Sep 10, 2007

The Designer's Best Skill

I recently had a couple of experiences, wholly unrelated to landscaping, that reminded me of the most important skill any landscape designer can possess.

In the first instance, I phoned a large chain retailer (whose name rhymes with Blarget) to see whether they had a certain item in stock. Naturally, my call was intercepted by a computerized menu of options: "Press 1 for store hours, press 2 for directions," etc. etc. Unfortunately, this is exactly what I expected from a large chain retailer. But when I finally rang through to customer service, something wonderful happened: the human at the other end of the line cheerfully answered, "Thank you for calling, may I help you find something?"

I was elated. Her question couldn't have been more precise or appropriate. After all, why else do we bother calling large chain retailers? (Unless we need store hours or directions, but that would have been solved earlier in the call.) It wasn't just a lazy "how can I help you?" (oh, let me count the ways) — and it allowed me to quickly, efficiently get the information that was important to me.

In the second instance, my family and I were at a large chain restaurant (whose name rhymes with Schmilli's) for the second time in seven days — first outbound and now homebound on a long road trip. As chance would have it, the same server was working that had helped us on our first visit (which, by the way, was entirely uneventful). And damned if she didn't remember, without missing a beat, exactly what each of us had ordered seven days before, and would we like the same again? (Ironically, she said her boyfriend thought that with a memory like hers, she could be doing so much better than waitressing. I tipped generously in hopes of suggesting otherwise.)

So what do these scenarios have do to with landscape design? Everything. Because to create gardens that are personal, we need to (1) ask the right questions and (2) remember the details. It's not enough to ask, "What's your favorite season" or "List your favorite plants" or "What's your favorite color?" Those questions won't yield the important answers. What's important is why you like that season, or what those plants or colors mean to you. That's how I get to know you. And with that understanding, I can interpret you in all the details of your garden — not just the plants I select but their placement and combinations; not just the color of materials but their texture and type; not just the location of a water feature but the quality of its sound. These are the details that make your garden yours — and they'll bring you joy every day you come home to them.

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