So Where is the Beginning, Anyway ?
The Red Queen gave Alice sage advice when she said
‘Begin at the beginning, go on until you come to the end, and then stop.’
So now we need to just find the Good Beginning.
You will want your outdoor life to be comfortable and well organised, so that all the things you do in your landscape, recreationally and otherwise, will be satisfying. Just walking your paths should be a source of joy.
Creating a place to recieve your life in such a considerate way takes alot of thought and planning.
In A Reasoned Landscape, I will tell you how I go about developing a place, hoping that my advisories may guide you well, so that you can enjoy your own Journey and look forward to pleasing outcomes.
If you care deeply about your landscape and gardens, once you begin, the interactive immersion may never really have an ‘ending’. There will always be things to do. It’s not that you need to do them, but if you have a biophilic nature, you may well want to. Living things grow and change, so there will always be some touching involved in your relationship with your land and plant materials, no matter how well planned for low maintenance the place may be. For some people at least, that is part of the charm.
- Take a photo series of the whole property before you begin.
These will be your ‘before’ pictures, so be thorough because like baby pictures, you won’t be able to take them later. You will enjoy having a record of how far you’ve come as things progress.
I typically take an extensive series of photos, sequential images of the existing property, with the series of views seen traveling back and forth in all the natural walking ways. Unimportant views can become important later as your place develops.You are after a complete record of the appearance of the house and grounds.
A second series of photos then depicts the changes in the appearance of things as your work progresses, showing views that are revealed after deletions – when you can better see the canvas you will be working on, but before construction.
You can use these photos as working images. With them you can readily reflect on whichever context you happen to be thinking about, even after dark and in the winter. The pictures will provide elevational views which can allow you to make tracing paper overlays and see how your ideas look as you approach them in the 3 dimensional world. From small photos you can make 8 1/2” x 11” images for a more realistic view. It won’t matter much even if the enlargement is a bit blurry, as long as you can see the shape outlines of the things you’re thinking about.
- Start a file folder labeled Landscape.
A legal sized folder may serve you best because drawings and plot plans are often oversize, and anyway things accumulate. Even if you are keeping information in your computer, there will be lots of images and bits of paper to file from the tangible world that you may want to refer to. Receipts for the landscape work done will be important to keep since they can become potential ‘capital gains’ deductions applying to the cost base of your home should it be sold later in its life.
- Gather images which reflect your Favorites.
Collecting images of the kinds of places, colors, trees or features of any kind that appeal to you will be useful in communicating your goals and wishes to your Designer or Builder. Whether by photographing things or clipping from magazines, gathering visual aides also encourages you to think about the ideas further. A picture can easily be worth a thousand words when you are trying to explain esthetic things. Color, texture and spirit are hard to describe.
- Locate or make a basic outline sketch of the house on the land, to scale.
You may begin by just sketching one part of your landscape, but you will probably also want a basic sketch of your buildings and landscape parts drawn in relation to your overall grounds, with rough dimensions. Existing plot plans or architectural drawings may be helpful but are often incomplete concerning the details of outdoor features. Diagrams of outdoor drainage, electrical or irrigation conduits will be helpful too, if they exist. Older plans of any kind should be checked for accuracy, since one finds that the particulars may not have been taken as seriously as they are today, and anyway changes could have occurred over time and not been recorded. If the house and land documents are too large, or too small to be useful, you can have them, or portions of them, reproduced in a more useful size.
Alternatively, you could choose to take what pertinent information such documents provide, add missing dimensions yourself from the real world, and add these things to a simplified base drawing in a manageable scale for your purposes.
Typically you will want to know the dimensions and placements of built structures, doors, windows, hardmaterial features and immovable plants you have and are keeping as they are, and so will be considering in your designs.
- What will matter the most is the thoroughness with which you can consider the projects with drawings and images at hand.
The quality of your sketches won’t matter much since the only person who will need them at these early stages will be you, so don’t be shy. These are tools of memory, thinking drawings. They just represent a previsualisation of your evolving ideas, with some dimensions and notes, reminding you of things you have decided or ones you want to think about more.
Through the rough but tangible exploration that drawing engenders, one finds that there are many considerations that come to mind, and thinking about them will infom your choices. Your sketches are a helpful tool in the design thought process, and are not intended to be building drawings.
If detailed building drawings are needed to make your ideas come to life, professionals can create them later. When you talk through your ideas with the proposed designer or builder of a project, your conceptual sketches and gathered images will help you to communicate your wishes. A seasoned builder will discuss the design matters and advise you in helpful ways. Each Artisan then creates their own detailed notes on dimensions, doing whatever building drawings are needed, integrating your design thoughts.
- Copy your basic drawings a few times.
To avoid having to make basic drawings by hand more than once, file away some clean copies for future use before you begin to add any exploratory ideas to them.
Note down your gathered information and ideas on these papers as you shape the parts of your landscape in concept. As you find things out about your place (eg. about drainage, underground lines, service providers and so on) keep a record.
- Trace over trace.
This is a time honored way of working through ideas amongst design professionals. The process of codeveloping the design for related parts of the landscape is like traveling through a maze. You may make a few wrong turns and need to back up. Move things around on paper and in your mind.
Before building anything, you will probably be thinking through your projects mentally, visually and physically many times. Trace over your tracings to adjust until you have finished thinking.
‘Measure Twice, Cut Once.’
A literal translation of this adage, as I have sometimes heard it from Italian workmen, would be
‘Measure a hundred times, cut once’.
The larger lesson implied is to prepare carefully for upcoming work,
so that it will go well.
- Property lines are not always as you think they are.
If the edges of your property are involved in your design and there is any question about them, you may want a survey of some boundaries to avoid neighbor problems. Surveys are important.If a survey is done, you will want somewhat permanent markers to be placed on the land in key locations. Ask for this, as strangely it is not always provided otherwise. Don’t accept bits of orange ribbon in the shrubs. Deeply set metal stakes can work well, unless you have some large chunks of granite or other stone to move into place as handsome boundary markers. A 10 or a 12″ nail can be used in a pinch.
- Digsafe markings are essential.
To find out where underground services come into your property, requesting a Digsafe permit will result in physical markings being drawn on the ground by the various utility companies to indicate the locations of underground services coming into your property from its boundaries on public land, often in non-soluble paint.
Before the Digsafe is requested, you will need to mark out the area you want Digsafe to evaluate.
The Digsafe markings will usually include gas, electricity and telephone lines, but the services checked are slightly different depending on your area and the depth of your proposed excavation. When you call and describe the depth and breadth of your proposed work, they will tell you which things will be marked out by the various services.
Even if you have a drawing which seems to show the locations of underground features such as water, electrical, gas and sewer lines, you are required by law to get a Digsafe permit before any substantial digging work can commence.
To avoid cutting other underground utilities within your property you may also need to contact private service providers concerning, for instance, cable lines, private electrical lines, invisible fencing and irrigation conduits.
- Consider the History of your Land.
Nomatter how old or young your house is, your land had a history. You can gather old photographs and documents concerning your land that you, the town or the local Historic Commission may have. All of your investigations may help you to find out about your place, historically and ecologically. Old houses have especially many stories embedded in them in relation to their land and the local ecotome they have been part of. You would probably enjoy knowing them.
I have found old well sites and bridges, native american hearthstones, beadmaking stones, stone toys and 18th century artifacts of many kinds, buried by time and uncovered during the work. Such finds sometimes influenced the design spirit of what was then made for the particular place.
Approaching Your Land
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