Tuesday, March 31, 2009

There's architecture in them thar' hills......



A little southern slang to get started today. I've talked mostly about the structural part of design, not the organic. The landscape. April is Landscape Architecture Month and Landscape Architecture Magazine is moving to an online format, this month's issue is free. 
I am not a landscape architect, but I design landscapes and have done for years almost since birth. Grandmum was a gardener in the french tradition, well she was french so that just makes sense.

Every plant had a purpose and a story. I would sit and stare into the throat of a flower as she told me what each part meant and how important pollen was for growing plants. She was the original green gardener. No pesticides, believed in companion plantings and I never saw her water unless it was seedlings or transplants getting started. She seem to think it was best to let them adapt to their habitat, and let the strong ones survive.

What many people ignore in landscapes is that it still needs to be designed no matter how big or how small to be most effective visually and functionally. Good landscape design will take in consideration the maintenance needed to keep it that way, aesthetics, proper habitat. Most gardens need basics in composition that has nothing initially to do with the plants.

Once you decide the main purpose for your landscape: 
Entertaining, Sports,Gardening.

Take in consideration those whom will use it:
Yourself, family, kids, guests, pets and wild animals.

Then the needs can be broken down like this:
  • Height-variation in elevation either natural or constructed
  • Movement- think swings, plants that sway in the wind
  • Dirt-someplace to dig and disturb for pets, for kids and for adults. 
  • Shelter-a structure either organic or built. A place not just to keep you out of weather, but also a place to escape.
  • Fire- a place to warm and gather, also sometimes lighting.
  • Water-pools, waterfeatures, ponds, fountains, something to play in, something to listen to.
  • Elements- Wood, Stone, Iron

  • Direction- Always give people markers of where to travel, there is peace visually when given the way to go.
  • Architectural elements
These are the compressed elements of design for landscapes.

People often wonder why I don't go into the plant issue first. Because without design you can't determine what kind of plants you can use. The above list will create spaces with specific micro climates, lighting and soil composition. Then you can get down to the nitty gritty of plants.

Frederic Law Olmstead was the master of modern day landscape design, yet he based his work on the classic european estates he viewed while traveling through Europe. Olmstead is my "idol",  we share a quirky vision of the world and innate stubborness.   A great work on Olmstead is the book "A Clearing in the Distance".

FLO's  work is sprinkled across the United States, my favorite and his, was his final project. The Biltmore in Asheville. On a bad day, I trek to Biltmore,  just meandering it's grounds lifts the spirit-that is the hallmark of excellent landscape design. Cudos to the Cecil family for their painstaking care of Olmstead's creation for patriarch George Vanderbilt. Current caretakers not only have kept the initial intent, but their adaptations of FLO's concepts as the estate has grown into a high end resort and major tourist attraction has been spot on. So much so that thought the topography stays the same, each season brings with it new surprises in blooming plant displays. My favorite is the when the watergarden is in it's full glory.


Olmstead was not a Landscape Architect, he coined the phrase. Then Harvard decided he had a point and formalized a degree program.

At heart, what I love about Olmstead was that to him beauty should be within everyone's grasp and all that was needed was good design. He felt it could change the world.


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