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Gardens for People

5-yrsBy Bruce Zaretsky

‘Gardens truly are for people.  While that’s manifestly an obvious statement,’ wrote Bruce Zaretsky at the top of his On the Level column in May 2011, ‘it seems to be a concept that insufficient numbers of today’s watershape and landscape designers fully grasp.’

‘That’s nothing new.  More than half a century ago, in fact, [Thomas] Church was motivated to write what is widely acknowledged as the book on creating gardens for the human experience by his observation that too many of his contemporaries were on the wrong course.  They were, he regretted, delving into design work that might have satisfied their egos or looked great in photos, but didn’t really take human use of the spaces they were designing into account.’  Bruce continued:

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‘Let me confess that I too have occasionally been guilty of trying to stretch the creative envelope with my work – typically in display gardens, where making artistic statements is accepted and even encouraged.  For the most part, however, I’m ever mindful that gardens are for people and that I’m devising spaces in which my clients will sit, swim, cook, socialize, reflect, exercise and/or play.’

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‘Yes, I want my projects to look good in photographs, basically so I can show prospective clients what I’ve done.  But more important, I want my clients to want to be in their gardens:  I want them drawn outside toward the pool, over to the colorful garden, onto the well-appointed terrace or into the kitchen garden.’

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‘As designers, it’s our job to dig in and figure out what our clients really want.  This enables us to create spaces that are worth what we’ve asked them to pay and that will be used (as intended and desired) for entertaining, by the kids or for myriad other purposes.  To make this happen, we need to listen.’

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‘Of course, it would be great if all clients insisted on giving designers all the information they might need.  But let’s face it:  Not all clients are sharp enough or practiced enough or insightful enough to know how important it is to open up – which means, pure and simple, that we have to work at unlocking their minds.’  

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‘This is why, even when a client tells me to “do my thing,” I still pester them for information.  . . .  While the notion of a client leaving us free to create is fantastic in concept and does wonders for the spirit, it’s also a great and incredible burden and responsibility – not one I would care to tackle blind.’  

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‘But there’s a tricky little issue buried in all of this:  There are many instances out there of pure, artist-driven designs that just take my breath away – and some of the most noteworthy achievements in watershape and landscape design are among them.’

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‘[These] purely artistic works have great potential for running against the grain of utility; while I can admire the aesthetic achievement, I am supremely aware that I do not want to be seduced into thinking that making such bold statements is the best way to meet my own clients’ needs.’

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‘By way of contrast, look at a “garden” such as New York’s Central Park, which Frederick Law Olmsted presciently devised as a backyard for masses of walkers, bikers, joggers, Frisbee-players, boaters and sunbathers while also offering a showcase for trees, shrubs and perennials.  All at once, it is as visually stunning as can be while also being about as people-friendly as a space can get.’

‘Olmstead knew, as did Church, that gardens are for people.  The challenge for us as designers,’ Bruce concluded, ‘is to keep our ideas fresh and exciting while still paying attention to what our clients want and need the most.’

Do you align yourself with Bruce’s focus on designing with people in mind?  Have you had specific experiences with clients that have shaped this attitude in you?  How do you get clients to open up and buy into what you’re trying to accomplish?  Please share your thoughts and experiences by commenting below!

 

Bruce Zaretsky is president of Zaretsky and Associates, a landscape design/construction/consultation company in Rochester, N.Y.  Nationally recognized for creative and inspiring residential landscapes, he also works with healthcare facilities, nursing homes and local municipalities in conceiving and installing healing and meditation gardens.  You can reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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