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The Importance of Planning

SINCE landscape design is primarily the arrangement of land for use, planning must precede planting. The two must be integrated, the one to serve as a basis for the other. Too often the beginner starts with planting and proceeds no further. Then, after the planting is done, he finds that the basic design and construction are difficult to accomplish.

Too many places are merely planted. When this happens we soon become dissatisfied with our efforts and wonder why they lack interest and charm. These qualities are not accidents but the result of well composed garden pictures. A friend of ours, a careful gardener, had arranged her borders so that they presented a lovely color display. Her husband, not a gardener, remarked, "How nice it is that so many things happen to bloom in our garden at the same time." "Happen," said she, "Happen indeed! What do you think I've been doing all spring with charts, diagrams, seedlings, and plants?"

Plants have to be carefully selected for definite purposes and placed properly to achieve any sort of landscape composition worth looking at. Not until we have designed our landscape pattern are we ready for planting design. Not before, or at the same time, but after. We emphasize this because so many people fail to realize it. They start to plant around the new home before they have designed the circulation, or the areas, or provided for the various activities.

Perhaps Americans have always been too horticulturally minded in their gardening like the English who grow plants superbly but too often arrange them in gardens carelessly, and unlike the French who design on a magnificent scale and care little about the plants they use. There ought to be a middle ground. Design must be good, but so must our gardening or else the whole project fails.

Landscape design, like architecture, has moved a long way from the Victorian era of the iron stag and the bed of cannas on the lawn. The contemporary fashion is for simple, broad effects, easy to take care of. Color is considered garish if there is no adequate background for it or segregation from the rest of the landscape. The effectiveness of broad expanses of well-kept lawn to serve as foreground for floral displays is fully appreciated. The use of intricate garden patterns, except where more than the usual amount of labor is available, is discouraged. This does not make gardens any less effective, since we have learned to create simple pictures and lovely color harmonies that do not need intricate designs.

From one basic design different designers would create as many different planting plans. Not all would be pleasing if carried out. Those in which attention had been given to the subtleties of planting design would be the ones that would be, in the end, the most satisfying.

Many people still think of a garden as just a place to grow flowers. It is more than that. It is a place set aside in which a series of compositions, pictures if you will, created out of plant material, are set forth for our enjoyment. Flowers there may be, and usually are, but there are many beautiful gardens that contain few or even none at all. The effectiveness comes from the artistic arrangement of plants which harmonize with each other into groups. These, in turn, harmonize with all the other groups in the garden to make one pleasing whole. If the growing of flowers were the only object, it would be sensible to plant them in straight rows in an open field where they could be more easily cared for.

Perfection of individual blooms, however worthy an object that may be for the horticulturist, is not the principal aim in a garden. The intention is quite otherwise — the creation of landscape pictures. One cannot begin to design the planting, therefore, with a list of plants, all of which must be included in the scheme. They may be incompatible. The better way is to choose and arrange the background material first, and then against this arrange herbaceous material that seems to be harmonious, whose colors will blend well, whose blooming period is the same or forms a desirable succession, and whose form and habit of growth permit accommodation in the available space. Lastly plants must be sufficiently interesting in themselves to warrant all this trouble in placing them. One sees gardens full of the most ordinary and uninteresting plants and one wonders why the owners bother with them. Use good varieties, not necessarily the latest and the most expensive ones, but rather those that have been on the market a few years and are of proven worth.

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