Author Archives: Duog

The Water Garden


 Everyone is drawn to water; it is the magical element that connects all life. Casting back my memory to the days of my youth, during one of those seemingly endless summers, I can visualize me and my buddies on a pilgrimage to one of the local ponds. My kid days were pretty good ones, my parents were kind and patient; they didn’t lock me in closets or whoop me for being a boy and by nature a rascal. They allowed me to be a boy and that meant exploration. Many of those serene summer days were absorbed on the grass covered banks catching frogs or turtles, fishing, skipping stones or simply watching the clouds drift by in perfect blue skies.  If we tired of the pond, it was off to the local swimming pool to play water tag, or sharks and minnows and at once to be plagued and allured by the girls.

         Those days seemed to last for decades. Today, if I am not careful, they are gone in the blink of an eye. Water is still an important part of my life. We are fortunate to have a swimming pool and a water feature in our garden. And now, unlike in my kid days, after an adult day and all it entails, I find a hot shower to be one of the greatest luxuries we have in the civilized world. Water in the garden, with all of its quenching, cooling and cleansing properties can help us revive old memories while creating new ones.

          During my first meeting with clients I find they often have a pre-conceived idea of the “naturalistic” water feature as the default model. However, the possibilities for design are wide open.  Fountains,  reflecting pools, water walls, dry streams, swimming pools, and features with water moving from one level to another, are just a few of the design possibilities .  At first, it is the sound a feature makes that our client’s desire. Different types of features will create different types of sounds. When the sound of a fountain or water wall is trickling or softly surging it is calming and peaceful. When the sound of a cascading waterfall is rushing and splashing it is stimulating and dynamic. However, be careful of what you wish for, the sound of the cascading waterfall placed too close to outdoor and indoor living spaces can become noisy and tiring. Beyond the sound a feature creates, the shape of the feature should reinforce the experience of the garden and site. Informal pools will usually work best when they are far from the house. Curved lines will tend to make a small space feel smaller. A simple rectangle, circle or ellipse might help pull the viewer and the architecture of the home into the garden, particularly if it is on axis with an important view from within. Regardless of the shape or size all gardens can benefit from some form of water feature.  

           If you have a desire to have a naturalistic feature, with the cascading waterfall, then buyers beware. The term naturalistic can be misleading.  Although the appearance is unassuming it does not follow that they assume no maintenance. The informal feature can require the interest and skill of a hobbyist or professional to resolve some of the maintenance issues, particularly if you plan to keep fish. I believe this confusion exists with regard to the maintenance of informal planting design as well. A second point which is more subjective has to do with the designation “naturalistic.” Informal may be more appropriate. What is natural about a “naturalistic” water feature existing in the suburban yards they are typically installed in? This is not to say that they don’t have their place in the landscape, particularly if you have a wooded site where the context is more appropriate, or if your design calls for the creation of a wooded setting. But if they are placed by the deck, off the back of the house, with a handful of shrubs and perennials sprinkled like parsley and potatoes around a Thanksgiving turkey, I have to ask why.

       When day turns to night a different experience unfolds as the feature is lit from within or serves to reflect nearby artificial light. This nocturnal transformation brings a heightened quality not only to the water feature but to the garden. At its best it can transport you into the presence of a dream world that is soothing, calming and mesmerizing. During our summer gatherings, whether it is during the day or in the evening, we have found our guests usually settle in near one of our water features. It is a testament to the magnetic quality of water.

         One of the things I have learned over time is that water features look much larger on two dimensional landscape plans than they do when they are built, particularly with regard to swimming pools. Good designers develop an intuitive sensibility that guides them towards the proper scale and proportion for a water feature and the surrounding elements. For example: if you want a swimming pool, it will most likely be important to design a terrace that balances the size of the pool. The terrace should allow for lounges and possibly dining. The space may need to allow for overflow from the proposed or existing dining and entertaining areas. How the space is organized and how it relates to the site is more important than how many square feet you have. A space that is laid out by a talented designer with a good design process will be more functional and appealing than a similar space that has  more square feet of space, but simply fails to work for the intended uses as a result of unsatisfactory design work. Harmonizing the water feature and other elements, with local codes, setbacks, and restrictions requires a balanced design that sympathetically addresses the issues. When the time comes to build be prudent and select a good builder, as water is very unforgiving and mistakes can be costly and thoroughly frustrating to correct.

Are you afraid to establish a budget with your designer?

After a client has determined their needs and desires, the next step is to discuss a budget or price range for their project. Some clients have the luxury to work through the design process without establishing a budget, because they want what they want, they have the means to achieve it, and they don’t want a budget to disrupt the design process. But for most of us, establishing a budget is a prudent course of action. Occasionally when I am designing a project, my clients are simply afraid to share their budget with me. They may be afraid that if the project doesn’t cost as much as the budget allows that I will design a plan that implements the entire budget. The reality is I will design a project that creates the best value towards the client’s lifestyle and home. This may mean investing the entire budget or possibly not. The job of a good designer, who has studied and practiced their craft, is to recommend the best solutions with the available resources to achieve the desired goals and objectives.

