Landscape Design One Step at a Time
There are probably hundreds of good books on landscape and garden design. Chances are you and I have read and found value in some of the same ones. But why are you reading another one?
Maybe you're reading this book because you are an avid gardener who will read anything that relates to plants. If incurable attraction to all topics horticultural is your reason for reading this book, I hope you will enjoy the time you spend here.
Perhaps you have a garden that you rearrange every year, and you're looking for ideas to use in coming seasons. Since you have a continually evolving garden, you must already understand what I think is the enchantment of gardening: "A garden is never done." I try to explain the beauty of this enchantment to all of those whose gardens and landscapes I design and to my students. Some never really understand; they keep trying to make a garden that can be left alone for a lifetime. But you, already spellbound, recognize that gardens are filled with and tended by living things that must grow and change: Plants will grow old and need rejuvenation; the gardener's taste will change with exposure to new plants and planting arrangements. For you who enjoy the processes of growth and change in a garden, this book will be great fun.
Or maybe you are the person I had in mind when I decided to write this book. It is written primarily for those who have wished for a recipe, a process that explains what to do first, second, and last to design a garden. If this description fits you, enjoy! You have probably read a number of books and articles, maybe attended classes or workshops on gardening and landscape design. You've acquired all kinds of wonderful information and plants, all of which you have "on hold" in various notebooks or in a side garden. You're looking for the glue that makes it all come together, a comfortable method you can rely on whenever you approach a new gardening project.
In looking for this recipe, you're not alone. Gardeners of all descriptions, from the homeowner to the aspiring professional gardener, have told me they'd like to have this kind of book. They were looking for "guidelines for arranging plants" or "help getting started." Some were anguished over having to move to a new home because they had been "fine-tuning this garden for years, how can I ever make another one like it?" Others said, "I have to learn how to design gardens and landscapes that my customers are sure to like." It no longer surprises me to hear people ask for this help, it only surprises me that until now there hasn't been a book that recognizes this need.
I made another important assumption about the person who would read this book. That is, you would already have some experience with gardening, even if it was only one season, one patch of ground turned up and planted. I made this assumption because most of those who asked me for the book had a year or more of dirt on their knees. They had gone about their gardening in an experiential manner: Try it first. This same assumption leads me to believe that most gardeners will try to assemble a newly purchased item before reading the instructions that come with it. It follows, then, that it usually takes one try at gardening to decide whether a plan is even needed! The pure joy of planting and growing is reward enough, and it can sustain the gardener for a year, a few years, maybe even a lifetime.
You can use the design steps in this book with trees and shrubs just as well as with annuals and perennials. Don't be afraid to branch out! Every step of this garden-design process is directly applicable to designing a whole landscape.
The 12-Step Plan
I've written this book so that you can follow my landscape design plan one step at a time. My 12 steps to successful landscape design are:
1. Set Goals
2. Establish a Budget
3. Think about Maintenance
4. Assess the Site
5. Make a Plant List
6. Choose a Focal Point
7. Make a Scale Drawing
8. Place the Focal Point Plant
9. Frame the Focal Point
10. Add to the Basic Plan
11. Outline the Garden
12. Adjust before Planting
Focus on your goal, a garden or total landscape design. When I ask my students, customers, and friends what they think of when they hear the word "design," they generally focus on the paper on which the garden is laid out or the task of choosing plants and drawing out the plan. Although deciding where each plant will go and drawing the plan are important parts of the design, they are not the entire design process. You can skip straight to the drawing steps in this book, but I'd advise you first to become acquainted with the earlier chapters.
What should you do first when you decide to design a garden? The amount of information to be considered can be overwhelming: costs, time required to make the garden, which nurseries should supply the plants. All these things are worth considering, but it's useless to try to think about everything at once.
Take one step at a time. Through the first four steps in this design process, you will be thinking and listening, not drawing. You won't need graph paper until you're halfway through the process, although you will probably have to take notes while you and any others involved in the garden are developing ideas. A finished design drawing may be beautiful graphic art, but if the bases that you'll cover in the first four steps aren't incorporated in the design, it's not necessarily going to be a good garden.
Steps 1 through 4 are the heart of a design. You learn to ask some simple questions. You gather some essential information about the place where the garden will be. You may be surprised at some of the answers and insights you get. I know that always I am!
In Steps 5 through 12, you'll be able to take all those facts and insights and put them together into a winning garden. Selecting plants, visualizing the garden, drawing . . . everything comes together one step at a time.
Whether it's your own yard that you garden, or you are in a position where others ask you to garden for them, this garden-design process will give you a hand. Every step of the way, it applies equally to the home gardener, to the professional garden designer, and to all those in between. Throughout the book you will find references to customers and the person who will use the garden and landscape. Those references are not there to alienate you if you are designing your own garden, they're there to remind others of a point of view that could be missed, or a way to apply an idea to a garden that's not your own. It can even help you with your own garden, so that you treat yourself as your own best customer.
This Book Has Enduring Qualities
If you do intend to design gardens only for yourself, I would warn you to beware. Every beautiful garden you plant will increase the amount of respect and attention you get from your friends and neighbors. As one customer of mine put it, "Three years ago, the only plant I knew for certain was a lilac bush, and I only knew that when the flowers were there. Now I grow dozens of different plants, trees, and shrubs, and everyone in the neighborhood asks me questions, even in the dead of winter. I'm quite the celebrity, and you know what? I like it! I've even added books to my library just to help me look up answers for the neighbors."
So you may come back to this book in a year or two for help in designing your neighbor's garden, a relative's landscape, even flower beds for friends at work whose homes you've never seen. In that case, you will need some help to remember the person who will use this garden, because it's entirely too easy to fall into the trap of projecting your own likes and dislikes on someone else. I know. Some of the worst gardening mistakes I've made have been in gardens for my closest friends and relatives! Fortunate, you might think. Avoidable, I say.
This book spells out a way to design a garden, draw up a plan, and then evaluate the garden's success. With it, you can enjoy the fun of designing a successful garden, understanding why it worked, and you can duplicate the success and create beautiful landscapes.
That's where the satisfaction comes, and that's where we're heading in this book.
Cooking Up a Design
This book is a recipe. Recipes tend to be concise sets of commands without explanations. Take the recipe step "Stir thoroughly," for instance. It is expected that you will simply stir well, no questions asked. If you want to understand why stirring well is important to certain mixtures, you consult other cooking books or take a class.
Those who must follow the recipe appreciate this brevity. I assume that some gardeners who read this book will want that same format, but others will want to know "Why? What happens if I don't do this or do it differently?" I have adopted a format that will work for both recipe user and "tell-me-why" designer. Each chapter of this book is a step in the recipe. The first few paragraphs of each chapter give the recipe step. Those who simply want to know "What next?" can read the beginning of each chapter. Readers who want to understand "Why?" can read the entire chapter.
As in any recipe, this is not the only route to follow. There are many recipes for meatloaf; there are at least as many ways to design. If you have not yet found a favorite, this one is written for you. Once you've mastered this method you can improvise special situations. You may find that your talent grows along with your gardens and you develop a unique approach. In the end, you'll be able to use the table of contents as a quick reference, like a recipe card.
You deserve a wonderful landscape. Have fun designing it!