Top Mistakes

ankhJuly 24, 2008

I believe it was karinl who said in another post that looking at poorly designed gardens is perhaps even more instructive than observing well designed ones.

What are the most common and/or most offensive errors in design, plant/tree selection or organization that you see/have seen?

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Ignoring the big picture. That is to start with a detail that you like without looking into how it impacts the overall landscape.

It can also be to work off of a single (possibly a random) idea and making it the foundation for the whole design while ignoring things that exist in the landscape.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2008 at 1:03PM
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I beg to differ on which is more instructive, the good, the bad or the ugly. How do you know that it is good, or for that matter ugly? Surely you must be versed in what is good if that is your intended goal. Listing mistakes is elitist because it assumes that you know better. I have seen some godawful gardens attended by the most enthusiastic and interesting people and I have seen some technically brilliant gardens that seem to be detached from human intercourse. Which is a mistake?

    Bookmark   July 24, 2008 at 6:10PM
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gottagarden(z5 western NY)

- planting a large tree too close to a house or other structure
- making flower beds really narrow which forces single file soldier flowers
- making walkways, especially to the front door, too narrow
- having too much going on - a fountain and a pergola and a hammock and a pool and sculpture and picnic tables and a grill and etc. all in a small suburban yard
- buying one of every plant one fancies and having no repetition or unity
- shade plants like hostas baking, fading, and wilting in full sun
- red mulch volcanoes
- white stone mulch
- ignoring the reality of your site - if you live in an arid climate don't plant water loving plants

    Bookmark   July 24, 2008 at 7:18PM
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Not changing with your garden or not 'listening' to it can be a missed opportunity.

Having planted and nutured and watched everything mature into a landscape, let the garden tell you about itself.

Some of the best things have been those, which I didn't plan or even plant, but simply let happen.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2008 at 7:48PM
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The biggest mistake, and one which I am committing right now, is thinking that processes are linear and that things are black or there is white.

- Audric

    Bookmark   July 24, 2008 at 7:54PM
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When learning to spell, one focuses on how to spell th word correctly--not on the possible mistakes one could make.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2008 at 9:16PM
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treelover(z8b SoCtrlTX)

That's true scraplolly, but I'm not sure spelling can be compared with designing a garden. There's usually only one correct way to spell a word, but there are many good ways to develop most sites.

For some reason I find it easier to figure out why I don't like a poor design than why I do like a good one. Unfortunately, it's knowing why I do like someone else's well designed garden that would probably be more useful to me.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2008 at 9:59PM
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I agree with Ink on this as well. Something can be bad because one thing is wrong or a thousand things are wrong. How will you know when to stop looking - when you find one wrong thing, or two, or thirty two?

Whenever someone does an analysis of anything, it helps if you can measure things in order to conduct it well. A qualitative analysis is less likely to give you much to work with than somehing more quantitative. The more things that you can measure, the more of an understanding of how often certain things are present and to what degree they influence landscapes. You can eventually learn to recognize how these things are mixed to achieve different affects.

Start with measuring what you already know. Keep score like rating chicks ... yeah, ... in a chicken coop (Bear with me, it won't get really bad). You might give one that is pretty nice an 8 out of ten. If you make a more detailed analysis you can make sub sets of more detailed qualities to rate which will make it more understandable that it rates an 8. (no, I was never in a fraternity)

It is the same with landscapes. You instantly know the ones you like. The more you understand about their makeup, the more you can understand what you like about them. Being aware of more components gives you more things to observe. Observation should start out as an inventory of what is present.

Analysis comes after inventory. Once you become accutely aware of what is present, you can start to try to understand how those things affect the other things and how they are affected by them.

Many people can not get their hands around the inventory part. They want to believe that they are ready for analysis before they are any good at all at inventory. That is fine, but they will have only a limited analysis simply because thay are not accounting for everything. They will draw conclusions that are inaccurate because they failed to notice another influence.

Top mistake #1:
Failure to recognize a major influence.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2008 at 10:07PM
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Of course there is usually one correct way to spell a word and many, many ways to spell it incorectly--and it is true there are many "right" ways to design a landscape--the analogy was meant only to indicate that one's exemplar should be the "right" way, or, in other words, "good design." It's more efficient for one thing.

The analogy breaks down in another way too--for words, we have such things as dictionaries. For the rest, we must have good teachers.

Of which, I think, laag is one.
So, I'll bite. (Of course...with bait like this...)

