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Category Archives: landscape architecture

Psychology of Landscape Design for Outdoor Living

psychology of landscape design
psychology of landscape design

Knowing about the psychology of landscape design guides landscaping a successful outdoor living room? What makes patio  landscaping a rich and dynamic space that encourages us to go into the landscape and spend time outdoors? The qualities of the landscape design and the landscape construction will determine if you paver patio, flagstone patio, concrete patio or even gravel patio are inviting, warm and embracing spaces. Principles of the landscape design apply to any outdoor room and can be applied to landscape projects of all scales. Some elements of design are universal and others depend on individual preferences. The most primitive and universal principles are rooted in our psychological predispositions and survival instincts stemming from the long history of human evolution. These relate to the geographical and architectural structure of the space in relation to the surroundings. The more temporal and individual characteristics will manifest in the stylistic and material elements of the structure. These elements of style change often with cultural and individual trends while the structural principles landscape design are timeless.

The primary psychology of landscape design principle in the design of an outdoor living patio in called ‘defensible space’ in the western psychology paradigm. Eastern cultures incorporate the same principle into broader design paradigms such as Feng Shui.  Early in human evolution, survival required us to inhabit spaces that could be defended. The first garden courtyards were walled sanctums from a dangerous outdoor world. But we also need a way to see our surrounding, to know what danger may be coming or to have good vantage point for food resource potentials. Humans are comfortable when they feel like there is adequate ‘wall barrier’ around them and when the have good visual viewpoint vantages. These two elements work together in that the greater visibility of our surroundings allows for lesser dependence on barriers. If we are at the peak of a grassy hill and can see a long distance in every direction, we have less need for barrier protections since we can see any danger and flee. Contrarily, in an area dense with visual obstacles, we feel the need for more ‘walls’.

We are many years evolved from those early years of human history, but the principles are ingrained and pertinent to landscape design today. If we are creating an outdoor living space in a rural area, within a setting of beautiful nature, we may want our patio space to open wide to the surroundings. Conversely, in the city we tuck our patios tight to the home and create privacy barriers to the surroundings. So the first principle is that all other principles of landscape design start first with and understanding of the broader geographical and architectural surroundings.

The most common psychological preference, regardless of setting, is to inhabit a space where we can feel safe and private but also have good views of our surroundings when we want them. That is the primary principle to follow when designing a patio in the landscape. The key is how we feel or rather how the person who will inhabit the space will feel. This is where a designer has to be a psychologist. Though security seems to have some universal elements, people feel safe for a wide range of reasons. One person may feel most comfortable back against the wall tucked into a building corner, while another may need to be away from buildings with a good 360 degree view and the openness provided. These are questions that must be resolved to best design a patio for the specific resident.

When it comes down to the enclosure of an outdoor living space, psychology of landscape design can again guide decisions. Remember that it is how the resident feels in the space that determines their level of comfort. There is not a universal approach to how we create the feeling of security and comfort. Some people will only need to have simple distractions around their outdoor living space in order to keep their attention from outside ‘dangers’. This can be accomplished with landscape dynamic landscape plantings, perennials with season change, shrubs with texture and color, and trees with sculptural interest. Other people may need heavier structures using heavy planting barrier designs with dense evergreen foliage, stone walls, wood fences or a combination of all these landscape elements. Landscape design is a process of creating space that will impart a character of feeling, an emotion. Too often a landscape designer focuses on the aesthetics, the forms or the art and the materials from a self-based orientation and they neglect the emotions of those who will inhabit the space.

A successful outdoor living room patio will help create a safe, peaceful and joyous set of emotions for those who ‘own’ the space, those who most use it and for whom it was designed. It will provide ‘protection’ from surroundings where needed and good views of the larger environment where appropriate. It will also have clear delineation for the choreography of movement, the access and egress to surrounding spaces, and adaptability for uses that will likely change over time. But, those landscape design principles will be discussed in a future article.

