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WaterShapes LogotypeBy Eric Herman

Last year at about this time, my wife and I were driving through Big Sur on the California coast when, on impulse, we decided to stop at Pfeiffer State Park and take a long walk through the redwood forest.  It was a gorgeous day, and the snows in the nearby Santa Lucia Mountains had mostly melted.  Everything was green and the rivers and streams that lace the area were running swift and high.

As we huffed and puffed our way up a steep incline, we began to hear the sound of cascading water echoing through the majestic conifers.  As if the beauty of the 300-foot redwoods wasn’t enough to draw us deeper into the forest, the sound of the water put a decided spring in our steps.  This burst of energy and inspiration was a good thing:  As it turned out, although we could hear the water more clearly with each stride, we were still more than a quarter mile downslope from the source.

The steep, winding path ultimately led us to a landing in a small box canyon at the foot of a spectacularly intricate set of falls.  Because of the way the trail had twisted and turned, we couldn’t actually see the water until we were practically getting wet.  I remember hearing Teresa, who’s in much better shape than I, sigh with relief and delight as we walked onto a small wooden deck that enabled visitors to all but touch the falling water.  (It took several moments of fairly intense panting before I was able to drink it all in.)

It was a beautiful experience – one that reinforced my view that there’s nothing quite like the sight and sound of water to transform the mood of those who go near it.  In this case, the sound of the water exercised a magnetic pull on our tired legs all the way along the path, and the payoff was worth the effort, tenfold.  Teresa and I lingered near that waterfall for nearly an hour.

I recall this story to make the simple (yet profound) point that watershapers have a chance to do what nature does so often by offering this unfolding sense of discovery to clients – and that you don’t need an entire redwood forest and a rushing river to make it happen.

In this issue, landscape designer Bobbie Schwartz takes us on a “walking tour” of several noteworthy gardens she’s visited in England and the United States (click here).  In her story, called “The Unfolding Garden,” she describes a veritable arboretum full of ways that anyone working with water can provide delightful revelations for clients coming upon the water’s edge.

The best thing about her presentation is that what she describes falls squarely into the category of things you can do for clients that don’t necessarily cost an arm and a leg.  Rather, with a bit of space and imagination, it’s possible to arrange footpaths and plantings and position a watershape in such a way that a sense of excitement and discovery is a product of design strategy and not of a massive budget.

Although the spaces and plantings pictured in Schwartz’s article have had the advantage of generations of growth in some cases, the philosophy of design she defines can be applied in a modest backyard environment almost as well as it can in a space as vast as the great outdoors.  Watershapers may not be able to work this magic in quite the same way nature does, but the rewards of trying can make the journey worth every step for you – and especially for your clients.

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