Welcome to our March issue. It is hard to believe that spring is already here. The trees and shrubs are blooming and the neighbor kids, my little friends, are playing their street games again.
Seeing the children reminded me of when our girls were little. Wherever we were, whatever we were doing, my wife, Lisa, always seemed to be prepared for whatever happened. Somehow, she always knew exactly what the girls would need, and planned for it. This kind of forward thinking is what a good landscape designer does, too. Let me explain what I mean.
A successful landscape—one that grows more beautiful with time—always starts with a clear understanding of what plants need in terms of climate, levels of sun or shade, soil quality, and water . This list may seem pretty basic, but the plant kingdom is vast, and each species has its own unique requirements. A designer who has a strong working knowledge of plants is able to select plants whose needs are compatible with other plants and with the given environment. The designer also uses his knowledge of plants to provide for the future needs of the plants, such as space for proper growth and adequate water.
“Why water?” you ask. “Shouldn’t that be a given, something not to worry about, as opposed to a future need that requires consideration?” That is a good question. If the plants are going to thrive, water is definitely a present need. At the same time, it is also a future consideration. To assume that ample water always will be available is not wise, especially given our regional weather history. As an immediate example, we all know that this last winter was a dry one. Even if we have a wet spring, I expect that there will be water restrictions by summer.
Water restrictions are not uncommon in Northern California. As a landscape designer, it is part of my job to plan for them. This is why I routinely recommend drought-tolerant lawns for new installations, and also suggest plants that are not overly thirsty. This is also what inspired me to write a series of articles on making your landscape “water restriction proof ” during the 2009 dry spell. These articles included one on turf grass hybrids that, once established, only need one good watering a week. I also examined “the next generation” of sprinkler nozzles, called Watermisers. And I discussed the importance of drip irrigation which delivers the desired amount of water directly to each plant, with minimal water waste. I also have some articles from 2012 that cover the same subject. If you are interested in reading any of these, the articles can be found on my website under Publications. For now, it is enough to know that I take planning ahead very seriously. In my mind, it is good stewardship, not only of our natural resources, but also of the faith my clients put in me.
So with the idea of planning ahead well-planted in our minds, let’s take a look at this month’s featured landscape. I like to rotate between bigger and smaller properties, so that everyone has a chance to see design concepts that will work well in their own yard. The property we are looking at now is a smaller one. I will be focusing on the front garden with this edition. We’ll look at the back yard next month.
As the before picture shows, my clients started with a standard builder’s landscape. They wanted something more personal and visually exciting. They specifically requested that the design be lawn-free because they’re
allergic to grass and to the maintenance of it. Although this decision was made for personal reasons, going lawn- free, or using a drought- tolerant lawn, is a great way to “water restriction proof ” a garden without sacrificing beauty or personality.
The personality of this design comes from its blended Northern California/Asian theme. It was a perfect choice for this couple. The husband grew up in Washington State and enjoys the “look” of Northern California with mixed ornamentals and conifers. His wife, who is Asian by descent, enjoys the influences of that theme. By bringing the two themes together in one design, I was able to express the couple’s individuality as well as their unity.
The theme here is what I would call a perfect fit, but not all of my clients have such an obvious choice. So, like water, finding the right fit is on my list of immediate and future needs. The goal is always
to create a design that will please today as well as tomorrow. For this reason, proportion in a smaller
yard is very important. The design elements and plant selections need to fit, without overwhelming the space. This includes everything from boulder selections to