Is good design really that important?

madtripper(5/6 Guelph)March 8, 2006

Reading the messages on this forum it is quite clear that many of us really don't know what 'good design' is. I include myself in that group. When we extend the group to include the general public that will be looking at your garden, they probably understand good design even less than a gradener.

So how important is it really?

If you plant a graden with nice flowering plants would not most people conclude that it is a nice garden? As long as it has color, is well maintained, is not outrageous most people would think that you have done a good job even if the colors clash.

I am not suggesting that good design does not make the garden better or that using better design principals will not make the garden look better. My point is that most people can't really tell the difference.

Personally, I am a plant collector. I see gardens mostly as individual plants, not as a well organized groupings. I think a garden is more special if it is growing unusual, well grown plants.

Terms like "grounding the house to the garden" don't seem to mean much to me. I can kind of guess what this means, but can I really say which of two houses is better grounded? I probably do like one over the other, without knowing why.

I also have trouble "feeling" the garden. Gardens don't put me in a mood - or at least I am not consious that they do. I am probably too scientific and pragmatic to notice?

If the majority of people don't really understand good design is it really that important? for the average home owner, are we making too much out of "proper landscaping".

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In my view good design is most important when it solves or prevents problems that can result in unnecessary expense, hazards or just lack of enjoyment of the garden.

Design is least useful when people get hung up on technicalities and tangents (i.e. "color theory"), are fixated on process rather than plants, and become afraid to express themselves in something that should be relatively light-hearted and fun.

A successful garden is one that pleases the gardener.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2006 at 8:35PM
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It is all perspective, just like you are both saying.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2006 at 9:39PM
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flowernay(z7b E.TEXAS)

Design includes many factors, not just "plant placement". I consider function very important. The function of your garden can be of hard goods or plant materials. ie; A dry "river bed" can help to facilitate drainage/direct runoff into a natural ravine. Some plants may provide enhancement to a structure. A winding stone path invites you to explore the garden. A patio bordered with plants of staggered heights might be used as an outdoor "room".

Let your imagination take over... you can always transplant, re-arrange, or add to a landscape.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2006 at 10:20PM
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gottagarden(z5 western NY)

You may not know much about design, but your subconscious does. Ever notice how some gardens just make you say 'WOW, WOW, WOW' and others make you say, 'Well those are beautiful flowers.' I'd bet that the WOW garden follows good design principles that stimulates you on many levels. In the other garden you will be attracted to individual plants, but not get overly excited about it.

Well, at least that's what I found. I started to look into why some gardens get me all fired up, but my gardens were only nice. I read lots of books and went on lots of garden tours. Now I can look at a garden and name the design "tricks" they are using. None of that is necessary to enjoy a garden, but it explains to me why some work and some don't. You don't have to read about design, but I'm sure you are impacted by the gardeners use of proper design principles.

Many people are intuitive on this, even though they don't study design, they are just naturals at it. So they may tell you they didn't "design" anything, but they have still unconciously followed good design principles.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2006 at 6:14AM
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As a non-expert, I would second gottagarden's point. Well designed gardens create an atmosphere which can be appreciated even by non-gardeners. A thriving collection of interesting plants will always be of interest to a gardener, but not necessarily to non-gardeners, and even for gardeners such a collection may not inspire all the intangible emotions which a well-designed garden can. This doesn't mean that every gardener has to care about design as long as she/he is satisfied and the neighbours aren't complaining. However, I think most gardeners do care, either intuitively or consciously.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2006 at 7:04AM
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saypoint(6b CT)

I think you can find a lot of similarities between designing an outdoor space and an indoor space. Most of us are more familiar with the indoor spaces, and can spot differences in the quality of design fairly easily.

Are you tripping over rugs? Can you walk through the living room unimpeded, or do you have to make a big loop around the sofa or squeeze by a bookcase? How about the lighting: bare bulb glaring in your face, or well lit but subtle?

Are the rooms decorated in the same overall style or mood? You don't want traditional in the living room, hi-tech in the family room, and retro in the kitchen. You want unity.

Is the kitchen arranged for good function, or do you have to close the dishwasher to pass by? Counterspace near the appliances so you can put things down easily, and trash/recyclable storage nearby but unobtrusive?

Are the colors compatible? You don't mix every color in the rainbow when you choose rugs, drapes, paint, or fabrics. Same applies in the garden - a color scheme that is chosen to look good together won't look chaotic.

Is the dining room large enough for your furniture? You want people to be able to move around the room even when the chairs are pulled out, without others having to get up to let you pass (my MIL has so much furniture against the perimeter walls that you have to crawl under the table to get to your seat). Same goes for the patio, if you plan to dine there.

Also, your interior is divided into areas for different functions: dining, relaxing, maybe a formal living room in addition to a family room, closets for storage, play area for kids, cooking, and utility. Same ideas can be applied outdoors.

We notice the problems in the interior because we are more familiar with them, and use them everyday. We have also been exposed to more good interior design, through the magazines and books that have been available for many years. Landscape design is more of a mystery to most people, and as a result, we don't see as many good examples of it in everyday life as we see of good interior design.

So yes, I think good landscape design is as important as good interior design. You want it to function well, and be attractive and comfortable for your family and your guests.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2006 at 9:14AM
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As a landscape designer (newly transplanted from CA to NY) I, of course, say design is incredibly important. At least it is when a landscape doesn't work! Case in point. We purchased a house with a fairly large lot (over 1/2 acre), but it feels tiny because the driveway runs through the middle to get to the garage, there is no screening of poor views from the house and no focal points to provide nice views out of any of the windows. The pool is the wrong shape for the design of the house and is too close to the house. I won't bore you with the whole list...but this landscape was ostensibly 'professionally' designed. It just doesn't function well or enhance the property at all. Yes, good design is important if people will be using the space, not just birds and squirrels!

May all of your gardens thrive!

    Bookmark   March 9, 2006 at 9:18AM
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What I have seen in previous house-hunting is that "landscape design," as opposed to garden design, insofar as the former might be defined to include all of the hardscape, drainage, maintenance, proportion, orientation and functionality,not limited to but including storage, access, entryways, and so forth, is sorely lacking in the majority of homes, old and new. I found less than 5% of homes really had that "'s where you can do this, and put this, and flow to here.." in the "landscape. But by gosh, a much larger percentage had themselves a granite kitchen counter, they did! To me that sort of functionality and flow is way more important than worrying over whether there are some meatball shrubs in the foundation plantings. It doesn't mean that you can't add landscape functionality yourself, but again, it's part of trying to decide which elements of a property are most amenable to re-design (cost, talent, time-wise). "Garden design" is ALSO lacking, but I have been continually surprised by the poor basic design.

It's like The Not So Big House author (who now has a Not So Big Landscape book, I think)--a few key details can make up for a lot of other things. Of course, when I read the Not So Big House, I noticed that the costs appeared to be, well, Not So Small, and so I have noticed that most of the really functionally enhanced-landscape properties in my area are quite expensive. So, it seems that not only are consumers not that conscious of some of the elements of design noted by madtripper, but by nearly everything OUTSIDE.

Maybe I am being too morose....

    Bookmark   March 9, 2006 at 10:27AM
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Not morose, frankie, just observant and realistic :-) What you have observed is very true and I believe relates more to folks' priorities and consciousness than to whether or not "good" design is important.

Except in certain areas of the country where outdoor living is a year round concept and the distinction between indoors and outdoors is blurred (like many parts of California, other parts of the Southwest and Florida), folks focus on the interiors, as that is where they spend the majority of their time. Yes, they want the exterior to be attractive but the priorities are not directed there. Landscaping or landscape design is far less important unless in a very upscale neighborhood where keeping up appearances plays a far greater role.

Even in my area, where gardening is pretty much a year round activity and extremely popular, garden design and spending $$ on the garden runs a distant second to remodelling or decorating the interior. Folks who wouldn't blink at dumping $50,000 for a new kitchen or $2500 for a new sofa blanch at spending $5000 to renovate their garden. This is obviously a generalization, as I wouldn't be able to remain in business if this was a universal consciousness, but for the most part, for middle income households a well-designed landscape is just not high on their list of requirements nor is the concept of investing in one to any reasonable degree.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2006 at 10:55AM
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Brent_In_NoVA(z7/6 VA)

I have appreciated the thoughtful posts to this thread so far. I almost started a similar thread a week ago to tie in with some of the other threads. Does garden design take away some of the passion from gardening?

