improvements, which will improve walkability, creating a lively, pedestrian-friendly atmosphere and significantly improving traffic patterns and pedestrian crossings along Michigan Avenue and Monroe Street.

Ground Breaking

The Ground Breaking

Participating in the groundbreaking ceremony were Catholic University President John Garvey, Bozzuto Group Chairman and CEO Tom Bozzuto, Abdo Development President and CEO Jim Abdo, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, D.C. Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr., and other D.C. government officials. Mayor Gray said the planning and cooperation that went into creating the development should serve as a “prototype” for “how to craft constructive relationships between universities and the communities within which they live and the communities that they serve.”


The Original House at Morven

On Saturday October 1, 2011, Oehme, van Sweden (OvS) Principal Eric D. Groft attended the annual UVa School of Architecture Dean’s Forum at Morven Farm, the former estate of Mr. John Kluge. Starting at 4:30 at the Barns at Morven, an exhibit of student, faculty and alumni collaborative research and the resulting curriculum was on display. Cocktails were served at the Main House and Formal Garden and guests were allowed to tour the Japanese Garden and Tea House, featuring a cascading waterfall and lily pools. Dinner was then held at the Meeting Barn and Theater ( Mr. Kluge termed this structure his “fun barn” – doesn’t everyone need one?). Warren Buford, Executive Director of the School of Architecture Foundation welcomed and emceed the event. Speakers included Thomas H. Bishop, Foundation President and Dean Kim Tanzer.

Eric was accompanied by Jane Howland, the youngest daughter of former Professor (and Eric’s mentor) Benjamin C. Howland, along with faculty member Nancy Takahashi and her husband architect David Oakland. Other alumni at the event included E. Taylor Armstrong, Alan Dynerman and his wife Nancy Seybold, Mary Kay Lanzillotta and her husband Lee Becker, both of Hartman Cox Architects, Tim Leahy of Annapolis and David Haresign of Bonstra/Haresign Architects of Washington, DC.

In 2001, Mr. John Kluge gave the Morven Estate to the University of Virginia Foundation for educational and charible purposes. Located in southeastern Albemarle County, the 7,379-acre gift is valued in excess of $45 million and more than doubled the University’s holdings.

Dean's Forum

Touring the Grounds

Morven Exhibit

The Exhibit

Morven Gardens

Morven's Gardens


Warren Buford, Executive Director of UVA’s School of Architecture


Kim Tanzer

Kim Tanzer, Dean, UVA School of Architecture


Deans Forum

Dean's Forum Dinner

Dean’s Forum photographs by Andrew Shurtleff