Memory Garden Design – Landscape for an Assisted Care Facility

Landscape Design Assisted Living
Memory Garden Design for an Assisted Living facility in Allentown, PA

Garden Design Inc. in Allentown, PA was given the opportunity to create the memory garden design plan shown above. The landscape design program is to accommodate and nurture a spectrum of elderly residential client’s ranges from moderately independent to those with a range of dementia. This  memory garden design project is in the first phase of design and future blog entries will document the design evolution through construction. The next phase is a construction budget which will help the client organization determine how much of the design can be instituted initially. From there, we will revise the landscape design, complete planting plans and construction details for the arbor, the potting table, the planters, the water feature and the paving surfaces.

SUMMARY OF MEMORY GARDEN DESIGN ELEMENTS :

ARBOR GARDEN ENTRY – The arbor denotes the entry to and exit from the garden. It is visible from all areas of the courtyard to provide a landmark for residents and clear direction how the return inside from the garden. It inserts an architectural gateway element to help define the garden as its own sense of place separate from the building interior.

TABLE AERA – A table area is sited immediately inside the garden delineating the main activity and gathering area adjacent to the entry. The gathering areas are designed to draw residents into the garden and make the mental and physical process of going outside a more easy experience.

RAISED PLANTER ACTIVIY – A raised planter activity area is placed adjacent to the table area but with enough space to make its own area. The planter defines a perimeter wall to the seating area further defining both spaces. Residents can work on planting or enjoy the planting they have already done while sitting at the tables.

WALKING PATH – An oval walking path creates the unifying structure of the garden. It flows through the sub-spaces with a simplicity that minimizes confusion. Everything in the garden is tied to the walking path and residents can always find way back to the arbor entry without any confusion of turns.

WATER FEATURE – A water feature provides a sensory experience that triggers memory. A classic three tiered fountain is an iconic design with strong memory associations. For security and safety, the water would flow into a gravel base surround without a standing pool of water. The fountain can be seen from all areas of the garden including the entry and will provide visual clues to the organization structure of the space.

BENCHES – Benches are sited under the pergola and around the walking path. Six benches offer the opportunity for solitude or fellowship in locations prime for watching the activities around the garden (people watching).

ACTIVITY AREA – The activity area is a flexible space where accessible potting tables and sitting tables can be flexibly organized. This space defines the far end of the garden and is clearly visible to and from all other areas.

LAWN – A central lawn creates a neutral green plane allowing flexible use and viewing foreground. The lawn creates a sense of openness and space to minimize any potential for a crowded feeling.

LANDSCAPE PLANTINGS – A mix of trees, shrubs, flowers and groundcovers create the outer green layer to the garden. The plantings become a layer of textures and colors to create a sense of separation from the fence and the roadway beyond. Trees provide shade and vertical architectural elements, canopies to define and delineate the garden spaces.

Check back with us for updates on the evolution of this memory garden landscape design project. We hope to see it through construction and be able to share images of the final built project next spring.

Home Putting Green – Take the short game home

Home Putting Green

putting green
take your short game home

Time for a home putting green? Are you a golf fanatic or have one in your family? If so you know that perfecting the short game is critical. If you have the space and the budget, a home putting green in your landscape can allow you to practice that short game without a trip to the course. That ability to practice regularly and at random spare moments will translate to impressive long term improvement in your overall game.

Putting green design will be dictated by the space and budget available. If your landscape is small and budget tight, a one hole green may be the best answer. These can be installed professionally for as little as $3,500. On the other hand, your options are much broader if you have a landscape with expansive lawn areas and you have a budget of around $20,000. With that flexibility, the design can include multiple holes and chipping mats at distances around the ‘course’. The picture included in this blog is a three hole green with three chipping mats at 25’, 40’ and 80’ distances from the green.

