Brooks Kolb’s dad Keith Kolb honored by UW

Seattle Landscape Architect Brooks Kolb’s father, Keith Kolb, FAIA, was honored last Saturday night in the Alumni Awards Program of the University of Washington’s College of the Built Environment (UW CBE.)  My 95-year old dad was honored as a distinguished Professor Emeritus for his outstanding record of teaching architecture until his retirement at age 70.  The program included 3 awards given to recent graduates, plus 2 “Distinguished Alumni Awards.”  These last went to Lee Copeland, FAIA, who was Dean at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Fine Arts (now re-named Graduate School of Design) when I was in the master’s program there, and Steven Holl, the New York-based architect who designed the beautiful Chapel of St. Ignatius on the Seattle University Campus as well as the Bellevue Arts Museum.

Here are 2 photos of dad, dated April 1, 2017, with (from left to right) Marga Rose Hancock, the long-time Executive Director of the Seattle American Institute of Architects (AIA); Betty Wagner, the long-time UW Architectural Librarian; and Jane Hastings, an architect colleague of dad’s who broke the (lower) glass ceiling in the 1950’s by receiving her degree in architecture and going on to a successful architectural practice in Seattle.


Hellebores – Harbingers of Spring in the Pacific Northwest

by Seattle Landscape Architect Brooks Kolb

It’s been an especially wet and cold winter in the Pacific Northwest, but we’re finally beginning to see the first signs of spring.  Winter-blooming Witch Hazels and Camellias have already finished flowering, and now is the time for Hellebores to take center stage.  No Hellebore species is more popular than Helleborus orientalis.  Known as “Lenten Rose” for the time of its bloom period, this Hellebore has already been blooming for several weeks and it should continue through at least the end of March.  Depending on the exact variety, its pale flowers on narrow, foot-high stems in shades of pink, purple, magenta, cream and chartreuse look like they were painted in watercolor washes.   It’s nice to plant massings of all-white varieties, but deep pink ones like ‘Pink Frost’ are also attractive.  It’s easy to find them in batches of mixed hybrids if you want random samplings of the entire color range in a single planting bed.

Helleborus orientalis ‘Pink Frost’

Among the other species, Helleborus niger (“Christmas Rose”) looks very similar to Lenten Rose except that its leaves have no obvious stems, while H foetidus (“Bears’s Foot hellebore) has strikingly narrow leaves.  But, apart from Lenten Rose, the other species I like to use in my designs is the Corsican Hellebore (H. argutifolius.)  This one is much taller and wider, to about 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide, with tough, leathery mint-green leaves and large, showy chartreuse flowers that bloom in February and hold their blooms until you finally decide to cut them off in early summer.  The Corsican Hellebore is a great ornamental evergreen  shrub for partly shaded spots in the garden and is a good selection for the back or middle of a garden bed, with the lower Lenten Roses occupying spots below it in the foreground.

Helleborus argutifolius


Great Plant Picks for Winter


Snowberry – Symphoricarpos albus


Arnold Promise Witch Hazel – Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’


Star Magnolia – Magnolia stellata

I always tell my clients that a Seattle garden should be designed with winter in mind.  If a garden looks good in winter, it’s almost guaranteed that it will look really great in spring and summer.  Above are three great plant picks that are are certain to lift your spirits in winter:  Snowberry, with its white berries on bare winter twigs; Arnold Promise Witch Hazel, with confetti-like yellow flowers in January, and Star Magnolia.  The photo shows Star magnolia blooming in the spring, but in the winter, its fuzzy, pussy-willow-like buds are a lovely promise of spring to come.  The larger Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia soulangiana) has equally gorgeous winter buds.

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The base Isokern “Magnum” outdoor fireplace, before stone facing is added

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Evergreen Scree…

Evergreen Screen Planting for Tight Spaces

Every garden, no matter how large, has a tight space where the property line runs close and the neighbor’s house or another unsightly object looms.  Typically, urban side yards are only 5 feet wide, so your bathroom window ends up looking directly into your neighbor’s window, only 10 feet away.  What can you do to screen out those undesirable views?  Unfortunately, the plant choices are extremely limited because mother nature tends to produce plants that put on spread as they put on height:  the taller the plant, the wider it usually is.  Moreover, the adjoining roof lines produce shady conditions from dawn to dusk, further reducing plant choices.

If you have a 5 foot side yard and you’d like a path circumnavigating your house, which I always view as a good idea, effectively you only have 2 to 3 feet of space for evergreen screen planting.  Here are 4 choices worthy of consideration that I often use in my designs:

Italian Cypress:  Although this tree thrives in full sun, it can tolerate a surprising amount of shade.


