Garden design: International, regional, cultural...

feijoas(New Zealand)April 25, 2011

This is my place from the front and back; it needs lots of maintanence and my aesthetics are...unusual, but not to worry, as I'm not looking for design ideas , but a discussion.

After seeing a few "let's just talk about design" threads recently, I'd be interested to read people's thoughts on, let's call it 'the internationalism of garden design’.

I find it fascinating reading the threads and looking at photos on this forum: all the houses and their immediate environments I've seen look very different from those in Australasia or Europe. Different cultures, settlement patterns, building materials, climate, you name it, I suppose.

For example, my place is fairly typical of an early 20th century New Zealand working-class property: weatherboard, compact, (1076 square ft house on about 4133 square ft land). Pretty small by American standards, but not by European!

There are some things discussed on this forum which are quite foreign to me, although I think it's usually more a matter of terminology than anything. Kerb appeal. Foundation planting. Privacy screens…

While the fundamentals of design are clearly the same everywhere: form, structure, using negative space and what have you, but if I asked “what should I do here” from my probably fairly unknown Southern hemisphere island, would people tailor their responses to my ‘otherness’, or do the same rules apply wherever I am?

I’m sure it’s clear I don’t have a specific question, but if anyone has any thoughts on landscape design’s regional and national specificity vs internationality I’d like to discuss the. Sounds like an essay topic, but I am not a student on the hunt for ideas!

It's a pretty open question(s), and if people start a conversation,whatever direction it heads in is fine with me!

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Nice "the internationalism of garden design".now,only winter is different everywhere.many people tired native plants,garden,love prehistory,differet style this forum,there is a person,she try to be a leader.she often said:she is our chinese friend,ignore her comment,pics.I see her some ideas roots are china.I only atudy and love some china and greece landscape style,they have 5000 years old this forum,some people tell me they don't like Hetiler,Mao,Starlin...

    Bookmark   April 25, 2011 at 5:37AM
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I like this style:

    Bookmark   April 25, 2011 at 6:45AM
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feijoas(New Zealand)

designshare, good to read your comments but without getting too political, I think Mao, Hitler and Stalin were narcissistic psychopaths who also shared extremely questionable artistic taste!

    Bookmark   April 25, 2011 at 7:33AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

I think that cultures that share a language and were both originally colonized by the same culture share quite a bit of common design traditions, and you are letting the language/terminology get in the way. Curb/kerb appeal is simply real estate/television design makeover jargon that has been picked up by mass culture here, and references making a good first impression from the street. Pretty basic concepts both here and there, I would think. The concept of privacy screening may well be either cultural or individual, it isn't the same for everyone here, or there, but more linked to individual preferences. Here in California, which for better or worse is a garden design fashion leader, due to our combination of popular culture disseminated by television and cinema, geography, market size and population, we have multiple influences on design beyond the English garden tradition. Indigenous cultural influences are virtually nil, while the Latin/Spanish/Mexican influences are huge, and can be traced back to Roman, Persian as well as Arabic design influences. More recently, but still at least a 100 years ago now, Asian influences, particularly Japanese in California's case, have played a role.

From what I see of New Zealand regional landscape design, you share some gardening trends with California in particular. Smaller sized lots for older, more urban areas for one. A coastal maritime climate as well as mountains, which shapes how we garden and the plants we use, and importance of captured views beyond the garden, screening to control winds and make gardens more comfortable to be in, and plantings that use both natives and imported exotics, that wouldn't survive in more extreme continental climate gardens. New Zealand plants and Australian plants are quite common here, as are succulents and bromeliads which seem equally popular in more contemporary New Zealand/Australian gardens over there.

I'd also hazard a guess that at the higher economic end of garden design, there is virtually no difference in styles between California and New Zealand, aided and abetted by mass media such as international garden design magazines, television and newspapers.

I happen to live in a part of California where the local and regional design tends to be more distinctive and individual than most other parts of California. There are no new subdivisions of mass produced tract homes in my town of Berkeley, and the entire inner Bay Area around San Francisco Bay is for the most part neighborhoods of older homes(relative I know, nothing much here older than 120 years), built in multiple styles over decades, on mostly small lots. As we also have an influx of people from all over the world settling here, gardens at the local level are distinctly less suburban looking and more international in flavor. Particularly here in northern California and the San Francisco Bay Area, we are also blessed with a nursery industry that is still regional and not a national/corporate hegemony, with nursery owners/horticulturists that have broad interests in plants from around the world suitable for California conditions. Not to say that this doesn't occur elsewhere as well,(North Carolina and Washington and Oregon states also have this), but having a broad range of plants to design around also makes for less homogenized landscapes.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2011 at 10:57AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

It's always interesting to see what gardens and properties look like in foreign places - North America is big enough that a lot of it looks 'foreign' to me. The plants Bahia talks about and include in his gardens are usually either totally foreign to me or only known as houseplants! For 'out of my zone' gardens, I tend to have less to say and/or focus on the shape of the space since I don't know the plants.

