As a landscape designer in SW Victoria, I was recently sent 3 ‘landscaping plans’ by one of Victoria’s developer/builder companies. The request from the purchasing manager was for us to quote for each site separately, the total cost for each being $4,000.
As a designer I was horrified at the plans. But I thought that I would keep my mind open and have a look at the, what I thought would be, newly built homes. Not only are they not even built, but the site has a drainage problem. The evidence of sedges growing on the vacant block is very suggestive that there will be a problem here, as are also the puddles of water. It is also on the lower side of the road.
My assumption on inspecting the site is that the soil is sand with a peat base. It could have clay also as lower subsoil. The sedges indicate that there is moisture retaining material in the lower strata.
The plans themselves are, in my opinion, appalling. Upon discussion with the purchasing manager, I was told that the plans had been done by a backroom person who obviously had a simple computer tool to enable a plan to be put together. Excuse me, but where is the evidence in any of these plans of horticultural or landscape design knowledge? Are these backroom people dictating the evolving garden style in Australia?
All too often homes are being sold with existing ‘gardens’ as home and garden packages. The same ignorant ‘designers’ are ‘leading the way’ in how the gardens of the future should look. No wonder we have so many cloned homes. Let’s have a look at each plan –
No north indicator
No key correlation with plant names
‘Manual drip line to front landscaping’ – am I thick, but which is the front area? Can I assume that it is at the bottom of the plan? How does the home relate to the street and where is the street name?
Where are the taps for attachment to the drip line?
Where on the plans is the fence to be erected i.e. which boundary, or is it all of them?
I never import top soil, unless absolutely necessary. Is this imported soil supposed to correct the drainage problem? Just add more soil?
Lilydale toppings have a pH of 9.5+ and needs to be used with absolute caution. Leaching into surrounding soil can have a damaging effect on plants, especially those of the Proteaceae family i.e. Grevilleas.
As the site is poorly drained, the Eucalyptus caesia would be a disaster; it originates amongst granite outcrops in inner southern Western Australia where wind is not a major factor. The Banksia marginata would swamp the front yard and block light to the home and Hakeas are notorious for toppling in wind, and this area is coastal and very windy.
The rest of the plants suggested are just the same-old, same-old. The placement of them on the plan is so uninspiring. I suppose I should give credit to the fact that they are not all grasses or flaxes and there is some effort at plant diversity.
to 8) remain the same
9) The Pyrus calleryana ‘Capital’ is a good choice for wetter conditions and do well in the area. But it is a fastigiate tree – why not use a deciduous tree with a canopy for shade? Maybe positioned over the ?driveway for visitor comfort in summer. A better choice would have been Pyrus betulaefolia ‘Dancer’ which is round headed and a smaller tree than the Manchurian Pear. It does well where I have used it locally.
10) Olea europaea prefer it dry so this selection would not thrive. And the Silver Birch [Betula pendula] also would not do well due to the proximity to the sea and the salt laden winds that prevail. The site is in a very exposed position.
11) The Lavandula angustifolia would definitely not enjoy the winter wet conditions. I never use lavender in client’s gardens because they are unreliable and short lived. The region experiences considerable humidity throughout the year, albeit it is quite cool. So lavender is a particularly bad choice, especially destined for irrigation with the rest of the garden.
1) to 8) remain the same
Magnolias have a very broad reaching root system, and even the so called dwarf forms i.e. Little Gem, still end up big, evergreen trees casting dense shade because of their leaf size. A bad choice for this site.
The Lagerstroemia or Crepe Myrtle prefers a clay based soil. If there is clay present, then this may be an acceptable choice. But there is still the issue of strong, salt laden winds.
The last 2 plants featured, the Yucca elephantipes and Cordyline ‘Red Star’ have been used in every second garden in this estate. People are just copying each others’ bad mistakes when it comes to garden design. The Yucca in particular gets quite large in maturity, especially at the base and has become so boring when used en masse. I grew it in my garden in Mintaro, South Australia where it grew into a large, fine specimen. But it was juxtaposed with plants like Wigandia caracasana which has large, hairy leaves providing a magnificent contrast to the spikiness of the yucca. And both of these plants were grown in very well drained soil with a limestone base and thrived.
Not only are the homes in the housing estate a collection of ugly, characterless boxes, but the gardens are all the same. Where is the individuality? Fortunately when clients approach landscape designers, they are usually looking for something different – they want their property to stand apart.
The budget allowed is mean. The building site is absolutely covered in weeds. There will be a considerable weed problem come time to do the landscaping. This alone, with the eradication of the weeds, would eat considerably into the $4,000 per home budget when done properly. Lilydale topping is also very expensive in SW Victoria because of the cost of cartage.
Jarrah edging? This is a very expensive timber for edging gardens. The budget certainly wouldn’t allow for this to be used. And the shape outline in the plans that is curved in one area would be very time consuming to edge with timber within the budget. What do they think the hourly rate of a professional landscaper is – $5 per hour?
We also use coarse mulch and not fine. It has been found that the fine mulch does not allow penetration of moisture as well as the coarser material. The area concerned in SW Victoria receives significant winter rainfall but has a relatively long, dryish summer.
The requisition for the landscape quotation came from Geelong, Victoria. Has the purchasing manager even been to the site in far SW Victoria? Much of the region experiences wetlands that hold water well into late spring. Are they aware of the drainage issues?
James Beattie’s post ‘Lamenting the dwindling garden’ draws attention to the fact that backyards are shrinking in suburbia. When garden planning is dictated by the developers’ whim as to the style and plant use, then we really have a problem ahead of us, for those consumed with sustainable advancement. These shrinking gardens need so much more thought put into them as to how every square metre is used.
As a matter of principal I don’t want to be involved with these sites. The price offered for the landscaping component per property is far too low for any self-respecting Landscape Design business to even consider participation; the whole process so far has been substandard; I think it would be prudent for us to decline involvement.