Do what I say…not what I do!l

As a landscape and garden designer, I only have one hard and fast rule:  create a space that compels people to venture out to use it.  Whether it’s a path, a patio, or just a comfortable place to sit and read a book, I want to get people outside to reconnect with their land.

For my clients I always create a place to explore, gather, pause, or linger.

That could mean adding a small a patio that overlooks a community  pond where before there was nothing but an eroded hill…

DiTrolio Pond

It could also mean a creating path to beckon you from one place to another easily…

Best path

Or it could mean building a place to toast marshmallows after chasing fireflies on a summer evening.

McSweeny Firepit

Outdoor spaces that invite interaction are a part of every design I create but…my home garden has none of that.

I have a path…but no place to linger.

I have a patio, but no comfortable place to sit,  a firepit…well that’s just not a part of ammenities around here.

My work is built outside to coax people into using it and enabling them to reconnect with the natural world around them yet here I am day after day drafting designs for others on paper or via my laptop.  I guess I need to hire myself so I can lure myself  outside!

Thank you to Susan Morrison who suggested the idea for this post. Three other APLD landscape designers on both coasts are fessing up today also. Take a minute to visit their blogs (links below) and see if they also need to hire themselves to get outside!

Susan Morrison –  Rebecca SweetScott Hokunson

13 thoughts on “Do what I say…not what I do!l

  1. Susan,

    You capture the undeniable benefit of great design, Inviting interaction, and drawing the visitor through. We could all use a dose of hiring ourselves. Great Post!


    Thanks again Scott. It’s hard as a designer to work for yourself. I don’t have the same clear direction for myself as I get with a client.

  2. I love it! Your #1 Hard and Fast Rule is the most important one of all – lure folks outside to enjoy nature!! I like Scott’s idea of hiring ourselves…but I think it might be even better if we were able to hire each other to get an honest critique (I don’t think I could stand the pressure, though…). Too bad they don’t make indoor fire-pits, huh?

    Thanks, Rebecca. Here I am again, banging away at the computer instead of going outside…although snow is in the forecast here today.

  3. Isn’t it funny, Rebecca confessed the most, but she is the only one of us who blogged about this who actually invites clients into her garden on a regular basis! I think part of the reason why so many garden designers never seem to finish their own gardens is due to our love of new ideas and discovery. As soon as I plant something or choose a pot or an edging material, I stumble onto something new and wonder if that would make a better choice. Personally, I find this somewhat paralyzing.

    As always, a thoughtful post.

    Thanks for creating this blogging event, Susan. It made me think about what’s most important. I do get out every morning when it’s warm and walk through the gardens with a cup of coffee. It’s my summer commute to my home studio…

  4. I so enjoyed this whole series, what a great idea! I have definitely suffered from the ‘cobbler’s children’ syndrome with my own garden; for one, I could never afford many of the lovely things I design for other people. For another, I have a hard time justifying work on my own landscape, when I ‘should’ be working on something for someone else. It takes a rare convergence of energies for me to create for myself, but when that happens, I take full advantage. So I love and appreciate my hard-won gardens all the more, and marvel that they even exist.

    I’m like you, Laura. When the mood strikes, so do I. The problem is that adds to the hodgepodge!

  5. Yes, Laura. Exactly what I was thinking around the “cobbler’s children” syndrome. While working as a photographer, my extended family was always annoyed at me for not photographing family events or constantly providing them photos of my family. Thing is, when the thing you love most becomes your work, work is the last thing you want to do in down time. With photography, I couldn’t relax and do snapshots. Once I grabbed a camera, I had to do it right. Get out the strobes, make sure I had all the right lenses, that kinda thing.

    You get right to part of the problem…after spending all day every day in others gardens, working in mine isn’t always appealing. I’d usually rather do something else in my down time.

  6. Great series! I’m rather new to hardscape design, but have been pro gardening for a decade. I thought I was the only designer who didn’t have the garden of their dreams!

    I have come to appreciate my clients’ varied garden styles because I, like you, Susan M, love change. I really think I could be frustrated if I had a big garden of my own to tend. Good outdoor living space rocks, however!

