Deconstruction of a tea house

This is a fascinating deconstruction of a tea house. It’s all glass, whereas tea houses of the past were dark, enclosed spaces where you could hardly see. Light and shadow were paramount aspects. But here – all is revealed.

I would love to have tea in this space. Moving through the Roji one is certainly transformed.

Glass tea house

This glass tea house mondrian’ by Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto unites wood, glass and water as a pavilion, holding the traditional Japanese tea ceremony within its transparent wall. Read more about this tea house inspired by Venetian Glass.


A small, intimate garden

I went over to Olana the other day looking for trees that had big leaves. I needed a leaf to use as a lid on a glass water container for tea. Here you can see the leaves I collected. The vase is the squiggly shaped glass object – designed by Alvaro Alto.


Olana, which is five minutes from my house, is the Persian style home of Hudson River artist Frederic Church. After an 18-month trip to Europe and the Middle East, Church hired architect Calvert Vaux and worked with him on the design of the mansion, which was constructed between 1870 and 1872. It sits on top of a hill with sweeping views of the Hudson River and the Catskills.


Olana is a grand and fascinating place

I had just returned from a month in Italy. The only garden I saw on the trip was the Boboli garden in Florence which is a huge, formal and cold place to my eyes. There were a lot of tall hedges and massive areas that implied wealth and prestige. It wasn’t interesting to me at all.


Boboli Garden in Florence, Italy

But now I was back home and at Olana. I decided to wander over to the flower garden which I hadn’t seen in a couple of years. It’s a tiny garden by a wall out of sight of the house. There are no grand gestures or sweeping views of the mountains. It’s a small and intimate place with a path that seems to meander with no haste. Truly a great garden with no artifice. Enjoy!

Flowers spilling over the path. A smoke bush in the far back. Different heights of planting. The path curves.

Flowers spilling over the path. A smoke bush in the far back.
Different heights of planting. The path curves.

The path curves up and hugs the wall. Blue delphinum, purple catmint and the leaves of peony and grasses lead the way.

The path curves up and hugs the wall. Blue Delphinum, purple Catmint
and the leaves of peony and grasses lead the way. 

Almost to the end with the view in site. Leaves of Iris, pink Hollyhock and always a smattering of yellow.

Almost to the end with the view in site. Leaves of Iris, pink Hollyhock and
a splash of yellow Heliopsis


The garden is enchanting and how wonderful to find this bench where
I could sit and reflect on the quiet beauty of the place.



When I set out on my quest for a leaf to cover the Alvaro Alto vase I never
thought it would lead me to this magical place.

For more about Olana

The garden in winter

The garden should look wonderful in all seasons of the year. The evergreens at this time are the focal point: the round Boxwood balls, the floppy leaves of the Hemlock and the graceful structure of the Japanese Pines stand out in the spare winter landscape.

It’s at this time that we notice the fences, wicket gate and bones of hedges. Space, structure and pattern are now evident – hidden at other times of the year.




One of my favorite gardens only minutes away

blithwood garden in winter

Blithwood is the ultimate romantic, hidden garden on the banks of the Hudson River with views of the Catskill Mountains beyond. The Italianate garden is walled on three sides with a small reflecting pool in the center.

blithewood The garden sits below a turn-of-the-century mansion overlooking the Hudson River. The land dates back to a vast track bought from the Indians in 1680. The grounds began their metamorphosis from untamed woods into a carefully landscaped estate in the 1830s, when Robert Donaldson of North Carolina acquired the property and gave it the name Blithewood. He commissioned Andrew Jackson Downing, one of the foremost landscape artists of the day, to design the grounds.

I first came upon this house in the mid 70’s when, like many other estates along the Hudson, it was abandoned. I have an old photo of the main door with OM painted across it.

Since then it’s come into the possession of Bard College which has restored the house and sunken garden below it. Climbing vines, roses, pergola covered with wisteria, boxwood and grasses create a place of tranquil beauty.



Garden rooms

The Tea garden, or Roji is divided into two spaces: an outer garden and an inner garden connected by a series of stone paths. Gates and fences play an important role in dividing the two rooms to create the feeling of transition from one place to another.

When designing the landscape for a Tea garden I start by looking at the architecture of the place, the bones and details, because I want to gracefully transition from outer to inner, from the street to the tea house; a transition from daily life to a space that is contemplative and feels connected to place.

It is not necessary to have a tea house or retreat space in your back yard, but the garden should feel like you’ve stepped onto a path that leads you through the countryside to a rustic hut or space designed for quiet contemplation and reflection.

The overall impression should be one of integrity, tranquility and beauty. There are a few elements that make this work.

-excerpt from A Tea Garden in Tivoli

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