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The Landscape Design Process: What Did You Really Mean?

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If you spend enough years in gardening and landscaping you will find that people don’t always know what they want and will often say things they really don’t mean. I often have clients tell me they want a low care landscape that is still beautiful. After further questioning I slowly eliminate all the options that might truly cut down on their work only to have turfgrass the only remaining option. This is not because it is the easiest thing to take care of. After all, it is not fun walking behind a machine belching toxic fumes. It is because part of their definition of what is easy is something they don’t have to think about.

Skimping on Mental Labor Will Cost Physical Labor Later

Our mental labor is every bit as important to us as our physical labor. And that is a good thing, but in the end the desire to save on mental work means that we will have to do harder physical work. The main reason for this is that by skimping on planning, the most important mental work, we usually end up having to put out more figurative fires. The fires come in terms of more weed control, more insect control, a bigger chance of plants over stepping the area we expect them to stay in, and a large collection of other problems that come with insufficient planning. These fires take a lot of time and resources to correct, much more than it would have taken to spend some more time and thought in the planning process.

Prevention Better Than Cure

A great example of this is our efforts to get rid of weeds. A bit of simple study on the topic will tell us that small weeds are easier to get rid of than big ones. But if you go to your average garden center you will see that most of the herbicides being sold are made to kill full-grown plants. The pre-emergent pesticides are there, but they are not the big sellers, but rather the sideline. This is despite the fact that they are generally used in much smaller doses and is therefore safer for people and the environment. We are more concerned with correcting a problem with more time and resources involved than in spending a little money and a little time in preventing the big problem. The situation is compounded by the fact that planning is not a one-time process in the garden. It is a constant task that will change directions as more learning is gained and as you are taught by experience. This makes good gardening something that needs a powerful intellectual commitment beyond the simple tasks that most of us think about when we are trying to take care of our landscape.

Low-Maintenance Does Not Equal Low-Thinking

So when you think of what you want in a garden or landscape you need to take some time to not only think out what you want, but also to question what you mean by that want. Write out what you feel you want out of your garden and leave enough room to define those points. After you have defined the points on the list, look at them again and see what details you need to add to your expectations for the design. For instance, if you put down “low maintenance” you may want to add “very little weeding” or “no mowing” to your desires instead. I hope that after you are done with the new list you do not list a “low thinking” description to your landscape. It will come back to haunt you in the long run.


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