Landscaping Case Study

swanoir(Zone 5)April 16, 2010

This might be of interest as it documents the evolution of a four year old project that still has never come to fruition.

These are the original plans for this space (see the far left bottom corner):

In a nutshell, the landscape designer that drew these plans left in the middle of the project without warning, cutting off all communication with us and the nursery working with us. Later, we learned she was burnt out on design work and just quit.

Some of the details of the plan are not visible here, but her choices for this space were awful (at least according to our new designer). She did not account for the intense heat and light this area gets all day long from May to Sept. The Cornus kousa struggled for two years and died. The Mahonia couldn't handle the strong sun and heat and languished, as did the Chamaecyparis. The Blue Oat grass and Red Twig dogwoods did fine. The Hamamelis was stunted. Most of these things that were still alive had to be moved - a laborous process in the rocky soil here. The Perovskia (Russian Sage) and Buddleia I moved into this area did great as did the Ceratostigma and all the grasses (Calamagrostis, Zebra). The Thyme I planted here died within a season. However, this area still looks like a sad afterthought - a wasteland - after all the plants that did not do well were moved out.

These are pictures of the space today:

I hired a new designer to basically help me with this area, especially to create a strong screen to hide the neighbor's unsightly yard. These are the new plans for this space:

I admit that I am rather gun-shy after the first go round, and while I like some of the individual choices, I am not thrilled with the overall composition. I would think this area would do better with drifts of medium-sized plants and much larger grasses than Blue Oat grass. Because our house is pumpkin-colored, she when with a cool palette but I think some blood grass in areas would be a nice accent. We have Crocomia on the other side, so it would be nice to pull some red into this area. I was thinking that this area could be more of a secluded sanctuary with a view of the river, which is to the north of the house. This plan seems spare and rather exposed to the road to me.

I do have issue with some of the choices. For example, in WA State Buddleia is a Class B noxious weed. I do like them and I have two near the patio where I can keep a close eye on them and deadhead them immediately after flowering. But to have three more seems excessive, especially if they are in an area I don't get to much.

Same with the Sambucus. I love these bushes but they really need a lot of room to grow. Our landscaper packed two of them together in 15' by 8' space at our clinic, along with two bush maples, and it was a nightmare. I finally had to chop most of the maples down. In this plan, I can see the Sambucus totally overrunning the Skyrocket Juniper. I also don't think the Juniper makes much of an effective screen, although I do like the color combo of the dark purple Sambucus and the blue Juniper.

I hate Irises. End of story.

To accommodate the weeping spruce, I would have to remove two large 4 year old Red Twig dogwood bushes, which are no mean feat to transfer - and why? They are healthy.

I do not know if the Spirea will survive here. I also find it to be over done, not unlike Potentilla, which my former designer wanted to put everywhere, along with Burning Bush, until I put my foot down.

I like her idea for the sitting area, the trees, and the path.

Anyway, I was curious if anyone had observations or comments they would like to share.

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

This is the kind of relationship between client and designer that I will never be able to understand. Before anyone invests real money into a project it might be well to do some research on your own. This appears to be a plant driven design, but who is the driver? A client wanting a particular plant in an area where the designer knows it won't do well is a daily, or nightly, nightmare. What is the right thing to do, follow the money or use the training that made you a professional in the first place to give advice.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2010 at 7:01PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Did you pay for these plans?

They are not to scale, I would be cautious about using a designer who doesn't use a scaled drawing and proper perspective.

I don't think they will give you the effect you are looking for. I am sorry to be harsh, but thats the way I see it.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2010 at 9:42AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Where do you live? "Zone 5" isn't enough to go on.

Scaled drawings aren't essential - I've done decent landscape prelims on the back of junk mail.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2010 at 11:08AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

The paired buddelia in front of the BS and Skypencil holly are there for what purpose? Is this supposed to be a focal point, but it looks like it would compete with the arbor for attention, as you walk up the path, and the arbor doesn't look like its sited to see what focal point would be there. Just my impression, but I'm not an LD.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2010 at 11:54AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
swanoir(Zone 5)

Thank you all for your input and observations.