While it is totally understandable that a client may have no idea what a project will cost because they have not done anything like this before, it still makes sense for the client to establish the maximum cost they can afford for the project. I have presented numerous designs with proposals for installation of projects, where budget was not revealed, and have heard, “I didn’t think it would cost that much. We only wanted to spend this much.” Unfortunately, as a result of not revealing the budget, more time and money is spent on revisions. Revealing the budget would have opened up a discussion of budget analysis. If your price range is inadequate for achieving your goals, then your designer can work with you to either modify your program, or suggest materials and design strategies that might be used to achieve your goals. In this scenario, many of my clients will install their projects in phases in order to achieve their objectives. This course of action still requires budgeting and planning but it is based on what you will spend for the first phase and over time.

Look at it this way, when you purchased your home or your new car you gave the agents the amount you were able to spend. This obviously allowed them to show you what you could purchase within that range. Without this information they most likely would have wasted your time and their own showing you houses and cars that were either above or below your means. Similarly, with a price range in place for your landscape project, a good designer will be able to evaluate your needs and bring them together in a concise plan.

If you build trust with your designer, and allow them to display their talent, you are on your way to establishing a mutually beneficial relationship. The relationship, while supporting the designer, will also provide you with a purposeful plan. If the plan is competently installed, it will at its best, achieve the full potential of your objectives and add meaning and value to your home and lifestyle.

Design with a Purpose by Doug Myers

        It’s perplexing. Much of our designed world, the things that we use and rely on in our daily lives, can simply create frustration. Product packaging is one area that I often cannot figure out. I recently purchased a couple of CD’s for the holidays and was surprised to find that a simple solution for removing the plastic was still not in place. For me, opening CD’S has become synonymous with frustration. Once you find the elusive seam, you have to scratch and pick to remove the shrink, then thinking you are home free you remember that a security sticker is still between you and the CD. After a few more “what the french” moments you are able to remove the cd from its casing. Rarely will I open a CD without these small moments of frustration. As an isolated example this may seem trivial but there are so many examples of poorly designed things that create moments of annoyance that can accumulate consciously or subconsciously and simply spin our day in the wrong direction.

                  As a landscape designer I have an interest in designing projects that not only serve the needs of my clients, but also, at their best, help give meaning to their lives. Many of the designed landscapes I observe on a daily basis not only fail to inspire but also fail to meet the needs of the individuals they are intended for.  Although many are competently installed and well cared for there is still something missing. The topic of purpose in landscape design was suggested as the theme for this blog, but purpose alone does not create good design. Even the CD packaging was designed with a purpose. The best design goes beyond purpose and involves deliberation and inspiration.

        Deliberate purpose is comprised of the practical, functional and utilitarian needs of the client. A designed landscape should at very least meet these needs. The space has to be the right size to accommodate the number of intended users, the circulation through the spaces should be fluent and it should be constructed to last for decades. Ideally it is built on budget and possibly in phases which may help eliminate design compromises.  In a nut shell, successful deliberate purpose in design requires a willingness to engage in process oriented thinking and avoid the temptation to simply sell a product. Be careful to check your ego at the door before sitting down to work. It is easy to become enamored with our ideas, and consequentially, stifle the voice inside your head that allows you to transcend, evaluate and modify your concept.

       The environment should also possess a quality that transcends the deliberate purpose of the project. Projects with inspired purpose go beyond competence and are satisfying in deeper ways – aesthetically, emotionally, intellectually and perhaps even spiritually. The best have an intuitive balance between complexity and simplicity, allowing the differences to enhance, rather than cancel each other out. Mastering this is very difficult, and it is a puzzle which I am continuously trying to solve and in no way have mastered. Inspired purpose speaks of true design, not simply decorating or imitating an image or idea from a book or magazine.

        Between the two areas of deliberate and inspired purpose, deliberation without inspiration is relatively easy to achieve and much more widespread. Consequently, the presence of inspired purpose in design combined with deliberation increases the value of the landscape considerably.  This is true in all design, not just landscape. Take the ipod as an example. It is a product that effectively balances simplicity and complexity, typically does less than other mp3 players, generally costs more, but yet, manages to outsell its competitors by wide margins. Truly deliberate and inspired.

       Good design offers us an opportunity to bring solace, meaning, and value to our daily lives. As I sit in my Eames lounge chair typing this blog, it occurs to me that well designed things tend to become a seamless part of our lives, but it is easy to take them for granted. As you look around your home or office, just about everything has been designed. I am sure each of us can name examples of well designed and poorly designed things, whether it is a cell phone, a chair, or the actual space in your home, or the space around your home. If we compare these spaces or things with others, we find that most of them are fairly well made; the thing that really differentiates them is the harmonious use of deliberate and inspired purpose in the design or lack thereof. I will leave you with a quote from Charles Eames. “Design is a plan for arranging elements in such a way as best to accomplish a particular purpose.”