This is the quarterly publication of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD). This is the Fall 2013 issue. Beginning with this issue, a free electronic subscription is available to anyone.
In late June I traveled back to Europe for what turned out to be one of the most inspiring experiences of my professional career. My trip centered around a Gardens Illustrated tour of the Northern Dutch Provinces, lead by Noel Kingsbury and his dynamic wife, Jo Eliot.
The tour began with a day-long planting design workshop at Piet & Anja Oudolf’s home and private garden in Hummelo. About twenty-five designers and avid gardeners from around the world attended the workshop (the first of its kind). We traveled on together for the next six days where we explored gardens and talked plants. It was quite special, connecting with people who share a passion for naturalism in planting design, in a part of the world where the style was perfected.
I arrived a couple of days early to take in Hermannshof, a botanical garden in nearby Weinheim, Germany and to have a day in the Oudolf’s garden without distraction. The two photos sets below document the pre-tour experience.
Hermannshof- Weinheim, Germany (click on photo to view set)
Hermannshof is a place to see successful examples of new directions in planting design, especially in naturalistic planting style. The plant combinations are inspired by plant societies in nature.
Cassian Schmidt leads the Hermannshof’s team with the following objectives: (1) investigating the competitive relationships between plants with different growth and site conditions, (2) design of plant combinations that are of high aesthetic appeal because of harmony and contrast of colors and shapes, (3) the establishment of permanent plantings with a low maintenance and a long-lasting appeal.
Piet & Anja Oudolf’s Private Garden- Hummelo, Netherlands (click on photo to view set)
The Oudolf’s garden never disappoints! This visit was extra special though. I had not experienced the garden in summer, only fall. The light was nearly perfect. Grasses, like Deschampsia, Sporobolus and Panicum give the fall garden a specific ethereal feeling. In summer, however, before the grasses bloom or are at an early stage of bloom, the underlying perennial structure is more evident. I spent close to 8-hours documenting this sophisticated tapestry of intermingled plants. Piet’s work is living art!
Above: Like any project, bidders want to understand the details and you want to understand the details of their bids.The above garden was on the APLD 2012 Bay Area Conference and was designed by Walter Hood.
Recently I was talking to a new landscape designer who explained to me that she and her client were receiving bids for a project that she designed. She explained that when she saw the first bid, she knew she had considerably underestimated the cost of the project and was wringing her hands about working out the cost details with her clients.
Fortunately she had very understanding clients who wanted to make sure that the integrity of her design wasn’t lost with the cost reduction. They worked it out successfully and selected one of the contractors. Now I knew all of the contractors that were bidding and I knew one of them thinks of their company as predominantly high end, so here are another couple of pointers that may help explain one high bid:
Sometimes contractors don’t want your project and will bid high rather than tell you they aren’t interested.
Some contractors use higher end methods of installation and this doesn’t always show up in an apples to apples bid comparison.
It reminded me that not every designer is aware of how much better this situation could have been had this new designer gone to a contractor before she finished her design. The contractor could have been someone she already knew (and I think that’s preferable) or gotten a recommendation from another designer. Most contractors are very willing to help if you give them an opportunity to bid on the project. If you can give them mass quantities of the materials you wish to use, a few details about how you wish to have items installed, and your plant list, they can usually give you a pretty good estimate. What you get is a chance to modify your design before you meet with your client and also have more confidence that your cost estimate is closer to reality. Even better, you shouldn’t be sweating bullets over night about realistic bids compared to your cost estimate.
Recently I read an article on Houzz entitled “5 Essential Considerations for a Landscape Design Project” by landscape designer Jocelyn H. Chilvers. The article included the recommendation that one of those considerations must be to “identify your design style”. The writer suggested looking at your home’s interior and exterior styles. Well, I couldn’t agree more, BUT after designing spaces for over 30 years, I have to say that the majority of my clients don’t have a clue about what their style is. They often know what they like, but they are hard put to tell you that their dining chairs are Queen Anne, but they know they like ‘traditional’ furnishings. They might know that an outdoor lantern is Asian, but not that it is Chinese, Japanese, or Thai which are three very different aesthetics.
