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Too many choices!

Posted by bahia SF Bay Area (My Page) on
Thu, Aug 9, 12 at 2:52

Just finished a preliminary plant list for a new residential project high in the Oakland hills, and can't quite believe the list is just short of 500 different species! While this garden is very large for a local project,(one acre front garden and 3.5 acres total), there is no way I'll end up being able to fit even half that many varieties into the final design.

My frustration is that it seems like such a large space ought to handle more varieties, but at least one third the space will be hardscape and/or lawn, reducing current turf areas by 50% or more. There is just so many plants that are stunning in August/September here, and just driving around town each day I can add another dozen to the list.

The main problem with garden design/planting design here locally is that there can be such an overwhelming selection of plants to choose from


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Too many choices!

  • Posted by catkim San Diego 10/24 (My Page) on
    Thu, Aug 9, 12 at 13:13

So the question is, how will you go about slimming down the list? I'm curious how a careful design would arrive at having so many different plants. Believe me, I understand the enthusiasm, but there must be more to the method than that. ;-)


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RE: Too many choices!

David,
I think the large and diverse plant count has a lot to do with your style of design.

When I look at your planting designs I see horticulturally rich tapestries. Your planting palette is unique in that you search out unusual or uncommon plants and use them in totally refreshing new planting schemes and combinations.

You also pioneered the usage of incorporating bromeliads into the Mediterranean/ western landscape.
There are still very few designers on the west coast that know how to creatively or horticulturally incorporate bromeliads into a great design .


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RE: Too many choices!

  • Posted by bahia SF Bay Area (My Page) on
    Thu, Aug 9, 12 at 14:34

Kim, the first pass is in general just a list of plants I like to design with, that grow well in our area, and support the aesthetic desired by the clients, which found me on the web via an image search of California landscapes. They were most impressed by the Trejo garden which had also been featured in Sunset magazine some years ago. They responded to the layered plantings of contrasting foliage forms and textures in combination with the lushness and slightly wild looking end result.

What will ultimately cull this list down to more manageable proportions is knowing that I am unlikely to be intimately involved with the ongoing upkeep of the garden, and they currently maintain all 3.5 acres without a gardener. This primarily dictates paring down the list to the more easily maintained and less temperamental choices, and selecting species that won't vastly outgrow their spots, yet still give that lush semi-wild character. Due to the size of the spaces to be planted, I will probably design around a zoned irrigation system using conventional spray heads and 12" pop-ups for maximum flexibility and faster installation. Being on the very top ridge of the coastal hills means the site also gets a lot of wind, and is only about 8" average soil depth over fractured sandstone bedrock, as the building site had lopped off the top of the hill. As the existing house is so large and spanish mediterranean in style and will be augmented with more facade ornamentation alá Balboa Park, fantasy and playfullness and architectural details via walls, iron work, mosaic tile and pebble work and an pool/fountain will be part of the design. The first pass at design layout was resort-like with curvilinear pathway and terrace layouts and a Mondrian overlay of contrasting blocks of plantings. I'm also thinking that curving walls and wide 14" colored concrete mowbands will snake through planting beds to give the planting design more permanent structure as viewed from the second story. There will be lots of specimen palms, bromeliads, succulents, colorful flowering/dramatic foliage subtropicals that will handle zone 9 conditions; being so high up at the top of the hills does mean this site could potentially dip into the mid-20's°F in a bad freeze. So probably no exposed Kentia palms as featured accents, they take up to 3 years to recover here. Probably no King palms either, as once they get over roof height the foliage will be battered looking from the regular strong afternoon winds. As this front side of the house is self-enclosed by large Monterey pines and doesn't have any panoramic bay views like the back pool area does, the garden itself will be the design focus. At the start, there is only a clump of specimen sized Mediterranean Fan palms which will be retained, and likely to be the backdrop for the fountain on an axis with the relocated entry gates, and will frame the first view of the garden before the house is viewed. An initial internal dilemma for decision by me along with the clients is whether to go high drama with trees to frame the entry, such as 3 Ceiba speciosa, or play it down wirh more subtle and woodsy looking weeping evergreen Mayten trees. Since this entry garden is almost an acre in size, and will be broken up into more human scaled interlocking garden rooms that share axial views across a central open panel of lawn; there are many potential areas within the garden that could be treated as planting focal points. The design needs to set up a hierarchy of spaces and circulation so that it functions well for both personal daily use and also for entertaining during parties.

A bit of a challemge to dip back into larger scaled landscape after 4 years of only designing for small gardens installed in less than a month!


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RE: Too many choices!