What makes a professional putting green for the home landscape? The first choice is artificial turf of natural grass. Unless you have a degree in turf management, I strongly suggest the artificial turf. These materials have been extensively developed to have the look and more important the feel of natural turf. And, the topography of the green can be slightly altered over time to offer new challenges. It is only a matter of lifting the turf and re-sculpting the base.

The overall green is built in three layers. The first is a modified, compacted stone base. This should be around 8” thick, with geotextile fabric separating it from the subsoil. And make sure the subsoil is completely compacted. On top of the modified stone is a leveling layer of screenings, then a final layer of sand prior to the artificial turf. The turf itself is also over swept with a fine aggregate material.

There are companies who specialize in putting greens and they are the right people for the job. I designed the green in the attached picture, but I did the project with the consultation of professional company who installs similar greens for high end golf courses and is certified by Jack Nicholas Golf. I also included the clients in the process at every step since it was for him and his son, not for me.

If you are a golf fanatic, have space in your landscape and your budget, then consider a home putting green. It is a great way to relieve stress at the end of a long days work. And, it won’t require more time away from home and the family to squeeze in a few minutes at the course. Not that those days away at the course can’t still be welcome retreats, but when you do get out your short game will be better and you will enjoy the day more. You may even enroll some other family members in the sport and get to share that time with them.

 

 

Fall landscape planting

landscaping
landscape planting

Fall landscape planting projects are ideal. The reasons are both ecological and economic. Cooler fall temperatures leave plants less stressed as they adapt to their new environment. But more importantly, fall soil temperatures are ideal for root growth. Plants can get six to eight weeks of root growth before winter. This gives them a big advantage when next summer’s heat arrives. The exception is that some trees, such as many Oak varieties, are ‘fall dig hazards’ and are best not planted in autumn. (Ask your nurseryman for more information). Don’t forget to water your new plantings, as fall can sometimes be very dry.

Deals can often be had on plants in autumn for fall  landscape plating. Nurseries may drop prices if they are anxious to get rid of planting stock to avoid winterizing it or if they need to make room for holiday decor. Nursery plants will be larger at the end of the season, so you may get more plant for less money. Perennials can often be bought for half price or less since they are starting to die back. But put them in the ground anyway, and next spring they will shoot out strong. Landscape contractors may even lower installation prices if they want to get a little extra revenue before the seasonal shut downs.

Fall is perfect for pruning. It is much easier to see the branches and structures once the leaves have fallen from shrubs and trees. You will be able to determine which branches have die back and where certain diseases may need to be cut out. Thinning out trees and shrubs properly can also reduce potential winter damage from heavy wet snows or freezing rain. Pruning back perennials is a personal choice. Some professionals are adamant that perennials should be cut back in the spring so that the die back provides a winter blanket of protection. But if that is a messy look that drives you wild, go ahead and cut your perennials back in the fall.

Cooler weather does not mean the end to gardening. Autumn is a great time for fall landscape planting and pruning.

 

 

Landscape Design Theory – Tools of the Design Process

landscape design gesture
Gesture in landscape design, long linear allee, brick wall and perennial garden

Landscape design theory is a process of building ideas in a visual format. The material creation of a design relies on the tangible tools of art and drafting – pens, pencils, paints, computers etc. The methodology of design relies on the less tangible tools of knowledge gathered through education and experience.  Those tools of design theory and principles guide the creation and   will determine the quality of the meaning, form and ideas expressed in the visual representation.

Design ideas start as intangible firings of neurons in the designer’s brains, creating vague mental images and emotions. They are inspired by the inception of a design program and a site (real or imaginary). The program is the ‘what to create’, ‘what is the purpose’, ‘who is the user’ and the ‘how will it operate or be experienced’. The site is usually a specific geographically defined area in the case of landscape design. Conceptual or transitory design projects can be based on an imaginary site or meant to travel various sites. Once the program and the site are established, then designer is ready to apply the tools of design to the process of creation.

