Design principles are values but they are bigger than the values and priorities we choose for any one project. They function parallel to everything you have already learned. These are the values we use to guide ALL design decisions on ALL projects, regardless of the budget, environment, practical needs or preferences of those involved.
For example, the first principle I design with is “minimum effort for maximum result.” This comes from the value I and most of my clients share of getting the most value for the time, energy and money we spend, REGARDLESS of what we are doing. If I am installing a landscape and there is a $10.00 dollar tool that will do the same job as a $50.00 tool I will buy the $10.00 tool. If my clients can hire a landscaper to create the same garden for half the price as another landscaper, all things being equal, they will pick the lower-cost company. Why? Because the money saved can be used to buy other things they value. The same is true of energy: All things being equal if there is a shorter way to get to work, we will take that route and save time and gas so that we can spend that energy doing something more productive than sitting in traffic.
Almost everyone will relate to this value, but it is still subjective. The important thing is to be clear on what our design principles are. Below are the principles that I use, along with some brief examples of how I apply them in the design process. I’ve chosen this particular set of values because they provide a clear path to get from chaos to a finished garden that most of my clients are extremely happy with. You can borrow all or parts of it or develop your own design philosophy.
“Result” has everything to do with what you value. That’s why it is great that you have already clarified how you define success. If you value low maintenance, beauty, safety and a place to play soccer, then “minimum effort for maximum result” means the quickest, easiest way to achieve this goal to your satisfaction with the least amount of money.
This is fairly straight forward and applies to the overall design. However, it also applies to every small decision within the design. Let’s say there are two types of stone you are considering as the material for your retaining wall. One of them is a square Three-River’s stone for $640.00 per ton and the other is Sonoma Fieldstone for $140.00 per ton. Now let’s say that you like the Three-River’s stone 30% more than you like the Sonoma Fieldstone. You like the purple and the square look more than you like the round look, but the Sonoma Fieldstone is also a good choice in your eyes.
Applying the principle of “minimum effort for maximum result” analyzes the added value in RELATIONSHIP to the added cost. You would not pay $45.00 dollars for a $10.00 bottle of shampoo just because it had 30% more shampoo than the typical $10.00 bottle of shampoo. In the same way, it does not make sense to spend 400% more money for a stone choice that you only like 30% more than the cheaper alternative. Saving $500.00 per ton on a four- ton wall will allow you to spend that $2,000.00 in some other area of the landscape that will hopefully give you $8,000.00 in value – an instant 400% return on investment!
Of course it is not just the cost to “like” ratio. To apply this principle well includes ALL of your values, which is why it’s helpful to be clear on what they are and their order of priority for you. Things to consider include:
There are some things that even if they are “free” are too expensive in other areas to be worth the overall cost (try having a friend give you boat when you don’t really want one or use it enough to justify all the money to maintain it and the space to store it). Other things are cheap even costing twice as much money initially because they accomplish so MANY of your other values simultaneously.
It is very helpful if the person designing a landscape looks through these eyes. Doing so naturally results in increased creativity, sustainability and value at ALL levels of the project, not just material selection.
Form follows function:
This principle begins with valuing comfortable living. If you want to pick fresh herbs and vegetables this principle dictates that they will be placed close to the kitchen so that they can be harvested without a hassle when you remember them at the last minute while cooking. It dictates that pathways be placed where it is most comfortable and practical to walk, not worked in as an afterthought after designing interesting flower arrangements.
Applying this principle leads to such things as driving your car around in the dirt and turning around BEFORE the driveway is poured in concrete and you are left feeling cramped every day for the next ten years when you try and turn around. In short, the shape of any object or feature in a landscape is dictated by the living habits and preferences of the individual home-owner and not the other way around.
Another important application of this principle is to start by designing to achieve the three to five really important functions or goals of a project and then let the smaller items fit into the cracks or not. If your priority is not spending a penny over $30,000.00, getting a very safe no-maintenance driveway to park three cars and having a patio with a bench, the place to start is not going online to look at bench prices. The place to start is to research and design a really great driveway. And for that matter, since for many of us our driveways are almost as big as the front gardens, it does not necessarily make sense to go for the cheapest no-maintenance driveway if it is also the ugliest. In fact, doing a stamped concrete driveway that costs $28,000.00 and spreading wild-flowers on the bare soil and keeping an eye out on Craig’s list for a free bench and some patio stone may be the way to go. Far better than having a Smith and Hawken bench and a designer patio, only to realize that there is no money for anything but an ugly driveway from a low-balling contractor who does not take the time to form up a shape that makes it easy to turn around or have pleasing lines that complement the house. Begin by doing the big things well and let the others fall through the cracks.
This principle reminds us that a landscape does not exist in isolation. The front yard is in relationship to the back yard. The entire yard is in relationship to the neighborhood and surrounding areas. The landscape is in relationship to the house and all of it is in relationship with you, the home-owner.
The principle of relationship reflects the value of consistency and integration between the big picture as well as the details. It should be obvious to the casual observer on an instinctive level that the person designing the back garden was aware of the existence of the front garden, the neighborhood and the house.
"You had the vision to transform a functional space into a delightful environment."