Gardens by design

Landscape design workshop aims to put professional advice in the hands of everyday homeowners

Whether it's a foliage labyrinth, drainage for soggy yards or an eye-catching play area for youngsters, it's fair to say everyone's yard has needs as unique as the owner.


This spring, the Alaska Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects has organized a Garden Design workshop which aims to provide local participants with a personalized plan for their unique outdoor space.

According to expert landscape architects, such as Michele Elfers, the event is not only a good chance to get tips from experts, but it is also a great deal. She said finding a professional to design an outdoor space isn't something everyone can afford.

"Yes, this is a good deal for participants," Elfers said. "If they hired a landscape architect to create a plan for their yard, it could easily cost over $1,000, depending on their requests and their property."

Elfers, who is also the organizer of this year's event, said participants will attend two evening presentations to talk about design fundamentals, such as site analysis. For example, where is the sun, what is going on with drainage, soils and topography?

"We’ll also talk about programming," Elfers said. "For example, who uses the yard, how do they use it and how do they want to use it in the future? We will show examples of basic conceptual design and work with the participants to begin to develop basic concept designs for their property."

She said the presenters, who are from Juneau, Sitka and Anchorage, will also go over the various plant species that thrive in Southeast's temperate rainforest climate, typical problems encountered in residential design and local resources to find materials, plants and contractors.

After two days of presentations, landscape architects will meet with each participant for two hours to work on specific needs for their yard.

"We’ll develop a design based on the site analysis, programming and basic concept design that (the participant) has been developing throughout the workshop," Elfers said. "The goal is that each participant will leave with a landscape design that can be built on their property."

Certainly, a workshop like this one doesn't come around every year. Elfers said a similar workshop was held in Juneau five years ago. Responses from that event were wholeheartedly positive.

"We worked on properties from Auke Bay to Thane Road and dealt with issues such as overgrown gardens that needed organization and selective thinning, to play areas for kids, to drainage and retention for soggy yards and even someone who wanted a labyrinth in their garden," she said. "It’s really fun as a landscape architect to hear people’s ideas and figure out creative ways to make them happen in different conditions."

This year, the workshop sessions will be held from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Bill Ray Center on Thursday, April 26, and Thursday, May 3. The final session will be held on Saturday, May 5, and will include 2-hour sessions scheduled individually with participants.

Proceeds from the event will go toward supporting the local ASLA chapter in Alaska and a portion will go to local nonprofits supporting horticulture. Cost for the workshop is $225. Elfers said pre-registration is required and "the classes stay pretty small, so it is a good idea to sign up early."

To register, contact Michele Elfers,, 321-4498. 

• Contact Outdoors editor Abby Lowell at


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