Yes, I did pay for these plans - quite a lot actually. She did measure everything so I am surprised to hear that they are not to scale.

I live in Central Washington state - basically a high desert environment with about 9" of rain/year. In addition, I live directly on a lake, which abuts the back of our property. To orient you, the lake is south/southwest and this area is north/northeast on our lot. This area gets the most light, sun, and heat of any area on our property.

Sorry, I'm not in the biz so I am not sure what the BS is you are referring to, nor do I think there is Skypencil Holly in the new plans. I will include a link below that outlines her rationale for the plans she drew - maybe that will be helpful.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2010 at 4:06PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Well this is a lesson for me at least. I would never, NEVER sell a design such as this. That is #1. There is a process for designing. It takes time and thought. I have to know what plant material works in the environment for witch it is intended. When a client tells me they want a screen or alot of color I listen. I also ask what they love and what they hate. I don't emplament plat material that is going to be too hard for the homeowner to maintain. I must be honest here, if you paid for a design that looks like it was done on a bar napkin, then I'm sorry. If a designer is so busy that this is the only way they can present a design then they need to stop chasing the money and get back to what counts. Client satisfaction is first. The nursery that employs the designer should expect nothing less. If it takes a few days or weeks longer then so be it. At least it is worth it. No nursery wants thier hard work going to waste. They work hard to get and sell great plant material. I gringe to see this. I realise this is a small area but still all in all this should have been done better. The only difference between the two designs is one is bad and the other has color. What do they mean by "New Tree"? It doesn't say the tree intended. You can screen with upright Junipers if they work with the conditions mentioned. Sub planted with smaller shrubs. I also see two mounds of one mulch and the other soil? What is thier intended use? As far as the Dogwoods go they are fine just too close together. Did you plant the area or the nursery? If you did and according to the plan you were provided then it is no wonder that you are not getting the desired effect. I like the walkway but would suggest a better edging more uniform and neat looking. You can also add garden lighting intermittenly, to give some pop and depth to the plants. Or showcase another aspect of the area. What are the exact demensions of the space? What do you envision the area to be? How do you plan to use the area? You mentioned a lake so is there a chance that you could be using the area for relaxing/entertaining? How much wind does the area recieve? I live in Minnesota and we deal with alot of wind that is drying so I get the scorching sun issue. Rock also raidiates its own heat so be carefull of the color stone used as mulch. The lighter the more heat absorbing. The Hukera looks to be burnt. It is also a plant that prefers more shade. Morning sun is ok but afternoon sun will not make a happy plant. The soil conditions may need to be addressed as well. I implore you to do this as this will give you many years of pleasure. Sorry to be so blunt, however I'm passionate about the right plant for the right conditions. I'm one of these people who belive in doing right in the first place. I also am curious about the spruce; is that what is being used to screen or is it going to be an accent? Keep us posted and good luck.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2010 at 12:50AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Swanoir, BS = black sambucus. The skypencil holly I was referring to was the juniper, but my comment is still the same.

The rationale for the design seems to be somewhat focused on smaller details like flower color and contrast rather big picture functions. You must know more about whether or not the big picture works to met your functional needs

    Bookmark   April 18, 2010 at 6:07AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I agree with Isabella, the focus of this plan does seem to be foliage color contrast. Not being familiar with your specific climate and zone, I cannot really comment on the plant choices; but given that it sounds as it it is a harsh and difficult area I think it is reasonable to question the plant choices so the OP can be sure they will survive.

I really have issues with a landscape "designer" selling a plan such as this- actually both sets of plans are questionable to say the least. While I might sketch something up to illustrate an idea or point to a customer I would never sell plans that were not to scale. As stormz points out, "new Tree" is not a specific plan. Trees are pretty big and permanent, as well as expensive, not to be specified.