I went to flickr, typed in "garden" and took an image off the first page which popped up. I thought chickens might be quite at home in it.

This is in the Loire Valley, in France.

Rock, stone, cobblestones. Old. Aged. Ancient.
Tile? on roof.
House, lane, fence. Two entry doors.
Resticted access to the lane. (at least from the far end).
Steep pitch to the roof.
Narrow gardening space. (Which means this is probably never viewed "head-on" all at once.)
Flower pots, climbing plants, high pruned flowering shrubs.
Plantngs high and low by the door, closest to the street. No plantings in between.
Tiered gardening space--echos the roof line (and presumably the mountains nearby?) (caption says this is the roof of a lean-to). Occupies the middle of the vertical space. (Which from this angle looks like a neat balancing act).
Also echoes the tired effect of the house's roof-line. The whole composition, is, in effect, one of steps.
No plantings by second entry. (or at least, none visible in the angle of the photo).
Colours--grey, orange (in the house roof and lean-to roof, and the pots), warm clours for the roof planting. Softer colours near the "front"--harmonize with the peachy pastel colour of the stone house, although the window does have something with red blooms over it.

Tiered garden nestles house which nestles larger structure to the left of it. Sort of reminds me of Russian dolls.

What else?

Here is a link that might be useful: Credit for photo.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2008 at 12:23AM
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You are starting with details.

I probably should be saying "abstract to detail" rather than "general to specific".

You see climbing plants, do you see the interuption of a big surface? You see a roof, do you see the top edge of a frame? You see a road, do you see the bottom edge of that frame and a contrasting plane to the 800 pound gorilla? You see a tiered garden, do you see see a foreground?

Does the road act like a road in this landscape? If it does not act as one, should you look at it differently?

The 800 pound gorilla is that this is a picture of a landscape that is primarily a building. Everything works off of that.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2008 at 7:43AM
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Top mistake? Trying to accommodate your husband's plant choices in your (previously) well thought out landscape plan... :(

    Bookmark   July 25, 2008 at 10:02AM
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Well at the risk of sounding pedantic, you need to be more specific in your search. If you google the word garden you get 754,000,000 hits, Canadian garden 413,000 and "small Canadian garden" only two.

To labour laags analogy somewhat 'chicks' is already a sub set of 'birds' or 'laying birds' or 'birds to lay' and so it is with 'garden'.

Your picture shows a roof garden in a pleasant setting the opposite of "Ignoring the big picture. That is to start with a detail that you like without looking into how it impacts the overall landscape" but with the same result.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2008 at 10:03AM
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So the inventory begins with planes and surfaces?

what else?

    Bookmark   July 25, 2008 at 11:51AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I like that, Garden Chicken; the process of integrating ideas between spouses has always been a hard one here, both inside and out. And maybe it is a source of some of the most egregious mistakes we see... or the reason some people never get any landscaping done at all!

The mistakes I've made myself have as often been mistakes of implementation as anything else... the biggest one, clearing or planting a whole bunch of areas at once, and then failing to keep up with the ensuing maintenance tasks of weeding and/or watering. That led, in my garden a few years back, to the discovery of the rare shrubby variety of buttercup... at least, the things were big enough to have been deemed a shrub!

The mistakes that it grills my liver to see, and thus what I try to avoid in developing my own space, include having pretty flowers without corresponding structure or framework, and invasive plants allowed to run amok, to the point that they are the dominant visual element, overrun their structural boundaries, and/or consume other plants. Another of my pet peeves is a lack of respect for the boundaries of the whole garden; things let grow over the property line, especially once they are big, look like aggressive territorial expansionism to me and undermine any charm in the garden itself.

But some things that can strike you as "wrong" might be things you just don't like yourself, and that is important to define for your own purposes. For example, that whole "garden rooms" thing and the idea that you shouldn't be able to see the whole thing at once... I'm afraid I don't like to have areas in the garden that I can't see when I enter it. Especially for a front yard. So it may be "right" by design principles, but it's "wrong" for me.


    Bookmark   July 25, 2008 at 12:34PM
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First things first. What is your intial impression of this landscape? Is it very bad, not so good, pretty good, or very good?

    Bookmark   July 25, 2008 at 1:03PM
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Wha--isn't that a question of taste?

Um, it's OK. I'm not sure I would have taken a picture of it. Overall, nothing terribly special, really.

But that's me. What has that got to do with the price of rice in China?

