Join Landscape Consultants HQ for our newsletter with professional landscaping advice. You can opt out at any time.

Post-retirement Landscapes

The Mature Gardener

the mature gardener, post-retirement landscapes

There are ways to enjoy stepping outside to experience the outdoors each season, even when you’ve lost the motivation to dig and lift and haul and saw. You could move into a residential development that provides landscape maintenance for you, or you could modify your existing landscape to fit a less physically-intensive lifestyle. Indoor home modification for seniors is a big thing right now. Why not do the same for your home landscape?

There are several things you can do to improve your comfort, convenience, self-reliance, and safety for the landscape if you are an older person who prefers to age in place. Make changes to meet your landscape needs later in life while in your fifties and sixties, at a gradual pace so you can enjoy the process.

Professional Landscaping



professional landscaping, Paris

This is a picture of an inventive landscape design, created to provide beauty for a construction scaffold adjacent to a Paris restaurant—a site only fifty square feet! What an expressive example of professional landscape design. Great ornamental landscapes, no matter what size, no matter how transient, delight people and elevate the environment.

My goal has always been to help create memorable outdoor spaces, spaces beyond the ordinary. When you first graduate from Landscape Architecture school, you realize the market demands something less. Only those landscape architects who persevere can push through to extraordinary achievements. Most design collaborative groups would be happy with a row of tree stamps on a plan.

I received a six-year professional degree in Landscape Architecture with a minor in Horticulture—a mix of poetry, design, environment, agriculture, and engineering. This book is my way of mentoring new designers, sharing what I learned from my educational background and experience.

My initial internship was covered up with industrial irrigation plans and demands to execute design plan sheets for multi-acre commercial sites in just a few hours. There was a lot of time spent walking in freezing mud on construction sites and little time for the study of the interplay of flowers and trees. I found nothing uplifting about calculating material take-offs, but it helped me to know plant species, especially after specifying several hundred of them on a single site! If you make a mistake in your plant choices on large industrial projects, it shows in a big way!

I learned a lot about landscape maintenance—so important for a beautiful, professional landscape! I also learned important lessons in pragmatism. There are a lot of empty words used to sell mediocre landscape design or impractical visualizations. Experience helps to discern what sounds good but will fail, from what truly works and is self-sustaining.

I spent over a decade in design/build before taking a job at a state Department of Transportation. My role there was to review landscape plans, provide technical advice for anything related to landscapes, write contract specifications for planting and grassing, write maintenance specifications and work plans, and create statewide policies for roadside projects and permits. I also helped create a statewide landscape grant program and vegetation management permit policy which provided ongoing funding for the grant program there.

The reward of reviewing over 300 landscape designs a year was an education in public roadside enhancement practicality. Any landscape proposals on the 18,000 plus miles of rights-of-way in the state moved across my desk for design review. It was very interesting to see the varied plan graphics of so many designers. With time, I could quickly determine if the landscape plan was created by an architect, a civil engineer, a landscape architect, or an ecologist. There were distinctive strong and weak points for each professional discipline. Architects drew geometric landscapes. Civil engineers drew plans with the limited plants with which they were familiar. Landscape architects drew beautiful plans, but often missed permit requirements. Ecologists specified plant material that wasn’t readily available in the trade. Each discipline had both strong and weak qualities in their designs. That’s why you see such a mix of good and bad landscapes, and why so few outdoor sites have long-term success and significance.

What do I want to tell you about professional landscape design?

• It takes experience to create a wonderful landscape design, and you can learn a lot from the right mentor.

• It is easy to put together a landscape plan on paper, but it takes real skill to design something that delivers lasting value. •

• There are simple things you can learn about professional landscaping that can make your design sing, even if you are working with only the space within a small scaffold in Paris.

The devil is in the details, though!

I want to share as much as I can with you about what I’ve learned over the years, but you can find detailed information in my Advanced Guide to Landscapes eBook, coming soon. Until then, keep reading articles on the website, and join our email list for updates. I would love to hear your comments and about your landscape design stories and experiences, too.

Advanced Guide to Landscape Design


You might also enjoy the Advanced Guide to Landscape Grants eBook, full of practical tips for applying for funding and making your beautification project a success.

Advanced Guide to Landscape Grants








An Urban Plaza that Works

A Perfect Pocket Park

urban plaza, pocket park

This space is a great example of how to design an urban park with limited space. It rests between a twenty-eight story office tower and a fourteen-story hotel. The traffic running parallel on either side is non-stop, with sirens blasting constantly from the nearby hospital. The designer has taken an impossible environment and made it a pleasant place to pass the time outdoors.

How? I’ll list some of the thoughtful ideas incorporated into the design.

• The space is sunken below street level on one side and bounded by a skywalk and an enclosed parking lot on the other. This, along with the building facades, provides intimate enclosure as well as a buffer for street noise.

• Half of the plaza is raised, providing more enclosure for the picnic areas. The raised beds provide lots of opportunities for sitting, and the circular focal point acts as a stage for corporate events.

• The different levels restrict pedestrian traffic to workers in the office tower, even though the hotel patrons can view the plaza from their balconies. It is a very civil way to limit access. It is not uncommon to see residents in their pajamas, standing on their balconies, viewing activities below. Think Rear Window. There is a sense of relaxed community.

