Showhouse Season V, Issue 2. The Design Process

All of the landscape design invitees for the 2009 showhouse were provided with a master plan which illustrated the homeowner’s and the consulting landscape architect’s very formal vision for the property.

There would be an addition to the east side of house to update the antiquated kitchen, create additional living space and add a garage. A new pool and pool house would also be added as well as a sheep barn, greenhouse and an apiary at the southwest corner. We were allowed to re-define the spaces if we chose for future approval. Below is my annotated copy of a later version of part of the master plan.


Some of the project constraints other than the two usual suspects–time and money–were and still are: the rampant deer who eat their way through the unfenced property and that some of the original garden features were to remain or be restored. I added to those caveats my own personal desire to source as much as possible from local nurseries and resources and to limit the amount of work that had to be done by machine for both logistical and sustainable reasons. Once those benchmarks were established, I decided to pursue several ideas within final conceptual design that was submitted to and ultimately accepted by the selection committee. Those ideas, as well as the conceptual plan are below.

Design Idea #1–Go with the Flow. I had the advantage of having done a previous project originally as a showhouse garden for the same owner which was kept as permanently. I knew she loved formality and the master plan clearly showed her input. If there were already 2 votes cast in the formal direction–why rock the boat, formal it would be.

Design Idea #2–Define the space the way I wanted it, excluding some of the peripheral areas. This would tighten up my ability to maximize views out of the house and would enable me to use strong axial relationships and bold geometric forms.

Design Idea #3–Design a space that would draw people into it and cause them to linger as well as creating elegant transitions to and from the adjacent spaces. One of my underlying garden philosophies has always been to make outdoor spaces for living as opposed to being just for viewing.

Design Idea #4–Limit the materials and utilize a very narrow deer resistant plant palette to simplify further. With simplicity the overarching traditional formality will look clean and modern rather than traditional and overworked.

Design Idea #5–Think about adding a water feature. People love water, the homeowner loves water, water makes people linger supporting Design Idea #3.

Design Idea #6–Try to use appropriate native plants without being a slave to that concept. Turf would be allowed since it is a large part of the master plan anyway. Offset the use of turf through of locally sourced pea gravel paths equaling (or close) the same square footage. That boat again.

Design Idea #7–Make the plan as easy as possible to implement since the participating contractors would be partially donating their time. April, the installation month, is the 2nd busiest month of the year.

Although it’s a bit difficult to see. Here’s the conceptual plan. The koi pond that is noted is a element from the master plan that is to be restored and not part of my garden space. Enlarge it to see the notes.

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About Susan aka Miss. R

Professional landscape designer, lover of the land and all things design.
LABELS: Creative Process, Designer Showhouses, formal gardens, Garden Styles, inspiration, Landscape Design, Sheep's Run, sustainable landscapes, VNA of Central NJ

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