Oct 27, 2008

Getting the Picture

One of the most important aspects of my work isn't a knowledge of plants, or construction techniques, or materials costs: it's communication. After all, if my clientele or my contractors can't understand what I have in mind, then my horticultural prowess doesn't matter much.

A hand-drafted design conceptTo translate my vision, I rely on clear, detailed design plans. There are any number of ways to create plans, from quick sketches to detailed hand-drafting to the precision of computer-aided design (CAD), and every designer has their favorite set of planning tools.

For better or worse, recent years have seen a burgeoning of "do-it-yourself" garden design software; it's aimed at homeowners, but some landscape designers and contractors use these programs as well to streamline their processes. On the other end of the spectrum are high-powered CAD programs such as AutoCAD and VectorWorks, which can lay out a semiconductor chip or a 200-story office tower as handily as a flagstone patio. And somewhere in between are apps like Google SketchUp, powerful enough for pros to rely on but easy enough for almost anyone to learn and use at some level.

SketchUp and hand-sketching over a photo

In my studio, I find the clearest way to communicate my ideas is with a suite of SketchUp, VectorWorks and hand-drafting. I do love me some tech: VectorWorks lets me precisely plot site dimensions, features and structures, and quickly calculate areas and quantities, while SketchUp helps me reality-check my ideas, often helping me recognize their impracticality (or impossibility) before I get too wedded to them.

But there's a dark side to all this power and convenience: we can easily become dependent on it, and begin to design within its limitations. In other words, we might have a great idea — but if we don't know how to execute it with AutoCAD, that idea never makes it to the design. Or if we persist, and invest the time to learn how to execute that idea with AutoCAD, we have less time to explore other, possibly better ideas. Drafting by hand gives me the speed and flexibility to churn out a dozen very different concepts in a day if necessary; even in a program as friendly as SketchUp, such dexterity is virtually impossible.

The ASLA has recently published a piece on what technology can do for landscape architects. It's an interesting read from an insider's point of view. And, it doesn't miss the bigger picture: that there are some things technology just can't do.

Oct 19, 2008

Save the Planet (?)

Dining this afternoon at the Hard Rock Cafe, whose "Save The Planet" slogan is everywhere... Especially all over their kids' activity book (5 pages of 30% recycled paper), plastic cups, and cellophane-packaged aspen tree seeds with paper insert. How many people will actually plant those? Will aspen trees even grow in your climate zone? (They will survive, but certainly not thrive, in mine.) Would another species be more appropriate? Is the whole gimmick crap, a net environmental loss rather than gain?

Oct 14, 2008

Don't Do This To Your Tree

One to file under "poor planning": this tree and patio heater likely were installed at the same time, so there's no excuse for them to be located so close together--about 2 feet apart, to the obvious detriment of the tree.

Working with a professional garden designer, who knows how big a tree will get (and how much clearance to give furnishings like tables, chairs and heaters), can help you avoid problems like this before your plans ever get off the ground.

Oct 9, 2008

Sustainablility in Our Industry

In light of my recent concerns about how much paper my industry consumes, I was intrigued by the idea of this conference on increasing the sustainability (as well as the profitability) of our communications, in part by reducing paper use.

I was amused to see they gave away posters.

Oct 4, 2008

Sweet, Sweet Succulents

I'm fortunate enough to be married to an artist, whose current body of work just happens to encompass a genre of plants I'm not particularly knowledgeable on: succulents.

Saturday night she'll be debuting this series at Modernbook Gallery in Palo Alto; and so we figured it might be a good idea to be prepared for the inevitable questions with a few answers on what, exactly, she's photographed. No problem! says her landscape designer husband. Even though we didn't save all the tags on all the plants we bought for her project, I do know a few of them and I'm sure we can figure out the rest easily enough.

Seven hours, two bookstores and innumerable web sites later, I've got it. I mean, I got the names. I also got an education, and a new appreciation for this wild and weird genre of plants. I'm not quite ready to mimic an undersea scene in your front yard, but at least my planting palette now includes a lot more than just aloes and agaves. If you're at all interested in succulents, I can highly recommend these sites simply for their usefulness and beauty:
    Desert Tropicals is aimed at the Arizona gardener, but their online directory and companion CDs are exhaustive and well produced.

    GoSucculent.com is an online nursery whose selection is matched only by the beauty of their photos.

    Cultivar wins the "Most Random" award, as an "e-Magazine about exotic forms of Cactaceae", published in both English and Russian. Spasiba for saving my ass in identifying my most troublesome subject.

    CactusShop.com is another online nursery with an exhaustive catalog and tons of cultural details.

    California Cactus Center has a nice selection and also grows for contracts, which might prove useful if I ever decide to attempt that undersea theme.

    Finally, I want to give huge props to A Trip Down Succulent Lane, who blogs with a freshness and consistent relevance that I can only aspire to. Her blogroll was an invaluable clearinghouse for me.

My mission complete, I'm off to bed now. I think I'll be dreaming of succulents... sweet dreams indeed!