Thursday, February 10, 2005

Landscape Design Pet Peeves

When you're having a "professional" take care of something for you, don't check your brains at the door. Mistakes are made -- routinely! Ask questions!

Near the top of the list of typical designer foibles that annoy me is the specification of a vine without provision of means of support. Vines climb, but not anywhere, any how. Different sorts of vines have different means of climbing. A landscape or garden design that includes vines without trellises or some other -- appropriate to the species -- sort of support, is not, in my opinion, a rational or praiseworthy design.

Designers commonly envision the beauty of vines without giving much thought to the means required for vines to express that beauty. At an upscale shopping center I saw vines planted between closely spaced massive pillars -- I suppose the designer imagined them ascending by twining around them -- but the pillars were smooth conrete, with nothing for the vines to get a purchase on, so they remained small and ineffective for years. With a trellis between the pillars -- and the right maintenance specifications -- the effect that I suppose the designer imagined might've been achieved.

Even something so simple as glue-on vine supports might've helped -- but such details are commonly overlooked in typical "low budget", little-or-no-oversight maintenance contracts. There is often a disconnect between the designer's vision and the people required to carry it out -- the gardeners defeat the landscape designer's purposes.

Another failing of this puny vine design was the postage stamp sized soil beds given to the vines, surrounded by paving -- an unrealistically small soil area to provide roots for substantial vines. There probably wasn't provision for adequate air and water under the paving for reasonable root growth. If you want it to grow big above ground, there must be room for roots underground. Some naively assume roots can expand downward. Not necessarily so -- not unless provision has been made for exceptional aeration downward, because roots need air about as much as they need water.

Today I saw heavy Clematis armandi, an evergreen clematis, planted at the base of bare walls without support. They were truly struggling to express themselves. Someone had crudely tied them up with a rope. They were like piles. They should've, in my opinion, gone in only with appropriately designed trellises.

Planting beds in cave-like tunnels are another typical foible. Plants and buildings, each needs their space. No green plants grow in caves -- light fuels their life. Some cave-like recesses which building architects naively seem to think should be planted are simply too dark. They're good places only for rock arrangements, or some other option that doesn't include living plants.

Places under eaves or in cave-like recesses often are simply too dark to grow plants. Most of us don't realize how effectively our eyes compensate for varying light intensities. Light we can see by isn't necessarily enough to support growth. Full sunlight boasts an intensity of about 7,000 foot-candles; many "interior" spaces are only a few hundred or even 50 or less foot-candles -- not enough to support the growth of landscape plants. Skylights provide far greater light intensity than artificial illumination, as a rule.

Plantings deep under eaves receive no rain water, unless it is directed to them from downspouts -- a good idea, because irrigation water includes salts that build up detrimentally in the soil, while rain water is free of salts and leaches them out. Plants deep under eaves [like the view I get from my dentist's chair] or "inside" structures often get very dusty. Such dust cannot be simply washed off, at least not if it has been allowed to gather for months and years.

The best remedy for such dustiness is to wipe each leaf with a soft cloth, slightly moistened with deionized or distilled water. It's tedious job and rarely done, so extremely dusty plants are common in malls and other settings where plants are grown out of the rain.

I'm struck by the crudity of gleaming public places adorned with desperately dusty plants. We moderns are so used to ugliness. In most such places the plants already suffer from lack of enough light, and the dust makes it worse -- even less light reaches the food-manufacturing chloroplasts inside the leaves.

Because plants under eaves get little or no rainwater, they sometimes get desperately dry during the rainy season, when the irrigation system is turned off, or people simply forget to water them, assuming that somehow the rain is watering them. Often some rain will blow in, especially under eaves, but the plants there aren't getting nearly as much water as those out in the open -- check and see! In a demonstration home garden at a local arboretum with an automatic irrigation system, the plants under the very broad eaves of the building were dying for lack of water. Plants under eaves or in "tunnels" are on a very different rainwater regime. A rationally designed automatic irrigation system puts plants in the building's "rain shadow" on a separate circuit. If you have an "automatic" irrigation system and don't want to go to that trouble, be sure to remember to hand water them -- let the rain be your reminder!

Salts build up in the soil of plants rooted in the rain shadow of buildings that are irrigated without receiving any rainwater. Irrigation water has substantially more mineral salts than rainwater. As the water evaporates from the soil, more and more salts are left behind. So not only do they need to be watered to make up for the lack of rain, but an occasional extra heavy watering is advisable to leach the accumulating salts from their root zones. Plants under eaves are often puny and show burned leaf edges from a) simply lack of water and b) the heavier concentration of salts built up from irrigation water and never leached out.

There may be a "rain shadow" of sorts near a building, even not under the eaves. Watch out for this effect! Those puny, ineffective vines at the upscale shopping center were also suffering from the building "rain shadow" effect. It was a beautiful idea, but didn't have a chance of succeeding in the real world.

5 Comments:

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