Consider, Consult … Create
By Jeff Homans
Spring is here and everyone wants their lawns and gardens to look their best. Here are five tips to improve your landscaping results and some common mistakes to avoid.
First and foremost, you want to remember that your landscape should be tailored to your specific local environment. A common mistake that people make in landscaping is trying to emulate another climate or geography. Internet and magazine photos are great for inspiration, but the best examples of what will work for your landscape are found in your city or, better yet, in your neighborhood. Becoming familiar with the localized components of soil, light, climate, hydrology, topography, biological and physiological issues will prepare you for the realities of your specific location. With a greater understanding of potential opportunities and constraints, you can conceptualize viable solutions. Also, acknowledge the dynamic nature of seemingly predictable patterns such as tides, rainfall, deer populations, local ordinances (i.e. tree protection), and climate. Most of the issues you may encounter, no matter how uncommon, have been addressed by others. Local professionals are the ultimate solution to navigate the pitfalls associated with landscapes.
Try not to stare at it for too long. I have developed landscape solutions on a daily basis for such a long period of time that I typically trust my initial instincts to begin the design/build process. But it still happens to me; I have a personal landscape project I'm working on and I study it so carefully that analysis paralysis sets in and the course to action becomes blurry. Many of the people I meet seeking to improve their landscape suffer from this mistake. Fear not, the easy cure for this is another brain and another set of eyes to break through the creative block. If you are already thinking outside the box (literally outside the four walls of your home) then it will certainly require inspired and creative thinking to achieve superior results in this area. Modeling your success after the successes of others is another key concept in outstanding landscapes. Again, this means understanding and identifying localized examples of what you wish to achieve and then applying creativity to adapt them to your unique conditions. As simple as this solution sounds it is probably the most challenging mistake to overcome because it can lead to just giving up.
Don’t go it alone! Sure, some components of landscapes are so small that they don't require a team of expert professionals to perfect. However, the systems associated with successful landscapes can be quite complex. This includes the biological components of botany, horticulture, and agriculture (in culinary landscapes) and the mechanical components of irrigation, drainage, lighting, and special features such as fire pits, swimming pools, and outdoor living areas. Home automation is an exciting new trend that is integrating control of landscape features (lighting, irrigation, pools, spas, fire pits, and music) with more common indoor systems on your phone or tablet. There are many service providers that specialize in each of these disciplines and experts that specialize in the integration of these disciplines into exceptional landscapes. The bottom line to avoiding this common mistake is to ask for help especially in the areas you are not knowledgeable or proficient.
Plan ahead! This is perhaps the antithesis of the overthinking mentioned earlier. Somewhere between unplanned action and over analysis is a sweet spot where an intuitive design process paves the way for action and pays huge dividends. While most of us will not tackle a complex landscape design or renovation project single-handedly, it stands to reason that the same strategies used to plan your next vacation or design your retirement can be applied to a landscape. First, ask "What do I want to accomplish?" A clear and well-defined goal is the first step to reverse engineering a viable solution. Planning can be as simple as a written outline or collection of inspiration photos to something as technical as professional construction drawing documents. Budgeting plays a large role in planning in that it lends focus to a scope and prioritization of landscape project elements. Because budgets are sometimes flexible or unknown at the inception of a project, I find that a holistic view of a landscape and its potential with regard to cost and design possibilities is the first step to unlocking outstanding results.
Watch out for “shiny object syndrome!” Chasing rabbits is another term for the distractions that prevent us from achieving success. In terms of a landscape this can manifest in several ways; a lack of focus, misguided purchases of inappropriate materials, or attempting to multi task other projects. Failing to plan often leads to this mistake where your goal and path to that goal are derailed by impulse. Additionally, attempting to emulate another climate or geography can lead to the purchase of materials that are not suited to your location. Plants are the most common impulse buy for unfocused individuals. Before you buy that beautiful exotic plant that is currently in bloom, take a second to see where it was grown. Probably in a greenhouse, but if you are in Georgia and the object of your eye was grown in Oregon, then there will likely be issues associated with climate, pests, and performance. Finally, if outstanding results are what you expect, your efforts in conceptualizing, implementing, and maintaining your landscape must be proportionate. Devote a reasonable amount of resources to your landscape endeavors to maximize satisfaction.
If you avoid these five common mistakes, you will find that a focused and well-planned approach to your landscape (and other endeavors) will yield the outstanding results you desire.
Jeff Homans is a landscape architect with Land Design Associates on St Simons Island. LandscapeArchitectGA.com