THE FIRST FIVE

Landscaping is the third leg of a design triangle; the first two legs are the topography of the site itself and the architecture of the house, both of which form a pattern of shapes. Design happens when you recognize the pattern and do one of two things: conform to it, or move in counterpoint. These are the first five things I do when I walk a property for a design consult:

1. I note the geometry of both the house and the site, and play against the strongest shape on each side when configuring the space and selecting materials. Design requires dynamic tension to be successful.

2. I evaluate the width and orientation of walkways, and establish sight lines throughout the property. At every turn and every vantage point I ask, What do I see, and what do I want to see? I draw sight lines from the interior of the house, too; the view from the living room is just as important as the view from the deck.

3. I assess the terrain and the soil condition, with an eye toward turning the natural habit of the land to advantage. A boggy area can become a wetland garden, a sandy slope an oasis of lavender or Russian sage. You may as well cooperate with Nature from the start, because she wins, anyway!

4. I chart the path of the sun, and note the number of hours given to each section of the property. I note the quality of the sunlight, as well; is it four hours of midday sun, or four hours in the late afternoon? This is important info for the people spaces, as well.

5. I track the seasonal color of perennials, shrubs and trees, and plan ways to augment those colors to highlight different areas of the property throughout the year. Think of the site as a symphony ~ when the violins come up, the horns go down, and that shift in focus allows you to enjoy every aspect of the piece.

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