Design Evolution: doing it your way

As an independent designer I'm in the fortunate position of being able to design gardens that will be professionally installed by my recommended contractors*, by the homeowners themselves, or even by another preferred and local-to-the-site contractor. (*I never accept a referral fee so my recommendation is  based on the fact that they always do outstanding work and make me look good!)

Occasionally, homeowners like to take my ideas, mull them over, then add their own unique spin. Such was the case with a recent client whom we'll call Louise.

BEFORE: dead flowers may not be the best way to welcome friends and family to your home

Louise is sassy, vivacious, full of fun, and full of ideas – I just love working with her! She had asked me to redesign several of her garden borders for lower maintenance – which I did. But I couldn't ignore the complete lack of statement at the entrance to her lovely rural property. I drew Louise's attention to the lackluster Shasta daisies, long since past their bloom time, that flanked the entrance driveway. I suggested we could improve on this and yet to my surprise she was initially hesitant saying how much she loved these summer flowers.

In full bloom, and at a distance, there's no doubt that Shasta daisies are delightful. It's the 'before' and 'after' that's the problem

Now I love them too – to a point. But they stink to high heaven (cut a bunch and bring them indoors and you'll think all the neighborhood Tom cats have visited), they only flower for a few weeks, and the remaining stalks and leaves are at best boring, and at worst a hideous mess. They also spread like crazy.

Regardless, I've known Louise a while and knew I could bring her around to my way of thinking. Eventually.

The problems

  • The Shasta daisies only look good for a few weeks. Before and after they look a mess, boring or are dormant.
  • Louise insisted she had to have them
  • Everything has to be deer-resistant

My solution

  • To give a greater sense of 'arrival' by designing a structure of some sort – not just a patch of brown earth
  • To include the beloved Shasta daisies within the structure
  • To add other plants with year round interest

My idea

  • Use a circular galvanized stock tank, drilled for drainage to act as the structure

  • Add a beautiful small tree (a compact form of seven-son flower (Heptacodium) such as Tianshan or Temple of Bloom) in the center that has interesting bark, beautiful foliage, fragrant, late summer flowers, and outstanding fall color

Tianshan seven-son flower has wonderful fragrant blooms in late summer that bees love almost as much as I do. As the surrounding Shasta daisies finish flowering these will take over – and repeat the monochromatic color scheme. Photo courtesy: First Editions

Louise's Tweaks

  • Rather than a stock tank she installed circular gabion walls of the same dimensions which will be filled with soil and planted as per my design

Circular gabion walls will be filled with soil and planted. Yet even empty they look better than spent flowers!

Above 3 images courtesy of Louise

Other potential options:

  • Concrete block
  • Stacked stone
  • Rusted metal

Take home message

Don't be afraid to tweak a professional design but take time to understand why the various elements were chosen. Any professional designer will gladly explain their choices and you may be surprised to hear how much goes into the selection process. From style, scale, and proportion to longevity, sustainability, and suitability – this is what we do. Yet there is always more than one way to solve a problem.

Have fun!

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