Jan 25, 2008

Red Ink, Green Joy

Lunaria annua (Money Plant),
by Christian Fischer

On my soggy drive home today, talk radio was filled with opinions about the pending "economic stimulus package" and the looming recession driving it. Lots of doom and gloom, both here and abroad. And it got me thinking (as most things do) about gardens and the people who live with them.

On the one hand, a well-designed garden is a true luxury: it doesn't shelter us from these incessant rains, it doesn't furnish us with cotton or wool to spin into garments. It costs money to design, money to install, and money to maintain. The average bribe rebate from our government will be something like $1600, which will hardly buy you a yard full of gorgeous plants, much less my design fees to wrap them up into a dramatic and fabulous package. Let's face it, you need a custom garden about as much as you need quilted teddy bears on your bath tissue.

On the otherhand, a well-designed garden may be an absolute necessity, especially in darker times. It can save you money on energy and water through intelligent planting design and efficient irrigation and lighting. It can lower your grocery bill by providing physical sustenance, i.e. delicious fruits and vegetables, every month of the year. But most importantly, it can bring you joy every day by creating an environment filled with vibrant colors, intoxicating scents, soothing sounds, bejeweled birds and butterflies, or those priceless spaces where your children can play or you can relax.

So what would I advise to someone who wants to upgrade their landscaping, but isn't sure now whether that's such a good idea? Obviously, I can't tell anyone how to prioritize their budget, and I certainly don't advocate going deep into debt with a landscaping project. But given that it is a short-term investment in your spirit as well as a long-term investment in your most significant asset, maybe — just maybe — a well-designed garden is a luxury you can't live without.


Katie Hutchison said...

I couldn't agree more. Then again, I too am a designer (an architect) and believe we are all deeply influenced by our environment. I equate a smart investment in living space (home and garden) with an investment in happiness.

The key is to evaluate how best to maximize the impact of small (or even larger) financial investments in a property. It's a designer's pleasure to illuminate how discreet improvements -- executed gradually over time if necessary -- can enhance function, tighten efficiency, mitigate environmental impact, welcome daylight, invite breezes, satisfy the senses, and feed the soul.

To my mind, it's never the wrong time to tend to your environmental happiness. It's just a matter of adopting a realistic plan and taking it one rewarding step at a time towards your goal.

For more musings on house design check out my online magazine House Enthusiast http://www.katiehutchison.com/house-enthusiast/ .

The Influential Blogger said...

Ok John, thank you for depressing me with this one. As someone who is thinking not only of switching jobs, but also ripping out half my landscaping, this talk of economic uncertainty scares the hell out of me.

However, I think there's an additional unspoken factor here, and that's the tremendous therapeutic value one can receive from taking a pick and shovel or a set of shears, finding a patch of yard that needs attention, and investing a bit of your own sweat equity improving it.

It costs you nothing, yet provides a direct connection to the earth that you may find missing from your day-to-day existence slogging through spreadsheets, emails and powerpoint presentations.

And at the (literal) end of the day, you have created beauty. Even if it's merely an ammended and raked patch of dirt, odds are it's beautiful in its way.

Best of all, I'd wager that for the duration you've thought more about snails, earthworms, butterflies, songbirds and flowers than about subprimes and rising fuel costs.

In fact I'd be doing this very thing today myself, if only this damn rain would quit.

John said...

Katie, amen! I wish more architects and designers understood how important our role as "steward" is.

IB, I'm glad you made that point. Too many homeowners see a garden as a burden or an imposition. I say, that's where the "well-designed" aspect comes in. The landscape designer should know, and design to, what level of homeowner involvement (whether that's planting, weeding, mowing, etc.) will or won't be acceptable. I think part of the reason so many people take the easy way out by slapping down a lawn is that it's just so easy to find someone else to maintain it. I'm with you: where's the fun in that?!