The ‘concept’ is the first landscape design theory tool required once the program and site are established. Concepts are macro level design tools that guide the entire process. This was discussed in a previous blog and won’t be readdressed here (see Landscape Design Concepts – Principles of Landscape Architecture May 22, 2014). Once the macro tool of a concept is defined, designers can begin the process of resolving the program, the site and the concept into a cohesive and successful design. That process of design resolution relies on the ever expanding set of design theory and design principle tools. We add more tools to the tool box if we continue to grow as designers.

One of my favorite landscape design theory tools is ‘the gesture’. A design gesture is a sweeping movement directing the experience toward a note of significance. Gestures can be subtle in approach and create a surprising discover. Such is the case with the long arch of a gravel path, elegantly defined with a simple border planting, sweeping around to an unseen groove of mystery. That would be an intimate and even personal type of gesture in the landscape. At the other end of the spectrum, an allee in the garden design creates a very formal and directed experience.  Gestures can be playful, majestic, axiomatic, or illusional just to specify a few of the possible ways to use the gesture tool in design. A gesture is an implication that does not spell out the exact nature of the intent. It is one of my favorite tools used in choreographing landscape design.

This article is the first another entry in an ongoing exploration of landscape design theory. I am a designer and a builder. I find joy, satisfaction and a place to contribute to the world in the practice of design and construction.  I will continue to write about design tools such as ‘the gesture’. It is a process of sharing ideas and working through my own thinking. If you enjoy this journey and would like to interact on an individual level, please send me an email through the company website contact information form or at info@GardenDesignInc.com.

Backyard Patio – Brick Pavers


Landscape Patio & Fire Pit
Clay Brick paver Patio & Walkways with Fire Pit

What ingredients are required for a high quality backyard patio and landscape project? The answer is quality design, quality materials and quality installation. Professional, experienced and creative landscape design is always the first priority for a successful landscape project. Without that, the finest materials and craftsmanship are wasted efforts. The project highlighted in this article has a design arranged within a curvilinear theme. That concept leads to a cohesive landscape design that unifying the brick patio, the brick walkway, the natural stone bench and natural stone fire pit. It takes an experienced landscape designer to create successful design, but most people can tell quality design whether or not they themselves can create one. 

In the case of this project, natural clay brick pavers are used for the landscape walkways and patios. The real clay brick is bordered with natural Pennsylvania bluestone. Both products have a natural and authentic quality that is easily recognized by visitors to the landscape. The bluestone is used to define spaces within the overall landscape design such as the main patio space, the back steps and the landscape feature location.

A fire pit and bench are designed in unison and constructed of natural stone masonry. Like the bluestone and brick patio paving materials, the natural building stone has an unmistakable quality. The fire pit is integrated with the bench design with a double spaced patio layout. This organizes the fire pit on the edge of a smaller patio but still in relation to the main patio. That insures that the patio spaces remain flexible and donÆt become only about the fire pit ( a mistake too often made in fire pit patio designs).

The success of this landscape project started with a strong landscape design that specified quality materials such as clay brick pavers, Pennsylvania Bluestone Paving, and Natural Building stone for the fire pit and the built in bench. Landscape construction and masonry construction completed by experienced craftsman ensured the final outcome of an excellent backyard patio and fire pit project.

A Pergola in Landscape Designs – Add Form and Function

Timber Frame Pergola
A natural timber frame pergola set on a bluestone flagstone patio beside a natural stone outdoor fireplace

A pergola can add form and function to outdoor living spaces and define an outdoor room. The columns signify the corners and walls of the room, while the beams & joists create a roof overhead. It will denote the main room for gathered activates while creating a visual point of convergence and architectural interest. These elements of the form are also main elements of the pergolas function to define a space.

