Elements of Planting Design / Edition 1

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Complete coverage of the art and science of planting design

This comprehensive guide provides clear, step-by-step instructions for creating a planting composition, from preplanning and developing a preliminary design to implementing the final plan. It enables designers to strike a balance between technical issues–such as regional vegetation requirements, soil grade, and climate, noise, and erosion control–and aesthetic considerations, including color, form, and seasonal variation.

Generously illustrated with more than 300 line drawings and photographs that reinforce and clarify the material in each chapter, Elements of Planting Design:

  • Offers a full overview of the ecology of planting design
  • Provides in-depth information on plants as design elements
  • Covers planting design for large- and small-scale residential and commercial sites
  • Includes challenging study questions and sample projects
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471398882
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 11/28/2001
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 10.90 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

RICHARD L. AUSTIN, MS, ASLA, is Associate Professor of Agronomy and Horticulture at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. He is a licensed landscape architect in Kansas and Nebraska and a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

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Table of Contents

Foreword vii

Acknowledgments xi

Chapter 1 The Ecology of Planting Design 1

Chapter 2 The Process of Planting Design 19

Chapter 3 Designing With Plants 35

Chapter 4 Planting Design Graphics 97

Chapter 5 Resources 145

Bibliography 171

Index 173

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Plants in the Landscape

Plants have been with us from time immemorial. Just as humankind developed step by faltering step from ancient ancestors, so have the plants we know today struggled to survive the rapidly changing environment on our earth. Many of these plants were lost along the way while others, such as the Ginkgo, have survived without much modification. Most of them, however, have adapted to change, and we see them today in a variety of forms.

When we think of the role of plants in our lives, each of us thinks of plants in relation to our own experiences. Probably the first thing that comes to mind for many of us is the plant origin of the food we eat. Perhaps for lunch we had fresh corn on the cob and a salad of lettuce and tomatoes, topped off with a slice of juicy watermelon for dessert. Even the animals we depend upon for protein depend upon plants in the form of pasture grass, hay, or grain for nourishment.

In landscape compositions, we are often unaware of the visual impact plants have upon us. In the autumn woods we note the bright colors of foliage and fruit displayed in great profusion; we listen to the sigh of the wind in the pines; we smell the smoke of a campfire. We see a distant mountaintop, white with a snowy crown. It contrasts with the blue of the autumn sky and the golden yellow of the dancing aspen leaves framing the view. One can find a sense of well being in the landscape--a peace of mind not present amid the cacophonies of noise, offensive odors, and sights of the crowded urban world.

Landscape architects can use a technical knowledge and a "feel for plants" to create opportunities for this sense of well being, and for this aesthetic experience. Landscape architects look beneath the superficial and study the characteristics of plants and what makes them appealing to the senses. The color value of plants is self-evident to many of us, yet some subtleties require a second look, a deeper perception. The red twigs of a dogwood shrub against the white of winter snow, the mottled bark of a sycamore or a true Chinese elm, and hundreds of other examples add up to many enjoyable experiences when plants are used for more than decoration. We find color variations throughout the year--the variety of colorful flowers that bloom in different seasons, the fresh light green of new leaves in the spring, the deep green hues of summer foliage, the bright contrasts of fall colors, and the delicate variations of browns on twigs and bark in winter.

Texture is another characteristic that plants exhibit in great variety. Some plants are coarse, such as the Catalpa, with its large leaves, or the tropical banana plant. Others have medium-sized leaves or leaves that are small and narrow. Deciduous trees with small twigs produce fine-textured effects when bare. In stark design contrast, the large twigs of the Kentucky coffee bean or the tree of heaven give a design composition a course impression.

Plants, as design elements, come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Form, as a design feature, is a very important when choosing plants for a composition. Next to color, people often recognize this characteristic more readily than any other, so it may be used more frequently to focus attention or to provide variety in a planting space. Grasses and creeping ground covers give us low, spreading forms to provide our spaces with a living surface. Slightly higher are prostrate types such as Andorra creeping juniper and many of the cotoneasters. They are in turn exceeded by the round forms of Mugo pine and boxwoods, the vase shape of certain junipers, the towering pyramids of narrow-leaved evergreens and sweet gums, the irregular asymmetry of Meyers juniper and selected firethorns, and the broad crowns of many deciduous shade trees. The list goes on and on, and a designer may use numerous form varieties in a single composition.