Emerald Green Arborvitae:  This tree is more commonly used than any other plant for screening, and I always joke that it was patented by Lowes Hardware, not designed by God.  The only problem is that it does need a fair amount of sun.  If it is planted in conditions that are too shady, it goes brown except at the top, where it might receive enough light.


Skyrocket Juniper:  This tree has an unmistakably blue color, which makes it tempting to use.  However, it prefers full sun and tends to get wider at the base than Italian Cypress or Arborvitae.


Golden Bamboo:  Golden Bamboo has two great virtues and one major vice.  On the plus side, it thrives in shade and grows taller, faster than nearly all other screen planting choices.  On the other hand, it is a spreading bamboo and can spread onto your neighbor’s property even if it is properly contained in a root control barrier.


When I choose the best screen plant for my clients, these are the top candidates I most often consider.  Depending on space available, sun-shade conditions and the client’s feelings about maintaining Bamboo, the choice usually becomes obvious, even if it’s not perfect.

Volunteer Park Landmark Designation Wins Historic Seattle Preservation Award By Brooks Kolb, ASLA

At the Fourth Annual Historic Seattle Preservation Awards Ceremony, held at the Good Shepherd Center in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood on May 15, 2012, The Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks (FSOP) received the Community Advocacy Award for the Volunteer Park Landmark Designation.  One of eight awards given by Historic Seattle in 2012, the Community Advocacy Award commemorates FSOP’s hard work first to prepare the Landmark Nomination document for Volunteer Park and then to lead it through the review and approval process by Seattle’s Board of Landmark Preservation.  The Landmark Board applauded our presentation of the nomination in September, 2011, voting unanimously to approve the nomination and later to designate Volunteer Park as a Seattle landmark.

As a board member and then president of FSOP from 2008-2011, I led a 5-year long committee effort to research and write the nomination and submit it to the Landmark board.  The other three committee members contributing to the nomination are past FSOP treasurer and chief author Charlie Sundberg; past FSOP vice president and co-author Sue Nicol; and current president and editor Jennifer Ott, who graciously received the award on behalf of FSOP at the May 15 ceremony.

In a beautifully produced booklet for the awards ceremony, Historic Seattle wrote:

“The Community Advocacy Award goes to the Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks (FSOP) for the arduous work involved in preparing a complex and successful landmark nomination application for Volunteer Park.  The organization’s documentation of this complicated and highly significant cultural landscape serves to insure the preservation of Volunteer Park and fosters the on-going recognition of our unique citywide Olmsted legacy.

Realizing that Volunteer Park was the most comprehensively designed and faithfully preserved component within the citywide Olmsted-designed plan for the Seattle Park system, FSOP board members prepared…an impressive 110-page document that provides a thorough description of the park’s landscape features and elements as a whole, as well as specifically documents various component buildigns, structures, monuments and water features and small-scale design elements.  It includes in-depth contextual information regarding the national, local and neighborhood significance of the Seattle work of the Olmsted firm and the history and evolution of the park itself.”

“Bau-Wau Haus” Wins Best Work of Art Award at “Barkitecture” By Brooks Kolb, ASLA

The sun rises over Bau-Wau Haus.

Bau-Wau Haus from the side.

Buyers (Center) with Team Ripple: Cecilia Carson, Chris Brooks, Brooks Kolb, 2 Buyers, Jim Dearth, Gregory Carmichael, Scott Smith, Victoria Bogachus

The evening of Thursday, May 24 was a date to remember as Luxe Interiors + Design Magazine hosted the first Barkitecture design competition and auction at the Seattle Design Center.  Conceived as a benefit for the Seattle Humane Society and Seattle Children’s PlayGarden, the event showcased the designs of ten teams, each comprised of an architect, builder, interior designer and landscape professional.  Simultaneously, a Parade of Dogs Costume show was held.  The evening climaxed with a live auction of the designer dog houses.

I am very proud to report that I was landscape architect for “Team Ripple,” led by architect Jim Dearth of Ripple Design Studio.  I’m even more proud to report that our “Bau-Wau Haus” entry won the competition in the “Best Work of Art” category.  Our design concept was based on the idea that the fashionable Modern Small Dog tends to eschew outdoor dog “houses” in favor of portable indoor crates, so we designed a sleek and artful dog crate that can be used both indoors and outdoors.  The crate serves both as a bed for doggie and as an elegant bench for the doggie’s human (translation:  what we would call the dog’s “master,” but you and I know that term is highly inaccurate!)  Jim Dearth’s subtle design features a limestone bench seat for the human and a comfy aqua-colored bed and spring-green pillow specified by interior designer Gregory Carmichael. The crate’s walls and doors are akin to a woven fabric of Ipe dog bones, precisely cut by a computer and mounted on stainless steel rods.  Curving bamboo-plywood cabinets from Teragren bracket the piece, providing space for dog bowl, leash and treats.

