Monday, 4 October 2010

Seven Hats That The Best Landscape Designers Wear

If you came looking for fashionable garden clothing tips, I'm afraid I may have misled you slightly. Maybe that'll be a post for another day - although I doubt that anyone would want to take my fashion advice.
It struck me the other day as I drove past an (expletives deleted) attempt at creating a garden by a "landscaping company", that a good landscape designer must wear many hats when planning a beautiful and functional garden.
A sheet of water begins the rill in a formal garden
A good landscape designer needs to have at least a part-time interest and respectable understanding of many fields and professions, and is at least one reason why I'll feel like I'm a student till the day I die. These are some of the professions that landscape designers should understand:
  • Architect - you should have at least a basic understanding of architecture. The buildings are typically the most dominant aspects of a site and are usually the media through which people relate to the environment. It follows that for a garden to be harmonious with the buildings you should have a basic understanding of architecture.
  • Botanist/Horticulturist - this is an obvious and essential aspect of the profession. But not only should you know the common and latin names of 1000's of plants that are suited to your region, but you should at least have a good knowledge of their individual characteristics (to the point of knowing how their characteristics differ depending on their environment).
  • Business-person - this was the least emphasised aspect during my studies, and the area I've since felt the most out of my depth. A healthy business means you can focus on being creative. A lack of good business sense probably accounts for the biggest reason why so few of my colleagues are still in the industry.
  • Marketer/Communicator - it isn't good enough just being good at making beautiful gardens. If you can't market yourself well, it makes your job so much harder. Once you have a prospective client, you have to be able to communicate your vision clearly, either visually or verbally. Add to this the need to use on and offline business networks and web 2.0/social media.
  • Psychologist - Our clients are almost entirely people. (Tell that to the hare I spotted munching on a client's Wild Iris) We need to understand people, what moves them, motivates them and stirs them. Creating something for our own tastes and preferences will leave your clients short changed.
  • Scientist - to create sustainable gardens, a passable knowledge of what is happening on a chemical level is definitely an asset. Knowing the effects and inter-relationships between soil, water, minerals, light, flora and fauna can't be overlooked.
Those are some of the many hats worn by the best landscape designers. Not all of the above are absolutely essential, because specialists can help take up the slack in those areas where we're weak. But these should be the basic traits of a landscape designer to be able to create truly beautiful gardens. This final skill on the list is the most important:
  • Designer - I think an intuitive design sense is the most important skill of a landscape designer. You could probably scrape by with little understanding of any of the previous professions, but if you lack in this area, you should pack your pencil and shovel away. There are several principles of design that can be learnt, but they need to built on a foundation of intuitive design. I'll be following this post up in the next few weeks with an outline of some of the less understood principles of design. Even though they may be the least understood, I believe they are the tools every good designer should understand and employ.
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