AN ALTERNATIVE APPROACH TO LANDSCAPE DESIGN
Public easements are the 'who's-who' of property ownership, responsibility and husbandry. This series of pics tells such a story:
Lawns, the archetypal American landscape;
easy on the eye and the bare foot, a cooling counterpoint to our concrete & asphalt jungle.
Yet, in our pursuit of that American dream, we have been squeezing the spicket dry. It's a mystery, where has all the freshwater gone;
our leaders tell us that there is no such thing as Climate Change, soooo....?
So, if we can't fix the ailment, (that apparently does not exist), at least we can enthusiastically go after the symptom.
As an environmental designer I've chosen to tackle easements, and the lawned front yards of America (among other things)-
its the least I can do.
Demolition was no small thing, including not only the sod but also a few elderly trees,
(off to the Soylent-Green tanks, you elders you - or was it an Alder...?). Additionally, and unfortunately, the irrigation system had to go as well (Class 200 pipe-a no no).
The importation of vast quantities of top soil came next, along with the installation of a proper irrigation system.
Now, the fun began; the sculpting, contouring, mounding and boulder placement along this linear parkway.
Mounds to the left of me, boulders to the right...
as I stood between excavators and dump-trucks, dangling one-ton boulders beneath dubious straps, well, I was happily in my element.
A trip to the nursery locked down this special order of heather and health. Dozens of varietals in triple digit numbers - a colony, boldly going where only grass blades dared go...!
Call me crazy, but sometimes mono-culture is the design solution. I generally prefer to mix it up; a bit like today's rainbow families. I enjoy to slam opposing species together in small oasis plantings, (more on that later, if you like).
Yes, a homogeneous gathering of like minded plant beings - take me to your leader...
Heather & Heath are not water guzzling piglets, and planted in mass, shoulder to shoulder, they create their own micro-climate, further preserving our precious water resources.
And, just like after school children, the planting crew pulled little red wagons bursting with foliage down this sidewalk lane, delivering these pilgrims to their new world order.
A week of planting ensued, topping out the irrigation and adding a deep bed of mulch to tuck these tiny tots in for the Spring. And man, did they ever, thanks in part to a mini course on handling root balls of adolescent perennials these youngsters thrived!
Its amusing to speak of such fragile transplanting details to big burly landscapers. But, a little education goes a long way; we didn't loose one plant in the near thousand that were planted. Attrition is a sad sight to see; an immature planting decimated by poor transplanting methodology. Also note that a little love goes a long way as well.
A mixed varietal heather and heath planting, such as this, will provide four seasons of diverse textures and coloration. The mix includes spring, summer, autumn, and winter bloomers and pigment changers in the needles & scales themselves. This is not a one trick pony.
In addition, proper preparation and mindful husbandry, leads to rapid infill, creating a solid, undulating mass that chokes out weeds, and maintains soil moisture, while maintaining its unique ph, in which to thrive for many years to come.
You get a lot of bang for your buck out of such a composition, especially if you do not have to go to the trouble of mass excavation, system installation, and vast quantities of soil import. In most cases, those structural additions are already in place.
Heather & Heath also groups well amongst other species of plants. Add them as borders or drifts along an embankment, perch them on mounds with a few choice boulders and watch them show- off their seasonal structure.
Generally speaking, I bust the balls of those landscape designers that depend too heavily upon their planting design to pull-off the composition. In this project I broke my own rule, just a little bit. What can I say, nobody's perfect...
However, I made certain the the topography and boulder placement was sculpted, that in the event there were no longer any green friends decorating this scape, that the barren topography would read as if their was some sculptural Intent.
I will visit this topic later within this section.
Here are additional heather and heath pics from a different project - newly planted.
You can image how this curved rainbow of a planting will fill out.
This pastoral landscape is just part of the driveway sequence. Color and texture such as this is a must in the misty North West. It's like a vitamin D booster come winter!
So many planting designs loose their punch, during at least one season of the year We have six senses, why not stimulate all of them through our planting design?
Admittedly, I am a strong advocate of the hardscape carrying the design 365 and a 1/4 days through the year; consider the parallel with fashion:
the right clothes and shoes come-off as a statement when they are accessorized; that belt, tie, scarf, hat and jewelry bring it all together; but, you need the structure first.
My intention is not to demote the importance of plants but to consider them within their structural context ie a patio or courtyard.
Planting design, to me, is an integral accessory to the landscape; not a very popular methodology these days. I take a great deal of care in choosing these living things and in placing them throughout the landscape. I suppose the word restraint comes to mind - simple elegance is my preference.
Before we get into plant choice, composition and husbandry, I would like to discuss what else can be done in in a public easement.
Since I began this section on Plants, with an Easement planting design, I may as well talk about another alternative design/use approach ie Urban Gardening in these public/private land reservoirs.
There is a way to install and maintain vegetable and fruits for harvest while maintaining a perennial plant structure.
Additionally, I wish to discuss the 'dimensional' considerations of planting design; namely, the growth habits of plants over time. Planting design requires the vision to imagine how big a plant will become at maturity, including its rootscape as well as its canopy.
Gotta love this guy; a crested Saguaro, (sorry, a sunset pic).
I think that it nicely captures the male - female conundrum...
Actually though, it is an example of the fickle nature of, well....nature. This 'crest' is considered a mutation... 'oh, beauty, you lay within the eyes of the beholder!
Such curiosities provide the planting designer a whole new category of plant materials with which to work. See the section on, Containers and Vessels for a few interesting pics of mutated plant materials.
Crested varietal mutations can be found in a number of plant genus beyond that of cacti. You will just have to go and scavenger hunt though the nurseries. In addition to their unique nature, such plants, that do not conform to their 'prescribed' shapes, are often sold at discount.
Dear Reader, I have been attempting to relate to you, throughout this site, a narrative with pictorial representations of an alternative design methodology. Namely, taking all forms of building materials (including plants, water & light) and 'tweaking' their prescribed use to present an alternative way in which to perceive nature and our built environment. Its purpose is to stimulate the scenes,
(synesthesia -its an acquired taste).
Don't get me wrong, as a designer and builder, there is nothing wrong with conforming to prescribed notions of how an exterior space should look; there is a peaceful, comforting experience provided through uniformity. However, I believe that such enhancements can provide a more refreshing experience.
We live in an era of structured monochromatic, homogeneous and uniform typologies. Such a structure does allow for a more seamless flow; in fact, most of us hardly notice much of the world that surrounds us; we just plow through the day, immersed in our grey matter. This creates dull boys and girls - me thinks...
I believe, as designers and as the sculptures of the built and choreographed world, that we have a responsibility to shake things up a bit. Perhaps, such efforts will provide a stepping off moment or two for the viewer, and in that, perhaps their creative neurons will start a-firing - leading them into new areas of thought within their own lives.
Who knows. I guess it boils down to a 'wake up call'.
I think as a culture, we need one.