    Bookmark   July 25, 2008 at 1:26PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada

Karin - your comment on spouses and 'the reason some people never get any landscaping done at all!' made me smile. I have friends that, after 15 years or so in their house, have NOTHING but grass in their yard! The two of them can't agree on what to plant so they simply don't plant anything at all. All around them are houses (large, expensive...) with maturing gardens and theirs still looks like the day the builder finished with it! It's the oddest looking thing imaginable! Their neighbours are very unhappy with them - saying they bring down the neighbourhood property values. So I would say one of the top (but, admittedly, rare) mistakes is doing nothing at all! In suburbia at least, even a less-than-ideal garden is better than no garden at all.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2008 at 4:06PM
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From those of us looking to improve our own lot, so to speak, thank you. Something so simple as looking at a home/landscape in terms of a frame is very helpful. Personally, although I can often describe in others' landscapes what I think does a nice job of accenting this or creating that impression or softening/angularizing the other, when it comes to sitting with a space I've seen too many times (my own) and want to improve, it is hard to see it "fresh." Considering the existing attributes of the space as shapes/frames/abstract forms may be helpful to me as I try to figure out aspects of what to put in what spaces (within the bounds of what can and cannot change).

Similarly, if I understand what it means to take inventory, separating that from the analysis is also a helpful concept. But to be blunt, and because I tend to push for precision, what exactly do you mean by that? You may feel free to use my photos as an example. :-P But seriously.... Also, "major influence" sounds in your post like a term of art for your field; can you be more explicit in layman's terms?

It is very refreshing to read some of the concepts translated somewhat into the practical. I have far more experience with interiors; gardens and land-shape are new to me, and whereas I can get by on intuition and (my sense of) taste inside (at least can do it well enough for my own purposes in order to turn out an above-average and interesting space), I'm not yet confident enough to do the same with the exterior space.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2008 at 4:29PM
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saypoint(6b CT)

I may be able to provide an analogy to illustrate the "big picture" vs. details: think of an artist sitting down with a blank canvas, preparing to paint a portrait or landscape. You wouldn't start off by picking an eye color for your subject and start painting away at the iris of the eye, and then start filling in the strands of hair, you would first consider the composition. Sitting? Standing? How positioned on the canvas? Off to one side? Filling most of the canvas? Outdoors? Indoors? How about the position of the hands? Objects around your subject that direct your eye back into the painting? Or for a landscape painting, you wouldn't set right off painting a tree, you'd want to decide on where to position your trees, whether to include the cottage in the distance, etc.

Once you have sketched in a loose outline of your composition, you can start filling in blocks and planes of color to add depth and dimension, to draw attention to a specific part of the composition, etc. Only then do you work up to the details, the leaves, grasses, bark texture, or the details of your portait subject's clothing, skin, hair, and surroundings.

This is working from the general to the specific, and while painting is a two-dimensional art and landscape design a 3-D exercise, starting with picking a flower color is bound to result in a disappointing composition. You need to step WAY back and consider the whole composition, including practical considerations, architecture, desired use, budget, and maintenance requirements in addition to the aestethic aspects to create a successful landscape design.

Is that about right, Andrew?

    Bookmark   July 25, 2008 at 5:26PM
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Lolly (I want to save typing, but scrap did not sound good when I reread, I'm going to switch to Lolly),

It is taste, or at least perception. Why else would you want to learn about this stuff if not to be able to create things that appeal to your taste?

I'm a bit lazy, so I would need a motivation to break down a landscape. I think the motivation is that I (or you) perceive that the landscape is acting on us in some way and we want to find out what the mechanisms are that are doing that. If I'm not getting much out of what is there, whether it is positive or negative, there does not seem to be much more of a motivation other than to make a list.

Remember the part about rating chicks? I had a little fun with that and hope it did not lose the point. The point was that something gives you a reaction and you try to determine what it is that is giving you the reaction you got. Anything and everything outside is a landscape of some sort. You could try to break down everything in every outdoor vignette. I think it is better to focus on the things that have some kind of affect on you.

The landscape in the picture above does have an affect. It is heavy on cultural qualities that out power the landscape details to a great extent. The medieval village is a strong context.
I'm not sure what the "roof garden" is doing for me or against me other than being a curiousity. Again, it makes me wonder about the motivation - hide the roof?, exploit the surface?. I'm not motivated to re-use the look, but that does not mean someone else would feel differently. It most definitely "softens" and "greens" a bit more of what is a heavily structured environment.
The climbers and the planting bed first break up the large built surfaces and where they merge. The plants as well as the plantings are not overly organized and refined which I think makes them more appealing both as a contrast to the structures and in harmony with the "ruins" look that is also present. It truly does fit the context in my opinion.
You have to appreciate how much "fluff" of vegetation they got out of so little soil surface particulary how it does not flatten on the wall.

