Landscaping (Creating Artificial Environments that Provide Nothing)

April 29, 2014 by  
Filed under Blog, Design, Permaculture

As a former owner of a successful landscape company, I have some insights into the true nature of the landscape industry. First of all, the stereotypical dirtball landscaper is typically untrue. If you hire a reputable company, they will work hard to complete your project to your satisfaction. Most landscape companies are relatively small local businesses trying to make a living just like you. Having said that, 99.9 percent of the companies and the homeowners wouldn’t know good design if it jumped up and bit them in the ass. I know I was one of those guys. That doesn’t mean that your landscaper doesn’t know how to install a tree, a patio, or a water feature. These companies are extremely good at installing things properly. They are great at making things look the way you want. The problem isn’t the how, but the why and the what for.


There is no System! 

Landscape designers don’t have a system of design. Most are simply reacting to the clients and using their experience to give the client something that is beautiful, and provide some function like a patio or a walkway. Do they take note of prevailing winds? How about shade and sun angles? Unless they have a solar pathfinder, they are guessing or worse not even considering it. Do they look at the existing soil? How much observation do they do? How much time do they spend on site? Do they design using sector and zone analysis? Do they find contour lines? Are they stacking functions? Do all the elements of their design provide multiple functions? Are they using patterns from nature to harmonize with the existing landscape? Most are simply trying to sell another job, so they can move on to the next one. It’s really not all their fault. Most people put pressure on designers to provide free landscape consultations and design. If it’s free, I guarantee they are not able to spend the appropriate time to do it right. If it’s not free, you might get a better design, but they still won’t be incorporating the majority of the above principles of permaculture design, simply because they don’t know.

Natural pond attached to swales and overflow spilling to swale

What are you Really Getting with a Typical Landscape Design and Installation?  

Typically you’ll get low maintenance plantings along the front foundation of your house, maybe with a new paver walkway that’s got some curve to it. The plants will be standard fare, they’ll be easy to get and easy to grow. They will be maintained neatly. You’ll probably have a nice neat green chemically treated lawn in front. If you have some slope, they might incorporate a nice stone wall into the design. In the backyard, you’ll probably get a nice patio, and maybe even built in benches and a fire pit, if you’re really shelling out the bucks. They will plant more standards plants around the patio. If it’s sunny in back, they might plant some fast growing deciduous trees to shade the patio in summer. If you have a dog, they might propose a fence in back. There will probably be more foundation plantings on the sides and back of the house, and more chemically altered grass. They may install an irrigation system to keep it all watered. Granted, every landscape is different, but this encompasses the feel for the majority. So you’re getting some neatly arranged plants and some hard surfaces, but seriously how BORING!!!


If it’s so boring why does everyone do it?

A big part of it is the inertia of the system and people’s inherent desire to follow the herd and fit in. Part of it is people don’t know any better and they’re completely disconnected from nature. They’re idea of beauty would make Mother Nature cringe. Paul Wheaton describes landscaping as, “making Mother Nature your bitch.”


Is that really what you want? 

Herb Spiral (Rosemary, thyme, lavender, marjoram, calendula, sage, oregano, tomato volunteer, basil, onions, chives, parsley, dill, daikon)

There is a Better Way

What if I told you that there were designers that would give you plants that would not only look beautiful, but produce wonderful organic produce, medicine, and fertility? This designer would install plants mixed together as plant communities, so they would help each other with nutrient accumulation, pest control and confusion. What if this designer used contour lines, swales, and ponds to provide the irrigation your plants need without using a drop of your home’s water. What if the designer designed a system of natural abundance, that when mature, you could simply harvest what you want without costly inputs? What if this system was designed to stand long after you were gone? What if instead of neat manicured monoculture, you lived in a place of abundance, beauty, and diversity? That’s the power of permaculture.

Keyhole Garden (Potatoes, Brassicas, Onions, Leeks)

There are no permaculture designers in my area!

Unfortunately, there are very few permaculture designers around, and there are even fewer that have companies that will install the design for you. In fact, 90% of students who’ve taken a permaculture design course do not work as consultants and designers. Having said that there are designers out there that will do the design for you and either work on site as the supervisor with a landscape company, or work with temporary labor, which can be a big savings over the traditional landscape model. If you simply google permaculture design and your nearest town, you are bound to find a few that can help you. For you landscape designers, it’s never too late to start designing natural abundance. Take a permaculture design course, and learn about the most exciting design science in the world.      

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