Archive for the ‘client and designer’ Category

feb 2015 trip from curbI’ve been keeping busy in what feels like a perfect storm of absolutely inexcusable (insert many cuss words) BAD “gardening”.  I don’t know what the heck happened, but the stars aligned and I’ve been doing nothing but evaluating problems, recommending that gardeners get fired, and interviewing new gardeners.  I have three current projects dealing with this at the same time, and today a project I haven’t even started working on yet became the fourth.

This morning’s text from my new client brought such sad news.  She had the most charming Hong Kong Orchid (Bauhinia blakeana) tree and came home from work to find that it was absolutely butchered by the “gardeners”.  They were not directed to prune the tree, and I have to tell you – this has happened to more than one client where someone has butchered a tree without approval or permission!  My client loves this tree and I’m working on finding someone to help us in directing its recovery from the abuse.

Below you’ll see the few photos I have of the tree – I was so charmed by it, I can’t figure out why I didn’t get better photos.

feb 2015 trip bauhinia overhang feb 2015 trip front feb 2015 trip Bauhinia at front porchIt used to overhang the front patio that the living room looks out on – is focused on – but now I’m told that you can’t even see the tree from inside anymore.  If you are sensitive to gorey pictures, now is the time to avert your eyes:

150306 bauhinia butcheredI warned you, don’t say I didn’t.

SO – what the hell?  Thing is, any idiot can call him/herself a gardener.  There’s no training required, and most people are happy enough to have someone else do the mowing that they don’t worry about it – how hard can it be?   But what many don’t think about until it is too late is that those specimen plants can be responsible for a good up-tick in your property’s valuation.  New trees don’t add value, but healthy, mature ones totally do!

I will post again soon about some of the other issues with gardeners – but for now, may I just list these few things that every property owner should know:

An Arborist is an educated, certified person who is held to certain standards of care and who can be reported for not upholding those standards.  Hiring a tree service company does not mean an Arborist will be involved in your project, nor does it mean you’ll get qualified advice.  If you have an important tree, make sure you protect it with advice and evaluations from someone qualified to give them.

A Consulting Arborist can help you diagnose problems or evaluate a tree, the American Society of Consulting Arborists has a great web page that lets you search for one near you:  ASCA.  They aren’t the folks with the clippers, but they can tell you if a tree is in good health and stuff like that.

There is no specific qualification for someone to do pruning.  However, some arborists do work in hands-on ways or work for companies that do.  To find these kinds of people, check out the International Society of Arboriculture, or ISA.  The difference being arboriCULTURE as opposed to arborIST.

The moral of this story is that everyone who hires or works with a gardener or a landscape maintenance company should have the conversation about doing unauthorized work.  This is a huge no-no, and I’d like to make a law about it, but until that happens, we’ve got to look out for the trees ourselves.  Well, us and the Lorax anyway.

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My folks visited me about six months ago or so.  While reading my draft portfolio booklet, dad started laughing.  He’d read where I stated that I start every design with a pen.  ‘No you don’t, you have a drawing tablet!  You draw in the computer!’ says my dad.  No, I don’t, but I thought it was a funny assumption and so here we are talking about it.

Here’s the thing – using technology is lovely when you know what you want it to do, but when you have no idea, when you’re imagining stuff, using Photoshop with a tablet and stylus is not the most direct route from the brain.  You have to push buttons, set layers, import files, etc.  Forget THAT!  For me, using a pen is the shortest distance between creative thought and seeing it with your eyes (on the page).

Take for example a current design project in Southern California, it is for the residence of an Architect I worked with years ago:

1 Misc doodle conceptsI typically sit in a coffee shop and doodle for a while while studying site photos to really wrap my head around the issues of the site and try out various ways of shaping the space, fitting in uses, etc.  I use a printed base plan under tracing paper, my favorite Japanese ballpoint pens, and a latte (in reverse order).  The first round is not to scale, exploring idea after idea, small about the size of an index card.