I did not look at the picture and instantly grasp all of that, maybe because it is not a context that I either see very often or work in. It does take effort, especially when it is an unfamiliar type of landscape like this one is to me.

Thanks for putting that into a much easier to understand form. That is what I'm trying to say, at least when it comes to putting a landscape together. I'm still not sure how to articulate what I mean when breaking one down.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2008 at 10:21PM
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Thanks for switching to Lolly--it was actually a childhood nick-name. "scrap" comes from using scraps--a screen name I adopted years and years ago. When I discovered the garden forums here a few weeks ago, I was surprised to find I'd already registered here under that name eons ago.

And "taste"--I've been thinking about this all day--and your comments are helping me understand what Ink may have been trying to say to me. If I'm "doing the Ph.D" as I put it--then any landscape which tries to integrate a building into its surroundings is fair game for analysis. I imagine that in school, one does have to break down a landscaped environment in some way in order to see how it was put together; to analyse the choices made and their effects. That's why "taste" confused me--

However, if I'm not doing a Ph.D but trying to figure out what environment I want to create for my own little piece of the world, then, yes, I suppose I would only "bother" to break down and analyse those scenes which I would be interested in recreating. But, of course, I don't particularily want to recreate scenes, or someone else's garden--what I'd want to recreate are the feelings those scenes evoke. And so we're back at a level of complexity that's too high, right now, for me to grasp.

Thanks for taking the time to break that down that scene above. I'm not used to noticing the intercices (if that's spelled right, it's luck) of planes or surfaces. That, as well as the words you choose to describe what you see is an interesting example to me of the differences between the way each of us "sees."

    Bookmark   July 25, 2008 at 11:41PM
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What this particular picture shows is an example of what I said a couple of weeks ago about a building made from indigenous material and in an indigenous style not needing devices to soften it. It looks like it has grown out of the earth, or sinking back into it, so much so that the satellite dish is an anachronism and the planting came with the house. What is there in this picture that you can apply to a modern house in another part of the world as there is obviously something that appeals to your taste. Gertrude Jekyll eventually got to design her own house and garden and she said that what she wanted was a garden with a house in it. Contrast this with a situation that is a house with a garden in front of it and this may be a place to start "trying to figure out what environment I want to create for my own little piece of the world."

    Bookmark   July 26, 2008 at 9:08AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

What I see in that picture is that the people in the house want to grow as many flowers as possible. They are using the space they have to do what they want to do. That is perhaps why it looks indigenous; it is of organic origin. Interesting to speculate whether an academic "design" approach - something I appreciate the value of, obviously or I wouldn't be here - could ever have produced this.


    Bookmark   July 26, 2008 at 12:03PM
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What would the picture look like if no plants were present? Not in need of softening, but of cooling, perhaps? In need of something contrasting? Something fresh and young? The plants act as a final touch, or a sign, saying "somebody lives here", but the space was "designed" before the plants arrived.
Back to the original topic... some people are smart enough to learn from the mistakes of others, but some, me included, need to make their own mistakes in order to learn. No 1: I'm starting to realize that my garden is not as large as I imagined, and it will not accommodate my every wish. Example: I've stopped putting in odd rocks, and am even considering removing some. They're just not native here, on top of a dune. I won't try again to grow flowers under a lilac, or by a fence where dogs run; or in plain sand, even if the book says "drought tolerant" - yet, this experiment has left me a few survivors I can count on. etc etc...
My garden is shared between two families. I see the other one (DH's brother's) starting to make some mistakes in the near future, and I'm wondering if I should be silent and just let them make their own mistakes.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2008 at 4:32PM
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Very astute observations on that picture timbu.

Now to your question "should (I) be silent and just let them make their own mistakes" I can offer some definitive advice on this or should I say a definitive answer: YES.

I don't know if you have children but I see an analogy between this situation and a child's sex education. You have to wait for the question to come from the child and then only answer the question without confusing elaboration.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2008 at 4:50PM
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I'll try to be silent! Maybe the project will turn out well in the end, who knows? They're setting up a seating area; the initial plan was to build a wooden privacy fence between that and the neighbor to the north, and it seemed to be a good plan; but suddenly, they got a truckload of used cobblestones for free - and are considering a wall of those in place of a fence.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2008 at 5:39AM
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..... and like the parent of any child, they will not see the flaws and they will be mad at anyone who says the child is flawed.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2008 at 6:52AM
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bboy(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

With aesthetics it always gets back to how it looks to the individual. Experienced gardeners can tell those struggling with why their efforts didn't come out right how to get what they want. If the latter are instead happy with it, no matter how goofy or grating it looks to someone else then it is still not a mistake.

