Design Crutches

DESIGN CRUTCHES

By Kathleen Nelson

I’m not a natural designer, but have found a few simple tricks that help me make placement decisions. These are all for after you’ve analyzed light, shade, tree roots, critters, moisture, drainage, soil type, view etc.

  • Take a photo, print several copies in black and white, and sketch ideas on it in pencil. You will be able to look at form w/o being distracted by color.

color photo of subject area
color photo of subject area
black & white copy of original photo
black & white copy of original photo
sketch of tree in first proposed position
sketch of tree in first proposed position
sketch of tree further back
sketch of tree further back
  • Rule of Thumb”: Wondering whether a certain view looks better or worse with a particular feature? (Do you want to leave that tree or cut it down? Does that crazy sculpture Aunt Stella placed in her front yard make the place look better or worse?) While looking at a slide or a landscape, hold up your thumb to block the questionable element, essentially removing it from view. Does the view look better or worse?

  • Call a Friend”: not only are friends and family likely to have some helpful ideas, but you can place them around the yard while you watch and think. (“Stand there and be a tree – raise your arms high!”, “Move four feet to the left”, “Forward a bit”, “Crouch down and spread wide – you are a little shrub”). This works very well for tree and shrub placement.

  • In freshly fallen snow, walk a path for a possible line change in the garden, and then look from the window to see if the marked line looks promising.

  • No freshly fallen snow? Some people use hoses to mark lines (that doesn’t work for me, my hoses coil and go their own way). But stakes, pots (with or w/o plants) and other handy objects can give you a good idea. Stakes have often stayed in my lawn for weeks while visiting friends offer input on the new line.

  • Think triangles: When in doubt, consider planting in threes to form lopsided scalene triangles (those are the ones with no equal sides, no equal angles).

  • Try dividing a space using the “Golden Section”, placing the dominant element 8/13 of the way from one end. Where to place a tree? Look at the view, do a first try at placement by sending your tree-friends to “be a tree” about two thirds (close to 8/13) of the way from one end or the other. Does that work? Usually it is a good place to begin, but sometimes determining what reads as the “space” is a bit tricky, requiring more experimentation.

  • Don’t be in a rush. If nothing comes to you today, wait. A design solution may come to mind later. I start my designs where I can “see” a solution and leave the awkward places until later. If I wait long enough, awkward spaces often disappear – even my clients forget about them.