Most beginning gardeners are attracted to flowers...the smell of a rose, the bloom of a daylily, the childhood memories of black eyed susans. If we start telling a gardener that they need to limit the number of flowers they grow, focus on foliage and plant more evergreen shrubs are we taking away the fun?

- Brent

    Bookmark   March 9, 2006 at 11:21AM
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kmickleson(z9 CA)

This thread caused me to go back and reread one I started last August (linked below), called "Landscape vs Garden Design: Different birds?", which addresses several themes mentioned here. I started it in part because I'd come to learn that while my property doesn't lend itself to landscape design, per se, the design principles I was learning here could indeed apply to the evolution of my garden.

As noted in above posts, so much depends on the particular home and personality involved, and the functions the garden or landscape are meant to serve for each. (Another old thread, "It Depends..." also comes to mind.)

In the end, I think it has to do with whether the gardener takes pleasure using and beholding what s/he has created; and/or how important it is to the homeowner to feel their home and its surroundings look appealing to others.


Here is a link that might be useful: Landscape vs Garden Design: Different birds?

    Bookmark   March 9, 2006 at 11:23AM
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prairie_love(z3/4 ND)

My opinion is ... it depends. I have been thinking (in slightly different terms) about this very question for about a year.

It depends on what you want from your yard, garden, landscape. If you want all the neighbors and friends who come visit and everyone (including yourself) who views to say "Oh, my gosh, this is absolutely fabulous!", if you want everything to fit together and work together, if you want no unexpected realizations that "oh, I can't get to my shed with my lawn tractor if I put that tree there"....yes, a good, probably professional, design is important.

You say that the average homeowner doesn't really understand good design. I disagree. We have often drawn analogies to music, so I will again. I don't *understand* a symphony. It blows me away that someone can compose such a complex piece of work, in which every single instrument plays a vital role. Often we won't notice a single voice, but it's there and it's important. So although I don't *understand* how a symphony comes together and I certainly can't compose one, play any instrument in one, or even understand all that goes into it - I most definitely *appreciate* a symphony.

I believe the same is true of garden design and landscaping. I do not understand all that goes into a well designed landscape (although I am trying to learn more). I cannot create a well designed landscape in my own yard (not by the standards of many here). However, in my case I have decided that the end is not the goal. The journey is the goal. It is far more important to me that I have the joy of seeing what I can do than it is to have the "perfect" yard. It would be the same as sitting down and playing the piano. I do not play well, but sometimes the joy of simply playing and doing what I can is more important than listening to a CD of a beautiful piano recording.

Saypoint compared outdoor design to indoor and I think there are valid points there. For myself, the difference again lies in what I want to do. I have no interest in painting my interior walls, not even picking out colors, or picking out carpet, or tile, when we redid the interior of the house, I quite happily hired someone to design it and install it. I had absolutely no second thoughts about it. I wanted it to look nice, and I did not want to do it.

With the outdoors, I want it to look nice, BUT....*I* want to do it! For awhile I naively thought I could have it both ways. Now I have accepted that I probably will have a "nice" looking yard, but nothing like what a professional designer could do. But I will have the pleasure of doing it myself. It's a price I'm willing to pay. As Eric said A successful garden is one that pleases the gardener..

    Bookmark   March 9, 2006 at 1:00PM
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Some very good thoughts to which I'd like to add:

1) Most professional "designs" are terrible. I don't mean most landscape design professionals are terrible. Instead I'm referring to the crap that builders pay some walmart landscape outfit to put into their new homes. These should be avoided at all costs if you are buying a new home.

2) Think about how the landscape will look in the winter. Design should consider year-round aesthetics.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2006 at 1:59PM
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melle_sacto(Z9/Sunset 14 CA)


I had to laugh because I had the SAME REACTION when I read "The Not-So-Big House". The ideas were great, my house could use them all, but the cost...

    Bookmark   March 9, 2006 at 3:38PM
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Brent, you have a good point, and it's one reason why the LD forum may need to continue disclaimer such as, "answers are not always "designed" to stroke your gardening interest". I alluded to that in a previous post about why it might be hard even for the pro's to even start to answer a lot of posts because there was usually the stated question of help with some aspect of design, or by definition since they were posting on LD forum, which MIGHT mean design help was wanted and design definition understood, or might NOT, and might lead to choice between somehow discouraging a newbie gardener vs. giving bad "design" advice (love those shrubs! you go, girl!). When all the poster might have wanted was to have a group hug with fellow gardeners and enjoy his hobby. Then too, there ought to be some kind of happy medium in which an evolving or even a first attempt at some kind of LD project can get a positive grade for one or more aspects, so it's not always MORE! MISSED the MARK! DUMBO STRIKES AGAIN!

It can be like raising children or teaching students. With some behaviors and with learning, you don't always focus on the final goal, but on the NEXT step that will get the child or student to the final goal.

Laag is especially good at this. Go, laag! There is something about the way he analyzes the situation and gives advice that is very approachable and "hearable". (Now, don't go getting the bighead, Andrew.)

Melle, thanks for the laugh. Actually I love the House concept and don't sneer at the fine quality even when high cost, because it is about choice more than about a specific cost of living--choose to spend the $$ on the features that enhance living more and the author tries to show what those features most often are.

If anyone is familiar with the Tightwad Gazette, you will know what I mean and how it can relate to landscape design and spending or saving $$. Her books are not so much about how to pinch a penny as they are about how to set priorities and then achieve them. You may not be able to have everything, but when you decide what you want most you are usually able to have it.

See, I am no longer morose, I am just digressing.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2006 at 6:31PM
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tibs(5/6 OH)

The big difference between intrior design and landscaping is that your interior is static. The couch doesn't get bigger. Or the throw rug start going up the walls. And a lot of people want their landscaping to be static. They want that little shrub to stay just that size. (whereas I always picture my garden with the plants as they will be when full grown)

    Bookmark   March 9, 2006 at 9:11PM
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"You may not know much about design, but your subconscious does. Ever notice how some gardens just make you say 'WOW, WOW, WOW' "

Yes ... indeed .. this week I worked on a landscape renovation project ... my crew and I were repairing a landscape that was torn apart during a plumbing project ... we started Monday ... it was one of those landscapes that made me say "WOW" ... but not now with a huge gouge in it from a big tractor ... it was not until thursday after we uncovered some curbing started getting to a finished grade when I made a turn in my tractor and POW ... it came back to life !! WOW .... hit me square in the face ... still the landscape needs more repair but it is alive again.

I'm some what amazed when a gardener claims they can't feel in the landscape.

Good Day ...

    Bookmark   March 9, 2006 at 9:53PM
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I think it is safe to say that most of us come from a perspective that says design is important.

For the most part, design is a response to a set of needs. Sometimes people do not see the set of needs that the design is or is not responding to. This makes them believe that design is not important.

There is a tendency towards thinking of words by their most extreme definitions. If you think that design means considering everything and everything, that is overkill to most people. If you think of design as very basic limited problem solving, it is hard to consider it anything but important. To any landscape there are simple problems and there is minutia. Any problem solving fromone extreme to the other is design. Any of it can be good design or appropriate design.

Design is important. It is just really difficult to understand that it has many faces and many degrees of intensity.

By the way. I never said I don't feel a landscape. I have said, repeatedly, that feeling is a response. I don't design by feel. I get feeling from it and expect to get people to feel a response from it. It is very different than not feeling a garden.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2006 at 11:03PM
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I think the mohave kid was referring to madtrippers original message: `I also have trouble "feeling" the garden'. It reminds me of a visit to a local nursery operated from a private home. Almost every square inch of the yard (front and back) was filled with succulents growing in piles of gravel and soil. I left in complete awe of the owner and his passion and talent for succulents but I can't say the design of his garden moved me. Like madtripper, I am sure this person was more inspired by his individual plants than by the overall design. Had some of his energies been diverted into landscape design he might not have been growing such an absolutely amazing diverse collection of succulents and making them available to people around the world (through mailorder). Another thread mentioned the Kelaidis rock garden featured in Ken Druse's Collector's Garden. This strikes me as another example of a gardener focussed much more on the plants than the design. However, it still seems to me that such gardeners are in the minority and that most do "feel the landscape".