I'm always interested to read about and see pictures of gardens and gardening in unfamiliar areas though. The plants in your garden look like most would be unfamiliar to me - but your house looks oddly familiar! I grew up in an old farmhouse on the east coast of Canada and it had a similar narrowly upright three story profile like that (but a bit bigger and with one story wings attached to accomodate a multi-generational household...)

I think ideashare/designshare could make a more interesting contribution to this forum if she/he/they (?) provided pictures of Chinese public and private gardens. She could discuss the state of gardening in China currently, how it relates to historical Chinese gardens and international garden influences, and how it is similar to of differs from the gardens commonly seen on this forum. There is a fair bit of interest in North America in the oriental garden style - but it's largely the Japanese style that one thinks of. There are some good Chinese style gardens around too but photos and discussion of real contemporary Chinese gardens is less common. Rather than spend the unappreciated effort to make rather crude photo mock-ups, ideashare/designshare could be broadening our appreciation/knowledge of international gardening!

So tell us more about what gardens and gardening in your part of the world is like. What are the common issues that get discussed on fourms like this in NZ? (i.e. what would be the equivalent to popular concerns like curb appeal and foundation planting etc....?)

    Bookmark   April 25, 2011 at 11:20AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Nice to have some words and thoughts from Designshare instead of the mock-ups (OK, as well as a mockup). I think she is saying that I am like Stalin, Hitler, or Mao in trying to suppress her contributions. I started off years ago trying to be polite and spare Designshare's feelings (back then it was LandscapeDesignChina, then Ideasshare, as each account got shut down in response to complaints), and made suggestions how she (I think it's a she) could contribute more productively, but there was no responsiveness. I have watched dozens, possibly hundreds, of OPs recoil in horror at these mock-ups being the first thing they get in response to their questions, so by trying to stop the mock-ups I am not trying to be a leader, just trying to save these people the embarrassing feeling of having walked into the wrong room. Being the one most willing to say "stop!" is not wanting to be a leader.

However, I totally agree with Woody that it would be nice to learn more about what actually is being done in China and elsewhere rather than what Designshare imagines could be done with imaginary things in a country she imagines.

Myself, I don't think the forum is very representative of America as a whole (I'm Canadian mind you, but Canadian questions are not representative of Canada either). For instance, I live in an inner city house very similar to yours - tall and narrow, wood framed, narrow lot - and there is a myriad of architectural styles and layouts in my city alone.

What I think is that certain types of properties are chosen by a certain type of person - my type of house attracts creative types and so the neighbourhood is artsy - and that also some types of properties are harder to landscape than others. Suburban tract homes are brutally hard to landscape and maybe tend to attract the people least likely to be design types.

That's a gross generalization, but might explain the lack of variety we see here.


    Bookmark   April 25, 2011 at 12:35PM
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feijoas(New Zealand)

Thanks for your thoughtful replies.
Now I see the designshare/dictator link. That one really threw me!
designshare, I'd also like to read more thoughts from you about modern Chinese gardening...
I realise my exampes like 'curb appeal' are more based on superficialities like language rather than anything deeper. I suppose it's more that they comes up so often I'd given them some sort of mystical cultural significance.
It's true, these sort of questions are often from homeowners in 'tract' subdivisions. How large would an 'average' subdivision property be? Is there an average? I ask because they usually look huge to me.
I think a major difference is scale: NZ is small geograpically and population-wise, with a relatively similar clmate all over.
bahia's comments on media/popular culture tie into that: our small (4 million) population limits the scope for those makeover shows, thank goodness!
Over here, both domestic and public gardens tend to contain a lot of native plants, but I suppose our relatively similar national climate makes it easy to grow most plants anywhere, although there's conern about natural hybridisation knocking off subspecies and we end up with homogenous 'natives' from top to bottom.
As for local forums/discussion, that's why I'm talking to people on the other side of the world! One of the few downsides of our small population is the limited scope for conversation about random stuff like this. I'm also not a landscape designer, so I'm not party to 'realtime' discussion.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2011 at 5:32PM
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I live in a city with the smaller lot sizes that accompany that - my property is 50' x 95', average lot size here is 5,000 sf or about 500 m2. I recall going around to different subdivisions on the outskirts and the lots didn't seem that much bigger but had larger footprint houses on them leaving what seemed like 100 sf in the front and 200 sf in the back for yard.

In the former farmland suburbs, it appears that typical lot size is on the order of 10,000 sf or 1/4-acre. Most of the houses seem to be on the order of 2,000 - 2,500 sf but are typically two story so maybe 1,000+ sf footprint. That doesn't include the 2 car garage so add another 400 sf to the footprint. And of course, there's the driveway.