Chinese style, The Lan-Su Chinese Garden, Portland, OR
Japanese style, The Portland Japanese Garden, Portland, OR
The author’s final suggestion was to hire a pro. Again, I couldn’t agree more. Landscape designers will help their clients interpret what they have and translate it into the style of their garden. And as Ms. Chilvers points out, it is imperative that we look at the existing structure(s) and what is inside. But where do you turn when the ‘style’ is rather innocuous or excessively eclectic? This is usually a big cue to have an in-depth discussion about who your clients are. Are they afraid of style? Are they collectors and why? Sometimes finding out what they do, what they like, what is meaningful to them puts a designer into a private investigator mode. Whether their style is obvious or not, this should always be part of the process and means that a designer is also well-served to have a well-developed art of conversation as an accompanying skill. The delightful part of this investigative process is that a designer will often find something which will lend itself to some truly original thinking and garden design. It could be the difference between yet another copycat rock waterfall (that a client of mine recently said they wanted) to an inspired and completely original water feature (which is what a metal and glass artist will eventually help them achieve).
4 Steps to better landscape photography--2nd concept
CONCEPT #2: The Megapixel Myth
There is a common misconception that the number of megapixels a camera has determines its quality. WRONG!!! The fact is that megapixels are NOT everything. Despite I-phones and Point and Shoots coming out with 10 megapixel cameras, their quality level is not necessarily as good as a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera with only 8 pixels. Why?
THE SENSOR… Every camera has an image sensor, and the sensor in DSLRs is often 25 TIMES BIGGER in an SLR camera as in a Point and Shoot. (And the sensor in an I-phone is even smaller.)
These photos were taken with an SLR camera
—the lighthouse at dawn with a Nikon D700.
The next two with a Sony NEX-7. These two photos were taken at Rosalind Creasy’s gorgeous and productive garden which we visited during the APLD 2012 Conference in SF and the Bay Area. Ros founded the Edible Landscaping movement, and her half acre combines great design with prolific production of herbs, fruits, and vegetables.
So when choosing a camera, be sure to inquire about the size and sensitivity of the camera’s sensor rather than being hung up on the megapixel count. And if you want to get the most from your sensor, try shooting in RAW format, rather than in JPEG files. Jpegs compress the information in each pixel, whereas raw images maintain all the original information in each pixel…so that if you are interested at all in editing and post-processing, raw is the way to go to maintain the quality of your photo.
Greetings fellow landscape designers! I had the good fortune to sit in front of Adam Woodruff and Susan Cohan on a bus somewhere in the San Francisco Bay Area while we went to one fabulous garden after another during the APLD 2012 Conference. As I was downloading photos from my camera onto my laptop computer on the bus—we logged lots of time on those busses— I shared some of my images with them. I also mentioned that my first career was writing. The next thing I knew I was being asked to become a columnist for “Designers on Design.”
I know that you are landscape designers, and probably not as serious a photographer as me. But if you want to create a professional-looking portfolio of your work for either the print or web, or if you are interested in submitting your work for competitions, you can either hire a professional photographer or do it yourself. Hiring a professional is great if you and your clients have the budget for that. If not, I am here to help you learn to become a better landscape photographer. This will be the first of four posts.
CONCEPT #1: THE BEST CAMERA IS THE ONE THAT’S WITH YOU
Light conditions can change in an instant. If you don’t have your camera with you, you won’t get the shot. It’s that simple. This one was taken at Machu Picchu right before a huge rainstorm. If I didn’t have my camera, I wouldn’t have gotten this shot. Same thing for this photo of a snowy egret, flying outside my window over the Silvermine River. Click quick! (Can’t believe I got the reflection of the euonymous leaves on its wings…
I-phones and i-pads now have sophisticated cameras in them. I use my I-phone often, as it is always with me. (I find the I-pad clunkier to use, but I did notice that lots of people at the APLD conference were getting excellent shots with the I-pads that were required equipment for the conference.) And I love, love, love playing with the apps like Snapseed, Pro HDR, Photosynth, Camera Genius, Camera Awesome, Hipstamatic and yes, Instagram). For ease of use and convenience, i-pads and i-phones and compact Point and Shoot cameras are the way to go. I carry with me both my I-phone and Point and Shoot camera (Canon Power Shot S90, set on “Vivid” mode.) This one was shot with my i-phone.