The landscape architect is often called upon to draw attention to a particular area. This can be done by focusing the attention of the viewer, through contrast, upon a specific plant or mass of plants different from those nearby. For example, one 10-foot pyramidal green juniper among 15 low-spreading green junipers would compel the viewer's attention through shape and size alone. Change it to a silver-gray Rocky Mountain juniper and you reinforce the accent of form and size with color. Change the low plantings to low shrubs of contrasting texture and you have brought contrast and accent into play for maximum visual experience.

In similar fashion plants are selected to serve as background for objects the way a group of buildings can be viewed against a mountain slope or a piece of garden sculpture. If our goal is to focus upon a specific object in a composition, background plants must be subordinate to the object and not dominate it. If they become more attractive to a viewer than the object, the composition fails. If they blend into a monotonous sameness of color, shape, and texture effect, the composition fails again.

There are many other related factors to be considered by a landscape architect: defining usable space, reinforcing nonplant design elements, complementing architectural accents, framing aesthetic views, screening out undesirable views, controlling pedestrian circulation, or providing interesting sources for sounds, seasonal changes, or shadow patterns for aesthetic effect.

The landscape architect should understand the fact that plants have a positive psychological effect upon people. Garrett Eckbo (1969) refers to plants as "our poetic lifeline back to Mother Nature in an increasingly denatured world." The garden was the site where ancient Chinese philosophers contemplated the human role in the world. To many, plants may be symbolic of happenings in other times and places. To some the drooping branches of weeping willows suggest drooping spirits. The fragrance of spring flowers can lift our spirits, and the putrid smell of Gingko fruits can offend. A farmer, coming in from the summer wheat field, appreciates the shade of cottonwoods near the house. These natural air conditioners fend off the rays of the sun and, through transpiration, add evaporative, cooling effects to a space.

The landscape architect uses plants in many ways to modify the climate of a space. Windbreaks, shelterbelts, and plantings for glare control and the control of soil moisture, drifting snow, and sinking cold air in a valley are all specific uses for which plants can be designed. We know that trees and shrubs serve as filters to screen out pollutant particles and also reduce irritating noises significantly within the crowded urban space.

During the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s, we became acutely aware of the need for plantings to combat soil erosion. The Soil Conservation Service was organized to research the problem in consultation with other agencies and individuals. Improved tillage techniques for the soil surface were developed, as were plant uses to combat wind and rain erosion. Windbreak and shelterbelt plantings of trees and shrubs, ground-cover plantings of indigenous plant materials, dust- and sand-control plantings, grassed water channels, stream-bank stabilization, and watershed protection plantings were design applications originating from this era.

Plants also serve as indicators of soil and erosion conditions. Sedges and cattails say "It is wet"; cacti and succulents say "It is dry." Ericaceous plants say "It is an acid soil," and saltgrass and atriplex say "It is salty here."

Certain plants produce symptoms that indicate the presence of air pollutants of various kinds. Grapes and redbud leaves become deformed, curled, cupped, and streaked with yellow when some chemical weed controls appear in the air. Tomato plants quickly succumb to gases such as methane, and dwarf Yaupon holly is quite susceptible to carbon monoxide from auto exhaust.

Many plants produce chemicals of value to the human race. The old herbalists knew of some of these many years ago. Native Americans used parts of the indigo bush, Amorpha fruiticosa, as a dye and the crushed fruit as a means of stunning fish. We know now that the plant contains a chemical similar to rotenone.

There are poisonous plants, too. From literature we have heard of hemlock. Our ranchers know the effect of locoweed on their cattle, and many of us have had first-hand experience with the irritation of poison ivy.

If we add the fact that perhaps a majority of us live in houses that are built in large part from lumber, we begin to see that humankind is highly dependent on plants of all types and varieties. Much of the fuel we use for heat and energy may be directly or indirectly traced to plant origins. The very paper that this book is printed upon started out as wood pulp.

Last, but by no means least, plants provide a means of livelihood, completely or partially, for many people ranging from farmers to landscape architects.

Robert P. Ealy
Professor emeritus
Department of Landscape Architecture
Kansas State University
(Adapted from the essay "Plants in our Lives")
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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2008

    A good attempt

    This book covers ecology, process of planting design, the use of plants, and graphic presentations of planting plans. It also covers soils, climate and local requirements as well as color, forms and seasonal effects of plants. A good attempt to achieve the balance between technical issues and aesthetic considerations.

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