    Bookmark   March 10, 2006 at 5:48AM
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"I also have trouble "feeling" the garden."

This may be a regional problem. I did not have such difficulties in Texas, where a gardening experience that includes inadvertently treading on a fire ant mound will engender many feelings and sensations, often resulting in an unchoreographed war dance.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2006 at 9:11AM
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Well worth the price of admission. I did an interesting dance once while transplanting a white pine that had a yellow jacket nest in the root ball. It started as a jig and finished with something known as the penguin. A bee stung me on the upper inner thigh. In a panic, I thought it might have gone up my pant leg and might not have been alone. I jumped around a bit, dropped my drawers, and ran around like a penguin on speed with my pants around my ankles.
Talk about a garden with feeling and motion. Quite an engaging border planting as it were.

Not only is good design important, but choreography should never be overlooked.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2006 at 6:37PM
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you guys are too funny! thanks for the laughs. unlikely you are going to take the fun out of gardening as someone suggested earlier.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2006 at 7:48PM
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laag- Greatly enjoyed your design comments and your choreography story. I am sorry to say I have coreographed a few yellow jacket dances of my own, all none to pretty.

prairie love- Excellent music analogy.

As for good design- I think the point of good design is that most people can tell. When the cable guy stops in his tracks and says wow, or the ac guy asks if he can show his co-worker the backyard, or the shed builder says "I have been in over 500 back yards and this is one of the nicest I've seen" that is good design. I didn't spend a fortune. No landscape crew, just little old me, practicing the design principles I learned when I got my hort degree. And yes, I understand the love of plants and collecting. I too am a plant collector, plant junkie really. You can have the best of both worlds tho if you collect in groups and display plants as Mother Nature would, in swaths. Plants truly are more beautiful that way, you really miss out on a large part of the beauty of a plant when you don't get to see a mass of them, at least try to have 3 of something larger, more of something smaller. It creates an effect in the garden that you just can not get with one of this next to one of that. You may have to be a bit more selective, but for me the results are worth the trade.
Happy Gardening.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2006 at 9:58PM
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Good design ... IT'S ESSENTIAL!

It's what keeps you from planting moisture-loving plants with cacti and killing them all.

It's what makes it possible for you to rake behind shrubs.

It's what keeps that cute tree from blocking ALL light in 10 years.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2006 at 11:51AM
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madtripper(5/6 Guelph)

Prarie love - You say that you don't understand how to create a sympony but that you do appreciate it. Appreciating it does not indicate that you can tell the difference between one that is OK and one that is exceptionally 'designed'. And I think this is one of my main points. I am tone deaf and could not tell the difference between a good and a bad sympony. I do like to listen to one from time to time.

When someone says WOW to a garden, does it really mean it is a good design? Maybe it is just very interesting, well cared for and blooming well - or maybe that is all that good design is??

Several comments deal with functionality and relate this to design. I guess that is correct, but I tend to separate functional design from let's call it artistic design. I am very good at getting the functional aspects right. I know where to put the path but I don't usually know if the pathway should use round or square stones. Same goes for indoor design. Told the wife I have vito power on functional aspects and she can decide on color, materials etc. When I think of good design I am usually thinking about the artistic aspect.

Feeling the garden. I took a walk today in the woods and it was great. I felt a real relaxation - the sun was shining and warm for this time of year. Can't really say there was any great design in the woods - or is a natural woods the best design of all? The 'feeling' I got was from the moment in time, the sun shine, the melting snow, no big problems in my life etc - it was not due to any great design.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2006 at 10:20PM
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"When one ceases to strive to understand .. then one will know... without understanding" ... Remember that one ?

"I have said, repeatedly, that feeling is a response. I don't design by feel. I get feeling from it and expect to get people to feel a response from it." .. Laag said.

So why can not feeling be the source of ones actions and NOT the response ? LOL ...

"or is a natural woods the best design of all?"

The best design for your landscape is the one that originates from you ... feeling the garden means knowing yourself and acting from who you are ... true creativity .. we all have a uniqueness .. once you know where your path is then the "technical aspects" will help you get their ... just like a compass can tell you which direction to walk but I you must know where you want to go first. The compass becomes a tool and does not run everything .. it works for you.

Perhaps what you found in the woods was much greater lesson then landscape design ... perhaps you walked into a state that you can return to no matter what is happening in your life ... good .. bad or ugly.

A garden is sort of a place that brings us back to our own center .. a teacher .. maybe ...

Good Day ...

    Bookmark   March 11, 2006 at 11:20PM
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You can't bend a spoon with your mind. That is all I mean.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2006 at 8:12AM
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lnscapr(z7 VA)

I am a designer and teach a number of classes on landscaping and garden design. The main message I try to get across is that a lot of "good design" is observation, simple common sense and problem solving: Why do you want to plant a plant in a particular location? For screening, shade, color, to cover the foundation, create a hedge or barrier,to attract birds, for something beautiful to look at, etc....How big should it tall or wide? What shape...pyramidal, mounding, or spreading? Should it be fast or slow growing? Should it be evergreen or deciduous? Is it a sunny spot...or a shady one. Is the soil wet...or dry...and so on and so on. Once the proper plant is chosen for the correct location, artistry takes a role....contrast, color, texture, balance, harmony, repetition,line,rhythm,focal points, etc.
I believe that a great looking landscape is equal parts: Good Design, Quality Plants and Planting Practices, and Correct Follow-up Maintenance and Pruning. And, like anything, it isn't as easy as it may look!

    Bookmark   March 12, 2006 at 9:01PM
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landman(z5 Central Mass.)

Hello all,

Had to take a few days off to build my display at the Flower show...that said I spent the weekend discussing the advantages of design services with homeowners that stopped by to view my display.

As I read through the above posts I thought of some of the analogies that I referred to this weekend that helped express the importance of good design.

I think the key is to look at the big picture when you start and not focus on the details. If we focus on whether to plant a Dogwood or a Tulip Tree based on whether we prefer one flower or the other but don't consider it's location and growth habits, obviously there will be some major issues.

If we are redoing a kitchen and focus all of our attention on the tile for wall behind the stove but do not spend time locating the stove, frig and sink...we will have very pretty tile in a kitchen that is impossible to work in.

I also like to emphasize that here in Mass. the land around the house is a huge percntage of the usable family space so it is important to focus on figuring out what activities are required and tie the spaces together so they work well and look good too. All the activities are like puzzle pieces...Swimming pool, driveway, patio, gazebo, tennis court, putting green, water feature, cut flower garden, veg. garden, etc. The pieces vary based on the needs of the homeowner and there also needs to be space left over that can have multiple uses as needs change. A good design brings all the puzzle pieces together into a single finished product that works together, one space flowing to the next, interacting as needed.

Yes the budgets can be staggering but they don't have to be. How much money is wasted when a flower garden is planted in the wrong spot with no planning and half the plants die due to the wrong light conditions, other overgrow their space, and then everything blooms for two weeks in June with nothing planned for the rest of the year. Time spent working out the design will save a homeowner considerable amounts of money in wasted time and effort due to bad planning. A planned design also allows for a logical plan for phasing in a project to meet cash flow restrictions. For example it is very easy to see on a plan that the proposed wall that shuts off equipment access to the back yard should be in a phase after the back yard work is completed.

Well back to the show...


    Bookmark   March 13, 2006 at 9:30AM
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prairie_love(z3/4 ND)

Appreciating it does not indicate that you can tell the difference between one that is OK and one that is exceptionally 'designed'. And I think this is one of my main points. I am tone deaf and could not tell the difference between a good and a bad sympony. I do like to listen to one from time to time.

Actually, that supports the point I was attempting to make. The more one knows about classical music, the more one demands from a performance. You would perhaps be just as impressed with a performance by the local symphony (which in our town is really quite small and local) as with a very well known one such as the Philadelphia Orchestra. I might be able to tell the difference between those two, but maybe not between the Denver Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra. A person who is very knowledgable not only will be able to tell the difference between those two orchestras, but also know who is conducting and who is playing lead violin, etc.

I think people will also fall along a continuum in their ability to appreciate a good garden design. I do agree with those who said that good garden design is essential for purposes of avoiding problems, but I think that as far as the "garden" itself goes, it depends on what you want and who you want it for.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2006 at 9:42PM
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Good design does not have to be overly complicated design. I think that is a confusion here.

