Landscape melds outside world

Posted: Friday, October 12, 2001

What is included in a landscape? Is it the flowers planted in a bed, or the level lawn filling the open space inside a fence? Could it include more?

David Lendrum is a master gardener and owner of Landscape Alaska. Responses or questions can be sent to

The landscape combines all the inputs - visual, tactile and aromatic - that come from the outside world. They are experienced as we pass through them, as we sit contemplating them, while we work in them, when we approach them, as we leave them, and long after we have gone on to another location, as we call them back up in our memories.

The scent of mowed grass, the subtle feeling of security which the first sight of the home entry gives, the view over the fence of surrounding trees are all part of domestic landscapes. Fences, gates, decks and walkways are obvious components; trees, shrubs and flowering plants too. The landscape also contains the light and shadows moving across the area, sporadically revealed sights of the Douglas Bridge, and the purposely concealed views of neighbors' garbage cans.

Some people are lucky enough to have all the elements of their paradise right there without doing anything; they wake up, look outside and are thrilled with every sight and sound. Some are so consumed with other aspects of their lives that they never notice anything anyway, so why bother with something imperceptible? But the vast majority of us have to create our personal space by adding desirable features or erasing and blocking undesirable ones.

Perception is only partly the physical experience of the external world, most of our response is internal involving memory and interpretation, filtered through our likes and dislikes, our preconceived notions of what is desirable and enjoyable.

Some people will never be able to have yellow in their yards. Some of us want only native plants. Sports enthusiasts will focus on the open space of a lawn to the exclusion of all other features. What we experience as beautiful or restful or stimulating is an individual response to cues we perceive in the external world that turn on our own processes of enjoyment or distress.

That is all said to come to this point, the landscape experience is as individual as falling in love or choosing a fulfilling career. The set of conditions which causes one person to revel in the location and experience leaves many others unimpressed. Art is individual and personal, the choices of style and execution are so varied that each person could choose a unique method and there would still be unexplored manners.

It is not the job of a designer or contractor to tell a client what they should want, but these professionals can help focus and delineate the individual likes and dislikes of people unaccustomed to working in the landscape. Phrases like "old-fashioned flower borders," "Victorian cottage gardens," or the perennial favorite "low maintenance" can mean dozens of different things. It would be counterproductive to tell an architect that you want a chalet when your property is flat and surrounded by other suburban dwellings. You may want the effect of the mountain experience, but limiting the design will only make that task more difficult.

The same is true in the larger sense of siting and setting. Views whether suggested or seen can be created. Environments can be passed through or seen from a distance, and the intimate day-to-day experiences of interacting with living surroundings can be the most memorable moments of one's life. Creating these settings will be the result of cooperation between designer, builder and experience. These can all be the same person; satisfying landscapes are built by and for many individuals. Partnering expertise of various individuals creates many of the most beautiful landscapes.

The physical elements of landscape construction are as varied as imaginable. Rock, steel, concrete, wood, plastic, recycled crushed glass, even the eroded remains of a century-old industrial setting become fuel for the landscape designer.

Familiarity with the effects of shapes and textures of living components in the yard, with traffic patterns and with the associated maintenance requirements of different surfaces, structures, and plants, is a function of exposure. The more one works with a medium, the easier it is to achieve the desired effect.

The landscape contains all we experience, it reflects our individual desires and encourages us to create lives of satisfaction. We meet, share, and nurture in these settings. It is womb, cradle, vehicle and medium for our most personal moments.

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