BUT… if we are talking about taking photographs that will help you win the next APLD award, you will need a camera that can take a sharp, high-resolution image from a very wide angle to a tight close-up, that can be saved as a large format file, meaning several megabytes in the file. This will insure it can be printed at 8” x 10” and larger without without losing sharpness in the detail. An i-phone or i-pad image probably won’t suffice. A Point and Shoot may be good enough, but an SLR (set—in the menu—on a LARGE file size or FINE) is better for making large prints. Of course, if you aren’t into making large prints, and mainly send your photos via the Internet, where 72 dpi is fine for resolution as opposed to the 300 dpi needed for fine quality prints, any camera will suffice.
Happy Thanksgiving, and keep shooting (not the turkey!)
This was originally posted in February 2011. It’s just as true today.
by Susan Cohan, APLD
Every year I have the opportunity to attend several conferences with groups on a variety of topics that I’m involved in professionally. The APLD International Landscape Design Conference is one I never miss…even if I can’t attend others because of it.
I’ve heard many moan about the cost, but as a way to sharpen my design skills and open my eyes to what’s new in our profession, I can’t afford NOT to go. Some years I’m only able to swing the main conference—even that’s tough some years. Some years I give up precious vacation time to go—it is a professional event and not relaxing.
Then why do I make this effort of both precious time and money? Because, as I’ve said, I can’t afford not to go…here is why.
It is a conference whose sole message is design and geared specifically to the needs of landscape designer—not gardeners, writers or native plant evangelists—although they are sometimes in the mix of the over arching design message. Afterall, I’m first and foremost a landscape designer…even though I may also be some of those other things too.
I need the comraderie of my peers. I am a sole practioner and I learn from each and every one I meet and talk to and they in turn help to make me a better designer. It’s a weeklong sip at the design professional’s water cooler.
As part of a highly respected design association, we get access to people and places that would normally be well outside of my direct sphere of influence. This was as true of my first conference as it was of my last. The conferences that are outside of my region are the best for me. I can let go of my habit of rabid ad hoc plant identification and just focus on the design.
I get incredible ideas from the world class gardens we visit, from the symposium speakers and from others on the bus and in the bar after hours. Often the landscapes I design immediately after my return are what I consider my best of the season.
I feel sometimes that I work in a vaccuum of my own studio and clients. I found out at a conference that many of us feel like this from time to time—and the conference is a place to be as big a design nerd as you want to be and still be understood and even celebrated.
Attending a conference has allowed me to, as Dr. Phil says, ‘Get Real’ with my place in the design universe. I see the work of other members as well as the gardens and I can figure out where I fit in that heirarchy. It can be good and bad for the design ego—in any event it’s a reality check. In fact, by the end of my stay at any conference I’m over sitmulated and brimming with ideas.
There’s another thing about APLD conferences that is probably the single most important reason to go and a source of most of the excuses not to go…the timing. Conferences are planned when the gardens we will visit are at peak season. We get access to private and public spaces that are seldom open to the public. The focus is on outdoor designed environments…not pretty gardens. Hundreds of landscapes are scouted and rejected. Only those offering the best of the conference region’s landscape design and underlying theme are included. The conference is scheduled for when a region’s gardens are at their best and there’s the excuse part—“I can’t go in JUNE…I’m too busy then.” “I can’t go in Septermber…I’m too busy then.” et cetera et cetera et cetera. Anything can be planned for—even during busy times.
If you are serious about your profession and want to experience the best of what your professional association has to offer, then go to a conference…if you’re too busy then you’re not working smart as you could be because you’re not taking advantage of one of your best professional development opportunities.