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March 2006 Thoughts

18 years ago

Thoughts From The Belly

copyright March 2006

By: Dan Mays

As many of you know, landscape design is a subject that fascinates me. However, it typically remains a struggle for all of us. A major problem is that we must fight our own human tendencies. I hesitate to call these "mistakes" but the characteristic novice approach to landscape design generally misses the mark. The intuition is to affect what exists rather than creating something from scratch. The cure for an underdeveloped sense of design often lays in reflective experience. However, the key root word here is: "develop". Reading and thoughtful conjecture can go a long way towards developing a sense of design and thereby shortening the inefficient learning curve of "trowel & error".

Typically, the first thing "newbies" do is decide to plant (it has got to be "on-sale-cheap") around something. Where do most people start landscaping? Well usually beds around the perimeter of the house and then around the perimeter of the fence. I call this "perimeter paralysis". We don't know exactly what to do but feel we must do something! Typically, we plant around the perimeter of the house (because you are supposed to). However, we soon run out of room. With nary a thought, we soon proceed to plant around the fence in order to accommodate our new-found addiction. Now, we really have "the garden bug" and have to find places to stuff more plants. Ah, ha! ... Trees have perimeters too! Let's see sidewalks, rocks, driveways, tool sheds... Yep. We sure do like our perimeters. After every available perimeter has been planted, wishing wells are purchased; just to have another perimeter to plant around. (Sound familiar?) More thought is given to finding another spot for a new plant than to over-all design.

So what have we really accomplished? We have spent a lot of time, hard work and money to accentuate what was already there. We do have a little more color and have tried to wring a sense of satisfaction from all the sweat and fatigue. But alas, the landscape is "still missing something". Although perimeters impart finite restrictions that eventually must be considered, they are usually an ill-conceived place to begin the design process. We tend to design backwards, locked into "perimeter paralysis". I suggest giving first consideration to the inside and eventually working out toward the perimeter... just the opposite of what most usually do. Ignore perimeters and focus instead upon viewing areas and flow patterns through the landscape. Every home and landscape has areas where we naturally spend inordinate amounts of time. It may be a kitchen window, a favorite seating area on a patio or deck, perhaps a big bay window or glass sliding doors provide a view we look at more often than not. It could even be a little grove of existing pine trees that provides a cozy resting place to read or just listen to the wind. The first view from the end of your driveway when coming home might also deserve consideration.

These are the areas where our eyes spend their time. Why do we waste our energies on a stupid fence just to create a landscape with the "garden necklace"? Yes, we will probably, eventually work our way out to the fence. But please letÂs not begin there.

People tend to just keep adding with reckless abandon without ever seeing (and removing) the things that really drag a landscape down (another human tendency). And, here comes the tough part: We have to substitute objective analysis for mindless activity. LetÂs face it  the worst and least objective judge of your landscape is the person staring back at you in the mirror. We donÂt see things the way others do because we are emotionally attached (How could you not be?). Going totally against the grain, consider REMOVING something from your landscape.

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