  • Posted by bahia SF Bay Area (My Page) on
    Thu, Aug 9, 12 at 14:44

Kim, the first pass is in general just a list of plants I like to design with, that grow well in our area, and support the aesthetic desired by the clients, which found me on the web via an image search of laCalifornia landscapes. They were most impressed by the Trejo garden which had also been featured in Sunset magazine some years ago. They responded to the layered plantings of contrasting foliage forms and textures in combination with the lushness and slightly wild looking end result.

What will ultimately cull this list down to more manageable proportions is knowing that I am unlikely to be intimately involved with the ongoing upkeep of the garden, and they currently maintain all 3.5 acres without a gardener. This primarily dictates paring down the list to the more easily maintained and less temperamental choices, and selecting species that won't vastly ojtgrow their spots, yet still give that lush semi-wild character. Due to the size of the spaces to be planted, I will probably design around a zoned irrigation system using conventional spray heads and 12" pop-ups for maximum flexibility and faster installation. Being on the very top ridge of the coastal hills means the site also gets a lot of wind, and is only about 8" average soil depth over fractured sandstone bedrock, as the building site had lopped off the top of the hill. As the existing house is so large and spanish mediterranean in style and will be augmented with more facade ornamentation al� Balboa Park, fantasy and playfullness and architectural details via walls, iron work, mosaic tile and pebble work and an pool/fountain will be part of the design. The first pass at design layout was resort-like with curvilinear pathway and terrace layouts and a Mondrian overlay of contrasting blocks of plantings. I'm also thinking that curving walls and wide 14" colored concrete mowbands will snake through planting beds to give the planting design more permanent structure as viewed from the second story. There will be lots of specimen palms, bromeliads, succulents, colorful flowering/dramatic foliage subtropicals that will handle zone 9 conditions; being so high up at the top of the hills does mean this site could potentially dip into the mid-20's�F in a bad freeze. So probably no exposed Kentia palms as featured accents, they take up to 3 years to recover here. Probably no King palms either, as once they get over roof height the foliage will be battered looking from the regular strong afternoon winds. As this front side of the house is self-enclosed by large Monterey pines and doesn't have any panoramic bay views like the back pool area does, the garden itself will be the design focus. At the start, there is only a clump of specimen sized Mediterranean Fan palms which will be retained, and likely to be the backdrop for the fountain on an axis with the relocated entry gates, and will frame the first view of the garden before the house is viewed. An initial internal dilemma for decision by me along with the clients is whether to go high drama with trees to frame the entry, such as 3 Ceiba speciosa, or play it down wirh more subtle and woodsy looking weeping evergreen Mayten trees. Since this entry garden is almost an acre in size, and will be broken up into more human scaled interlocking garden rooms that share axial views across a central open panel of lawn; there are many potential areas within the garden that could be treated as planting focal points. The design needs to set up a hierarchy of spaces and circulation so that it functions well for both personal daily use and also for entertaining during parties.

A bit of a challemge to dip back into larger scaled landscape after 4 years of only designing for small gardens installed in less than a month!


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RE: Too many choices!

  • Posted by catkim San Diego 10/24 (My Page) on
    Thu, Aug 9, 12 at 18:12

It's going to be stunning, I can see that much already. Congratulations on landing the project, enjoy every minute.


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RE: Too many choices!

This new project is something we'll be looking forward to seeing unfold. "A bit of a challenge" indeed! How great to have the homeowners involved.

Rosie, Sugar Hill, GA


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RE: Too many choices!

Its nice to have so many options! I usually make a similar list before a project; usually with way too many varieties. But then as I am designing, I use some but not all of the selections. Is that the way you approach it?
For you to put together the stunning combinations we see in the pictures you post, I imagine you need a lot of potential options.
Do you intend for the peak of the garden to be in August/September?

This sounds like a fabulous project!


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RE: Too many choices!

  • Posted by botann z8 SEof Seattle (My Page) on
    Mon, Aug 13, 12 at 18:42

I would focus first on the structure of the garden before anything else. A garden that size needs presence, not a lot of variety with no purpose. Privacy and low maintenance are the first things to take care of in designing most gardens.
You have so much to work with in your climate I imagine it's hard to simplify.
A big mistake that a lot of designers do is put their garden in someone else's yard. What is the customer's commitment to maintenance and the knowledge to carry it out? Will it be hired or self maintained? Will it look 'comfortable' or 'confused'? (My garden looks 'confused' BTW)
Somewhere budget plays an important part, even in the most expensive installs. I'm sure you're giving it the most bang for the buck David.
Mike


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RE: Too many choices!

