Your Planting Design Should Complement, Not Compete

front.yard_planting.disasterYes, this could be a “do-it-yourself” job, but somehow I don’t think so.  There is enough larger plant material in this (ahem) design to indicate a landscape company had been involved.

Whether you are a do-it-yourselfer or a member of the trade, there is a fundamental principle of landscape design: complement, don’t compete. Frankly, this principle could be applied to most categories of design.

There is some subjectivity to this principle based for the most part on personal taste. As a designer I deal with this all the time.  The challenge is always to interject that “style” that reflects the homeowner’s taste and gives individuality to the design, but at the same time follows that basic principle: complement, don’t compete.

The two levels of “complementing considerations” in landscape design are:

  1. How the overall design complements the home and the surroundings.
  2. How the individual elements within the design complement and relate to one another

This planting is in a front yard.  The house is just to the right, and you can see the curb line in the foreground.  The background and setting is beautiful – look at the rolling hills and woodland.  Right away we have this great opportunity to echo these surroundings in our designed landscape and make the home appear nestled into the setting.

Good architecture strives to design homes that integrate with the land.  As landscape designers we should follow that goal and avoid creating settings that compete against the home for attention.

On the point of each element in the design complementing and relating to one another, look at the variation of the elements in the picture above.  It appears to be more of a collection rather than a composition.  As far as the artificial palm trees go, I’ll confidently let you come to your own thoughts on those.

Good News – Bad News

Since a majority of the work I do is renovation, the “good news – bad news” line often comes up. And, just as it would for the design above, the short of it is: “The good news is most of the plants you have here we can transplant and reuse.  The bad news is you’ll have to incur the cost of the labor, equipment and some new materials to get the proper look.”  Most homeowners have a positive outlook and write it off as a learning / home improvement experience.  The notion that a good design will not only improve the look & value of their home, but last for many years, helps to ease pain.

Speaking in general terms, a number of the plant types and elements in this design would be better suited to an “interest garden”.  An interest garden is one that is designed to deliberately draw attention.  This could be your goal by a patio.  Or perhaps you’d like to create a focal point out in the backyard.

In the situation of this front yard, (again speaking in general terms) I would select three or four natural plant types (i.e. not ornate & unusual) and create groupings that are unified and complement each other.  I would also specify some large growing shade trees to give scale to this wide open space.

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