You don't have to use every design element to have good design. Some of most beloved landscapes are rather simple. Sometimes there is a very limited plant pallette, a mansion, a nice lawn, and nice driveway. The design is "good design".

A problem is that sometimes people want to use materials that have very powerful elements within them without understanding their effects. By adding such elements it can take someone away from what they can manage in a design. That erodes the integrity of the design and can result in something lesser than "good design".

You don't have to know everything in order to do good design. You just have to work well with what you know. Understanding what you can not yet command is as important as knowing what you do command. "Just because you can drive a car does not mean you can fly a jet" is what one of my better professors once said.

Anyone can do "good design". The trick is not to go much deeper than you can handle until you can handle it.

There is no superiority or inferiority here. Good design is successful problem solving and one of those problems is usually aesthetics. None of us knows it all. None of us has to know it all. It is best to work with what you understand. The more you understand the more you have to work with. That does not mean that it is better to work with more, only that if you choose to, it is better if you understand it.

Good design does not have to be a knock out. Sometimes not noticing something is a result of good design.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2006 at 6:56AM
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I believe good design is important. I have some before and after pics of our modest home. The first album includes pictures of our house/yard during and just after completion of landscaping and adding simple architectural features to the house.....the second album includes pictures of the yard over the last 3 years (the yard is 3 years old this month)....I think the change is pretty dramatic and a good illustration that design is important. I agree that beautiful flowers and trees enhance a yard, but good hardscape can make a dramatic difference in most yards. We also tweaked the look of the house with architectural elements like shutters, window box, a custom fence, molding around the porch entrance (because the door is on the side, people used to not know where the entry to the house was), even the new gutter system mimics the look of crown molding.

Here is a link that might be useful: Garden during and after reconstruction

    Bookmark   March 14, 2006 at 7:34AM
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Here is the album of pictures taken over the last 3 years...some pictures were taken during a couple of garden tours that we participated in - Country 4th of July theme.

Here is a link that might be useful: Garden Progression

    Bookmark   March 14, 2006 at 7:37AM
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Is it possible to make a distinction between a landscape with no design, one with bad design and another with good design? If not then madtripper is right in asking if it is important or not.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2006 at 8:59AM
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Of course it is possible.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2006 at 9:29AM
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Any manmade landscape has a design behind it, intentional or otherwise. Is it possible to distinguish between "good" design and "bad" design? Of course, and is usually obvious to the observer regardless of training if they apply enough time for consideration and observation. Is "good" design important? It depends....on your point of view :-) If a mere collection of plants is sufficient, then perhaps not. If you adhere to laag's contention that design is a response to a set of needs (and I certainly hope most professionals do), then the more clearly you think out and articulate those needs and respond to them, the more well defined and successful the design becomes.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2006 at 10:17AM
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"Any manmade landscape has a design behind it," ruling out 'no design', I guess, so how would you categorize the difference between good and bad. One point of view is that a good design is function driven (or need driven) but the original poster sees aesthetics and function as two seperate issues.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2006 at 10:27AM
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As has been stated before, aesthetics IS a function or a response to a need but to focus on it entirely is to ignore other, perhaps more pressing needs or requirements. Good design is a balancing act between aesthetics and other more mundane or even technical issues. The OP's contention that the general public does not recognize "good" design is, I think, not entirely valid. It is only that they have not devoted the time and consideration to explore a well-thought out design. If given side-by-side comparisons of a garden that is only a collection of plants, even lovingly attended to, and one that has thoroughly explored and addressed the needs and requirements of the owner and the site, I'd bet the difference would be obvious to even their untrained eye.

I teach landscape design classes and they are inevitably well attended. Why? Because many gardeners feel the need to move beyond the aesthetics of a garden full of colorful plants (or not) planted with no specific intention or order other than to provide decoration to one that works for them on many levels. They simply have not been introduced to the process that gets them to think about and vocalize what their wants and needs are and how to adapt them to their specific location and site. Once that happens, even the aesthetics will have more significance and work better.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2006 at 11:06AM
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Thank you gardengal. I suppose what I am asking is, is there an objective criterion that says something is 'good design' or is it as someone said above a subjective judgement, "If I like it then it is good" or "A successful garden is one that pleases the gardener"?

    Bookmark   March 14, 2006 at 11:46AM
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I disagree that good design is a balancing act between aesthetics and more mundane function.
For some reason people want to separate aesthetics from function. To a garden designer it might be the first function far outweighing all others. But it might have more weighted competition with such things as drainage, parking, a budget, and a beagle who likes to dig.

One person may choose to plant the garden with what they want aesthetically and deal wuth the drainage problem or beagle as the problems occur. Another might make it a priority to keep the beagle from causing problems by limiting the plants or garden size, or with fencing, using plants that can deal with the excessive water and staying with a low budget (good English may be a priority we each weigh differently as well). A third might spend more money and excavate the back yard to drain away from the house, build retaining walls to stabilize the bank, and plant the garden above the wall where the beagle can't get at it. These are all good design in that they address the problems as they are prioritized. Someone not knowing what criteria the decisions were made from may or may not believe that it is good design.

When we look at a picture someone posts we seldom know all that they had to work with and what the priorities and limitations were. Sometimes we see something that does not look really great, but they may be really good when considering all the limitations and the priorities that were driving it.

A gardener tends to measure a landscape by what plants are in it. Someone else will consider it a flop if you can't tell which door you are supposed to go to when you arrive.

We might be taught to think of "design" meaning a pretty pattern from a young age it seems. If that is the case, I believe that a lot of people have a totally different concept as to what is meant by "design". Others think design means to ignore artistry and focus on mechanical function. So when someone says "is good design important", they might not be talking about the same thing you are thinking that they are talking about.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2006 at 12:40PM
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juniorballoon(Z8a WA)

Is there a difference between designing and planning?


    Bookmark   March 14, 2006 at 2:26PM
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"So when someone says "is good design important", they might not be talking about the same thing you are thinking that they are talking about." So the answer to my question "is there an objective criterion that says something is 'good design'" is No?

    Bookmark   March 14, 2006 at 7:05PM
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So the answer to my question "is there an objective criterion that says something is 'good design'" is No?

I would say the answer is yes.

The objective criterion is whether it effectively dealt with the situations it was trying to resolve from the outset whether it is drainage, aesthetics, or beagles and done so within the limitations the designer had to work with and the priorities of values the user of the site set forth.

Simple, isn't it?

    Bookmark   March 14, 2006 at 7:14PM
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Andrew, I don't want to be nit-picky, but I did not separate aesthetics from function - my first statement acknowledged it is itself a function or a response to a need. But too often I think non-professionals think the aesthetics of a bunch of pretty plants IS good design without consideration of whatever other needs or functions exist to be addressed. Aesthetics do not exist in a vacuum - I do not believe "good" design can ignore ANY the considerations of the site, the homeowners' wants and the uses they intend for it, technical, practical and aesthetic. In short, a balance of all of the above.

So I would agree with your above statement but amend it to be all-inclusive of drainage, aesthetics AND beagles and whatever other needs/functions there are to be addressed rather than an either-or situation.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2006 at 8:46PM
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linrose(6b KY)

Facinating discussion. As I was reading all of your posts, the dictum "form follows function" kept coming to mind. I think laag expressed this functionalist design idea most consistantly. This idea of functionalism bothers me a little. I don't want to get into a lengthy discussion of design theory here but I guess post-Modernism has affected my ideas of design more than I thought. While a functionalist designer may suggest that there is an irrefutable truth to design, a common visual language that is not subject to taste, I have a bit of distrust that there is one overreaching truth in design. This leaves out any subjectivity or individuality which may sound egocentric but must explain what many of you have already expressed, that of individual preference for one design over another. Both may be equally functional (although that point would be argued by a true functionalist designer) yet completely different. Thus, there must be a separation of function and aesthetic in the post-Modern vision. I have a scientific mind and love pure truths and explanations for everything so naturally I love Modernist design but that nagging feeling (darn individual aesthetic) keeps me from embracing it completely.

OK, a little off topic but I find it interesting. For a very good read on "form follows function" - follow this link!

Here is a link that might be useful: Form follows WHAT?

