In Suffolk and Nassau Counties on Long Island, Landscape design and Garden design seem to mean different things to different people. To be honest they are different. One refers to the marriage between hardscape, gardens and structures (landscape design) verses plants placed in a specific place in a certain order to function as an independent demonstration of form and color (garden design). I practice both forms of design in coordination with one another. Most gardens I have seen in my limited travels unfortunately demonstrate simple garden design with few connections to their surroundings.
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This article will address what I feel must be considered to benefit both the property owner, the location and the movement in and around the entire property, the later being most critical in developing a long lasting value to both the property and the homeowner. Movement is of the utmost importance because as human beings we like to be led, invited, intrigued and directed through labyrinths. The art of landscape design is knowing how to work with existing features and elements that you can’t easily change (due to budgetary restrictions in most cases). It won’t be an easy task to define what I clearly see in my head. Both the words I use and the visuals I’ll engage need to be on point. I ask for your patience, as I have done in the past, as I build a bridge between what I know naturally and what I feel you need to learn to become a more educated homeowner.
There are clearly defined starting points on every property and depending on your particular focus these points can reverse their view simply by walking to the end of a walkway and turning around, seeing where you’ve came from. Now the end becomes the beginning and the experience takes on an entirely different sensation. I am hoping at this juncture you are beginning to understand the challenges of most effectively utilizing spaces for optimum sensory stimulation. Most people when spending money on the outside of their homes would prefer people to, upon arriving at their house, comment on their experience pulling up to the house, walking up the driveway, walking up to the front door or walking through a gate to get to the rear of the property. Is there another reason people choose to plant around their property? I would say no and I can bet there are a number of people beginning to get angry at me for my generalizations and assumptions. So if this is our motivation for planting trees and gardens around our properties we need to begin to see the whole picture.
Now I must preface the next few points by alleviating any pressure to come up with a plan and have it all accomplished in one year. The best designers will have respect for the environment as well as realistic expectations for their client’s ability to manage any and all expenses that will accompany the installation of new gardens. To nail this point further into the ground, the relationship between designer, homeowner and property can’t be established in one meeting. Many questions need to be asked and some experience needs to be had by the designer as to what the many environmental conditions are naturally in place on any given property (light, shade, soil types, human and animal traffic, fences, wind, existing root systems from large trees in the area). All these variables contribute to the experience a garden will have as it develops. Any landscape or garden designer that can put a plan together and present it to you in a months time with only one meeting and no additional visits to the property is not the individual or company I would want helping me create the environment my family and I will be living and playing around for years.
So what is the process by which I view a property, develop a relationship with the homeowners and begin designing around existing homes, hard-scapes, pools, existing gardens and trees, driveways, sports courts and putting greens? The first thing is establishing what the dream is. What would be the ideal environment for the homeowner? This is where people have referred to me as the therapist. I ask lots of questions. At times it may seem invasive, overwhelming and awkward, especially the first time someone meets me, but people very quickly know my intentions and my desire to meet their expectations. I would say one of the hardest parts of my job is taking the visions of my clients and converting them into my head so as to make their dreams come to fruition. I also take pictures to remind me of what it is I need to work with. Every angle and notes on existing plantings that need to be designed around. The next important consideration takes me on a journey around the property, connecting all the existing elements and determining if they are working as they were intended to work. Too often the original design failed to connect the different spaces around the property. Another issue that really disappoints me is an original design that considers everything, is installed correctly and then is destroyed due to poor maintenance and management practices (an unfortunate example of the lack of qualified professionals here on Long Island).
I have come to believe 3 major philosophies that have helped me to develop a strong commitment to both my clients, their properties and the environment.
First: I am not afraid of spending my clients money, I am afraid of wasting it.
Second: Talking is easy, while demonstration and consistency are hard.
Third: The value of any service is determined by how much someone values their needs.
These three statement by themselves should demonstrate my commitment to excellence and customer care. It has taken me a lifetime to learn the importance of communication, patience and the value of high levels of service. I now live to demonstrate what I have learned.
This article is dedicated to all those new people I have met over the past few week. People who have interviewed me as I have interviewed them. People I will hopefully have the ability to help achieve their property goals as we enrich one another’s lives. I do believe I have the ability to see what people need and then have the ability to take on the responsibility to manage those needs. I don’t necessarily want to work for thousands of homeowners . I would like millions of people to learn from the life I have lived.
For today, tomorrow and all the moments we have left, I send my strength and insight out into the world to be received without judgment. Good luck figuring out what I have to offer and how to benefit from it. It all begins with humility.