Sometimes I do studies that try to fit certain ideas to the site regardless of anything, and these usually look pretty nuts, especially when I don’t re-draw the parts I’ve decided against:

2 misc studiesAfter generating several concepts, I refine a few ideas into what I still call conceptual design, and I limit myself to 3-4 per area max.  In this case, there’s a front garden and a rear garden.  Even now, nothing is really measured, it is all eyeballed and still very sketchy.  Notes around the edges help me remember the images I had in my mind’s eye for plants and other materials.  I have to make some assumptions about the clients’ lifestyle, and sometimes I suggest things they have not thought of – like what if they said they want the rear garden to be for kids’ play but the front is actually a better size for it….(like in this garden)…. the interview process can provide a lot of information, but you really can’t explore all the possibilities in an interview or two, and it helps to see ideas drawn when discussing them.

At this point, I sometimes send it to the client for input.  Below are the finalists for the front garden:

front garden conceptsand here (below) are the finalists for the rear garden:

rear garden conceptsSome clients enjoy working at this sketchy loose level, and this client is definitely one of them.  I’m honored to be designing the home landscape for his family, I hold his abilities in the architecture world in high regard and I know he and his wife have great taste.  However, there are clients for whom it is more appropriate to narrow things down to one or two ideas and do a much more formal, complete presentation.  I like both approaches, but for sure, this one allows for the client to have much more input at the very early stages.

SO – which will they choose?  We’ll see.

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I think I did it right. I started designing gardens before I knew that was what I would “grow up” to do. My first forays into site design as a kid included a fantasy plant nursery, pet store, and flower shop.  My parents’ back yard was the subject of many site plans as well, though they didn’t implement my thoughts.

I earned my BLA (Bachelors of Landscape Architecture, a 5 year degree), got my first “real” job, and after a few years, began taking my own projects on the side.  This year I started teaching and finally went full-time as my own boss.  I have essentially spent all my free time for the last mumble-mumble years absorbed in design, gardens, plants, and everything related.

You would think that I would have no shortage of beautiful built projects to share online, adding new ones all the time.  Below is part of why I don’t put a full body of work in public online places:

Naturally, many of the projects I’ve worked on have been with former employers.  Many of them are my work or at least partly so, but the former employer owns the intellectual property.  I can put the work I did in my own portfolio, that is industry standard, but it is not kosher to put that stuff on my own website or blog to promote myself apart from promoting the company I worked for at the time.  In addition to that, I have agreements with some former employers that state I won’t put anything online that came from my employment with them, and some clients and I have similar agreements.  Not marketing with clients’ projects can be limiting in this age where everything is available at a click, but there ya go.

I respect the wishes of my clients and some of them are more particular about their privacy than others.  I never post or put online anything that a client would like to keep private.  For some of them, that is everything.  The work I do is often someone’s home, and I totally get wanting to keep home private!

Additionally, a garden is never done.  The design work is only a portion of making a quality outdoor environment.   A great many projects are phased in for budget reasons or other limitations (this can take years!), and it also takes time for the plants to grow in.  In a recent post on a project in Italy, you can see that the photos I posted span about 2 years – after two years, that garden is just getting to the point where it looks good enough to take photos and post them.  If I had posted it too early, it would not have had the same ability to represent what the intention was in the first place.

I am incredibly fortunate to work on amazing projects with amazing people – whether their own home, a rental, or a commercial or institutional project, there’s opportunity for discovery, beauty, and environmental benefits all around…. so am I still doing it right?  I sure hope so.