Style is the element of the form that will define the character of the outdoor room. White Palladian columns with clean white beams and joists will create a formal space when situated in gardens of strong architectural and organized plantings such as boxwood hedges. Rough timber frame posts, beams and joists produce an informal feel to the room and blend seamlessly with loose informal planting and a more organic garden structure. The materials used for the pergola construction will influence the resulting style but should also be considered with respect to long term maintenance of the structure. Cedar or other timbers will require some sealing or oiling over time.

There are a variety of companies that produce synthetic pergolas with vinyl, fiberglass and polycarbonates. The higher quality of these products are almost indistinguishable from painted wood, though the lower quality clearly have a plastic feel to them. These synthetic products tend to work best when a more formal style is desired. Shade can be an important function of the pergola. The pergola alone may not offer enough protection from peak summer sun.

Vines grown on a pergola create additional shading and aesthetic interests. Another shade option is a retractable canopy that is set on tracks in the beam structure. These can be either mechanical or manual and provide a much lower maintenance option for shade when compared to the vines. Retractable sun screens can even be fitted between posts to provide protection from the sun when it is lower on the horizon. A pergola can create architectural interest, define and outdoor living space, provide retreat from the elements, and give structure for fruiting or flowering vines. It will contribute both form and function to your garden and outdoor living space.

Pennsylvania Bluestone in Formal Landscape Design

 

Pennsylvania bluestone is the most prominent paving material in formal outdoor living spaces throughout the northeast regions. Some people may refer to it as flagstone or slate, but the proper name is bluestone and the majority of it is from Pennsylvania. The natural stone paving material can be found in estate gardens from northern Virginia to Boston. Here in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania, bluestone patios are common around the majestic old homes of West End Allentown, Saucon Valley Bethlehem and College Hill in Easton.

In formal landscape designs, the natural stone is cut in rectilinear patterns for patios. The limit of the pattern design is tied to the creativity of the landscape design and the landscape designer. Random patterns are the most common, but a good landscape designer can come up with multiple paving pattern options to uniquely fir the design. One approach is to install a band of stone on the perimeter of the patio, a running bond pattern in the field and a diamond pattern as medallion in the center.

Pennsylvania bluestone is sorted into various colors, grades and sizes. When left natural cut, the top has a finish known as ‘cleft’, meaning that it has ridges and variations. This rougher finish can be refined by flaming the tops which causes the stone to regularize and leaves a more even textured finish. This finish is most common on the uniformly color range called ‘Blue Blue’ or ‘Thermal Blue’. Classic and formal landscape and patio designs tend to call for the uniform color. Pennsylvania bluestone also comes in ‘Lilac’ ‘Green’ ‘Brown’ and a full color range mix.

bluestone patio
Formal Bluestone Patio in landscape design courtyard project

Bluestone patios can be installed several ways. The stone can be installed on a concrete slab with mortar pointing in the 3/8” joints between stones. Bluestone can also be ‘dry set’ on compacted stone base much like a concrete paver patio is installed. In that approach, polymeric sand or screenings are swept into the stone joints. A good installer will cut each piece of stone such that they all fit into the pattern with less than 1/8” joints, but 3/8” or more is the common joint for ‘dry set’ bluestone installers. A hybrid method involves installing a bluestone curb and then setting the stone on a damp masons mix mortar bed with each stone custom cut to make the tightest joint possible. This technique is expensive and reserved for only the best masons and the higher budget projects.

Front of House Landscape Design Project – Agrarian Setting

Front Courtyard with Fountain_Stone Walls_Pergola_Pavers I worked on this front of house landscape design and construction project several years ago in Bucks County PA. The homes design was developed around a rustic barn type architecture that fit naturally into the rolling agrarian landscape of the large property. To create architectural interest to the otherwise flat front of house façade, a pergola was added in a rough timber style. The pergola support columns are natural stone masonry construction with a taper to create dynamic interest.  The pergola is designed as a ‘roof’ for the front porch outdoor living space.