My landscape setting for “Bau-Wau Haus,” could have a name of its own:  “Dogj Mahal!”  Jim’s architecture resides in a nine-tray grid at the center of a cross-shaped paved walk in a plaster finish by Gail Miller, which looks like a miniature plaza. The overall composition is anchored at the four corners by Podocarpus macrophyllus trees from L & B Nurseries, commonly known as Yew Pine, which serve as abstract live minarets. The trees are set in tapering silver-gray fiberglass pots by CG Products.  Beneath the trees, diagonally alternate grid cells are paved with aqua-colored recycled glass chips from Bedrock Industries and decorated with art glass bones by Sherri Gamble of Sage Artistry.  The opposite diagonal grids are carpeted with a soft ground cover of Sedum hispanicum (Spanish Sedum) from T & L Nurseries.

Our Bau-Wau Haus sold for $1700 at auction to a happy couple who share their Pioneer Square condominium with two Chi-hua-haus.

Bau-Wau Haus would not have existed were it not for the fine craftsmanship of our excellent builder, Chris Brooks of Prestige Custom Builders, who had only about four weeks to execute the design.  Here’s to Chris and Prestige!

Architect:  Jim Dearth of Ripple Design Studio,www.RippleDesignStudio.com.

Landscape Architect:  Brooks Kolb LLC Landscape Architecture,www.brookskolbllc.com

Interior Designer:  Gregory Carmichael, www.gcid.com

Project Managers:  Cecilia Carson, Baker Knapp and Tubbs,www.bakerfurniture.com  and Scott Smith, Lee Jofa/Kravet, www.kravet.com.

Builder:  Prestige Custom Builders, www.prestigecustombuilders.com.

Check out the Barkitecture Video!

Here’s a link to a video of May 24’s “Barkitecture” event at the Seattle Design Center, sponsored by the Seattle edition of “Luxe Interiors + Design Magazine.”   I designed the landscape for Team Ripple ‘s entry, “Bau-Wau Haus,” which won the award for Best Work of Art  in this whimsical upscale doghouse design contest and auction.  See recent blog posts for more information.  The video was produced by Sotheby Realogics, the official realtor for the doghouse auction, and I’m pleased to report that “Bau-Wau Haus” sold at auction to an urban couple with two Chi-hua-huas.  The summer 2012 issue of Luxe will include an 8 page spread on the designs and the dog costume contest.

Click here to watch the video:


Plans Announced to Form a Trust for Volunteer Park

The Volunteer Park Reservoir re-envisioned as a reflecting pond with cascading edges and model boats.

As it celebrates its first centennial this summer, Volunteer Park is at a historic crossroads. On May 31, 2012, the Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks (FSOP) hosted a meeting of Capitol Hill citizens, businessmen and park neighbors at the Seattle AsianArt Museum to garner support and feedback for creating a trust to manage and maintainVolunteerPark.  As past president of FSOP, I was one of four presenters at the well-attended event, and the proposal was greeted with enthusiasm.  Capitalizing on momentum from the park’s designation as a City landmark last fall, FSOP has been working closely with the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation (SPR) and the Seattle Parks Foundation in recent months to explore the concept, which addresses five pressing needs facing the park.

First, in an era when DPR’s budget for parks maintenance has been cut back severely due to the recession, a trust would assure a dependable and ongoing source of funding and also exceed today’s reduced funding level.  Second, within the next two years the reservoir is slated to be de-commissioned or lidded to meet new federal guidelines.  Meanwhile, the museum will be closed for well more than a year, and possibly several years, while delayed safety and seismic improvements are made to the structure.  Fourth, the Conservatory’s operations funding has been threatened by City budget cuts at a time when a capitol improvement program to replace the aging wood structural skeleton with a new aluminum matrix has been stalled, also for insufficient funds.  Lastly, the park is in need of new and replacement planting to restore the layers of tree canopy, understory shrubbery and ground covers that were part of the original Olmsted  planting design concept.  SPR is currently designing the new plantings, following the original Olmsted planting plan, but there are no funds available for implementation.

Creating a trust could pump new resources and social energy into all five of these separate areas of need by unifying them within an over-arching program to manage the park for the next 100 years.  Many synergies are to be had, not least of which is re-activation of daytime and especially summer evening events in the park, such as concerts and plays.  Shared programming between the museum, conservatory, band stand and even the water tower could expand enthusiasm for what is actually a miniature cultural center within the park.  At the same time, the trust will help foster public awareness that the park itself is the real jewel, not merely its component buildings and institutions.

