Thursday, November 4, 2010

Point Of View--Landscape Design

How do you see your yard? How does your family see your yard? What about your neighbors? What about the critters? Do you care?

I have two pairs of neighbors to the west and east--terrific, both of them--who I would hate to offend with some horrid landscape decision. To the north is a cemetery--no one there to offend, but it can be a privacy issue. I share a house with my partner and three cats. I share the yard with all of the above, any number of people who walk by on a regular basis, at least a dozen gray squirrels and far too many birds and insects to count. There's also a large black walnut tree that makes its presence felt.

Which of these are important to the landscape design decisions? Well, certainly the walnut. Like the soil acidity, the annual rainfall and the sun exposure at various locations, no design can afford to ignore those particular big hitters. Family? Yeah, that would be a good one to consider. To the other people in your home, is the yard a place to play, to rest, to view, or to entertain? Children especially have specific needs and you need to decide up front if you want to encourage or discourage exploration in your home landscape. Identifying the needs of the other folks sharing your roof is critical to the success of your landscape. And to some extent, those people outside the family are important, too. You have to decide if you want to shut them out or invite them in--and if you are being inviting, just how open do you want to be?

A large part of the enjoyment I get from our yard is the interaction and observation of the birds, squirrels and etc.  Given that I like watching the critters, I have to provide their types of food, water and shelter so I get to see them more often. This is a design decision because it dictates what plants will need to be available. My job in designing is to make them available and attractive at the same time.

I also, as you may have guessed, I like my neighbors. So while I do take advantage of the property lines to create some of the density necessary to shelter/habitat for the birds (in particular), I plan open spaces that allow us all to move through those dense areas to converse when we wish. Privacy without fences doesn't happen without a plan. You have to change your point of view (every window in the house, probably) to see where spaces need to be made more or less dense to create the openness/privacy that you need. You have to select plants that won't grow so large that it takes a chain saw to re-open your sight lines.

I am firmly committed to sharing the joys of a "native backyard" with those folks who do walk past. Which means they have to be able to catch glimpses of it. In the two and a half years we have occupied the space, it has become more private--but there's also more to enjoy in the glimpses between the private spots. Anyone who walks past can see the layout and what types of plants are there. It's sort of like "witnessing," for those familiar with that language. If those of us who believe a more natural environment is both healthier and more fun don't share, we're being both selfish and short-sighted. Because it certainly takes more than a handful of people with "native backyards" to make a difference for all of our migratory songbirds (for instance).

I mentioned cats. Any pet has landscape design requirements. Dogs really do need a large fenced area, and they really do need to be able to patrol the edges of that area. It's part of their dogginess. Both dogs and cats, of course, are potential predators. Cats can be especially effective at decimating songbird populations. Without instituting some landscape protection measures, sharing your yard with a cat and songbirds is really more like setting up one of those fenced game ranches where folks pay to "hunt" big game that can't escape.

When you begin to design your yard, or when you make modifications, it really does pay to sit down and look at your space from the point of view of all its inhabitants. Guests. Neighbors. Pets. Children. Wildlife. What are your goals for them all? And what is their Point of View?

All these questions have to have at least some broad answers if your design is going to work for you and yours. Get your questions together. Get out your camera or camera phone and shoot the view from every window, and then shoot the view from outside the edges of your property looking in. A large portion of good design is identifying the issues--because if you don't identify them, how are you supposed to address them? Then get out that pencil and start some drawings. Put on your acting shoes. And draw your landscape--from a new point of view.

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