Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - March 5, 2010

Garden tips for March

Architecture is 'gardening' on a grander scale

by Jack McKinnon

I think it is time to cross a line. So far in my writing I have kept the subject gardening. It is time to talk about architecture.

The difference is scale, level of responsibility and money. Architecture determines the cities, parks and corridors we use every day. We all make the decisions where we live and how they look and work. This month's tips will be on taking part in that.

1. Our cities have the best land, the best water and the best climates around. This is why people are attracted to them. They can always use improvement in the realm of landscape architecture. Choices are made by elected officials as to how these improvements are made. Participate in these decisions, learn what is going on and stay appraised.

2. Many homeowners are changing their landscapes to drought-tolerant, sustainable and productive use. Big lawns are perfect first steps in this conversion. Participate in encouraging park conversions and public areas to these new types of use.

3. Money is a big reason why landscape architecture is low on the priority list of city improvements. Encourage city governments to develop volunteer programs, consolidate resources, utilize recycled materials and plan in longer-term incremental changes.

4. Encourage professionals to participate in design, construction and maintenance programs.

5. Educate yourself in landscape architecture. The Internet is a great resource. Look into the American Society of Landscape Architects, www.asla.org/. They can refer architects to talk to about changing on a big scale.

6. When you travel, notice the parks, streets, city centers and landscape architecture and take notes, photos and videos of what works for you. I found the Jardin de Plants in Paris an inspiration although there is way too much turf for our water situation to allow.

7. Encourage more plantscape and less hardscape in landscape architecture. What this means is less concrete and more plants, less paving and more flowers, less questionable sculpture and more plant sculpture.

8. Community gardens are becoming more popular as the slow food and eat locally movements are developing. The quality of community gardens and their programs can always use improvement. It is no longer a hippie thing; it is to everyone's benefit.

9. Redesign your own garden to complement the whole. I don't mean have every yard identical. Be creative, innovative, expansive in your ideas and at the same time be intelligent and subtle. Blend in plant choices that complement the neighbors while showing off your design talents.

10. Design your yard to be an example. Everybody is watching everybody else. Good design gets copied and bad design ignored. If you have an idea for an innovative landscape use, try it. Who knows? It may make a better place for all of us to live. 

Good Gardening.

Garden coach Jack McKinnon can be reached at 650-879-3261 or 650-455-0687 (cell), by e-mail at jack@jackthegardencoach.com. Visit his website at www.jackthegardencoach.com.

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