Aug 27, 2011

Painting the Bridge

In case you've ever wondered: 

"Any Joe on the street can call himself a landscape designer. You don't need a degree. You don't need a license. That's a huge difference [compared to a Landscape Architect]." 
That's the wisdom of Dominic Zuccarelli, a 21-year-old landscape architecture major at Purdue University, as quoted by the Northwest Indiana Times

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Bristle as I may at young Mr. Zuccarelli's assessment of my profession, I must admit (and actually have) that he's right. Which accounts for the volume of do-it-yourself advice out there… and the legions of disappointed do-it-yourself garden designers.

Another mess by some Joe on the street
Because as approachable as landscape design may be, it still is a process. To do it well one must digest lots of data and evaluate lots of variables. Getting to know yourself is a good, and necessary, first step; but at some point you also have to execute. And for most of us, a landscape renovation is a bigger undertaking than we can finish in a weekend. Oh, sure, it starts well enough: old plants are removed, new borders are marked out with a length of hose, deck boundaries are spray-painted on the ground.

Now, fast-forward a few weeks. Perhaps you've bought a carload of pretty flowers at the nursery, certain that would motivate you. But has your soil been amended? New irrigation lines installed? If you're anything like me, it's a good bet that length of hose remains unmoved, deck post holes undug. The new plants probably look about as bad as the old ones did. And worst of all, the rest of your life keeps churning along with endless distractions to keep you from completing this "simple" project.

I find landscaping can be a bit like the old myth about painting the Golden Gate Bridge: by the time you finish, it's time to start over. The "new" plants have outgrown their space or just plain died. You'd replace them, but you can't quite remember what you meant to do the first time around, and you really don't have the time or energy anyhow. So the too-big shrubs keep getting bigger, and the too-thirsty groundcover withers away, and your landscape never looks quite the way you imagined.

This is where the professional — whether landscape designer or landscape architect — comes in. Hiring a professional creates efficiency: they streamline your process, creating a logical roadmap from idea to execution. They also document the process, so you have a record of what should be done, where, and how. The documentation allows you to install your landscape in phases, starting and stopping the work as necessary and logical. It also allows other professionals — this time, the landscape contractor — to take on and complete your project in a timely manner, to a higher level of finish than most of us could dream of.

Yes, it all costs money. And it's anathema to the hardcore do-it-yourselfer, who would rather live with a half-finished (equals half-unfinished) yard than rely on someone else to uncover its potential. But frankly, I've got better things to do with my life than to keep painting that bridge. Don't you?