From the front porch, a wide set of bluestone steps flows to the front motor court. The motor court is designed in classical form on axis with the front door and the symmetry of the home. A natural stone masonry wall with bluestone caps delineates the gardens from the cart way. The concept is to create a garden experience and transition as the visitor moves from the motor court to the front porch outdoor living space and entry to the home.

The design axis of the front door, the front porch and the motor court is accentuated by a central fountain. The fountain is located in the center of the motor court and serves as a functional organizing feature for traffic flow as well as an aesthetic attraction. The fountain surround is a masonry stone wall using the same stone as the transition walls and the pergola support columns. The water feature itself is a granite millstone handcrafted in Maine. Water circulates up and through the stone, over the edges and back into the pool.

The form of the motor court is delineated with concrete paver bands and patterns.  Concrete pavers were chosen over granite cobblestones as a cost savings option since the entire long driveway to the main road also received a triple band of concrete pavers on each side. At the main entry to the property, a 15’ skirt of concrete pavers was installed as a transition to denote the entry.

Plantings in the front garden included boxwood hedges, shrub roses and groundcover. The garden design is classical in form, linear and organized in a geometric principle appropriate to the style of the home. A more intimate and informal cottage style garden was developed at the side porch where the family tended to spend more casual outdoor living time together. That side garden includes a wider variety of flowering shrubs organized around a pallet of hydrangea varieties and perennial geranium varieties.

Perennial Garden Theory & Design

 

Perennial gardens have a long tradition in landscape designs going back to some of the earliest gardens of Asia. However, they are most associated as beginning with the renaissance gardens of Europe. During that period, international travel expanded as did interest in horticultural specimens from across the world. The English perennial garden of the late renaissance and modern era are held as the prime example of design and excellence. These gardens were often extensive displays of color and variety requiring a staff of gardeners to maintain. Today’s homeowner can learn from those gardens and incorporate the concepts at a scale appropriate to their property and the amount of time they can invest in upkeep.

Perennial Flowers
Perennial Garden

A classical perennial garden can vary in dimensions and is designed in at least three layers. That requires at least 10’ of depth minimum, though 15’ or more is needed to really pull off that classical landscape design of the perennial garden. The length of such garden designs is at least 10’ and can be as long as 100’ or more. The design depends of the scale of the space and the outdoor living environmental that will contain the perennial garden.  The three layer minimum layers are a tall backdrop, a medium care and a lower growing foreground. Four, five or six layer gardens follow the same principles.

The key to a beautiful perennial garden is understanding color theory, plant texture combinations and plant bloom periods. I will address color theory in landscape design during a future blog as it is a topic of its own. The relationship between the varied plant textures creates an important aesthetic result in the landscape design. Use perennials with distinctly unique textures adjacent to one another in order to help delineate the garden and the design. Textures can be as important as colors in a successful perennial garden. The goal with bloom periods is to create a garden that has color and interest throughout the season. Don’t forget to consider the fall leave change color of a perennial in this part of the design.

Annual flowers might be considered cheating by some landscape designers, but they are a great way to ensure a beautiful garden throughout the season. Annual flowers have long, dependable bloom cycles and are great for tucking into bare spots. Some annual flowers have displays that are simply unachievable with a perennial.  Delphinium for example create a powerful color display early in the season while other perennials are just getting started (Delphinium are technically a bi-annual but are best used as an annual in the gardens of the north east).

When laying out the perennial design, create a repeating pattern throughout the garden. This creates a pleasant and somewhat logical aesthetic. It is a more relaxing experience for the viewer. Avoid perennials that are self-seeding or you will fight their spread throughout the garden and that will ruin the intent of the design. Double dig your planting beds incorporating as much rich compost as possible. Mulch with a very light, highly ground and composted peat based dressing. Do not use a standard mulch in a perennial garden since you will be working, turning, and maintaining it often. A regular triple ground hardwood mulch will just get in the way if your are a true perennial garden creator. A perennial garden is dynamic and ever evolving as the designer or gardener learn and adapt.