Tuesday, April 3, 2018


Landscape architect Thomas Church brought a new simplicity
to landscape design in the mid-20th century.
When I was a kid, junipers and sparkly white rocks were considered the height of good taste in landscaping. Modernist landscape architects such as Thomas Church introduced a new kind of clean geometry to outdoor designs, complementing the spare lines of Modernist architecture. Unfortunately, many lesser talents got carried away with this theme, and too often, barren, hard-edged landscapes were the result. 

In my town, countless front yards were stripped of their fuddy-duddy old lawns and covered with patterns of colored rock in diamond-shaped beds.  Those spiky, kid-hating junipers invariably showed up as accents—just enough of them to scratch you as you rode by on your bike.

Unfortunately, some of these ideas were taken a bit too far
by less talented designers, leading to a landscaping riddled
with free-floating slabs and lots of sparkly white rocks.
All this just proves that landscape design is as subject to fashion as anything else. Yet the basic tenets of timeless design don’t change, regardless of which fads come and go. Here are a few guidelines to help ensure a timeless design for your own landscape:

•  Consider your house and your garden as integrally related living areas areas, not as “indoors” and “outdoors”.  With real estate prices soaring, it makes sense to capitalize on every square inch of land, whether indoors or out. Break outdoor areas down into functions, and design around them. For example, your outdoor needs may range from an area for
Huge, chest-beating outdoor kitchens like this one have become
the latest example of conspicuous consumption in garden design.
barbecuing and eating, to a child-friendly play area, to storage for garden tools. Lay these out exactly as you would a floor plan, with the proper relationships and, especially, the right solar orientation. Place eating areas so they receive sun during the time they’ll be most used; locate play areas so they’re sunny all day long (you can always create shade if necessary, but you can’t get sun where there isn’t any). Use the shadowy, leftover areas for utilitarian needs such as storage. Plan your outdoor space as a series of outdoor rooms, with all the niceties of an indoor one—light, privacy, and a sense of enclosure.

The passage of time may not be
your home's best friend, but it actually is
your garden's best friend.
•  Be conscious of landscaping fads, and think twice before jumping on the bandwagon yourself. The barren, rock-strewn look was everywhere during the 60s. Clumsy, overbearing decks were a hallmark of the 70s, and during the 80s gardens were awash in wimpy-looking, quasi-Victorian gazebos. Ridiculously overblown barbecues became a hallmark of the 90s, and by the new century, this trend had morphed into an even more chest-beating fad for outdoor kitchens. If these things work for you, fine. If they don't, just say no.
Every era has its own plant fads as well—have you seen a trendy shopping center without palm trees lately? Still, you can never go wrong by sticking to your own preferences, whether they’re currently fashionable or not.   

•  Above all, remember to plan your garden in four dimensions, not three. Unlike a building, which can only decay over time, a garden is a living, breathing, and ever-renewing entity. Therefore, pay special attention to how your design will develop and mature as the years pass. Give trees and planting plenty of room for growth over the years. And give yourself room for growth too, because your needs will change as well. This year, you may want a sandbox for your toddler, but in five years, what will replace it?

Not sparkly white rocks, I hope.

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