Why Landscape Design?

As we cross over from summer into fall, there is still time for planting, but there is also lots of time to think about revising your landscape next year.  Maybe you think your landscape is perfectly acceptable, like those around you and simply not in need of any revision.  That may be the case, but there are also several reasons why you might want to consider a landscape renovation.  Do you ever renovate the inside of your house?  How old is your kitchen?  How about bathrooms? When was the last time you bought new curtains, a new rug or applied a fresh coat of paint?  We take many home renovations for granted, without every really thinking about renovating the outdoors.

Think about whether your landscape truly provides spaces for you to enjoy the outdoors or is it simply a decoration of the front of your house? An effective landscape creates outdoors rooms in which you and your family can live, especially now in Delaware when the outdoors is such a pleasant place to be! But, creating outdoor rooms doesn’t just happen. You need a floor—a nice lawn area, patio or deck.  You need walls—shrubs or small trees that block some views and accentuate others.  And you need a ceiling—large trees that overhang your room and provide a sense of enclosure.

Another reason to renovate your landscape is to make sure your outdoors is providing the ecosystem services you need to live.  Ecosystem services include clean water and well-managed water.  Does the water that falls on the roof of your house or your driveway stay on your property and infiltrate, where it can become cleansed by flowing through the soil and making it to the groundwater?  Or does water flow off your property into storm drains carrying debris and other pollutants to our surface waters? You can design your landscape to keep all the water on site and allow it to infiltrate to water your plants and slowly recharge the groundwater of Delaware.

Another important ecosystem service is clean air.  Plants take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen, of course, but they also remove undesirable particulates from the air.  While turfgrass is a plant and does give off oxygen, it is not as good at supplying oxygen and removing particulates as a more complicated multi-layered landscape.  If you have lawn plus groundcovers, perennials, shrubs, small trees and large trees, you are intercepting and cleansing air at many different levels or layers within your landscape.

A third ecosystem service is wildlife habitat.  We have all been hearing how important it is to provide plants for pollinators to pollinate our food crops, but in fact, every plant needs to be pollinated in order to survive.  Also, plants are the basis of the food chain.  Without plants we would not support insects and without insects, we can’t support birds, without birds we can’t support carnivores that eat birds, etc. It turns out we need not just any plant, we need native plants.  Native plants and native insects have developed close relationships over evolutionary time, so if we want to have enough insects to feed baby birds (and who doesn’t want to invite birds into their landscape), we need to plant native plants.

The fourth ecosystem service is human wellness.  Spending time outdoors is a great stress reliever and is important to a happy, healthy life.  Creating landscapes that make it fun to be outdoors will restore your mental capacity to deal with that tough problem you are facing at work or at home.

So where does landscape design come in?  Creating landscapes that fulfill these ecosystem services takes skill and experience.  Landscape designers and landscape architects have been trained to think in terms of creating outdoor rooms and functioning landscape that do more than just look pretty.  At the University of Delaware, we are training students in our Landscape Architecture program for careers in which they can help homeowners, businesses, and communities create functioning landscapes that meet the needs of the users and provide the ecosystem services we all need to survive.

A group of landscape architecture students at UD is hosting the second Landscape Architecture Symposium sponsored by the program (and by the Delaware Center for Horticulture).  The Craft of Design: Enhancing Skills and Landscape Function will be held on November 1 (8 AM – 6 PM) at the Delaware Center for Horticulture in Wilmington, DE.  Speakers will talk about people-centered landscapes and afternoon workshops will work on building landscape skills in sketching, photography and modeling.  This symposium is open to anyone who is interested in landscape design and would be the perfect opportunity to help you jump start a garden renovation project at home.  For more details and to register visit http://canr.udel.edu/plsc/lasymposium/.

This low retaining wall and perennial provide a “wall” for an outdoor seating patio. Plus lots of native plants provide food for native insects encouraging birds and other wildlife.

Tall, arching trees provide a sense of enclosure in this backyard patio.