If we were to have a truly native landscape in Houston Texas it would look like an abandon field of various grasses, a thicket edge of tangled vines, shrubs and underbrush or a mature grove of oaks with leaf ground cover underneath. These landscapes are beautiful out in the countryside but in our suburban enclaves we seek some order and design. You say to yourself “it looks messy or it needs to be improved upon.” Let’s say that the first requirement is it should look beautiful to you. It is your interpretation of how you want natural to look. The natural landscape is really improving upon the existing natural conditions and making it even better into our own liking. On the most wooded of lots in Piney Point and Memorial the issue becomes “how to work with and plant under all this shade?” There is an aesthetic, a blend of the existing and the things we can improve upon based on the comforts, functions and the necessary uses of the site- a landscape design marriage. In the natural landscape interpretation we take the best of natural site elements and make it even better still based on the concept of form, function to house comfort and beauty. So now that we know the natural landscape is by no means native or natural what is it?
Nature as Inspiration
The natural landscape designer will first and foremost pay attention to the “sense of place” and “mood” of the site and its relationship with the house. Inspiration can come from the existing site or from vacations and travels throughout the natural world. Are there a grove of fantastic trees in the rear lawn, a view out the backyard to the Bayou that should be preserved or a large back lawn of beautiful old Pecan trees? On a new site you may borrow a nature inspired vision from a place in the wild that you want to recreate. For example a flagstone patio under a soaring oak tree that reminds you of a cliff or hillock in Ireland. Highlight the best features of the sight and down play those not so attractive. The natural landscape will be more sympathetic to working with the site rather than changing it. Work with the existing site features, trees, or existing woodland edges rather than imposing a specific “shape” or “design” as in classical landscape design or formal landscape design.
Interpreting Natures Hardscape
The landscape design for the natural landscape has the same overall approach to the form and functionality of outdoor rooms and spaces as all of the other landscape styles. The overall design can be formal or informal. One design concept for the natural is to create more formal hardscape spaces and surfaces near the home and to dissipate into more natural spaces and surfaces as you move away from the house. In this approach you are creating a hierarchy of spaces and pathways:
* Luxury Swimming Pools-materials might include slate and natural stone coping and surfaces to create a refined rustic overall feel.
* Walkways and pathways-materials including cut stone, wood, pavestone, gravel and cobble or small stones and boulders.
* Landscape Lighting-to light up existing large trees or path lighting and accent lighting for natural flagstone pathways and features
* Fencing and gates-made of split cedar for a rustic natural look
Interpreting Natures Landscape
The landscape design can reflect the patterns of natural plantings in nature. We have found that plantings in larger masses and groupings as opposed to natural associations are just easier to maintain over time. Natural patterns and plant masses can be utilized creating a natural look as follows:
Patterns of Nature. Nature groups compensating plantings in terms of drifts which can be interpreted as natural curves and arc of plant materials.
Plant Associations. Plant groupings that grow together such as grasses, roses and flowers in full sun, small ornamental trees at woodland edges such as red buds, dogwoods, and deep shade areas of longleaf pines, with ferns below. The design layout of planting is still based around the form and function of use areas and the layout of hardscape surfaces.
The goal of the natural landscape is truly an interpretation of nature and our attempt to represent our reality of beauty and bring about its very best features. In the traditional landscape design sense the home and landscape still function in relation to your wants and needs for form, function and your ideal of natures canvas.