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.
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.