You may be starting off your journey in soft landscaping and it's time to pay attention to the professional details. So, you may ask, what is a soft landscaper?
A soft landscaper is a professional that specializes in the horticultural aspect of landscape and architecture. They use plants, and any living landscaping element, as their main design palette. This is in order to provide ecological and aesthetically pleasing landscapes.
This article aims at introducing you to one of the fundamental aspects of landscaping. These fundamentals are what soft landscapers use in order to utilize plants in their overall design plan. At the end of this article, you should understand the role of a soft landscaper and their purpose in any landscaping project.
Not only that, but this article will utilize information from two books used in the majority of landscaping design schools all over the world. These two books are Fundamentals of Landscape Architecture by Tim Waterman and The Planting Design Handbook by Nick Robinson. These books are highly recommended for student and professional landscapers.
Horticulture in Landscaping
In the landscaping field, it is not unusual that landscapers do not have a master level course in horticulture. You may find that some landscapers start off with specific plants and stick to it since they know the biological aspect of this plant and its interrelationships.
It is assumed that viewers may consider this type of design with this specific plant to be the designer’s brand. Expected or unexpected, the reasons behind a landscape designer’s brand are up to them.
That is why there is a field within landscaping known as soft landscaping. Here landscapers with a particular passion for using natural materials such as plants, tend to flourish. They are able to conduct landscape planting at its highest form. They are also able to bridge the gap between horticulture and landscaping.
The Composition of the work of a Soft landscaper
Tim Waterman does a great job in explaining the term ‘plant palette’. He explains that just like a painter uses a wide variety of paint colors on his palette, landscape architects do the same but with plants.
A soft landscaper will primarily have functional plants as part of the main materials in their design portfolio. During the design process, soft landscapers will draw or sketch different plants as part of their design mock-up.
They will tend to use trees as the base structure of the design since they are huge and take up quite a lot of space in their target area. In order for them to completely attain structure to their peace, they will then add shrubs and other plants such as vines and herbaceous plants.
Soft landscapers utilize plant compositions to meet the specific goals of their intended project. Nick Robinson further illustrates the work composition of a soft landscaper by stating that plants can become the sole medium of any design.
He further continues to explain the spontaneous nature of plants as living materials because of their diverse ways of growing and existing in plant communities.
The 3 Main Plant Considerations for Soft Landscapers
Our planet has often succumbed to the phenomenon of seasons. Usually, you would the main seasons being spring, summer, autumn and winter. These are the typically known seasons worldwide. Good plant design will always take the seasons, their effects and time into consideration.
A good plant design will take how the plants change and mature over time, into consideration because the resulting landscape will lead to consistent client satisfaction over the years. A good design plan will arouse a constant interest from their clients throughout the seasons and the plant’s lifetime. The change in seasons should not be a cause for concern but a point of consistent and nostalgic change.
Soft landscapers will take 3 main plant variables as part of their design process in order to fully utilize mother nature’s gift of the ever-changing seasons.
The characteristics of the plant that fit into the design plan
- Form - This refers to the general shape of the plant, the plant’s appearance and its form as it grows (otherwise known as a plant architecture). For example, some shrubs will grow out into bushes or hedges. Soft landscapers take the matters of form into consideration.
- Size – the plant’s width and height at peak maturity
- Texture – this applies to the plant’s leaves and branches. They tend to be fine, medium or coarse. It is key to remember that plants are the palettes to this form of design, they are the paint whereas the designer is the painter.
- Color – This was obvious coming down the line. The color of the leaves, the fruits the plants would bear, the barks of the trees and the flowers that would sprout. All these color combinations have to mesh well in the landscape’s plant community.
The Suitability of the Plant for the Project Site
- Soil- like human beings, plants can be picky as well and they choose which soil they prefer to grow in. This might be a matter of pH, mineral contents etc. Every living thing wouldn’t mind their own version of fine dining.
- Moisture – Different plants require different levels of moisture. This could be a result of their native environments and biological adaptations. It is important to note which plants are drought resistant and which plants require consistent levels of moisture in order to fully flourish.
- Climate – this isn’t just the amount of sunlight or the temperatures in their environment. But this also applies to wind. The climate of an area will need to be taken into account by every soft landscaper in order for your plants to stay alive and healthy throughout the years.
- Microclimate – this refers to the small project area assigned for the landscape design. The project area’s climate will also affect the plants. Soft landscapers take into account micro climates as well because not all plants may be a suitable pick to survive in the desired micro climate area.
If you can recall, sometime during your journey as a student, you were educated on the uses of plants. Some of those uses include giving oxygen, providing food to humans and animals, controlling soil erosion etc. In the same way, soft landscapers take into account the type of benefits the plants will give to that specific project area. Not only will they be great from an aesthetic perspective but they are also important to maintain the overall environment and health of the humans that are within that area.
Plants are important in maintaining and improving the ecology and biodiversity of areas they inhabit. Therefore, the roles of these plants in the project area are taken into high regard. This is to showcase the functionality of plants as part of the materials that go into landscaping.
Maintenance after Project Completion
One thing that has to be considered heavily by soft landscapers is how the plants will be cared for after the project is completed. Nick Robinson, shares this in his book. He calls it Creative Management. The one aspect of design is fulfilling the design goals as the years go by. This is truly when they are fully realized by the clients.
These goals are usually applied to the plant palette than to the hard landscaping. Hard landscaping is the use of constructed artificial materials into a landscape architectural design. Both soft landscaping and hard landscaping are applied to help achieve design goals.
Roughly, the maintenance period is the trying time of the design. It is during this time that the resulting landscape transforms into the finished product. The reasons for this are because it tests the practicality of the design plan. It tests if the design was able to keep form while exposed to field conditions and not their sketch book.
Besides that, it may also be a moment for nature to take its course in the design and fully bring it to life in ways that could only be achieved with time. This is one of the benefits of the maintenance period. This brings to the forefront the unpredictability of soft landscaping.
The 3 main considerations mentioned above are part of the test of time that will put the design under the trials and tribulations to fully extract its potential, or not.
The Soft Landscapers Design View
It may be hard to differentiate a soft landscaper from other professionals in the horticultural fields such as florists, gardeners etc. The main difference in the views is that soft landscapers have a broader view. This view allows soft landscapers to design much larger outdoor spaces.
They are able to view the interrelationship between human beings and the landscape. Not only that but they are able to view their interactions.
Soft landscaping may be hard to grasp in the beginning but it is key in bringing all the elements of landscaping together. Through this, landscape designers across the board are able to provide clients with a finished piece of art.
About THE AUTHOR
As an experienced gardener & landscaper on my own property over the last 20 years, I'm excited to share the things I've learned along the way, as I continue to learn.Read More About Elsie Moore