Weaving Garden Dreams into Reality: The Art of Designing a Landscape …

September 5th, 2011 § 8 comments § permalink

Sketching with Dahlias for Color Inspiration

Rainy days are studio days. I’ve been indoors on this wet Labor Day, working on a bulb order for a garden I designed and planted last week, and putting together preliminary sketches for two upcoming projects. My painting studio doubles as my garden design space; filled with all of the supplies you would expect in an artist’s work room. On my desk, drafting tools and calculators mingle with watercolors, colored pencils and pastel chalk. Plant encyclopedias and a laptop are close at hand, as are nursery stock lists and contractor phone numbers. There’s a view of the entry garden and steel balcony from my studio, but I always bring a few flowers to my desk for inspiration, whenever I’m working indoors …

The Original Design Drawing, Presented to the Homeowners (My original design included four different shrubs in the back border. The owner has a strong affection for blue hydrangea, so the final design eliminated the varied shrubs in favor of H. macrophylla ‘Endless Summer’)

Some of my clients —particularly those more familiar with my work— commission garden designs from me without requiring preliminary drawings or plant lists. They just wave their hands around to show where they want improvements and give me a few dos, don’ts and budgetary guidelines. And sometimes —when I’m both designing and installing a garden— a basic sketch and plant list is all that my client requests. But when a project is larger and involves subcontractors —stoneworkers and other hardscaping— I always do sketches, full-scale drawings and planting plans with complete lists. Late last year, I almost caved in to industry ‘Sketch Up’ pressure. Why buy a program to create drawings when I can do them myself? Well, to some, the results of computer-generated design programs are great selling tools; after all, they look slick and impressive. I suppose they inspire confidence. But are they really better? After playing around with ‘Sketch Up’ for a week or so —although I thought it was quite cool and useful— in the end I decided that I genuinely prefer hand drawing garden designs and planting plans. I like sketching out what I see in my imagination … I find that it informs my creative process. And you know what? When I mentioned this to one of my clients —who’s garden design you see featured here— I discovered that my drawings are part of what attracted her to my work.  And after a thorough survey of my wonderful clients, I found that they prefer my hand-made drawings over generic-looking, computerized mock-ups; some have actually framed them.

I Don’t Have Trouble Seeing Three Dimensional Space. But, Drawings Help Me to Communicate What I See in My Mind’s Eye

Before: A Pretty House with a Blank Canvas for This Garden Designer. Large Scale Design Drawings Helped My Clients Visualize Proposed Changes

With a drawing like the one directly above, I can show my client exactly what my garden design will look like when it matures. I can also use an overlay (done on vellum) to show where a foreground tree will be placed. Call me old-fashioned, but as much as I am a computer person, I still adore books and I will always love paper.

Once my client approves a design —drawings always help with visualization— I set to work on scale planting plans. These plans help me to space plants properly and order the correct number of plants. Of course, there’s always tweaking to be done in the end —that’s half the fun of garden design, really— but planting plans are dimensionally correct keys, allowing me to come up with estimates and stay on budget. All of the plants are drawn into the plan at their mature size to insure correct spacing, and they are represented by their approximate shape and leaf color (or bloom color). Sometimes, a subcontracted landscaper or a client will install part or all of the garden I design, and in such cases, it’s critical that all of this information be clearly communicated. Usually there are multiple revisions and many copies …

Preliminary Site & Planting Plan I

Secondary Site & Planting Plan, II (there is yet another, final plan for this project)

A detailed site plan and list of materials also helps with financial decision making; allowing me to estimate costs for hardscaping, nursery stock and installation. I use dimensions and plant counts to calculate the amount of compost/loam, mulch and the number of plants I need for a project. Once the final plan and budget are approved, the site plan and plant lists serve as a guide when purchasing trees, shrubs and perennials at nurseries. A copy of the site plan is also on hand during layout and planting. Even if I don’t create a complete set of watercolor or pencil drawings, I always create a basic site plan when I am designing a garden; even one of my own. 

As Plants Go In, Overturned Pots Hold the Places of Those Yet to Arrive. A Stewartia pseudocamilla Anchors the Center of This Semi-Shade Garden

The Back Deck is Softened by a Sweep of Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides)

The Curve of the Perennial Border Echoes the Natural Stone Walkway and a Dogwood (Cornus x rutgan ‘Stellar Pink’) Softens the Corner of the House

I’ll be back with more photos of this project when it’s completed. Plus, stay tuned for how you can create and use a planting plan to modify an existing, or design your own new garden …

Photos and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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