What Landscape Designers Do

For some reason, many people have no idea of what landscape designers actually do. I’m a landscape designer and in many people’s minds I’m either strutting around a construction site in a sweat sodden crop top and the shortest of shorts, hauling rocks, building walls and swearing; or I’m some kind of flower fairy, frolicking amongst the greenery and talking to the flowers, mother earth style.

The reality, however, is quite different to both of the above scenarios. Thank heavens.

Everyone knows what architects do, right? They design spaces for living. Landscape designers and landscape architects do exactly the same thing but outdoors instead of in. We create external spaces for living.

My aim as a landscape designer (that’s what I do when I’m not planthunting!) is to create beautiful spaces my clients want to spend time in. I aim to create spaces that people can relate to, not to view from the boundaries of their house but to be drawn into, connect, and contribute to.

So, I’m going to share with you how the design process works for me. Of course, all designers are different and no way is either right or wrong. Its just as it is.

This is how the design process rolls for me.

The Brief:

I meet with the clients at their home. Lots of questions are asked. I want to know how the clients use the space now and how they want to use it in the future. I want to know what they like, what they don’t; what they do in their spare time; their family background; their aspirations; and what makes them happy.

I want to know the practical stuff too, like how much time they want to spend maintaining the garden, their construction budget and much more…

The Site Assessment:

After the barrage of questions I let the client rest whilst I check out the site. I assess views, topography, aspect, drainage, privacy, the architecture of the residence and the surrounding built environment, existing vegetation etc.

When I’ve have gathered this information I let it sit for a while and try to get a feel for the space. I let the desires of the client and the practical and functional requirements roll around in my head and see where it leads.

The Design:

This is the fun bit! I pull out the sketch-pad and start scribbling shapes, forms, and random ideas until the design exposes itself. I then start working the design up on the computer in a CAD (computer aided drafting) program. The design is drawn to scale, based on a survey or architectural plans.

Once I have the basic layout completed, addressing the client’s needs, site conditions and environmental requirements I start thinking more seriously about the detail of the space. How do I want the space to feel? How do I want people to respond to it? What plants and materials will help achieve this?

I then get down to the nitty gritty and select plants and materials that will compliment the site and architecture of the residence, the client’s desires, and the overall design philosophy.

The Concept Presentation:

Once the design is fairly resolved I prepare presentation drawings to discuss with the client. These include a landscape concept plan, sketches of design elements as required, concept imagery, and sample images of plants and materials.

I then present the drawings to our clients, talking them through the design of the garden, explaining the philosophy behind the design and giving them an overview of the plant and material selections.

I then go home and have a little rest, pour a glass of wine if it’s the appropriate time of day, and let our clients mull over the design for a while.

Refining the Design:

If there are any changes to make after the presentation of the landscape concept design, I make ‘em. I then either submit the drawings to council if required or talk to a landscape contractor about building the garden. I also inform our clients if we need to undertake construction documentation drawings prior to engaging a landscape contractor.

It goes on and on from here, but this is enough for now because the most important thing to realise about garden design is this… With gardens, design is only the beginning of the process.  It’s kind of like the script of a play. The real excitement happens when the script is taken by actors and evolves into something beyond what the playwright had initially imagined, based on the strong structure of the story, as provided by the script. Get it?

Design is hugely important in providing the structure and direction of a garden but the real fireworks happen when the garden grows, evolves, and changes under the guiding hand of a keen gardener. Design can only go so far…more on this soon, I’m in the process of writing a story about this exact topic.

So, now you know what we landscape designers do. Perhaps its not quite as romantic as the flower fairy idea or tough as the hard yarkka short short scenario, but it’s a pretty wonderful pursuit nonetheless.

(ps. I’ve addressed residential landscape design only within this article rather than larger scale commercial and public space design. Design considerations and approaches can be quite different within the public realm.)