More practical matters like making the drive wide enough for a car to fit, a path safe to walk on or choosing a climber that will not almost immediately overwhelm a small space are closer to always having a right or a wrong way of being done.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2008 at 1:03PM
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How about a neighbor who removed all hardscaping - trees, shrubs, and thinks that she has to have perennial flowers planted in every corner of the yard to add "color".

So my answer would be, failure to recognize that year round interest is a necessity.

I'm a novice in the gardening world, and even I know that. Evergreens, change in foliage colors, flowers, annuals, perennials, shrubs, trees, etc. An everchanging landscape from season to season..what more could you ask for?

A little bit of everything is a better flow than a lot of the same thing...

    Bookmark   July 30, 2008 at 5:12AM
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What's wrong with a yard or garden that's NOT preplanned or designed? I've seen some mighty fine yards that just sort of developed at their creators whims. I've lived at my residence for over 25 years now. I'm the original resident. I just started by focusing on the front of the house and on the cul-de-sac along the street. I went out, dug up the 'natives', started digging other holes, planted them with things I wanted and was interested in and that I felt would grow well, considering my conditions. Over time the yard has taken on a quality of its own and now sort of dictates what I acquire and where it goes. No preplanning, no predesign...just sort of a natural evolution. So in a way, I guess I started with the detail and over time let that dictate the "big picture." Right now I'm going through an evolutionary process of introducing and blending in a cycad area of the yard. If I live another 20 years it might look cool then.

So, getting back to the original question...

What are the most common and/or most offensive errors in design, plant/tree selection or organization that you see/have seen?

The most offensive error...someone who wants an instant environment NOW. I'm impatient with those who don't have the patience to let things grow (at least as far as personal gardens are concerned).

Another one that bugs me are overdesigned spaces. When I was at the Getty Museum in LA about ten years ago, that is what really bothered me. Beutiful hillside location overlooking the city of LA, but the garden was way way way too...out there (I don't know how to explain it). It would probably have looked better just leaving the native scrub.

Last, but certainly not least...those who want plants that are completely know...palm trees in Fairbanks, hostas in Palm Springs. Obviously the hired help would have to deal with those issues.


    Bookmark   August 1, 2008 at 2:27PM
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"What's wrong with a yard or garden that's NOT preplanned or designed?" is that what you think this is about Ron? Did anyone say that design was a one shot deal, although I will say that thinking that way is probably a mistake.

When you say "Over time the yard has taken on a quality of its own and now sort of dictates what I acquire and where it goes." is either modesty or an admission to design on the fly.

So the answer to your question is there is nothing wrong in anything being discussed here so someone who wants to have all there ducks in a row before digging a hole is as right as someone who likes to dig holes first.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2008 at 5:18PM
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Maybe the post should be "Top Tips". :)

My top tips:
1) read tags -- check sunlight requirements, zone, and size every time.
2) plan (I'm a planner)
3) have fun -- even if 'design' says you shouldn't have a plant, urn, statue, whatever -- if you really like it, get it.
4) plant & plan for you and yours. If you love to garden, grill out, play hockey, cook -- whatever, then that should tell you what you'd appreciate most.

As for the last tip -- I think that's why I love to design for people. It's taking the things that they love and making a space that they can enjoy -- that's personal.

One of my clients recently confided how he always wanted a place like this (in the design) that he could see grow with his family. Wow. That was weeks ago, and I'm still thinking about that.

So, make it personal!

    Bookmark   August 1, 2008 at 5:32PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I think the freedom to design a bit at a time, or from the inside out, or in whatever direction the homeowner/DIYer wishes, is an under-appreciated freedom relative to what the design professional has to do, which is to make the whole plan at once. I've really enjoyed doing my property that way as well. However, I think the same design principles apply, and if they are missed then the whole can end up being an example of bad design as easily as it can end up working. And of course Saypoint's excellent analogy to a painting does make the point that the broad outlines, perhaps at least the purpose of the composition, do need to be determined in advance to some extent.