Hemerocallis 'c1797a' fd 4


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While I was away neglecting my modern web-presence-building duties, I enjoyed working on a particularly wonderful little project…. a Bed and Breakfast in Italy!  I have never been to Italy, but when my good friend and talented architect Glenda Flaim showed me her work on Casa Incantata, I asked if I could take a stab at the planting design which had yet to be finalized.  Neither of us had any idea what would happen.  Come on, what do I know about plants in Italy?!  Niente.  The way we worked around that, and got the garden done was a genuinely collaborative effort involving Glenda, the Owners, their gardener, some dutch visitors, and me:

First, Glenda sent me a photo of the site with notes (in green) on her thoughts for the planting:


We chatted about the decisions on the photo – why the hedge, what is the lawn for, stuff like that.  I studied snapshots of the building and tried to imagine what it would be like to be there in person.  Glenda mentioned that the house  had just won a national award for sustainable architecture, and was photographed soon after I started noodling with the design of the garden on paper.  You can see pre-garden professional architectural photos here and here.  She sent me a computer drafted file of the site and I gathered photos of plants that came to mind.

I started the planting design in June 2012:

120619 Flaim House Italy pltg concept001I mapped out the planting design in areas with palettes.  The areas got names:  there was “lawn”, “spicy”, “meadow”, and “hedge”.  I wrote a description of how each of these areas would be different from each other, what forms and colors I was trying to emphasize, and what colors I wanted to avoid entirely.  I wrote out how these plants would change with the seasons and the desired effects.  With lists of plants and their written intentions, the memos were translated into Italian and back into English through Glenda.

The Owners and their gardener started looking for the plants and sent word back what was available and not, and we figured out plants that might work instead.  More memos handling spacing and layout were translated back and forth, plant research was done on both continents.  Plants were purchased and installed as they were found; this took a few seasons to finish.  Some were purchased in Italy, some shipped from the U.S., and the last, elusive bulb was a gift from some visitors from Holland who learned of the missing bulb in discussions of the garden during their stay.

Over the last 2 years, I’ve gotten a couple of photos a season so I could see how the garden was doing.  They had wasted no time getting plants in the ground.  Later that same year (fall 2012), the lawn (Hernaria glabra) which also extended between the pavers, was getting its start:


By the following Spring (2013) it had filled-in very nicely!


The other plants were coming along too:


By that Summer, you could see the different zones expressing themselves:

photo 5 photo 1

And just last month, I got another update:

2014 June

It is challenging to know how a garden will look when you’re designing it, and there were many anxious moments when I knew they were investing in my advice and I could only hope that the Owners would like the results.  I’m not sure it is possible to tell if the image in my head matches what the garden will become.  I can’t know ahead of time if the Owners will like what the garden will become, and yet it is dependent on them and everyone who takes care of it to continue to support the design’s intention as the garden is maintained.

I am finally able to share (two years later) how things are going here in this post.   I can also share that the owners are very happy with their garden, and conveyed to me this sentiment:

 Il giardino che ho sempre sognato!!!

(The garden I have always dreamed about!!!)

I couldn’t have asked for more.

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It never occurred to me until recently to use Pinterest.com as a communication tool in collaboration with a client.  Granted, Pinterest can’t actually do the design work for me or my client, but it does allow for us to collaborate and understand each other in a common forum….which is proving to be so fun!

Pinterest isn’t everyone’s favorite tool, but for those who want to collect images and links in a web-based place, it is a lot of fun.  Back in the day (like a year ago), I saved links as internet explorer’s bookmarks and images were always saved to my hard-drive (which means I don’t know where they came from).  Now, I have links for non image-heavy things (like articles) on Delicious.com and images (with links!) are on Pinterest.  I can access all this stuff as a resource from anywhere there’s internet access.  That’s kinda handy! (What Pinterest is)

I’ve only just tried using it with a client recently, and at one of our meetings, I asked what they thought.  So far, so good – my client likes being able to share a photo with me, and we add comments back and forth for each other.  It is so gratifying to see that my client has started a board for their project, and have “re-pinned” some “pins” from my various boards (with comments!) which helps me zero-in on exactly what they’re responding to.

