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Truth is Beauty

designing for tough landscapesDesign your landscapes for plant growth habit, the climate, the soil, moisture, and maintenance which actually exists. Then, what you install can survive. With a good design, which considers the realities of the site, what you create on your computer stands a chance of maturing into a beautiful garden experience for the people who use it. Reality should be a controlling factor in landscape design.

Here are some common landscape truths to guide your designs:

∙ Maintenance is an essential part of any landscape. There is no such thing as a self-sustaining design.

∙ If the soil is trampled by heavy foot or vehicle traffic, it cannot support plant material.

∙ Clients will rarely amend the heavy clay soil in their plant beds.

∙ There will be times of drought. Every garden always needs a plan for supplemental watering in place and ready to implement when the rain stops.

∙ Clients will rarely add fertilizer or nutrients to the existing soil.

∙ Maintenance crews will damage shrubs with electric shears unless they are expressly forbidden to use them.

∙ Installation crews struggle to create artistic, sinuous curves or correctly aligned, staggered plant spacing. They must have guidance in the field from someone with an experienced eye for beauty.

∙ Very few people know how to prune correctly. Find them and pay them well.

∙ Plants with chronic disease and insect problems are best removed and replaced. Avoid anything which requires chemical treatment.

∙ The best way to keep a six-foot shrub growing under three-feet tall is to chop it down to within a foot from the ground in the dormant season every seven years. This is much easier than trying to prune it from the top down every year.

∙ Trees drop a lot of leaf litter and debris. Their roots compete with ground plants for sun, moisture, and nutrients. Don’t try to grow plants and don’t allow volunteer plants under the drip line of trees, unless those plant have shallow root systems and can handle dry shade.

∙ There is no street tree which can survive more than a few years in a five-by-five hole in the sidewalk. Plant street trees in enough soil for them to grow a full leaf canopy and live a full life.

∙ Herbaceous plants require lots of extra time and skilled maintenance, even if they are perennial.

∙ Herbaceous plant beds must be amended with grit and organic matter to support flowering plants.

∙ Wildflower meadows are very complicated plots of land. To sustain them requires special weeding and reseeding, often by hand. They are not carefree.

∙ Good landscape maintenance requires a long-term, hefty budget. The lowest bidder will destroy an expensive landscape in a single season.

∙ Anyone can mow grass. Your landscape maintenance budget should be bid in two packages—one for mowing and one for stewardship of the site.

Denial of reality brings disappointment to your client. Embrace truth. It will make you a better designer.

The Realities of Ornamental Landscape Design