Garden Designers' Roundtable: Inspiration

Inspiration comes in many forms and guises.  Sometimes I have to seek it out, other times it hits me as a surprise observation or a flash of an idea from out of the blue when I'm busy at another task (Weeding, anyone?).  I've written about a number of my inspirational influences here, so today I'd like to focus on just one:  my colleagues.

Last week I attended ProGreen Expo, the annual, week-long conference and trade show for landscape professionals in the Rocky Mountain and High Plains regions.  With over 100 seminars to attend and 600 vendor booths to visit, it's the perfect opportunity to find inspiration.  If you didn't know it before, I'll tell you now:  people in the green industry — designers, contractors, irrigation specialists, arborists, etc. — are extremely open and sharing with their expertise and information. Regardless of what part of the country they work in or the size of their business, there is usually a new idea or fresh perspective that I can adapt.  Here are just a few of the ideas that I gleaned from my colleagues...

Inspiration:  tools and technology
Roundtable member Susan Cohan taught a couple of sessions on digital imagery as design tools. My aha! moment came with her tutorial on using "secret", or hidden, Pinterest boards to collaborate with clients.  Design styles, specific plants, hardscape products, colors, etc. can be reviewed and edited to help communicate and customize a landscape or garden design. Did I spend the weekend reorganizing and expanding my Pinterest site?  Yes. Yes I did!

Photographs are a key component of my business, so I'm always looking for good tips and examples to help me improve my landscape and plant photos.  Rich Pomerantz, a master photographer with a beautiful portfolio, had some solid reminders / ideas for me (which I ran right out and tried):

1.  Play with the depth of field.  Not everything has to be in focus all the time.

2.  Play with the light. Back-lit "rimmed" subjects can be lovely.

3.  Shadows can be your friends (they make the subject look more three dimensional).
4.  Sometimes you want to "sell the steak" with your photo, sometimes you want to "sell the sizzle."

Inspiration:  regionalism
Another Roundtable member, David Christiani, gave two presentations on using regional cues to create designs that have a visual "sense of place" and are sustainable.  David recommends not only knowing your climate (much more than the USDA Hardiness Zone), but also the plant patterns of your eco-zone.  Plants are going to form groups and colonies — patterns, if you will — differently in the high plains than they do in the desert or woodlands, for example.  Recreating those patterns in the built landscape will go a long way towards creating a regional design, even when different plants are substituted.
Here's an example of a built landscape in my neighborhood park that replicates that of the high plains region. Grasses are the dominant plant species with the occasional  shrub, thicket, or tree.  Woody plants have naturalized here more than the norm because of their proximity to a lake and drainage/irrigation ditch.

             (More of Rich's photo tips:
             5.  Use the line of a path, wall, planting bed, etc to take the viewer's eye from the corner of the    image into the center.
             6.  The foreground doesn't always have to be in focus.)

This look could be interpreted in a home landscape by emphasizing low profile plantings with the occasional tall accent plant, something like this:
Denver, Colorado, designer unknown

Inspiration:  Collaboration
As an independent landscape designer I sometimes get trapped into thinking that I have to know everything and do everything myself.  Helllooooo! A great presentation by Elizabeth Fain LaBombard on the design, installation (Elizabeth was the lead on Section 2), and maintenance of the fabulous High Line in New York reminded me that complex projects are often best tackled as team projects.  Professional collaborations and public sector+private sector collaborations are what made this project feasible from the very beginning.  Will I be working with my peers more often in 2013?  You can bet on it!

What has inspired you lately?  What ideas will you be incorporating into your garden for 2013?

We have a great program for you today.  Please visit my fellow members of The Garden Designers' Roundtable for more Inspiration!

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