4 most common landscape design mistakes

03/07/2014 12:00 AM

03/03/2014 3:11 PM

“It just doesn’t feel right,” one woman said during a landscaping consult. “It’s almost like there’s a disconnect somewhere.”

Another client pointed to trampled plants and asked, “Why can’t the kids stay on the walkway?”

An exhausted retiree cried, “They’re supposed to be low maintenance, but these things are so huge I have to shear them all the time!”

But my favorite was a young mom gazing on a midseason vegetable garden.

“They didn’t tell me the plants would look so crummy. I want the really pretty gardens on Pinterest.”

If any of these statements rings true at your house, maybe it’s time for a change. Read on to discover the four most common landscape design mistakes and how to avoid them.

Mismatched rooms

When you look outside your family room at the garden, your brain takes in both the room itself and the exterior space beyond. If the feeling presented by the interior decor palette isn’t reflected in some aspect of the exterior space, there won’t be any visual flow-through. Creating a palette of colors, textures and materials that is shared by both inside and outdoor spaces helps you feel the connection before you realize it consciously. The more you blur that dividing line at the threshold, the whole becomes far greater than the sum of its parts.

Bad traffic flow

It has always been my contention that kids and dogs find their own routes through life and space. Both creatures always take the straightest line between two points. They also fail to recognize corners that aren’t logically or efficiently laid out.

They are the barometer of how well your landscape circulation is functioning. If the flow is wrong, the result is not only trampled plants, but damaged sprinkler heads, altered spray patterns and a perennial mud hole. To resolve this you must change the design using filler paving or objects to deter traffic.

Monster plants

Professionals know that the biggest cause of unnecessary yard work is plants that have grown too large for their space. It’s usually caused by plant selection based on flower or leaf without knowledge of the ultimate size. I draw each plant on my plan at its mature diameter so I know it fits into the space I have designated. Get that right, and every plant grows into its natural form without pruning so you can go play on the weekends instead of perpetually hacking away at the monsters.

High-visibility vegetables

Everywhere you look there are beautiful photos of raised-bed veggie gardens as prim and tidy as a French parterre. Truth is those plants don’t look like that for long.

Any experienced vegetable gardener knows that plants become rangy over the summer. Tomatoes get huge, vines ramble and climb, and those quaint little colored lettuce heads suddenly bolt and flower. The problem is created when raised beds or that kitchen garden plot is given high visibility in the landscape. When it gets ugly at season’s end, it stands out like a sore thumb. This is why food gardens are traditionally placed at the far end of the yard.

Overcoming any of these problems is one reason to hire a professional landscape designer. In landscape architecture, we’re trained to avoid these problems. I always consider interior rooms when designing adjacent outdoor space. We learn where and how to intuitively lay out walkways, edges and connections so there’s no need to cut corners. And though food gardens are hot, that doesn’t mean they belong next to the patio.

Good design is worth paying for because it frees you from anxiety, keeps your home cleaner, reduces maintenance and ensures a beautiful view every day of the year.

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