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Friday, 17 April 2009

Lazy Landscapers

Plants are to a garden designer what words are to a writer. The larger a writer's vocabulary, the better they are able to communicate with their audience.
Unfortunately many garden designers have a very limited 'vocabulary', and they tend to only plant those few plants that they know, regardless of the conditions or what might be appropriate to the site or design.

Every landscaper or garden designer does have their palette of plants that they prefer to use, but those preferences should never be at the expense of good design.

I have been seeing a profusion of 'landscapers' lately, that seem to have a very small range of plants that they use, with the result being that all their gardens start to look the same. In some cases I've had to fix some of these gardens that have been planted up with plants that are not suited to our coastal conditions. All this because garden designers are either lazy and/or have a very limited range.

I believe that the only justifiable excuse for getting stuck using the same old plants, is when we have to revert to plants that need to be easy to look after. In these cases, when the person caring for the garden has limited skills, then its defensible to stick to safe and easy plants. The challenge then for us as landscapers is to be looking for easy-maintenance plants that we can add to our repertoir for situations like these.

How can we as garden designers not be continually learning, reading, watching and testing. We should relish the chance to try new plants, and experiment with new combinations. We should be constantly stealing from others (with our eyes of course)!

But really, how can we justify always using the same old boring plants?


ryan said...

Landscaper in our area pretty much means someone who buys their plants from Home Depot, always the samo thing. It's actually one of the core foundations of our business, that most other people plant boring landscapes so we are able to easily distinguish ourselves.
I feel like you have to have a few standby plants that you know what they are going to do, but there should always be a few new plants too. There are just so many plants that will grow in the mediterranean climate. Otherwise everyone will get bored, myself included.

Garden Wise Guy said...

Ross: you make a good point. It's a vicious circle. Unimaginative designers working for clients who accept unimaginative work. That's one reason I teach and write about design - trying to raise the bar and change the aesthetic, if for no other reason than to keep me from screaming out my car window at hideous, boring gardens. That, and to prevent my wife from going deaf.

Anonymous said...

For me, the scary part of trying new plants isn't an unwillingness to learn new things, but a fear of failure. To visit a garden a year later and find out that plants aren't thriving or are too small/too big, whatever, because you made a bad choice is not a pleasant experience. While on one hand the internet is a great source of plant data, it is also easy to find lots of conficting data on the same plant. I think your climate is similar to mine, but a plant that thrives in San Francisco won't necessarily tolerant an inland garden only 20 miles away and vice versa.

Having said that, I agree about the lack of imagination.

stoneware70 said...

Ryan & Billy - My wife also pointed that out to me the other day (after similar drive-by exasperation, Billy) that its to my advantage that other landscapes have little to make them stand out. But it bothers me that clients accept mediocrity, and that we dish it out - because it makes others less inclined to take the chance on hiring landscapers/garden designers. Planning on doing any teaching in South Africa, Billy?

Susan - I think we've all made those mistakes - I could list some pretty cringeworthy mistakes I've made in peoples gardens. We have similar changes in climate within small distances.
But its more the fact that I see landscapers continuing to make the same mistakes and not learn from their mistakes that bothers me, and it bugs me when designers take a formulaic approach, and their gardens look like carbon copies of each other.

Chookie said...

All I can say is Amen! There seems to be a lot of gardening-by-numbers going on around here too. I am so tired of seeing box hedging, especially as it's very high maintenance in my climate. As the average person is quite garden illiterate, the poverty of knowledge of these pseudo designers goes unremarked.

stoneware70 said...

Thanks Chookie - I like that - 'gardening-by-numbers' is well put. I think another side to the problem is that people also want what they see in magazines and books without thinking about the practicalities. All the more reason for designers to be knowledgeable and honest about what is practical.

Bay Area Tendrils said...

Hey Ross, it's been awhile.
I left messages re: this post on Blotanical. Alice

Soekershof said...

in the Robertson Wine Valley it's the same.
Most of the wine cellars and the horse studs plus some upmarket accommodation have their garden design done by one 'smart' guy that's making a lot of money with exactly 30 different plant species you find back in all gardens he 'creates'. All the plants are sourced by one nursery. He charges 600 Rand per hour ..........

stoneware70 said...

I think we also need to somehow educate the public to raise the bar, so that they don't accept mediocrity?

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