    Bookmark   March 15, 2006 at 10:04AM
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Mr Michl makes a mountain out of a molehill. I have read his stuff before and he tends to put his own spin on facts and also puts words into other peoples mouths, making his judgements suspect, in my opinion. Sullivan does NOT say that there is only one form for every function therefore only one answer to every problem and Herbert Read actually says the opposite to what Michl has him say. "One false theory assumes that if the object in question performs its function in the most efficient way possible, it will ipso facto possess the necessary aesthetic qualities. To this argument we must reply that an object which functions perfectly may, and probably will, possess aesthetic qualities, but that the connection is not a necessary one."

    Bookmark   March 15, 2006 at 11:18AM
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There is one thing that I beat myself to death trying to do with no success. That is to try to get people to understand that function is not devoid of artistry or aesthetics. When I finally do that, I'll write a book. I just do not have the communication skills that can get that point across in an understandable manner.

Now I know why I had two professors that were very frustrated trying to teach these concepts when I was in school.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2006 at 12:37PM
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linrose(6b KY)

I don't believe that function is devoid of artistry or aesthetics - quite the opposite. The most elegant solution is very often the most functional (look at say, a spiral staircase (not landscape but bear with me.) It takes you vertically in a minimum amount of space with the maximum amount of aesthetic value (I think everyone can agree on this one.) I only believe that they are not codependent, which I believe adamante importantly points out in the quote:
"One false theory assumes that if the object in question performs its function in the most efficient way possible, it will ipso facto possess the necessary aesthetic qualities. To this argument we must reply that an object which functions perfectly may, and probably will, possess aesthetic qualities, but that the connection is not a necessary one."

I don't know about Mr. Michl putting a spin on anything, just that he raises interesting questions rather than answering any. After all, a theory can never be proven to be true, just disproven. That stimulates a lot of discussion!

(Boy I knew I was in trouble when I brought this up!)

OK, that aside (for the moment, I fear) let me get more to practical matters. Design is not merely a matter of solving problems. Yes, it is usually the first thing to be addressed (and must be for a successful result.) But that is why a good designer always not only looks at constraints when doing a site analysis, but opportunities! With opportunities you can capitalize on the "good" aspects of the site, utilize intrinsic relationships that exist onsite and with the surrounding area. Designing for opportunities is no less demanding than designing for constraints (ie, the beagle problem already mentioned) and equally important in my opinion.

And laag - you definitely have excellent communication skills. I look forward to reading your book!

    Bookmark   March 15, 2006 at 7:14PM
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Opportunities and contraints (Lancelot "Capability" Brown?)- enhance the good and mitigate the bad is what I say. Maybe I get carried away with the notion that people don't have too much trouble seeing the good, so I dwell on talking about dealing with the bad too much.

Look for for the landscape book done in yellow crayon, that will be mine.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2006 at 8:36PM
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Can we say that good design solves the RIGHT problem as this ties in with what most are saying? Sullivan's thoughts came from a mileu that was trying to understand ornamentation. The International Style used his maxim to justify the elimination of ornament when what Sullivan was pointing to was that ornament should not be used to disguise bad design or be used instead of design not that it doesn't have its place. You only have to look at the buildings he designed to see that. Laag is sliding his yellow crayon around to say something similar I think.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2006 at 8:03AM
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landman(z5 Central Mass.)

"Good Design" / "Bad Design"

I think function is a key to good design..if you have an aestheticaly beautiful garden that has weaknesses in it's function then ultimately the problems will negatively affect the design.

For example...

A terrace is created, edged with some beautiful perennial gardens with wonderful plant selections that give 12 months of interest. The function for this terrace is to seat a family of six for meals and also serve as a transition point from indoor spaces to a large lawn area beyond that is needed for children to play on.

As I said the plant selctions are great and the paving pattern is distictive, perfect photo opportunity for any glossy magazine.

But.... function was not considered. The table AND chairs, when placed for function block access from the house to the lawn forcing the children to run THROUGH the perennials to get to the lawn area. When the chairs have people in them there is no room to walk around the table and serve food, once again requiring people to step on the flowers. Finally, the design did not consider the great american tradition of the outdoor grill. Because of the heat it generates it is kept away from the chldrens path putting it in a spot that is now spilling grease on the paving, as well as smoking out all the guests.

The point I am trying to make is that not considering function is missing a key part of good design and will ultimately affect the beauty of the garden and be the cause of it's demise.


    Bookmark   March 16, 2006 at 8:05AM
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linrose(6b KY)

Of course function MUST be considered in any design. If you look at what is probably the most influential written work on modern suburban residential design, 'Gardens are for People' by Thomas Church, function is one of four principles of good design. Unity, simplicity, and scale are the other three. The result of using all four principles in design is aethetic beauty. Even though it was written in 1955, it still carries a lot of weight today. His designs emphasized landscapes for living in, not just looking at, which is what we all still want for our own tiny bit of the earth. If we practice all four of his principles, the result should be beautiful.

So yes function is important, but it is not the only factor to be considered.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2006 at 9:37AM
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This appears to be as far as people want to go with the theory which is a pity because I was hoping for a formula to help me make a good design in my little plot. Are people happier talking about practical things? Other than making a proper path through perennials what else should I do?

    Bookmark   March 16, 2006 at 5:45PM
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linrose(6b KY)

Sorry I sort of hijacked the original thread- I love talking design, but I'm also a collector like madtripper. Plants consume most of my waking (and sometimes sleeping) moments. Design fills in most of the cracks in between. Kids, pets, husband, bills, in other words, the rest of my life, are a somewhat soft focus background to... plants and design.

So, with that out of the way, let's shift focus back to madtripper's original post.

"...many of us really don't know what 'good design' is."

As has been suggested by previous posters, that is OK. If what you want from your own garden is personal satifaction, then you have achieved it if you are happy with the results.
If it is worldwide (or subdivisionwide) acceptance you require, then you need to look a bit further. If you don't give a **** about all of that - then just do what works for you! No rules.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2006 at 6:58PM
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Yeah but linrose, and now you are really sorry you opened that can of worms, I want to be happy with the results but I want to be sure that I will be happy before I spend any money or any more time bothering you people with my wittering. I don't know what works for me, isn't a design supposed to be before the fact, I want to know that I am making a good design before I get out there. The big guy can put the shovel in the ground,but what do I tell him?

    Bookmark   March 16, 2006 at 7:18PM
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madtripper(5/6 Guelph)

Gardengal wrote "Is it possible to distinguish between "good" design and "bad" design? Of course, and is usually obvious to the observer regardless of training if they apply enough time for consideration and observation."

- I think that is a key point. Most people do not take the time to analyze the design, and therefore can't really tell good from bad - nor do they care about such things.

laag wrote "Sometimes we see something that does not look really great, but they may be really good when considering all the limitations and the priorities that were driving it."

- so good design depends on the goal of the design. Doing a really good job on the drainage problem is good design. It then follows that unless one knows the intent of the design, one can't really judge it good or bad.

Thinking about the form vs function discussion. Could it be that most of us are either technician or artisan, and few do both well. I, very much a technician, have trouble on the other side - so it is less important to me, because I can't really do it well even if it was important.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2006 at 7:43PM
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Are you on the same page madtripper? There is no form versus function discussion. If you can't see it is more to do with your blindness than anything else. There is no technician artisan division either as most of what has been said suggests mitigation and a codependance. Do you have a statement regarding design that would hold up to scrutiny?

    Bookmark   March 16, 2006 at 8:32PM
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Linrose wrote:
"As has been suggested by previous posters, that is OK. If what you want from your own garden is personal satifaction, then you have achieved it if you are happy with the results.
If it is worldwide (or subdivisionwide) acceptance you require, then you need to look a bit further. If you don't give a **** about all of that - then just do what works for you! No rules."

Those "ifs" get overlooked as not being the function. I bang my head against the wall trying to make the point that these are functions and we each weight them differently.

When you don't give a &^% what the neighbors think, the function then shifts toward self satisfaction. The form then follows that direction. Good design is achieved! It is not "no rules", just an application of different values.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2006 at 10:09PM
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" I don't know what works for me, isn't a design supposed to be before the fact, I want to know that I am making a good design before I get out there. "

If YOU don't know .. no one else will and you will not end up with your landscape. Once you know then a good designer can help you set objective criteria and meet those criteria .. as Laag talks about ... perhaps a designer can help you on your journey of self discovery .. perhaps .. but it is your life and so your task.