Its probably not "PC" to comment on these plans - but I think it is beyond obvious that they do not match the home owners ideas for this area (which is what i think Ink was trying to get at.) In those plans blue oat grass is the same size as juniper! That makes it difficult to tell, but I believe this plan will leave the garden with large areas of mulch. Swanoir wants big drifts of plants.

Roses are NOT a low water plant, or a low maintenance plant.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2010 at 8:38AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
bahia(SF Bay Area)

It would seem more appropriate to react to the second designer's plant choices when you first reviewed her design after the initial meeting. This would be the normal progression of events before finalizing a design. If your plant preferences/biases were not clear at the initial meeting, you should have commented at the presentation of the plan. Most designers operate on the schedule of initial client contact/taking measurements/soliciting design intent and preferences, then making an initial presentation that will then be revised/commented upon and used to create a final plan. This process would most typically require 3 on-site meetings with the client.

It helps if the client is clear about their budget, goals, preferences, level of maintenance preferences, type of irrigation to be installed if required, etc. It also helps if the designer is sufficiently experienced to ask the appropriate questions to establish the true design parameters. It sounds like something was missed in the process of finishing the design, or communication between client and designer was strained. Hard to say where things broke down when hearing all this second hand. Good luck with getting the garden you want.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2010 at 1:33PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I agree with bahia. I also would return to the original nursery and explain the problem. They are experts in your area and can help to make the design and plant placement /choice right. It really is a lovely area with great potential.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2010 at 1:58AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

So what's the next step? The design drawing did seem (second set) kinda odd that the skyrocket juniper and black sambucus hedge line appears to be drawn in 3-D but the rest of the drawing is in plan view. Did you draw these yourself?

    Bookmark   April 20, 2010 at 10:04AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
swanoir(Zone 5)

I appreciate all your comments. Please feel free to be as blunt and straightforward as you like. I have been coming to this forum for a long time - if I didn't want that kind of feedback, I wouldn't waste your time.

@stormz4: "New Tree" has not been decided on yet. I suggested a Cotinus coggygria to pick up on the purple backdrop of the Sambucus. The mulch is left over from last year and will be used to cover the new plantings. The other pile is horse manure that has already been utilized in the vegetable garden. Concerning the Red Twig Dogwood, they were planted by the nursery as part of the previous plan. For the exact dimensions of the space, please see below it is roughly 43Âx52 but is triangular. We envision this space to be a sitting area as it has a view of two golf courses and the Columbia river. Currently, the area is not used, looked at, or visited at all as it is in the front, very hot, on a dirt road, and open to the neighborÂs yard. We do not, nor do I envision we ever will, entertain here. All social activity happens on the lake in the back (south) of the house. Wind mainly in spring and fall. The Heuchera is not burnt  that is winter kill; at this point, they are leafing out nicely and are shaded by the dogwood bushes in the summer. The junipers are more of an accent  the Sambucus is intended to be the screen.

@isabella and drtygrl: our landscape designer was previously our interior designer and she is quite good at that. I would say color schemes are her strength. She is also a master gardener, which is why we hired her to do this. Her own personal garden is amazing  beyond that, I do not have the expertise to assess her skill level.

@bahia: I agree with you and it is complicated. The plans were completed last Sept, just before I went on an extensive trip to Peru, so there wasnÂt time to have a conversation at that time. By the time I returned, I was so overwhelmed with catching up that I put off dealing with these plans until recently. However, in part because of the feedback here, I did call her and we met today. I gave her a file that included my feedback on the plans and some pictures concerning what I am looking for from this space. She promised to address this.

@rhodium: the next step is to get the new updated plans, which should happen this week. Overall, I have decided that the general touchstone of this area will be "shelter." In other word, I would like to make this area a sanctuary. To that end, I have suggested drifts/masses of plants would work better than the current "plop-plop" articulation. I really feel that mounding, non-invasive grasses would do well here: Achnatherum calamagrostis, Sorghastrum nutans 'Llano', Hakonechloa macra species. I have heard Mexican Feather Grass is beautiful and can be invasive and high maintenance, so I voiced that concern as well as the concern that some of the plant choice, like the Katsura tree, may not be appropriate to this part of the lot. I would like some fragrant plants around the arbor: Mock Orange, Daphne, Lonicera, Vitex agnus castus, etc. I would like the new path to be a mixed border rather than ground cover. I think one Yucca "Golden Sword," strategically placed, would work well against the purple of the Sambucus. I eliminated the Irises and the Butterfly bushes.

