September 12, 2010
You and your eco-conscious wife want to go green. Looking for inspiration, you wander through the lush, 250-acre forest, flower and plant habitat of the New York Botanical Gardens. You marvel at the 3,000 fragrant roses of the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden, and are wowed by the exotic tropical rain forest in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. Later, you resolve to turn your weed-infested backyard — more closely resembling a junkyard of trashcans, beer bottles, and the rusting remains of discarded bikes — into a horticultural Eden. To that end, you decide to hire a landscape designer.What Is It?
Landscape design is the art of creating, designing, or modifying the features your garden or landscape to suit your aesthetic and horticultural sensibilities. Landscaping is often divided into hardscape design and softscape design. Landscape designers attempt to make your creative outdoorsy dreams come true.
Landscape design is the art of creating, designing, or modifying the features your garden or landscape to suit your aesthetic and horticultural sensibilities.
Who Needs It?
Well-designed gardens reflect strong symmetry and structural forms. A qualified landscaper will tell you you’ll need to assimilate your backyard’s “hardscape” – the retaining walls, decks, pergolas, waterfalls, pools, and ponds – with the “softscape” of planting and turf. If you’re talking about a backyard in Brooklyn Heights, the chances are slim you’ll be incorporating pools, waterfall, and ponds in your landscaping plans, unless, of course, you’re a billionaire bud of Mayor Mike Bloomberg, counseling the Department of Parks and Recreation.
Your softscape is dedicated to a horticultural “look,” say, one inspired by a Peruvian Jungle, a Mexican desert, or simply eye-catching native plants, placed at cool angles, with multiple and narcotic focal points. Zoom in on any famous landscape painter to cop a harmonious look. As you step out the backdoor, or though an arbor, then navigate a path through your backyard, it’s all about feeding the mind with different spaces, surfaces, and experiences.
For instance, in choosing plants or flowers, you may be drawn to color. Members of the Westchester Garden club might call that strategy tacky, but with the guidance of a talented landscaper, you’ll surmount their protestations. If you like blues, your landscaper might suggest Caryoptersus (“Snow Fairies) whose clumps of fuzzy green leaves are topped with blue curls in autumn. If you dig striped grass with burgundy inflorescences in October, he or she might lay down some Miscanthus Sinensis – or, “Gold Bar.” Into lavender? A knowledgeable landscaper’ll turn you on to Cercis Canadensis (“Hearts of Gold”) whose big, sexy heart-shaped leaves burst with lavender-red flowers in the spring.
(In these shady financial times, a shrewd landscaper will also know that suppliers are throwing away royal palms, oak trees, tabebuias – you name it. He’ll be able to pick up a lot of plants, trees, and flowers for 30 to 40 cents on the dollar.)
A wise landscaper will also hip you to the supreme importance of soil quality. They love the smell of dirt. Some landscaping mystics will tell you, there’s no real scientific process involved – it’s an inherited thing. But while raving about the wonder and mysteries of nature, you want a landscaper who knows his or her way around scientific usefulness of organic fertilizers and sprays, including kelp meal, rock phosphate, green sand, humate, and compost. Not only is good soil paramount, so is proper watering, irrigation, and drainage. When the roots of your backyard’s population of trees, plants, and flowers go down, you want a nice thick soil layer that retains moisture, so everything thrives.
Some landscaping gurus will advocate laying down special tea microbrews to nourish plants and control foliar diseases. (Like the one developed by Norbert Viet.) The process breaks down organic matter, allows vitamin uptake to the plants, and prevents disease. Any discerning landscaper’ll enlist an army of earthworms, too. Dutch-born landscaping genius, Hendrikus Schraven, has refined an organic approach to soil health that includes carefully nurtured microorganisms.
If you’re living large, with a house to die for and money to burn, there are many high-end landscapers with a fleet of Bobcat loaders and excavators who’ll insert a picture-perfect waterfall into the scenery. One with ancient rocks and looks like it’s been part of the landscape for at least a couple of centuries. These high-end landscapers are experiencing especially hard times, so if ruthlessness is a dominant personality trait, offer them half what the job normally costs. They’ll happily do tree houses, hot tubs, trellises, decks, bridges, and landslide restorations, too.
The biggest risk is suddenly not being able to afford the maintenance costs of your awesome oasis of Peruvian monstrosi, bougainvillea, and Alexandria palms. If this turns out to be an unhappy twist of fate, don’t fret. Replace your miniature rain forest with lettuce, beets and tomatoes – a.k.a. landscape reality – and enjoy saving money and eating well.