Can you tell me what I should do with my day off tomorrow ??

Which is why I always suggest to those new to landscaping to get away from design when it is time to design your landscape. There is too much design in design. The technician will kill the artist .. the artist never allow the technician to direct the ship because neither really knows where YOU want to go and so neither one trust the other.

Go sit in the garden. Just sit. Walk around the block ... go bowling ... drink tea... cry yourself to sleep ... laugh until you cry. Eat something. Go work in the woodshop if you are a woodworker. Shoot hoops. Be what is stirring inside of you since it is the source of your life and all that you create... find it again in the landscape so there is no boundary between you and the outside. Make it all one... so there is no you versus the landscape. Just one.

... only then it is time to design.

Good Day ...

    Bookmark   March 16, 2006 at 10:28PM
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The Mohave Kid brings up a very important thing that all designers must learn to do. That is to draw out information from your clients. My belief is that it is best to do this in a subtle way, or they try to think about what they think they should say (particularly if they have been reading garden design books). If they don't seem to know, you can gain an understanding of their lifestyle through conversation. They are less likely to contrive ideas than they are from direct questioning because they sometimes are worried about giving the right answer, if that makes sense.

A heck of a lot of function is based on what people have to do, want to do, and where they are likely to do it. Sometimes they get stuck on ideas such as "I always though a patio would look good over there" without realizing any inconvenience or conflicting use that might happen, or that the use of the area where it really makes sense can be reprogrammed or aesthetically transformed as well.

Garbage in = garbage out. You have to understand the clients needs even if he is confused about them.

There is a thread about someones plan to put a shed in a long back yard going on. The OP described what she was trying to do and showed a plan that fit that program. A lot of people made suggestions and she has now moved away from some of the things that she set out as being important at the beginning. Has she been enlightened, or has she been confused?

    Bookmark   March 17, 2006 at 6:40AM
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Yes, that is the potential problem of having lots of different, superficial (not a criticism, just a function of its being internet advice) landscape input. The long yard-shed poster was told the shed would "look better" in the back. She wanted tool storage closer. So maybe it should stay there, or maybe one should think outside the toolshed (as in the advice to remodel garage for storage, or identify a few select tools that could be in an attractive portable thing). On the other hand if easy tool access was not AS important as other activities closer to the house, then the back shed placement could make sense, especially if the priority were for the shed to make a specific kind of statement as a major form element in the garden.

So without really sitting down and carefully going through all these things, designer + client, a poster may get really mixed signals, especially as all these ideas arive separately and over time. Yet in any given context each of the suggestions could be sensible.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2006 at 9:41AM
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Probably a 'good design' would be one that took what seemed like insurmountable problems, frankie, and came up with a pleasing answer. I don't see a problem with having lots of different input, unless of course it is superficial, as it is very unlikely that someone will come up with exactly what I would like without knowing me or my yard. What drew me to this thread was the possibility of unearthing a theory or objective criterion for a good design regardless of who or where I am.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2006 at 11:50AM
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Good design is:
1. understanding the basic mission of the project.
2. determining the goals and objectives of the project.
3. defining the activities, the intended experience during those activities, and the physical requirements to make those happen.
4. understanding the site.
5. determining the best relationship of all of those activities with one another.
6. merging the best relationship of those activities with the realities of the site.
7. enhance the stated experiences through use of plants and other things.
8. mitigate what is working against those intended experiences in the same manner.

This can be applied to a subdivision or a small planting bed. Activities could be viewing, gardening, sleeping, listening, or meditating just as easily as skateboarding, washing your car, or having a barbecue.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2006 at 12:23PM
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Once again, laag nails it. But perhaps the reality is not quite so direct and easy to accomplish as the theory implies. That's what keeps us all on our toes and the professionals employed :-)

    Bookmark   March 17, 2006 at 2:33PM
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I found this while I was looking for my answer. Not a landscape designer but Paul Graham (see link below) says that good design is: simple, timeless, solves the right problem,(full points to me) suggestive, often slightly funny, hard, looks easy, uses symmetry, resembles nature, redesign, can copy, often strange, happens in chunks (?) often daring. Does this make any sense?

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   March 17, 2006 at 4:06PM
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    Bookmark   March 17, 2006 at 6:06PM
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"Yet in any given context each of the suggestions could be sensible."

There is a ring of oriental wisdom in that ... I like it and agree. I believe it was Lagg that said many times before .. "it depends".

If you seek something designed by a formula ... go to McDonald's.

Good Day ...

    Bookmark   March 17, 2006 at 9:13PM
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I have to confess that I went from reading the list of Graham's design statements and got through about a paragraph and a half and thought I was in a sea of pretentious crap. I just went back and read the whole article. It is very good.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2006 at 10:45PM
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I don't know. So I know.

Good Day ...

    Bookmark   March 18, 2006 at 9:52AM
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"If I didn't know, I would eat at McDonalds and then I would know", is that the grasshopper quote for the day Mr Good Day?

    Bookmark   March 18, 2006 at 10:24AM
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Adamante, thanks, I quite enjoyed reading that article.

One could argue, McDonald's is good design. At some point (usually when you are younger) everybody wants some. I'll never forget being lost one night in Vermont, where everything closes by 8 pm, with a car full of hungry kids. Those golden arches never looked so good as they did that night. Long live the Big Mac.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2006 at 3:01PM
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This thread has been tough going but I thought I could participate. I can't tell anyone what to plant, where, because I don't know and there are other forums that I read if I want to know. I came here to a design forum, obviously to learn about good design, not many people want to discuss it but thank you to those who do/have.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2006 at 6:57PM
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linrose(6b KY)

'Wild animals are beautiful because they have hard lives.'

A quote from the aformentioned article by Paul Graham in the paragraph entitled 'Good Design is Hard.'

Insight - or idiocy?

This guy's bio lists him as an essayist (I guess this was one of them), a programmer and a program language designer.

I think I'll skip the book.

There are some interesting points offered that are worth culling from the rest, Mr. Graham is certainly a thinker, one who enjoys pondering design. I like that he studied programming and painting. Nice combo. Finding the beauty, the elegance in both math and art is a nice span of understanding. The question is who is the intended audience for his writing? I don't think it is intended for the design professional, and I don't see the general public picking up a copy for a good read. I suppose that's an issue for his publisher.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2006 at 7:28PM
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The good/bad design conversation brought to the top.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2006 at 6:54PM
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My husband and I have just finished a landscape design with an online landscape design firm. We were skeptical at first, but as it turn out, it was the best investment we have made to date.

I highly recommend using a designer. The company we used is called VisionScape Landscape Design, I think the url is, but you may have to search it.
Well worth the time and money.

Good Luck.

Here is a link that might be useful: landscape design company

    Bookmark   March 29, 2007 at 7:20PM
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Do you have an alternative to your company that we may compare results? Did you honestly read through the foregoing and genuinely offer this? Or did it pop on google? If I am wrong can you explain in detail the process that lead to your investment and the result, posting pictures is easy.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2007 at 7:40PM
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They pay $50 to people who post links for each successfull referal.

Only post by this lcaff. Coincidence? I think not.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2007 at 8:33PM
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I did find them on Google, abd the only comparison I have are the countless landscape contractors coming to my house and offering estimates. The basic problem We found was that all the contractors came, gave estimates, but we were never sure what we were getting, nor were we sure they understood what we wanted.
We worked with a Master Designer of almost 3 weeks. He was patient, sketched out concepts for us and basically gave us what we wanted.

We are very excited, we expect to begin construction any day now.

Can anyone tell me how to upload pictures?

    Bookmark   March 29, 2007 at 8:52PM
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I'm curious to know why you are already convinced that it was the best investment when you have yet to begin construction.

My beef with the photoimaging design companies is that they convince their client's, and often themselves, that the picture is the final product.

I would like to see the pictures of built work on their web site and any other of these photo imaging designers. I find it interesting that a serious client can buy into a design process over the internet from people who only show before pictures and altered photos that they call "after" pictures, but can't trust a local designer with real photos of built work, references with addresses in your area that you can actually go look at, and are familiar with the intricacies of your local area.

I'm glad that there are people providing this service for those who find this the way to go. I'm just amazed that there are people who find it the way to go.