I'm not a professional by any means, and the main focus in my garden is antique roses, although almost always interspersed with companion plants, but I do think cohesiveness of design is very important in a large garden, so that the eye and mind don't become confused by numerous unrelated species. It's not restful to gaze upon umpteen specimens, especially if some are tropical and others Mediterranean or more northern. Even people who know nothing about plants can sense a certain restfulness when certain species are carried over in other areas or repeated in one area. In my garden sea lavender had been planted in many places and also pops up spontaneously by itself, and the purple blooms and large green leaves form a very nice counterpoint to the "business" of the smaller leaves and blooms of the antique roses, many of which bloom ten months out of the year. I've also repeated crape myrtles, cedars, day lilies, pelargoniums and irises in the garden, and I've often heard the comment that my landscape blends very harmoniously into the surrounding hills on all sides. A sense of place is very important in gardens, which I think is also something that people respond to instinctively.

You seem more than qualified to take on this project. It would be wonderful to see some pictures after it's completed, if the home owners don't object.


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RE: Too many choices!

  • Posted by bahia SF Bay Area (My Page) on
    Tue, Aug 14, 12 at 0:21

Michelle, aka Deviant-deziner posted a photo of the very garden that caught this client's eye, but after 3 meetings on-site and a review of the first pass of the design, it is obvious to me that there is no way I could work with this client and keep my sanity.

No disagreement here that maintenance considerations, budgets, plant continuity via repetition are all factors critical to creating a good design. While I am known for using a lot more varieties of plants in my landscapes than most designers around here, I like to think the photo shown indicates the garden can still be calming and lush without overwhelming most people, but slightly wild yet controlled and played up against strong architectural bones are part of my style.

With this client who is also a local office park developer, there was no meeting of the minds over both fees and basic design principles, and I've concluded the project isn't worth losing my peace of mind,
even while the client professed to be thrilled with the design
layout. I was surprised that he felt a $5000 design fee for a one acre front garden with a $100,000 construction budget was out of line.


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RE: Too many choices!

Darn, sorry to hear that! I was looking forward to watching how the project unfolded. But it seems when these client relationships go south, getting out of it is nearly always the right thing to do.

Thanks for sharing your initial design thoughts with us though, it's nice to get a glimpse of your design process and ideas.


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RE: Too many choices!

I work in an industry where all our fees come before the big costs. It's always amazing to me that someone who is willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars blanches at spending 5 to 10 thousand dollars to get the basics right.


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RE: Too many choices!

That works out to about 5 % design fee, which is extremely low for N. California design rates.
A fair share of my client base is from high end corporate developers whose private homes I work on . I find that these clients , due to the business that they are in they are use to spending less than the average 10 -13 % rate that residential designers work with.
So you have to play the silly little smart game ( that's what we call it ) and price out modestly high and then negociate down to the price point that you know that you need to cover your expenses and make a modest profit.

Developers, as with many folks, love a deal . And developers usually love the process of wheeling and dealing to get the deal. Once they get the deal they are great to work with.

If you feel the project and client could be a good one once you get though the contractual phase, I would try to get the client back to the bargaining table and see what could be worked out. Stress value while talking $ and the all mighty ROI return on investment .

I dislike this part of the business but over the years have found it a necessary evil in order to maintain a buisness in the social economic territory that I find myself in. As long as everyone feels like they are being treated fairly and are recieving and providing good value, it usually works out very well. .... and you'll be better prepared for the next type of client who has the same MO.


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RE: Too many choices!

  • Posted by bahia SF Bay Area (My Page) on
    Tue, Aug 14, 12 at 22:57

The client originally was interested in doing the project on an hourly rate consultation basis, to be done on site primarily. My gut feeling was that he wouldn't be willing to meet my expected minimum for each phase of the design work to really address all the details on site for such a large area. When I finally pinned him down on his expected budget, his thinking was that $100,000 would cover the construction materials, and he'd not be spending up to half that for installation as he'd do much of the installation himself. When I realized he was balking at a relatively low design fee, and didn't initially feel he'd want or need any help with hardscape layout/materials selection/detailing yet was floundering with getting up to speed on these areas, I quickly realized it would be a tricky relationship. If I had felt he was more open to considering design advice it might have worked, but instead it quickly became a situation where he wouldn't really contemplate the design issues I had with his changes to layouts, and wouldn't budge. I don't mind making changes based on client wants if they seem to work, but this design wouldn't bare much resemblance to my original design. Bottom line, with no willingness to receive professional advice and insistence on doing everything the way he preferred with no further comments from me; I could see that it just wouldn't work for either of us, and the low compensation for initial design work and desire not to pay for a design but rather consult on an hourly basis just didn't seem promising.


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RE: Too many choices!

Knowing when to trust your instincts is priceless.
Sorry that a potential job did not materialize, but it sounds like you made the best decision possible.

The client lost out on having a kick ass landscape.


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