People can “pin” images from anywhere on the internet, and they can also upload images from their own computer… but don’t mistake someone’s pins for their own design ability or experience.  The images come from all over the place, with and without express permission.  There is some concern over permissions and Pinterest’s user agreement.  Several months ago, I did have the experience of re-pinning an image and then getting an email from Pinterest that the owner of that image had requested it be taken down, so they emailed me a link to the source and removed the image from every instance on Pinterest.

So- if you’re planning a project, or looking for an easier way to share images with your client or designer than saving and e-mailing both a link and the picture, this may be a useful thing for you!

If you want to follow my boards, go ahead.  I take no credit for the work you see there, though, unless expressly noted as my own.

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I have come to loathe the term “low maintenance”.  It is essentially meaningless.   I am starting to wonder if when a client requests a “low maintenance” design, what they’re really saying is that they don’t want to do any work themselves, including taking the trouble to find a decent gardener or asking questions.

It is imperative for both the client and the designer to discuss exactly what types of gardening activities may occur before doing any design work.  Be honest!  REALLY!  For example, when I got my hair cut last week, I told the stylist that I wash and comb my hair, nothing more.  I would not promise to use any appliances or products, and she gave me a cut that works well for my specific needs.

You can see from the above photo (taken on my patio earlier this month) that thanks to my personal distaste for weeding, I have a number of (un-planned) plants just growing together, willy-nilly, doing their thing.  I am okay with that, so this is the design solution that my personal garden employs.  I’ll let nearly anything grow as long as it is healthy and doesn’t produce anything painful (thorns, burrs, stingers).  This works for me because I live in an apartment and I know that if/when I move, the whole thing will be ripped up  – there’s not much to be gained by fretting over weeds.  Given a different situation, my personal garden might look quite different or it might not.

I also grow several roses and a few shrubs – some in containers, some not.   I grow dozens of rare bulbs, more than dozens of perennials, and a few orchids, but I don’t do much “work”.  Every year I reliably cut Roses, Freesias, and Sweet Peas for indoor bouquets.  I know that rose flowers develop at the very end of a branch and that each cut to remove a flower is, in fact, a pruning cut (and where to take that cut).  I also know that my Sweet Peas will bloom nearly forever as long as I keep cutting the flowers off – it is just terrible having an apartment full of sweet pea flowers, just awful…

There are countless ways to design a garden so that it doesn’t feel like a ton of unwanted work, and so that taking care of it is at least somewhat enjoyable.   Getting it to that point is as good a reason as any to work with a design professional and/or do a bit of research for your own garden design solutions….but please don’t call cutting flowers “maintenance”, that just takes out all the fun.

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I read Studio G’s blog often, it is a wonderful source of entertainment for me. I recently stumbled across this post, clicking on it because of the title “Religion & Garden Design”.               Read it.

Reading that gave me the nudge I needed to finally mention associations here, they are powerful and invisible aspects of design work that must never be ignored.  The better designers understand that they must get to know their clients so that subtle, personal conflicts of negative associations can be avoided and positive associations used for inspiration.  Consider the meaning in shapes, colors, plants, orientation (East/West), and views.

For example: when I see Beautyberry (the plant image in Studio G’s post) I remember the Dallas Arboretum, visiting my friend Melinda, and working at a wonderful Dallas Landscape Architecture firm with wonderful people.

The smell of Tomatoes reminds me of my childhood in Southern California, as does for Australian Tree Fern, Mother Fern, Amaryllis belladonna, Agapanthus, and Tuberous Begonias (especially the orange ones).

Red and yellow together remind me of Mc Donalds, which I don’t think very highly of….

I’ve seen Topher Delaney speak about her landscape work a couple of times, I also met her once at a lunch.  At the beginning of a project, she asks her clients to tell her about where they lived when they were little.  They have a conversation and get to know each other.  She uses this more personal understanding in her design work and succeeds in bringing more meaning to the work than most.

So – who are you designing for?  ….and how will the design meet their needs, bring meaning, or make it beautiful for the eye of the beholder?

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