Designing Your Outdoor Haven
The two most beautiful words in the
Henry James (1843-1916)
During the cold winter months, we anxiously anticipate the distant
summer afternoon. We picture ourselves enjoying the fresh outdoors,
entertaining friends at a backyard barbeque or sitting quietly
by ourselves in a hammock under a shady tree.
summer finally comes, however, many homeowners realize that their
outdoor living space is inadequate for all the summer activities
they dreamed about. For many, it’s enough to just let the
snow melt and see what comes up in the yard, but a livable, usable
and attractive outdoor environment takes a little more than that.
Once you decide you want more from your outdoor living space,
what do you do? You could just wing it—plant a few bushes
here, lay down some tile there and maybe buy a bunch of outdoor
furniture. But the results, in this case, are likely to be random
piles of dirt, a bunch of plants that don’t survive the
season and a backyard that falls dramatically short of your summer
Don’t get discouraged. It’s not that hard to live
those dreams with just a little planning and some good strategic
Before seeking any professional help, however, ask yourself a
few important questions about your desires and your outdoor lifestyle.
How much time do you want to spend in your yard? Do you have young
children who need play space? Do you like to entertain outdoors?
Do you like to garden?
Then, analyze your current conditions. What do you like about
your property, and what would you like to change? What problem
areas exist? Develop a list of concerns and wishes and, finally,
consider an overall budget.
With a thoughtful landscape design, your home’s exterior
surroundings can be transformed into purposeful, usable space.
Landscape architects and landscape designers specialize in creating
these spaces for their clients. Through a series of meetings and
site visits, the designer works to create a custom plan that celebrates
each individual site as well as each client.
A good designer will build upon your dream and inform it with
skills and knowledge gained through practice. Perhaps your idea
for a corner “pond” becomes a rain garden, and your
love for evergreens becomes not only an aesthetic benefit but
an effective screening for cold, winter winds. Wherever your interests
may lie, be they ecological responsibility, specialty gardening
or dining al fresco, your designer is your educator and link to
the implementation of your dream.
When you’re ready to begin the hiring process, interview
several landscape architects or landscape designers. Architects
and designers differ from each other. Landscape architects are
required to be licensed or registered by the State of Maryland.
This license involves intensive schooling, testing and apprenticeship.
Landscape architects typically work on large-scale projects and
are part of a landscape architectural firm, architectural firm,
or engineering firm.
The title of “landscape designer” is not a designation
that is governed by an authority. A landscape designer is a horticulturist
who specializes in landscape design. However, the name may be
used by anyone practicing landscape design. It is important that
you be diligent in checking the credentials of a landscape designer.
Ask about their background and request to see a portfolio of their
work. Landscape designers may be found at nurseries, landscape
installation and maintenance companies and as independent practitioners.
When first meeting with a landscape designer, be prepared to supply
the designer with as much preliminary information as possible.
This is the time to discuss your concerns and preferences that
have been previously prepared. The designer may also require a
property plat or survey to be provided at your expense.
Subsequent meetings will review the progression of the design
with input from you, the homeowner. During the final meeting,
the designer will provide a plan that will minimally consist of
a plan view of your property, a plant list including sizes and
quantities and notes that apply specifically to your property.
This plan can then be used for implementation by the homeowner
or copied and distributed to landscape contractors for bids.
Fees vary widely depending upon many factors. Some landscape contractors
will provide plans at no charge with the agreement that they will
install the plant material. At the upper end of the spectrum,
landscape architects may charge thousands of dollars for the plan
alone. Choose the designer most appropriate for your budget and
situation and then you can look forward to enjoying years and
years of summer afternoons in your garden.
Christa Gaddy is president
of Sassafras Garden Design and Consulting, LLC. She has degrees in ornamental
horticulture and landscape architecture from Auburn University.