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Too Little, Too Late?

10-year logoBy Stephanie Rose

‘Many watershapers have a single-minded focus,’ wrote Stephanie Rose in her Natural Companions column in February 2007, ‘doing all they can to deliver quality shells and surrounding decks to their clients. Quite often, however, that narrow focus means that inadequate space is left for planting – a problem I face quite often as a landshaper.’

She continued: ‘It’s clear in many cases that no thought at all was given to the landscape – and certain that no design professional was consulted before laying out and installing the hardscape. The result all too often is that there simply isn’t enough room to allow for good-size planter beds.’

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‘I often find myself rolling my eyes and lamenting the missed opportunities to use certain plants or even to install ones big enough to make a visual statement. It’s obvious to me that these situations could easily have been prevented by better planning and communication: Sometimes there will be no option to cramped planting spaces, but in the majority of cases I’ve seen, it’s simply that the possibilities were never even considered.’

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‘More often than not, what’s happening . . . is that the homeowner expects the contractor to accommodate (or even do) all the landscaping work, including planting design, only to find that the contractor really doesn’t know all that much about plants. At that point, whoever is brought in is left with unusual planting spaces but still needs to meet the homeowner’s desires.’

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‘I always start by coming up with a list of options from which to choose. Let’s take a situation in which the contractor has built a concrete patio that leaves only 12 inches between the new deck and the foundation of the house. This is a case where a small tree would do a great job of softening up the façade, but there are a number of other approaches you can take with these vertical spaces.’

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‘Of course, containers are always an option when we’re faced with these difficult situations. Here, I take my cues from roof gardens, where there is no ground-level planting space at all and well-placed containers are just the ticket for defining spaces and giving them a sense of dimension and flow.’

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‘Next, I’d consider vertically-oriented plants and shrubs that will grow to a specific height against the wall. On the average eight-foot exterior wall, the plants I choose will either define a good balance between the plant material and open wall space (five-foot-tall plants under three feet of wall space) – or leave a big blank with two or three feet of plants under five or six feet of wall space.’

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‘If nothing seems to make the client happy, I will often suggest increasing the size of the planter by removing some of the hardscape. Most often, this inspires such horror (especially if the deck is brand-new) that the owner will cooperate in development of less-destructive options. In cases in which the client is going to be forever unhappy, however, this may be the best option.’

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‘The point here is, we can’t always control the environments in which we’re asked to work. As always, I believe that the greatest tool at our disposal is the ability to communicate effectively with clients and other professionals. Beyond that, we need to fend for ourselves and think creatively.’

Has the focus Stephanie helped place on integrating landscape considerations into the watershape-design process had an influence on the way you approach your projects? Yes or no, please share your thoughts on balancing the relationship between watershapes and landscapes by commenting below.
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Stephanie Rose wrote her Natural Companions column for WaterShapes for eight years and also served as editor of LandShapes magazine. She may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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