All that leaves about 80% of the site for grass and other planting. Newer subdivisions also have HOA restrictions on how much grass you have to have, what plants you can plant, how many trees, whether you can build a patio, fence or shed, etc., etc.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2011 at 6:23PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

LOL re going to the other side of the world to have a conversation about random garden stuff! I forgot the NZ population was so small... But I assumed that the climate was good for gardening so also assumed there would be lots of people gardening and talking about it - is there...?

Our property is in a 1960s-era suburban subdivision so lots are in the 1/4 acre range. The original houses were bungalows in the 1200 sq.ft. range. Most sales in the last few years end up as either tear-downs to rebuild from scratch a much larger house or, like we did, do a substantial renovation and addition. We made a 1200 sq.ft. house into a 2200 sq.ft. one. That is now considered a small house and, if we sold, it'd probably be a tear-down! The newest rebuilds around her are a (in my opinion) ridiculous 4-5000+ sq.ft.!

The lot sizes in newer subdivisions have been shrinking fast. They are commonly in the 30-40'x 110-120' range with 2500+ sq.ft. two-story houses. That's more in line with older, city lots.

The HOA with all the rules about what can and can't be done on the properties, that seems common for a lot of the US, is not common here. I would not want to live in a community with those sorts of restrictions. The closest things come to that around here is if you live in a property that has been designated as historical. In that case there are usually restrictions to ensure the historical character of the home is retained.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2011 at 7:27PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

I'm familiar with many older neighborhoods in Chicago and its suburbs. The OP's narrow house would fit right in with some of the houses built in Chicago at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, except that Chicago houses of that type are usually three or four stories tall.

There are older neighborhoods in Chicago where the lots are literally 20' wide (and about 120' deep), usually with a narrow walkway along one side of the house. As time went on, most of these houses were added on to, but sometimes a second house would be constructed on the same deep lot.

The narrowest lots are found in Chicago's oldest neighborhoods. Newer Chicago neighborhoods (some of them prairie until after WWII) have 25' and 30' lots. Suburban neighborhoods of the same era have lots twice as wide.


I now live in a semi-rural area and have 1 3/4 acres. The original part of the house is 50 years old, a 1200 sq. ft. single-story brick rectangle with an unfinished walk-out basement. Later a huge family room and second bath were added.


karinl, there was one evening early this month when I wasn't able to log in; being accustomed to GW's occasional glitches, I shrugged, returned a few hours later, and found as expected that GW had miraculously remembered my usual password. That's when I first saw the designshare name, so I assumed ideasshare was a bit more paranoid than I, and believed her account had been banned. The ideasshare user-page still looks valid -- but then I don't remember what happens to a user-page after someone's been banned.

I imagine that comparing other members to "Hetiler,Mao,Starlin" might be enough to get her banned under the new account.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2011 at 12:47AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

MTO, to tell the truth I'm not sure a banning is behind this latest name change, nor, now I think of it, am I 100% journalistically certain that the LDC account was banned either, just that there were complaints made and a disappearance effected. Heaven forbid I should get myself banned with a falsehood! As I'm not being particularly successful at oppressing her contributions, I think the comparison to the despots is clearly enough a stretch that I'm not going to complain about it. It's funny, if she just wouldn't always post first, I wouldn't mind what she does half as much. As part of a crowd, there is entertainment value and the odd bit of usefulness (actually the mock-ups have improved a lot since LDC days), but as first responder and thus flag bearer for the forum, she becomes a real forum spoiler. Still not sure it's a she, but tired of typing s/he.

Old Chicago is one of the places in the US that I imagine to be somewhat like my neighbourhood; site of residents' association linked below - has a few photos. Our lots are mostly 25 wide by 120 deep. Such lots are actually pretty challenging to landscape in a meaningful way, but easy enough to just garden up, which is what a lot of people do.


Here is a link that might be useful: Strathcona in Vancouver

    Bookmark   April 26, 2011 at 1:46AM
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Where I live and work is very different than the homes and lots that have been described on this thread so far. I live in a very rural area, our house is on 11 acres. 5 of out 10 neighbors have 2 acre lots which is the minimum amount of land you can have a house on in my town. (an acre is 4046 square meters). One of my neighbors has several hundred acres and another has 40 acres. Both have horses. I think that is fairly representative of the rural state I live in - New Hampshire and parts of our neighboring states of Vermont and Mass. Once you get out of the cities and suburbs there is a lot of land out there.

The foundation planting thing is a historical relic from when there was a large building boom in our country following the two world wars. When these houses were built a row of shrubs was put in front of the house. It became a "trend", a negative one in many peoples opinions, and is still being followed in many areas. It was in direct contradiction with the English style of gardening which usually had an enclosed front garden. It also resulted in the great american front lawn. I do think Americans pride themselves on that front lawn.

Most responsible landscapers have moved away from the foundation planting approach; although I must confess that I will give in if a homeowner insists on it. Then i try to use a multi layered approach which gets away from the row of shrubs.

Great topic - thanks for posting it!

    Bookmark   April 26, 2011 at 3:23PM
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