May 27, 2009

Our Services are No Longer Needed


Apparently, I'm obsolete. Not as in outdated; just as in, well, redundant.

It's a shame, really, This was going to be a good career. It seemed to have everything I wanted: the chance to create beauty, inspire people, help the planet, soak in a little sun and learn a little Latin.

Sure, I wasn't going to get rich at it. But affording the mortgage by drawing pretty pictures and tromping through plant nurseries? Priceless.

Unfortunately, my secret got out: any blockhead can do what I do. You don't need a degree (never have), you don't need a license. Used to be, for the price of a stack of books you could know almost as much as the experts; now, it's even cheaper than that.

What changed?

The Internet, that's what. Now, without ever leaving the comfort of your couch, you can access primo gardening and landscape design information, from some of the best names out there:
  • Bettter Homes & Gardens
  • Sunset
  • HGTV
  • Fine Gardening

  • OK, so maybe that last one's a little weak. But seriously: how can I compete with Sunset, BH&G, Fine Gardening?! They wrote the book (literally) on what I do. And now, they're offering their decades of experience online, for free. How can I possibly justify charging thousands of dollars for that?


    Although… I suppose… there is one thing they're not doing. They can tell you how to build a pergola; but they can't tell you what the ideal orientation of that pergola is for your site, or what dimensions would suit your home's architecture the best, or for that matter whether a pergola is the best choice for you in the first place. Hey, that's something, right?

    And, come to think of it, while they can tell you how to find the perfect plants for your yard, they're relying on your interpretations of things like "partial" sun and "moderate" water, not to mention soil texture and fertility, microclimate, or local plant communities. I could help with that!

    For that matter, they can tell you about the coolest varieties of the best species; but they can't tell you whether those varieties really are appropriate for your yard, or where to find them if not at the local nursery. Actually, I'm really good at that!

    Do you know what this means? This could be good news! Not only am I really well-suited to help someone design a garden that's customized for their own unique lifestyle and their own unique site, I'm also able to hold the big-picture vision of that garden, maximize their design to their budget, and put it all down on paper so it can be installed exactly the way we envisioned it. You can't get that from a website, not even from a book! This is great!

    You know, I'm feeling a lot better now. I think there might be a future for me in this business after all.

    May 18, 2009

    The Incredible Disappearing Designer

    It's that time of the year when perfectly good landscape designers seem to vanish into thin air. Gone are the witty blog posts. Gone are the tweets. Emails languish. Voicemails vanish.

    Where is everybody?!

    Most likely, we're at one of three places:
  • Our computers and/or drafting tables
  • Our clients' homes
  • The local nursery, rockyard, or furniture store

  • In other words, we're in our primetime, working like mad to transform old eyesore yards into veritable Edens… "by summer."

    Fortunately, the Bay Area enjoys a long summer: well into November, in fact. And if you're just beginning the design process this late in May, chances are you're going to need every week you can get. So what can you do to speed things along?

    1) Know your yard. How big is it? (In square feet, please, not adverbs: "fairly big" doesn't help me nearly as much as "8000 square feet"). What's in it? (Again, bonus points for specificity: "it's really boring" is less useful than "it has an old lawn that I stopped watering 3 years ago, bordered by a 7-foot-high hedge that blocks my windows.") And what do you want it to become? (Say it with me: "Make it more interesting" doesn't help. "Evoke the Tuscan countryside" is a good start.)

    2) Know your budget. I've lost count of how many times I've been asked, "how much will it cost to landscape our yard?" The short answer is, it will cost as much as you have to spend. Left to my own devices, trust me, I will design a wonderland that will break you. Your only chance of staying out of bankruptcy court is to tell me ahead of time exactly how much money you have to spend on this little adventure — no more, no less. Otherwise, the best scenario you can hope for is to waste your money paying me to design a yard you can't afford to build.

    3) Know yourself. What styles do you like and dislike? How much time and money do you have to spend on maintaining your new garden? How do you want to feel in your new outdoor space? What colors, scents or sounds make you feel that way? If you see examples of things you like - whether in print, online, or in the "real" world - tear out the pages, print the screenshot, snap a photo. Build an idea file to guide yourself and your designer. Even if you don't know why you like something, collect it. The good designer can synthesize what seems like a random jumble and divine the common elements that speak to you.

    When I begin working with a client, I start them off with a questionnaire that gets at all this information and then some. It still doesn't guarantee the design process will go quickly; but it does give us some specific targets to aim for so that the resulting landscape will delight your senses and inspire your soul.

    And isn't that worth waiting for?

    May 15, 2009

    Who's Blooming Today: Romneya coulteri

    One of my absolute favorite California native plants, Romneya coulteri or Matilija poppy, began throwing out its huge fried-egg blooms a couple of days ago. At 7' tall and even wider in just its second year with me, this perennial is too large for many gardens (including mine, but that hasn't deterred me). And unfortunately, it resents being transplanted, and is notoriously difficult to propagate — as a native of the fire-prone chapparal, the seeds usually won't germinate unless something like pine needles is burned on top of them. Fortunately, Romneya can be found fairly readily at nursery. Just know that if you're shopping in the fall or winter, you'll probably find just a small pot of dead sticks... the dormant plant gives no clue of just how massive it will become.