Is it working for you?

I mentioned before how it’s sometimes hard to articulate what works so well about a good landscape. It is much easier (and far more fun) to critique them.

This is a front yard in newish development, and I was all excited to see such a Mediterranean looking house and garden – it is the Pacific Northwest after all, just check out that white sky.

The plants are great – the low mounds in the center are sedums and ice plant, yarrow, and thyme. Then there’s Mexican feather grass, feather reed grass, rubeckia, flax, rock rose, artemisia, rosemary, and some heathers. It’s not mature yet, but neither is it a brand new installation; it’s maybe 1-2 years old.

The picture is taken from the street; there’s no sidewalk in the neighborhood. See the problem? Those towering Feather Reed Grasses (Calamagrostis) on the right are out at the street and though you can’t see it, there are four of them planted together in a group. Even numbers and tall forms in front of short forms. Breaking the rules is edgy and can totally work, but it doesn’t here.

From this angle, the burgundy foliage of the flax is framed by the grasses and it looks great. Facing the house directly, it doesn’t look bad, but it feels weird. Know what I mean?

You can’t see very much of the house, so let me tell you: it’s enormous. Two stories and maybe 4,000 square feet or so. That type of architecture normally has a warm feel to it, but instead it looks stark, hulking over the wispy landscaping. I think it needs a nice hulking tree for some balance and anchoring.

We’ve been talking in class about how when places are well designed, you can feel it. You want to stay and wander and kick off your shoes. When it doesn’t quite work, you want to get away, walk quickly to the nearest exit. After class, whether we’re talking about sense of place or balance or lines, I go out and look at landscapes and try to recognize those themes, or the lack of them. This particular house is an example of something being just slightly out of order – after all the plants are great, the rocks are good accents, the mulch looks natural. For me, though, it’s not working.

I’m entertaining the idea of trying to estimate the house’s footprint and the size of the lot, then redrawing it in CAD and moving the plants around. It would be a great exercise and good practice in CAD. I’d love to see a 40′ Jacaranda or a pepper tree to the north of the house, but again: PNW. Not going to happen.

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2 thoughts on “Is it working for you?

  1. I have to admit, this landscape does nothing for me. I can’t find a focal point or at least a strong one. I don’t know where to look, what path I should take thorugh. It all just jumps around.

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