By Eric Herman
Back when we launched WaterShapes, just over 21 years ago, the magazine surprised lots of people for a variety of reasons: Its broad focus on all types of water systems; the fact that it’s written in the first person by industry experts and not trade journalists; and, even the name itself was a source of some befuddlement.
Frankly, I was surprised by the way many people reacted to WaterShapes and, to some measure that remains true to this day. Looking at water from the creative perspective, as an artistic medium and design element, still challenges some skeptics, but these days I just figure that’s part of the territory.
Among the more initially stupefying concepts we pursued in the print magazine was the inclusion of plants. From the first issue in February 1999, we included a plant columnist in the editorial mix, Stephanie Rose, a landscape designer we first discovered on HGTV’s The Surprise Gardener. Her column, "Natural Companions," ran for more than a decade in WaterShapes and turned out to be one of most well-read parts of the publication.
Our goal in working with Stephanie, and others of her professional ilk, was to meld landscape design/architecture with the work of pool designers and builders, as well as pond and fountain specialists. Many of our readers embraced the idea, while others remained aloof to it.
To my mind, plants are often the stars of gardens where water exists primarily to reflect and amplify the visual impact of specimen trees and other eye-catching plantings. I’m certainly not alone in thinking that way. Designer Kirk Bianchi once told me that he sees plants as the gemstones in the landscape and everything else, including the watershapes, is the setting. When you look at the way that Kirk and like-minded designers focus on plants, it’s easy to see what he means.
There’s also a somewhat esoteric concept that because plants are made mostly of water, they are, in effect, a type of natural watershape. I’ll leave it to others as to whether or not that idea “holds water,” but there can be no denying that plants often do play a major role in manmade spaces; and, therefore, should be considered as much a part of watershaping as hardscape.
In this WaterShapes edition, you will find a wonderful article by my good friend, the pool builder and landscape architect Michael Logsdon. Here he talks about xeriscaping and what that term really means. As he points out, a big part of it is all about choosing plantings that thrive in a given climate zone and soil type, and not so much about rocks and cacti as most people assume. It’s all one big example of how plantings can be used to enhance the built environment with sustainable design choices and surprising beauty.
When I think of the most welcoming watershape settings (and at my advanced stage of the game, I’ve seen literally thousands in photos and in person) almost all of them feature plants in one way or another. Making creative use of plants is, I believe, an almost magical way to beautify a space and ultimately support positive client experiences.
So, don’t be surprised to see content in these digital pages that shines a light on plants as a very natural “WaterShapes” companion.