In the coming months, FSOP and SPR will be studying several models of parks conservancies around the United States to figure out which model works best forSeattle.  We will also be working on an even broader goal – to create an Olmsted Trust, covering all the Seattle Olmsted parks and boulevards.  It is expected that the  Trust  for Volunteer Park will be housed within that umbrella organization.  If you’re interested in more information or in “Volunteering for the Park,” please send an e-mail to volparktrust@gmail.com.

Preserving and Removing Trees in Your Garden

As a Seattle residential landscape architect and garden designer, I am always consulting with homeowners about whether to remove or preserve large trees on their property.  Many times on a first visit to their garden, people will tell me, “That Cedar is going.  I’ve already called to have it removed.”   Among the candidates for removal, large specimens of our native Western Red Cedar and the exotic Deodar Cedar seem to top the list.  And the motivations for the planned removal are certainly understandable.  Mainly, they boil down to four basic reasons:

  1. I’m afraid that tree is going to fall on my house and power lines.
  2. It’s so messy, I’m always cleaning my gutters and it drops leaves and seeds all over my car.
  3. My back yard is too shady – I just want a sunny garden.
  4. Those trees are blocking my view.

But should a towering Cedar automatically be removed because one of its limbs fell in the last wind storm or should a giant Oak tree be removed because grass won’t grow under it?  I have often counseled people to remove a tree or trees due to crowding or disease – none more so than mature Cherry trees, which are highly susceptible to many diseases — or to open up views.  But unless that Cherry tree looks like it’s rotting from 30 feet away, I also encourage them to consider the other option, to preserve the tree.

Why should you think twice before removing a large tree?  For three main reasons:  First, because Seattle has lost over 30% of its tree canopy since the 1970’s, and you can clearly see the effects of this change by comparing current and past aerial photos of the city.  Second, because there is enormous value to individuals and society in the urban forest that we are losing.  The evidence is overwhelming that trees moderate heat gain on hot summer days, mitigate climate change by storing carbon dioxide, and provide desperately needed wildlife habitat.

But if these two reasons seem abstract and altruistic to you, consider the third reason:  as I always put it, trees are a gift to the neighborhood.  What attracted you to your neighborhood in the first place?  Wasn’t it at least partly the leafy streets and the tall backdrop of greenery surrounding the houses?  Sometimes a giant tree can even be a neighborhood landmark. Seattle’s most attractive neighborhoods feature lush front gardens and towering mature trees. Neighborhoods in surrounding communities such as Mercer Island,Bellevue and Redmond are appealing because they still feel like they are nestled in the native forest.  When too many of these urban trees are cut down to make way for larger houses that “maximize the lot,” the net effect is to lose the landscape appeal of the entire neighborhood.

With that in mind, I often encourage people to consider four reasons to preserve their tree(s), each corresponding to one of the four legitimate reasons for considering removal:Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

  1. The entire tree is much less likely to fall than one or more of the limbs.  Why not hire a consulting arborist to assess the tree’s hazard and consider removing a few limbs rather than the entire tree?
  2. Trees can be messy.  I know, because I live under Bigleaf Maple trees, and you can’t convince me that there is any messier tree in existence.  But why not park your car in the garage and hire someone to clean out the gutters on a regular basis?
  3. Sometimes the only way to obtain a nice sunny patch for your morning coffee or afternoon wine is to remove a tall tree, but many times there is another part of your property, say in the front yard, that is sunny and with new landscaping can be converted into a private sanctuary.  Meanwhile, ground covers can be planted under that Oak or Cedar to create a beautiful shade garden.
  4. Views are actually enhanced by trees, which provide the foreground interest and framing for the most beautiful Pacific Northwest vistas.  Panoramic views without foreground trees can feel somewhat bland and two-dimensional, like a painted theater backdrop. Often to create or enhance a view, it is enough to open a “window” in a tree by removing a few key limbs that block Puget Sound or Lake Washington and the mountains.

Cass Turnbull of Plant Amnesty (www.plantamnesty.org) has made a career out of tree preservation and teaching proper pruning techniques.  Currently, Plant Amnesty is lobbying city officials to pass a stronger Seattle tree protection ordinance which would make it illegal to remove residential trees in many instances.  However, voluntary tree preservation can go a long way toward protecting the landscape beauty and value of our Pacific Northwest homes and neighborhoods.  If everybody did it, we wouldn’t need that pesky ordinance.

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