Landscape Architects and Designers – Friends or Foe?

March 06, 2008
Written by Art Drysdale
An editorial feature in a national Canadian gardening magazine this winter just re-enforced my thoughts about landscape architects and their dedication to their beloved ‘hard landscaping’ and their apparent lack of interest in plants! Remember Wendy's “Where's the beef?” As far as I am concerned, with many landscape architects and designers, it is still most often “Where are the plants?”

When I saw the photo of the semi-detached townhouse in south Rosedale in the magazine I noted it had a brick 4-step staircase leading up to a small stoop at the front door. There was a black wrought iron railing up one side. The owner had it nicely decorated with individual seasonal items such as a pumpkin in the “before” photo. In the “after” shot there were five brick-wrapped stairs leading to a larger stoop, all with nicely edged Credit Valley stone caps or treads. Within the new stair system were three small planters containing what appeared to be ‘Green Gem’
’Green Mound’ or ‘Green Mountain’ boxwood with three in each container. Nothing wrong with those plants, but no one could possibly say it is over-planted! There is also an additional planter not yet planted.

On the new stoop itself were two traditional low urns filled with colourful mums and ivy, and a narrow window box half the width of the window sill on the front window. That was it!
My question would likely have been when are you going to put in the permanent plants?

There is, naturally, a short discourse on “You really should consider paring things down to make your life easier...” and other similar bafflegab about “casual looseness,” “layering plants” and “formal control.” In fairness, the owner/author did say, “By spring, I'll also have simple, wrought-iron railings for the front porch, a wooden overhang and new trim for the front door.”

Those are definitely needed, but none of those make up for the need of more plants. For example, on what I think is the south side of the porch (far right) there is a metre-high brick wall absolutely blank, with no room for the placement of a short climber or two to soften it. Each of the now wide Credit Valley stone capped stairs could have been left with small pockets for planting at least robust perennials if not dwarf evergreens or shrubs.

It seems to me this is typical of most of the plans I see today. Nurseries and garden centres used to be criticized for over-selling nursery stock for new plantings. The gardens they created were absolutely jammed, meaning that in just a few years the planting would have to be “re-organized.” But when you think about it, is there really anything wrong with that? Particularly where the planting is done by a “design-build” operation, because in early future years they then can undertake to move plants around as some of the specimens outgrow their space.

Art Drysdale, who broadcasts on gardening daily to one of the largest radio gardening audiences in Canada on Ontario's AM740, as well as on Easy 101 covering most of southwestern Ontario, also hosts two new TV gardening vignettes weekly on Shaw Cable's Vancouver Island network and may be reached by e-mail at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or check his website at:

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