I've talked to the guys demonstrating these programs at trade shows. In the ten minutes that you talk to them, they "design" two landscapes and you have a converstation with someone who knows the tool and nothing about landscape design. The whole time they tell you how easy it is and that even I can start designing and out selling my competition.

Good luck. I hope you are as happy with the built work as the pictures. Maybe you'll get one or two of those $50 bills in referals ... that is if they tell you they got one. Hey, maybe they'll send you a picture of a $50 with you on it instead of Grant.

But, I have to thank you for digging up this old thread. It was good to reread it.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2007 at 11:00PM
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I know have a clearer picture. You are a landscape architect, am I right? Maybe visionscape is a threat to you, but most of all I can tell by your last statement about software and $50, that you do not know what you speak of.

Let me enlighten you to my own landscape & design experience thus far.

After speaking to countless contractors, my husband and I decided we should have a design. We went to the yellow pages first, had a few conversations with architects and one designer. The bottom line; Over $10,000 and they couldn't even tell me how much over $10,000. I basically couldn't afford it.

We found VisionScape on Google somewhere. They gave us a consultation and a quote of $2120. I wont lie we were a little skeptical, but we only needed to pay $500 to get started. So we tried it.

First they sent someone to our house to measure and photograph our property, They even took samples of our dirt. At the time, we didnt know why.

Then we went through a series of online meetings with our master designer. He interviewed us on everything from budget to favorite colors, all the while is is drawing out concepts on the screen as we watched and made suggestions. When we wanted to move things, he was more than happy to accommodate us, and wasnÂt charging us extra like the architects we spoke with on the phone.

After each meeting, he sent back to us a blue print, which we then discussed.

All in all the experience was great, and I now know a lot about my landscape, which came in handy when we hired our contractor. Did I mention that our quotes were on average $10,000 below the budget we gave visionscape.

I will post pictures of the finished landscape, hopefully in 6 weeks.

Have to go and put the kids on the bus.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2007 at 7:59AM
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I think we are comparing apples and oranges here - lcaff indicates that various contractors came out to give estimates but were these design/build contractors, qualified designers or just your basic mow, blow and go guys? And providing an estimate is a far cry from spending three weeks with the guy/gal developing an idea of what is needed/wanted. Of course they were left a bit in the dark about what they would get. Providing an estimate is not the same as an initial design consult.

It's a pretty slick website, I'll grant you that. But my issues are the same as the previous posters. Why no portfolio of built work, why only renderings of proposals? Even the glowing testimonials seem to be still on the verge of construction and not yet with a completed, installed design. And since the VisionScape operation says they'll hook you up with a local contractor to do the work, why is this process any superior to a design provided by a qualified local designer or design/build company? And with prices starting at $2000 for just a design, they don't come cheap, either.

I really liked this statement describing their "Master Designers":
Master Designers are unlike any other landscape design professional. They give every homeowner they work with the benefit of not only expert designs and visionary perspectives, but also years of field experience. This makes the difference between designs that are just pretty, and designs that will be as functional and sustainable as they are breathtaking.

So someone please explain to me what the rest of us professional designers are.......chopped liver??

    Bookmark   March 30, 2007 at 8:20AM
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Brent_In_NoVA(z7/6 VA)

lcaff: I hope you can understand why people would be suspicious of your post...just signed up and the first thing you did was post a short message with a link to a commercial company. If you want to learn how to post pictures, search the forums and you will find hundreds of posts with instructions.

I would love to see before and after pictures of your project (I would recommend starting a new thread). I do think that the idea of designing from afar has merit. You will likely loose some of the local plant knowledge and the designer is not on site to oversee the installation, but there are a lot of people that complain that they cannot find a local designer. With the Internet, there is the potential that everybody has thousands of designers to choose from.

Maybe the firm that you worked with has figured something out. I am VERY skeptical of the online "designers" that claim to give you a complete design for under $500. I like that this firm sent somebody to your house and that they spent consultation time with you. Based on their website it looks like they do produce accurate plans and not just mocked up photos.

- Brent

    Bookmark   March 30, 2007 at 10:22AM
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I am starting to get the picture. Apparently I by typing in the website, I lost my credibility. Opps, who knew.

This is what I am going to do. My husband will show me how to upload pictures this weekend, and i will do so periodically over the next few weeks in hopes that you all can provide me with feedback. Did I get my monies worth or not.

Someone mentioned plant selection as a problem. The way it was explained to me, was they select plants from a company called Monrovia, and Monrovia Horticulturist help with the plant selection by looking at what is available at the garden centers in my area. They also allowed me to put a $200 deposit on the plants so they will be available when I need them. We didnt use this part of the service, but it sounded interesting. Should we do this?


    Bookmark   March 30, 2007 at 10:46AM
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Yeah, I noticed the plug for Monrovia on their website. As a retail nurseryperson myself, IMO there is little to recommend Monrovia over a more local grower other than they do have some very nice proprietary plants you cannot get from other growers. Otherwise, their plants are high priced compared to more local offerings and not that special. And are very often rootbound.

A $200 deposit against plants is not very much for a full landscape installation. Even a single planting area for one of my designs can run as much as several thousand dollars depending on size and plant selection and a full design planting could be considerably more. What plants have they recommended? Or are they waiting for the Monrovia guy to select all the plants?

    Bookmark   March 30, 2007 at 11:11AM
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That's such an intriguing concept. I wonder how they screen/ train the contractors doing the measuring? I design from afar for my brother; but I trust his measurements. When I worked as a designer in AZ, we were told to avoid the site if we could- use the plat map and county GIS photos, and "be more productive" by designing from home. Inevitably, the plat was inaccurate, the photos were old, and we spent twice as much time on site redesigning as the installers watched. Lisa, definitely keep us abreast of the process. I'm wondering if they really have figured it out? But then, the skeptic in me keeps coming back to the lack of finished photos...


    Bookmark   March 30, 2007 at 3:35PM
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What makes you think that I would not have done it for less than that had you been in my area?

I'm happy to hear that someone came out to your home. If I were to have done it I would not have sent someone. I would have been there. Not only that, but I would have come out to meet you and discuss your project for at least an hour and given you unrepressed thoughts of what could be done with no fee. I'd listen closely, and speak openly, even if I did not think you were actually going to hire me. I'd show you photos of jobs that I have designed. I have one or two pictures of plans just in case you want to see what document I'd give you, but I generally skip right over those because it is the built landscape that matters. Hopefully, after that time, you would have fallen in love with the idea of having me do your design work and then I'd have a reasonable chance at getting your business. I'd have defined the exact level of service that would do the job based on our stroll around your grounds and I'd spell it out for you in rediculous detail so there would be no disappointment and so that you would not have to pay for unnecessary frills. You would receive a proposal to do the design work and you would have already known whether you valued what I was proposing to do for that amount (almost always a flat fee), or not. You would not be on the fence either way. You would confidently say yea, or nay.

Once I was hired, I would personally measure your property, inventory it, draw the existing conditions, and then personally draw the plan, present it to you, review it with you, and completey revise it if necessary.

Sure, there are LA's and LD's who will not take on a design only job because they make their living as project managers. That is what they do. They will not drop what thy normally do in order to "serve the public". So what they do for people who do not fit their business plan is to put together a proposal that does fit their business plan. That way they respond to you rather than ignore you and either convert you to following their business plan, or continue pursuing their business plan somewhere else.

A lot of design/build landscapers operate by selling you the total design/build package up front before it is designed. That is a very tough pill for a homeowner to buy into. But, from the contractor's perspective, he is not in the design business and does not want to sell his designs for his competition to build. However, a lot of design/build contractors will do design work knowing that it is far more likely thast you will stick to the same company that did the design (extremely high probability, based on my experience).

It is just a matter of finding the right one that fits. You tried to find a local LA or designer and you did not succeed. I can't say I blame you for finding an alternative, if that was the case. However, I think you would have ultimately found what you were looking for had you continued to look closer to home.

I have to say that your posts do sound suspiciously like sales talking points, though. You stereotyped all La's as having minimal design fees of over $10,000 which is totally untrue. You say you talked to several contractors and your husband then decided you needed a design. That is also pretty fishy in that most contractors even the knuckle dragging mouth breather types are either doing free designs or are offering low cost designs to help sell jobs.