There are perhaps some additional principles that apply only to DIY, piece-by-piece work:

1. Start with the really big issues and most urgent needs, or leave yourself the freedom to deal with them adequately once you get there. Perfect example of this is a concurrent thread regarding the steep side-yard. How that is dealt with will have repercussions at the top and the bottom, and so you should either do it first, or avoid committing to decisions at the top or bottom that constrain how you can deal with the slope afterward.

2. Don't be afraid to undo your own work if a better idea occurs to you later. When you do patchwork design, the integration of the patches may not be perfect, and may require some tweaking of the patches. Just because you bought item X and decided it would be in location Y doesn't mean it has to stay there when new idea Z conflicts with it. I call it an iterative process, meaning some operations need to be done a few times over before they're perfect, re-calibrated to the big picture with every additional step we take toward it. For example, when I got my first beds established, I put in the plants that I most urgently had to get planted then - things that had been uprooted, were pot-bound, etc. As I've made more (and more) beds, and observed how the plants behave in them all, some of those plants have moved to places where they work better (and some have died), and other plants have been put in those early beds. All the beds will be 90% done to my satisfaction before any one of them is 100% complete. I think the gentleman in Ireland who's tired of his lawn is providing another example of this.

There are probably others guidelines for piece-by-piece work, but those are the ones that are clear to me at the moment! There is also something about being in the space and letting it and your movements and thoughts in it tell you what needs to be done next, which you have to put into words if you're hiring a designer but can just act on intuitively if you are designing on your own.


    Bookmark   August 1, 2008 at 10:33PM
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laag and timbu--I have nothing to say rgarding personal face-to-face relationships (especially with family members!) but if someone, like me, is going to possibly make a "mistake" I hope you say so!

That's why we newbies come here, isn't it?

    Bookmark   August 2, 2008 at 11:36AM
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I read a lot about myself in your post above, about the DIY'er. Not being under any time or financial constraints of having to do this for a living or doing it for house-flipping curb appeal does make landscaping my environment a creative outlet for me.

Having gone through the school of hard-knocks, I think I'll apply some of my life experience for credit towards my PhD.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2008 at 3:16PM
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bindersbee(6a UT)

I'll post mine before reading everyone elses so as not to be influenced.

I think it is skiping the foundation elements of the landscape and going straight for the plants. If you've read the book, it's 'Going for the marshmallow'. Proper grading and hardscaping are the most expensive parts and many people skip them because of the expense or they are impatient and 'just want to get something in'. You can never create a really good yard on a really poorly prepared foundation.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2008 at 1:46AM
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"Start with the really big issues and most urgent needs, or leave yourself the freedom to deal with them adequately once you get there" KarinL

"You can never create a really good yard on a really poorly prepared foundation." Bindersbee

"More practical matters like making the drive wide enough for a car to fit, a path safe to walk on or choosing a climber that will not almost immediately overwhelm a small space are closer to always having a right or a wrong way of being done." Bboy

"You need to step WAY back and consider the whole composition ..." Saypoint

    Bookmark   August 5, 2008 at 6:48AM
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This isn't the top mistake, but it is a very common one: Untidiness.

Ironbelly has spoken on this one in the past to, for me, excruciating (and helpful) effect. I find this is the mistake I make most often. I suppose it points to a companion mistake, that of miscalculating one's own maintenance energy and ability.

I think I've often gotten myself into far too complex and elaborate a design. In the first place, such projects often don't lend themselves to easy care. In the second, complexity--even when kept as tidy as possible--often still looks untidy and too busy.

Sometimes the attempt to do too many things, have too many features, results in more untidiness. Most of us live on fairly small pieces of fairly flat ground. Trying to have an arbor, birdbath, trellis, containers, hanging baskets on shepherd's hooks, benches, play equipment and on and on can end up looking like a cluttered mess.

Keep it simple and keep it tidy. That's my recommendation for avoiding mistakes.


    Bookmark   August 5, 2008 at 12:18PM
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Charlotte (wellspring) at last something we can disagree upon. Art when practiced by folk is often untidy. A garden is often referred to as a process and not a product which makes a photograph or a visit on the wrong day a problem.

There are many creatures that scratch around in the debris a garden produces, I am one. So I would say that making a garden that only looks good when the grass is 1.375 inches long, weedless and fallen leaf less is a mistake.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2008 at 6:24PM
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Yeah butÂI have the sneaking feeling that whereas yours is "artistic" untidiness, mine is just an untidy mess.

