Tuesday, December 7, 2010

DIY and you

Isn’t it great – taking a jaunt around the chain hardware store?  You walk in, pick up a light bulb, duct tape, and buy ‘bushes,’ an all-in-one, convenient spot.  As a Landscape Architect, it truly has been comical to ‘eavesdrop’ on the garden department’s expert advice…at times comical, rude, and even wrong – unintentional, I’m sure, but this speaks to the common unfamiliarity with plants, USDA Zone, and requirements for soil, water, and light.  The best is the feedback my wife provides, silently – glancing over, to ‘ask,’ “is that right?”  I respond with either a smile, raised eyebrows, or nod left/right based upon the answer provided…this blog addresses design, but of course, I’m guilty, we buy seeds, annuals for pots, and other convenient items – so I’m not critical of the convenience or overall experience, only the advice.
Design.  Have you ever asked yourself:  if design is that easy, why are courses taught to Landscape Architects, at a College, no less, or why is that even a Profession?  Further, I’ve seen DIY television shows with flamboyant and friendly hosts who layout garden hoses on the lawn to provide “impact” or “color punch,” boasting that they will provide an Owner with an ‘easily-maintained island planting’ – amazing though, that certain prerequisites are either not mentioned or glazed over, at best.  After all, how do YOU define ‘easily-maintained,’ (continuing with the island example) you can mow around it, water it bi-weekly, or perhaps, dead-head flowers just three times a month?  And that’s provided the installed material will thrive, in the first place.
Professional Designers are taught some basic, but critical principles, for success –

Program/Site Analysis.
Is the island to function as a visual screen, wind buffer, or view terminus?  These terms define a specific use and by no means are mutually-exclusive; however, the use is what also determines the proper placement or layout of the planting island.  Now, in the this location, have you considered existing irrigation coverage (which should be modified, if turf is removed, thus lowering your water bill and providing the proper amount of moisture – you did want a return on your investment, right?), shade patterns during the four seasons (think light requirements and evapotranspiration), USDA Zone/low temperatures in your yard (which will vary from the map), or other factors, such as buried utilities, HOA requirements, or site-specific drainage patterns?  Is this ‘menu’ or list of questions, offered from the resident ‘Garden expert’ at the hardware store/garden center?  These considerations, or constraints, contribute to a ‘Site Analysis.’  The landscape plants chosen (typically for color and texture) – do they require heavy fertilization, pruning, replanting, pH adjustment?  Are they perennials?  How has your past experience been with this form of garden design?  I have watched people load carts full of materials, checkout, and could only wonder if their $350 lasted more than single ‘season.’  Finding a sustainable method is key to avoid this continued expense.

Design meets function.
Now, let’s assume the above has been sorted out/rationalized in the design – is there context to which to relate or inform a Design?  In other words, if your home has a porch, could you repeat its rhythm column spacing, with larger material spaced in the same manner, in the yard?  Not your style?  Have you considered hardscape materials that would ‘pull’ an architectural or stylistic detail from the home ‘into’ the yard, such as through a retaining wall, arbor/pergola, or outdoor patio furniture?  Hopefully, now, you can draw the correlation between these elements’ function and the previous ‘due diligence’ you conducted when analyzing the space, requirements, and components.  This approach is vastly different than simply ‘layering’ plants from tall to short, attempting to find an awkward symmetry (what happens if two plants on one end die?), or placing them randomly.
In the end, does the finished product have a bit of ‘you’ in it?  A bit of history (plants from your childhood, perhaps), a draw to wildlife that could interest you or your family, colors or fragrances that make you smile, or a use (outdoor room) that facilitates and fits your lifestyle?  Seriously, if these simple functions are not met – what is the point?

Landscape Architects create just such a relationship to ‘find’ the optimal, personalized program, create a design (combining landscape, hardscape, lighting, and irrigation), and enable these experiences.  Think you can’t afford one?  We can effectively-communicate the Design, visually and prior to its installation/avoiding costly change orders.  Also, if the Project is bid, the typical ‘spread’ between the low and high bidder, typically offset this cost.  This ‘design value’ is provided, while insuring compliance with Local Codes, Ordinances, and Covenants that could overlay your Property.  Further, final design/placement also considers ultimate growth patterns, any site constraints, and will offer prime visibility or experience.  In the end, an investment should reflect your goals, realize your program, and stick to your budget – in other words, you should have that serene and comforting ‘morning’ space to start the day, your picture window framed with flowers, or the resale value of your home enhanced through a financially-justifiable renovation.  Can this be achieved by a 10 minute conversation in the garden center?

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