I did not draw these plans  they were drawn by a professional. The plans I drew are included below.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2010 at 5:59PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
swanoir(Zone 5)

I should clarify that the plans I drew above where only to delineate what is on the site presently. I do not want to suggest that these were plans guiding what I wanted here or what I was planning to plant here.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2010 at 8:59PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
swanoir(Zone 5)

Here are the updated plans by the landscape designer. These new plans are on graph paper and are supposedly to scale but I haven't had time to check this as yet.

A few notes. At the bottom of the view labeled "Revised Sitting North" - I am highly skeptical that anything except maybe yucca will survive the heat sink that will be created between the road, the three large rocks, and the blazing sun in that location with no shade. I have tried thyme in other areas of this location and it quickly died.

In the same area, my understanding is that Rudbeckia and Ratibida looks best in large drifts and that can Rudbeckia can heavily self seed. Therefore, I am unsure if they are suited for this kind of placement.

I am not fond of daylillies or yarrow so any suggestions for replacements would be appreciated. I would typically replace yarrow with Phlomis but it has already been included.

Grapes or honeysuckle have been suggested for the arbor - comments?

I will not be planting an Aspen in this location - I have cottonwoods in the back, which have cost significant irritation and expense to deal with, so I am not inclined to introduce anything else from the Populus family on my property. Another conifer has been suggested (pine, upright blue atlas) but I would really like to get more shade in this area for the arbor. Not sure what to go with, however...

Here is what the area looks like currently. The Sambucus and Junipers have been planted and the Katsura tree has been removed. All of the plants that were in the way of the path to the arbor have been moved. The space for the arbor has will likely require the Russian sage to be moved.

Thank you in advance for your observations and feedback. This has been a fun project to post here and hopefully it will be educational for others as well.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2010 at 7:56PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

Honeysuckle? WHICH honeysuckle? Japanese honeysuckle (the one most people mean when they say honeysuckle) is an invasive exotic here in NC...and probably in the PNW as well. But it may not be a problem where you are.

Do you know which honeysuckle is being suggested?

    Bookmark   May 28, 2010 at 8:55PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

Yes, Japanese honeysuckle is serious bad news in many places. Before considering it, please Google: Japanese honeysuckle invasive, plus the name of your state, to see if it's a problem where you are.

Here, it takes over. I am slowly eradicating it from ever-increasing areas of my pasture. But as I concentrate on extending the honeysuckle-free areas, the areas I haven't gotten to yet become more infested...

    Bookmark   May 28, 2010 at 11:32PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
swanoir(Zone 5)

I am not sure which honeysuckle she has indicated in the plans, but you can be sure it will not be Japanese honeysuckle. I will ask her for a more direct answer.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2010 at 4:04PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

For a sitting area, there doesn't seem to be a lot of seating. You said the plans were drawn to scale but not what the scale was. Based on my guess of the size of the plants drawn, it seems like there's a lot of no-man's land in those beds.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2010 at 4:32PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
swanoir(Zone 5)

I cannot find any scale marked on the plans. However, based on my measurements, it seems that the scale is 1' per square. Thanks for the comment on the seating - I will look into that further.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2010 at 4:52PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Looking for front of house ideas
We recently moved into this house. It was a new construction...
Where to find 3/8" minus gravel in NY/NJ??
Our community garden is planning to rehabilitate our...
Need dog fencing layout tips for homestead
We just bought a place on nearly 4 acres that has no...
Landscaping front yard, zone 5. HELP!!!! :)
We have recently done some work to our front yard (tearing...
Front Yard Landscape Help! Zone 10a
We are looking to remodel the front of our home. We...
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™