Landscape Advisory Series: Chapter 1/ Part 1

Landscape Advisory Series: Chapter 1 / Part 1

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With a thoughtful approach to design in your landscape, everything you make will be satisfying because is it useful and beautiful…..but of equal importance is that what you choose to make will be connected to your own ‘I’, with the outcomes reflecting your personal wishes.
By considering what matters a lot to you and what doesn’t, the landscape will contain the best design solutions for Your Place.

To find  your own ‘everything’ in the planning stage, the landscape thought process starts by reviewing your most important ultimate personal goals for the property.
It will help if you make a list of your needs and wishes, clarifying for you or your landscape designer what it is you wish to do in your landscape and thinking about where it might be best to do those things.
The details may be determined as the landscape thoughts develop, but the purposes of the place and the structural features need to be considered beforehand.  

“The planning process should proceed from
the general to the particular.”

F.L. Wright

Even if only a few of the elements will be built in the nearby future, roughly designing in the places for all the important things early on in your plans will give you a better chance of finding good locations for each of them and having them join up gracefully in the end.

Success lies in the complete realisation of one ideal, the ideal for your place.
At this point your thoughts have little to do with style, but rather help you towards what landscape designer Garret Eckbo called

the development of the maximum human livability”

Style is an overlay that can come a bit later in the design thought process.


Carlos Dorrien


The things you are sure you must have
will become Centers in your design planning.

Essential elements such as water sources, gathering places, entrances or parking are destined to become Centers in your outdoor life. Any Centers with fixed locations, whether existing or planned, are starting places for your designs. Subsequent organisation takes these as the givens and works around them.

Each Center has a field of effects all around it.
Each fixed location Primary Center will need certain things close at hand to make the place work optimally for its purposes. Related considerations will then direct the design of the Secondary Centers whose locations are flexible but whose existence is essential to the whole. These accessory parts of the landscape develop naturally in creating good relationships between them and the primary centers. The Secondary Centers may be places to be, or elements with content to serve your purposes.

 “Roughly site each contextual center,
and then consider the necessarily related objects needed
around this center to make the place whole” [1]


It helps me to think of Centers as acting somewhat like magnets. Things will flow towards and away from Centers because of necessary interrelationships for our good use of them.
Above, the well water has brought the buckets, pitchers, cups and children to its place.

In the case of the well, you can anticipate needing paths to get there nicely, a place to work with the water, a surface to put things on and and perhaps a place to sit. Such Secondary Centers are flexible in location, though no less important. They are designed into the landscape with respect to the fixed Centers, to establish configurations that create or allow best use and linkage between all the parts of the place.

You are Designing in sets of things. Every decision affects other aspects of the whole landscape.

is part of “a larger wholeness in which it is embedded.
Smaller Centers cooperate to bring (larger Centers to)… life. [1]


Within the framework of your overall goals you can explore many ideas regarding the combined organisation and linkage of your centers.
Once you have identified your centers, you can begin to physically uncover how to best connect them. The paths deserve first consideration. They will later guide your everyday journey of experiences and views and can unify your surroundings. They steer you when you enter and leave the place and determine how you move through the spaces within it.
Roughly sited at first, path
shapes can be adjusted during the design phase to work around other landscape elements.


Design is the process which helps to make everything work together, physically and esthetically, in the best possible ways within your home grounds.
Landscape design is really about problem solving.
Your problems and needs are guidelines, shaping your design solutions.

carpet line

Like every kitchen, every home landscape must have a certain basic set of features, tools and materials to serve its various purposes well, no matter what the size or complexity of the place. Beyond these essentials, just as an enthusiastic cook often wants a more complex kitchen than someone who doesn’t cook much, there will probably be more ‘parts to your whole’ if you want to do alot outside.
The more parts there are to your set of wishes, the more inter-linkage there will need to be, and the more design and building decisions you will probably have to make to accomplish those extra goals.

The design choices all along the way usually come down to the implications of each decision – If I do this, then what else happens or can happen?
There will be lots of choices and some compromises.

The thought journey to find the best way to organise things is working out your own personal maze. To find the best ‘journey’ you need to make design choices that will allow all the parts of your place to be conjoined as well as possible. Your chosen solutions will choreograph your daily life.
After the landscape comes to life, there should be a flow that feels easy and right, visually and physically.
Layering/Snow Views-1


Anything you are making can become multipurpose.
Many of the things you will be building anyway create opportunities to resolve multiple landscape needs or wishes almost automatically and in the same footprint of space, making a big difference in the overall use possibilities within your place.

Paths can become outlines for planted beds or hopscotch configurations, or perhaps they can stretch at some points and become floors in sitting areas.

An under deck space has storage or many other imaginative possibilities.

Steps can become seating and tables if so configured.
An extra long step provides room for a planter or a grocery bag drop spot. These kinds of details allow more life in a given place.

As an example of multi-purposing, the collage below shows how we hid 2 air conditioners by what might have been a simple fence, but instead, by design, that needed fence also became wood storage, a tool cabinet, and a hide-behind place for miscellaneous. Over this construct, a planted roof enhances a previously unplantable part of the property.



You want to avoid having to do things twice or cross over finished work to get to your next project – the dreaded backtrack.
Your landscape plan may be built over time, and where you begin the actual work will depend partially on personal priorities, but whatever your plan essentials ultimately are, you will want to find a good sequence for the making of them.
By taking into account the logistics of the work and implications of each project for those that will be needed in relation to it. Although these accessory parts may be completed later, you will have found the least overall cost to accomplish them.

Things that you will want in the end are often most easily added when the ground is dug up anyway for other projects.
This concerns things like laying live water or irrigation pipes or conduits for wires under paths or patios as will ultimately be needed, anticipating future connections, or deep improvement of the earth in planting areas before adding new surface loam. It might concern saving a material you are digging up for use in one of the other parts of you landscape that will need it.
Simple to do at the right time, but if the same things needed doing later, it would mean re-digging work you had already completed.


Choosing a sequence of landscape creation which retains
maximum flexibility throughout the process,
using opportunities as opportunities arise, is a goal in itself.

If you wait until the surroundings begin to come to life, you can do the most finely tuned assessment of the best choices for the details of your next project. Sequencing the overall building of the landscape thoughtfully to retain this kind of flexibility allows you decide what needs to be decided for the work you are doing while leaving final detail adjustments for building each next part of the work…. until you are closer to making it.

For efficiency’s sake you always have to stay well ahead of the work, ready for each next project in design and materials, but this planning method will allow insights all along the landscape building journey to enhance the quality of your outcomes.


“Just make it nice in every place.”
Christopher Alexander

Link for Part 2: ‘More about Beginnings’

My Best,
Ellen Cool
781 856 5600
A Reasoned
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