Nevertheless, Tony, your bone of contention with me made me feel better anyway. I spent a surprisingly cool morning weeding out huge invasions of mostly monster size weeds (where did they come from?) and pretending that this mess and that one added a touch of piquancy and charm.


    Bookmark   August 7, 2008 at 6:12PM
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I recognize that people have different definitions of beauty and acceptable behavior. So the following are just my opinion. And I will only mention some that haven't been already universally nominated:

(1) The worst kind of tree is the tree planted right next to your neighbor's lot

Why do so many people plant their tree right next to the boundary? A simple Google search turns up countless images of professional landscape diagrams with trees right on the boundary, with half of its foliage hanging out in the white void. No, those are not white void. Those are your neighbors' garden, where they have their own plans for!

(2) Overwhelming messiness from planting frenzy

Under-maintained gardens are widely condemned already. I am talking about the other kind of messy: over-planting. So many supposedly reputed gardens are filled with plants that grow into each other and look like weed.

(3) Individual stepping stones in the middle of overgrown lawn.

Looks like somebody's head skin infection and has to shave patches of hair off.

(4) Very thin strip of driveway rim replaced by interlock.

Strictly speaking they are not inter-locked, because the thin strips are so thin that there is only one row of stones to make up the eyes-hurting line.

Very thin retaining wall surrounding trees/garden area achieve a similar effect.

(5) Thin-crowned, dense foliage weeping plants

Makes the house beside it look dehydrated and is about to wilt.

(6) Over-pruning of hedge cedar, leaving a huge hallow hole of the very first tree of the hedge.

Epic fail.

(7) Trees ruthlessly topped to make way for the utility line.

Mostly it is the brilliant work of the contractors hired by the city. They are supposed to be professionals.

(8) Total privacy, total darkness

To a point that the tree fills the all window views from inside the house.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2010 at 11:15PM
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white stone mulch white stone mulch white stone mulch white stone mulch white stone mulch white stone mulch white stone mulch white stone mulch white stone mulch white stone mulch white stone mulch white stone mulch white stone mulch white stone mulch white stone mulch

Guess what I've been digging up at my house? :-)

Wrong sizes are my bugaboo. Of course, experience is what counts here. I have a spirea of a variety that's only supposed to get to 3' topping 5' after two years. Uh, yeah.

The biggest mistake of "professional residential landscaper" hacks that I see again and again and again is the choosing of plants that make the customer happy RIGHT NOW (in terms of size, etc.) that are completely overgrown within 5 years. I don't know if s disingenuousness, laziness, or stupidity, but I see it all the time.

The biggest mistake of homeowners that I see are landscapes that are mostly really undersized (1' boxwoods 5' OC under a window 4' from the ground) with an occasional doozie of something that will get WAY too big for the space in not *that* long (that dwarf alberta spruce by the door...)

    Bookmark   August 15, 2010 at 5:13AM
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The biggest mistake is the notion that controlling plant size is a humongous maintenance nightmare and using that as the measuring stick of overall landscape maintenance. Light pruning once or twice a year is quite adequate to maintain a landscape at a certain size.

A very common presumption is the notion that a landscape is, or becomes permanent or static at a certain point and all there is to do is very basic maintenance that does not include size control.

Few plants reach a certain size and then stay at that size. Planting for "right now" is not any different than planting for the future except that there is no waiting until it becomes time to control the plant size. Also, it is guaranteed that at some point the proportions of the plants are in sync' with the overall composition of the landscape because they started there.

Waiting for a landscape to develop in order to not need to control plant size is not the same thing as having a complete landscape that requires less maintenance. Plants grow at different rates and it is extremely difficult to put togetter an immature composition and have all plants reach the point of design intent simultaneously at some point down the road.

Underdeveloped landscapes bring on a lot of maintenance, far more than annual pruning in many cases. Just the maintenance of open beds requires more mulching and more just the extra weed control will likely take more time than an annual pruning effort.

It is not instant planting that is the mistake. It is not being vigilant at maintaining plant size.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2010 at 8:29AM
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>The biggest mistake is the notion that controlling plant size is a humongous maintenance nightmare and using that as the measuring stick of overall landscape maintenance.

Depends on the plant. What I'm talking about are things like two BIG arbs (green giant???) planed 6' OC on eiher side of a door. Liriope planted to edge a bed that's so narrow that there's really no room for anything else one it's a decent size. A *large* juniper under a window--right next to some cannas. (This window is NOT high off the ground. Not that you can see it, now, 5 years down the road.) Perennials crowded so close that they look like weeds. This is all at once house down the street. There's nothing that can be done about around half the plantings except rip 'em out.