I have not seen your property, but I can tell you that I am currently working on a design for a multimillion dollar ocean front home for $900. Most of my landscape plans run about the same that you paid unless there are more services than those that I described above. They often include swimming pools, driveways, grading, retaining walls, patios, walkways, fencing, pergolas, .... and well over 100 shrubs for that $. On the other hand, I won't let you sit down and design it with me either in person or on screen and I won't cut and past every blessed plant out of Horticopia to dress it up. No one has ever asked me to provide those things and no one seems to be interested in playing on the computer with me, thank God.

This is a diverse industry and it takes all types of services to satisfy all types of clients. I'll never lose a client who is likely to hire me to Visionscapes and they will never lose one who is likely to hire them to me. That much I do know.

I still think you are a VisionScapes rep.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2007 at 8:59PM
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Are Visionscapes still in business, I can't access the website.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2008 at 6:29PM
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The first time madtripper asked the question the ensuing was way more interesting note though the lack of his input.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2008 at 7:23PM
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The reason it�s most important is because your home is the gateway to good health. good design has a value of its own.
Also when everything is good around you, you also feel good.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2011 at 2:49AM
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jenn(SoCal 9/19)

Eric said:

"A successful garden is one that pleases the gardener.."

And to that I would add "... and those who are most important to the gardener."

Last year we had a small group over for dessert. This group included people who had never been to our house. We ate dessert outside in our patio. One of them told me later how much she thoroughly enjoyed our garden and looking at the plants, colors, scents, etc ---- yet, our backyard was in need of pruning, weeding, mulching, etc. Had she been a professional designer, she may have mentally picked apart the bare spaces (still yet to be planted), and other "errors" --- and missed the pleasure of enjoying it for what it is.

I garden primarily for my own enjoyment but also as a gift to my husband, family, and friends. I think about plants, scents, and colors they would like and dislike; I avoid placing bee magnets at the edge of the patio; I add paths in certain areas that invite them to explore (not just for my own needs). I do my best to create good design, but avoid going to extremes as if I'm designing a garden for the cover of Fine Gardening magazine.

Gardens evolve over time; the more I learn, the closer I get to "good design" based on my own knowledge and understanding, much of which comes from experience and reading. In any garden, there's always room for improvement in someone's eye, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2011 at 11:51AM
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I don't think bare spaces and weeds fit into the design error category. Then there's perhaps "error" vs. something that might be better if someone wanted to know, how to make that better. So an error might be placing something somewhere --like a certain shaped tree at a corner, or a row of something, competing focal points--to achieve a certain result and learning or figuring out that it had just the opposite effect. An improvement might be a path that one is planning that should have a gentler curve or a broader width.

If I could design some of the gardens that I admire in Fine Gardening, I would not try to avoid it. But there are of course landscapes (that I have experienced or seen in photos) that are advertised as fine design but that do not appeal to me, so I would avoid that. So far I have not had to worry about having a too-well-designed landscape!

    Bookmark   May 20, 2011 at 6:43PM
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Of course, It's very important!.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2011 at 4:13AM
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On my point of view. We do need a display of good designs in our planet. It makes us feel were alive and so. The array of colors and magnificent designs makes ones be uphold towards beauty.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2011 at 12:00PM
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Good design is important. That does not mean that it has to be complex or complicated, ... just good.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 9:22PM
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Discussions like this are why I stick with GW through good times and boring. A discussion that petered out three years ago is revived,the entire conversation is "recalled" and can be reconsidered by new readers.

'Tis an amazing thing....

    Bookmark   August 13, 2011 at 11:13AM
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    Bookmark   August 13, 2011 at 10:13PM
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stacyp9(5 Chicago)

It is very important, and imo is far more involved than simple aesthetics. Good design takes into account the owner's habits and needs, the needs of the plants, their growth history etc.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2011 at 6:15PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

Can't believe I missed this discussion the first time around...

Good design is incredibly important. It brings visual order and cohesion to the garden--even a collector's garden--and allows the eye to SEE the beauty there. I'm still working toward a "well designed garden"--but I'd like to think I'm getting there. One Acer palmatum/dissectum at a time...


    Bookmark   August 20, 2011 at 11:07AM
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madtripper(5/6 Guelph)

Interesting that this discussion is still going, and almost no one agreed with my original point of view.

I agree good design makes for better gardens - no doubt about it. But my contention is that for the general public, they are mostly looking for pretty flowers.

Given two gardens, one that is well designed but has no flowers, and a less well designed garden with lots of flowers, the general public will pick the poorer designed garden as the best one.

I see it when I have open houses. They flock to pretty flowers.

I agree that people in the know, people who take gardening more seriously, and the people on this list - would spot the better design.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2011 at 11:15AM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

madtripper---you make a great point. I was looking at my garden this morning thinking "That rudbeckia and phlox have GOT to go" (they've self-sowed EVERYWHERE) when a neighbor walked by and told me how lovely my garden was looking. And she was referring to that riot of blooming plants. So--I think you may be right--it DOESN'T matter to most people. But it matters to me!

    Bookmark   August 20, 2011 at 1:10PM
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How long is the general public staying in the garden before making the choice? I would think if it's an hour or two or just on a tour, then yes, the flowers win. Dan Brown beats Shakespeare at the checkout counter.

But, if the person has to live with the design or stay there for a few days, the good design has a chance. It will have had time to make a good impression and let the more subtle elements sink in and the showy garden will get boring.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2011 at 5:12PM
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Good point tanowicki , much like the oft quoted difference between a colour and b & w photograph: you are immediately attracted to one but the other may be more engaging. I think this ties in with what most people want when they talk about 'curb appeal' that instant aah ooh! factor. Years ago I used to do a window boxes arrangement for a local pub and "riot of colour" were the exact words used when I asked what they wanted. Once inside people could "let the more subtle elements sink in".

    Bookmark   August 20, 2011 at 5:39PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

Honestly--I like the shadier, less floriferous (if that isn't a word it ought to be)parts of my garden better than my sunny-ish beds. My sunny-ish beds are also my cutting garden, so I've not figured out how to make them more cohesive. But the over-abundance of tall phlox coupled with the crazy rudbeckia...I need to cut that mess WAY back.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2011 at 7:55PM
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As I read through the thread, I didn't agree with your point, madtripper. But your most recent comment helped me see the question without the bias of my own perspective and I realized that you are probably right about the way "most people" see a garden or landscape.

I think the best (as well as most ironic) example of this is the garden club in my own town. One weekend a summer they give out garden club awards along main street. Over the years it has become extremely apparent that they give out the awards to the gardens that have the most flowers in bloom on that weekend; disregarding well designed gardens that may not have as much "color" at that time. I think we should call them the annual club awards rather than the garden club awards.

If one concedes that madtripper is right - that most people are attracted to the "pretty flowers" - that should be a consideration in designing commercial gardens and the more public parts of landscaping. Could one take the argument a step further and say that in certain situations lots of flowers are an element of good design?

    Bookmark   August 21, 2011 at 8:16AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

I agree that it is flowers that immediately draw people to a garden. Here, the front garden is the sunny space most suitable for flowers so it is the showy, flowery 'public' face of the garden and is planted for both our enjoyment and the enjoyment of neighbours and passers-by. It definitely draws people to the property - many neighbours comment on it and/or stop by to take a closer look. A flowery garden projects a friendly feel I think - in part, no doubt, because you're frequently out there working in it so it's easy for people passing by to engage you in conversation! The design aspects I try to impose on the flowery garden are through things like color selection, layout, and choice, design and placement of 'ornaments' (e.g. sundial) and structures (e.g. bench, arbour and obelisks/tuteurs). The shady backyard is private and more deliberately/obviously designed. Flowers are still important there but they take more of a secondary role.

What has always irritated me is the implicit - and sometimes explicit - assumption that an interest in/desire for a flowery garden implies a lack of interest in/concern for or knowledge of good design.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2011 at 10:21AM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

What has always irritated me is the implicit - and sometimes explicit - assumption that an interest in/desire for a flowery garden implies a lack of interest in/concern for or knowledge of good design.

I agree the two are not mutually exclusive...but are often treated as if they are. I wonder why? Perhaps because the riot of color in a flowery design makes the design bit harder to concentrate on? Is it a case of the "ooooh shiny" overshadowing the plan?

    Bookmark   August 21, 2011 at 1:34PM
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A good design might be one that displays a riot of colour, although it would be a mistake to reverse the statement.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2011 at 2:31PM
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