Perennial Beds

Strategies for Designing with Plant Beds that Grow, Peak, and Die Back Every Year

perennial beds, perennial bed designNine times out of ten, if you’ve seen a perennial bed, it was a photograph of the border at the peak of its floral glory. There are many people who assume a perennial bed looks colorful year-round. That word “perennial” can be misleading. Editors don’t publish pictures of perennial beds the other eleven months of the year. Showing only peak bloom gives a flattering, but false impression of gardening with herbaceous plants. The majority of the year, a traditional perennial bed will be only foliage or bare ground. As a designer, you need to plan floral borders in the landscape with the understanding the plants you choose will have a time for monochromatic, vegetative growth, a time for color, a time of declining vegetation, and a dormant season when much of the plant material is cut back.

It is best to create separate borders for the differing seasons of the year. Perennials don’t bloom from early spring to late fall. If the flowers are organized to bloom in concert, the color lasts only a few weeks. Consolidating all the early spring bloomers in one bed, the late spring bloomers in another, the early summer flowers in another, and the late bloomers in yet another plant bed is the way experienced garden designers use perennial beds to transform the feel of the landscape with seasonal transitions.

It is very important to remember when you design a landscape that herbaceous perennials die down completely after a hard frost. Annual color offers winter-blooming options, but the soft stems of herbaceous plants are made from watery cells that burst and die when exposed to freezing temperatures. A perennial bed should not be located in areas that receive year-round, high traffic. Groom spent beds, and they will be, essentially, invisible in the landscape until next year’s “moment in the sun”.


Water-wise Landscapes

xeriscaping, southeastern cactusFresh water is in limited supply and it is essential for life. That should be reason enough to care about water conservation and drought-tolerant landscapes. There are several ways to be smart about outdoor water use.

• Capture Stormwater—The first and best way to get the most out of water in your landscape is to capture free stormwater before it runs off your property. You can use rain barrels and gutter chains on a small scale, but better yet is to lobby for large-scale constructed wetlands for your regional water use.

• Get a Soil Test—Good, healthy soil allows water to percolate and grabs it for distribution to plant roots.

• Amend the Soil—Use decomposed organic matter as a soil amendment. It has magic fairy dust. It really does!

• Limit Fertilization During Dry Periods—Pushing plants to put out more vegetative growth when they are stressed is not nice. Let the plants focus their survival resources on staying alive.

Midlife Landscapes

Entertaining and Outdoor-Fun-Party Space

landscape fountain, showy patioThe most intense use of a residential landscape happens in midlife. A home landscape can flourish when the property owners are all grown up. Once everyone can swim and stops eating the poisonous berries on the shrubs and loses their inclination to climb dangerously in tree tops, the design of outdoor rooms can be more adventurous. You can add fire and water and expensive sculptures and dramatic staircases. Your plant material can be extravagantly ornamental. It is high display season in the garden.

Landscapes with a Sense of Place

The Characteristics that Make Landscapes Unique

a sense of place, landscape design sense

A sense of place is the combination of characteristics that make a landscape unique. It is an intangible feeling, similar to the way you feel when you detect a new school year is about to begin and the wind whispers through the tree tops with a fresh scent. It is a perceived change from the usual that your site possesses. Each outdoor area you prepare to transform deserves a moment of reflection. Record the surrounding environment, and provide some continuity with the distinguishing essence of the natural and constructed history of the site.

Good professional designers incorporate their client’s wishes into their plans, along with the challenges and limitations of a site, while giving due respect to the sense of place. Even so, they must establish their own authentic sense of self and hold fast to their unique design voice. Start developing your style. Don’t be afraid to propose an independent and untried idea. The combination of sense of place and sense of self make for beautiful landscapes.

Married with Children Landscapes

Landscapes for Young Homeowners

children's landscapeWhen you move into your first non-rental home, my best advice is to keep the grass mowed and wait a year. Relax about the landscape. It can wait until you get moved in. Take notes and pictures of anything exciting you see happening throughout the year. It would be a shame to start digging around, only to find out you destroyed a nice mass of native azaleas in the process. You never know where the bulbs are located until you see them sprout and bloom.

When you are ready to tackle the yard, your first priority is enclosure. Establish property boundaries and install fencing and screening to control access and egress. Mix things up along your new walls. Use evergreens, fence panels, gates, and flowering shrubs to build private outdoor rooms.

Just because your property lines are on an odd trapezoidal geometry doesn’t mean you must strictly follow those lines. You can fill a weird corner with tall evergreens and place your fence in front of or behind the vegetative screen.

If you plan on having pets, the enclosure project must include ground level (and below ground level) mechanical restraints. Fencing will need to done to the entire perimeter. Bury inexpensive wire fencing a few inches under the ground and bend it toward your yard to deter tunnel digging later. Another nice benefit from this is fall leaves are corralled and easier to rake.

Screen planting can be multilayered and varied. A boring hedge of cheap evergreens soldiered along the property line lacks flare. Undulating tall, medium, and low shrubs is much nicer. Add groups of flowering shrubs within your privacy hedge for color and seasonal interest.

Ways to Save Money on Your Landscape Project

The Most Bang for Your Buck

landscape project cost cutting, saving money on landscape projects

How can you save money on your landscape project and get the most bang for your buck? It depends. That’s the answer. How much money you are able to save on a major landscape project is dependent on how skilled, responsible, vigilant, and expensive your crews will be after installation. With the perfect crew, you can save a lot of money.