The shrubs that I'm choosing for my foundation are "supposed" to get bigger than what I want, but they all make nice hedges (and yes, they'll mostly be quite artificially shaped). But I know how these shrubs behave and what realistically can be done with them. My skimmia, boxwoods, azaleas, and hydrangeas will all be trimmed every year. My Picea pugnens 'Iseli fastigate' will NOT!

The easy answer for shrubs being too far away is annuals or short-lived perennials. Right now, I have a "trial bed" in front of the street, where I'm just figuring how how well various things grow for me and in this part of the country. I'm stuffing it like crazy because due to its location, it picks up hundreds upon hundreds of weed seeds otherwise. When the shrubs get bigger, the annuals and perennials will go. I'll be adding more conifers over time, too, and cutting out spaces for them as my cheap screen develops into an actual design.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2010 at 8:40PM
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queerbychoice(USDA 9a/Sunset 8 (CA))

Top mistakes that I've seen recently:

1. Gorgeous house in rural northern California, surrounded by nothing but rolling hills and chaparral as far as the eye can see. House property is densely planted with nothing but palm trees and associated tropical-looking plants that scream, "I completely fail to appreciate the beauty of the place where I live, and spend all my time wishing I lived in Hawaii instead."

2. Whole entire front yard covered over with poured concrete, which has since cracked and now has tall, brown, prickly weeds growing through it all over the place. The effect is similar to that of #1, except with the part after the comma replaced by "and am probably addicted to some extremely hardcore mind-altering drugs."

    Bookmark   August 16, 2010 at 5:02AM
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I don't think #1 is a mistake. If it were, then you couldn't have French gardens outside of France, or Japanese gardens outside of Japan. Carried to a crazy level, all non-natives (by whatever definition...) become suspect. As long as it works, it works.

#2 "and wanted easy maintenance and a place to park my 8 cars."

In my neighborhood, the most common problem is butchery from trees being too near power lines. They were little when they were planted 40 years or more ago. Now they're all grown up--and got their tops lopped off. It's pitiful-looking. Better to take them out. Best not to plant trees directly under power lines at all. Fortunately, the owners of our house paid to have them all buried!

    Bookmark   August 16, 2010 at 6:40AM
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queerbychoice(USDA 9a/Sunset 8 (CA))

Have you ever seen a real-life example of #1 plopped in the middle of a truly undisturbed wildland area?

It looks okay to have a French garden (or a tropical garden)on a city street outside of France. It might even look okay to have a multi-acre French garden (or a tropical garden) in the middle of undisturbed chaparral, if there were a skillfully planted transition zone to blend the two together in a way that would seem halfway believable.

But when there's nothing in sight but chaparral as far as the eye can see, and the property line of the home is densely planted with palm trees every two feet, it looks every bit as ridiculously fake as if the yard were filled with plastic trees. I stand by my classification of it as a mistake.

Perhaps it would be easier to see the principle at work if I made the example even more extreme: Imagine that someone bought land next door to and extremely prominently visible from a pristine national park (pick your favorite) and installed landscaping that would look more at home on a suburban street in a different climate zone. Wouldn't there be a public outcry about the destruction of the formerly beautiful view? If you would be among those complaining, then you recognize the mistake.

Scenes of undisturbed nature are not that commonly available in most states anymore. As a result, where they do still exist, they add value to the land. If someone moves into a prominently visible spot in such an area and installs something that looks wildly out of place, it diminishes the value of the land for miles and miles around. That's inconsiderate, and there's no need for it when it's so easy for people who want to install French gardens or tropical gardens to buy their properties in somewhere that had already been developed to look like a city street instead of a natural area. As long as someone's landscaping is going to totally ignore everything outside the property line anyway, there's no reason they couldn't have bought a place in surroundings that wouldn't be diminished in value as a result of their design.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2010 at 10:36AM
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Undisturbed natural views are readily available everywhere I've lived, and both the houses I've owned personally were steps from protected regions. People planted in these neighborhoods however. I was somewhat baffled by the people who wanted "midwestern suburbia" in New Mexico (except the chain link was electrified to keep out the bears) and much preferred my "secret garden," woodland garden, wildflower garden, and my cultivated-to-wild garden, myself, but I don't know that I'd call it a mistake. We're steps away from another park here, but many people completely ignore that. I'd call it not to my taste, but I don't know if I'd call it wrong.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2010 at 10:04PM
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