    Deep meaning comes through the effort to help people connect — I love hearing other designers’ views on this! And the designs you’ve used to illustrate are inspiring. Thanks to all three of you, and to APLD!

    Glad you liked it! I think it’s really interesting to hear what guides others’ designs. Rules are made to be broken after all!

  7. Susan your idea is awesome. The idea is excellent to invite people spare time with his outdoor according to their likings. Some people like annuals some like to have perennials in their garden with tropical and sub tropical plants, shrubs and bush. I always advise my clients to have a lawn where they can make a family picnic. We have a tropical weather here and in the winter temperature does not fall down that much. So that the plants do not die or loose his fresheness.

    Thank you Tarek. We all need to spend more time outside. You are lucky to live in a climate that is warm year round. Here it can be extremely cold in January and February so it’s even more important.

  8. Hi Susan,

    I know how it feels not to have a “completed yard” and invest all my energy to create beautiful landscapes for others.

    I didn’t design my “dream yard” at home until 4 years ago. I lived in this home for 14 years before I touched the backyard.

    I was at a “garden dedication” dinner at one of my clients house enjoying the gorgeous outdoor landscape I created for them. It suddenly occurred to me,
    Shirley, why don’t you create something special for your family?”

    The next day, the bobcat was in my backyard and my crew started clearing out the old. (mostly lawn and junipers). It took me 4 years to complete as we worked on it mostly on the weekend.

    The irony is that at the time, I was taping the “Garden Police” show for Discovery. On the show, my partner, landscape designer, Michael Glassman and I would “bust people” for having ugly yards! My yard was like a scene from a battlefield and I lived with the fear that my producers and viewers would find out what my yard looked like!

    Here’s a link to my own yard, Before and After:

    Shirley Bovshow

  9. Shirley — that’s quite a transformation! And I notice you used washed out, nearly B&W photos for the ‘before’ shots — a graphic ‘trick’ I have also used to highlight the difference. Very effective!

  10. Ok,
    So I’m going to disagree a bit.
    I think that as designers we benefit from the assiduous understanding of technical constituents but when it comes to the discipline of design I don’t support the role of rules.
    I find that ‘rules’ can limit discovery and stifle innovation.
    I know that from reading the introspective responses from other designers at The Blue Planet Blog that my perspective is in the minority.
    But I hope that by having an opposing view that a continued dialogue can continue to evolve and spur in depth discussion.

    Michelle D.

    Interesting perspective and idea. Rules, guidelines and even an established ‘philosophy’ can so inform design work that they become crutches or cages to be thrown away or broken out of. I like your idea that rules can stifle innovation. –S

  11. I’m late to the party here, but I enjoyed your post and the excellent comments as well. I recently had the same paralyzed feeling about my front entry, which I was having trouble designing for myself, before I blogged about it. I think there was an element of knowing how many different options and ideas for the space there could be that made me hesitate to settle on one idea.

    I love the idea of throwing that design problem out to readers to see what they say. Even if you don’t use most of the ideas, it gets your creative juices flowing and makes you want to start work on your own space for a change.

    You’re not late to the party at all! What a great idea for true virtual collaboration…we need a garden designer’s throwdown!

  12. Interesting post and comments, Susan. When my garden won in the creative category of the Chicago Tribune’s extremely competitive “Glorious Gardens ” contest, I thought, hummm..I can do this. And that’s how I got started with my own small design firm.

    I’ve changed my garden many times in the past 40 years and I’m still not entirely happy with it. As the saying goes : A work of art is never finished, its just abandoned. I do bring potential clients to see my garden and they love it.

    Although its a small urban space we have enough room for dining and relaxing and live outdoors most every day that the weather allows. We have a goldfish pond with a fountain that helps drown out the city noises and a rainchain next to our dining spot that is a delight to both ear and eye.

    I believe in practicing what I preach but have fellow designing friends that wouldn’t dare bring clients into their own outdoor space. Its chocked full of shrubs, trees and flowers of every kind but with no specific scheme in mind . Either they don’t have the time or inclination to create the garden of their dreams.

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