Landscape Design Blog

Articles by John D. Longhill

How to design a garden like a landscape architect

If you have been able to find this page, hidden somewhere in the obscure ethers of the internet, you’ve probably have been searching for something to enhance your ability to either design gardens or understand what garden design is all about. You might have a passing interest in designing a garden for yourself, or for another, you may be a design professional looking for a better way to do what you do, or you may even be asking yourself: Why would I want to design a garden like a landscape architect?

The obvious reason is that the name ‘landscape architect’ implies that there might be some knowledge and experience available that will be of help in designing a “perfect” garden.

The Purpose of this website

The purpose of this “By Design LA” website is to share with you all of my “secrets” of garden design. I will include of course, all of the tangible ones, like the principles and components of design that I learned through education and practical experience, but I will also share the not so tangible ones that are more spiritual in nature - the ones that come from opening your heart and discovering things about yourself and your own creative expression. This is where the true “art” of gardens exists, in our hearts, and when we learn how to express what is in our hearts, that is where genius lies.

I will not only share what I learned, but how I learned these things, so that you can follow a similar process yourself, because your creativity is unique to you and no one can do what you do. (This is actually impossible, as I will explain later.) I will also provide you with a multitude of design tools, that you will be able to apply in designing your own garden.

I will openly admit that my motive for doing this is purely selfish because we human beings need more gardens! This effort will also allow me to connect with you and other people in the world who realize that well thought out, beautiful outdoor spaces, not only nourish the soul and uplift the spirit, they also provide balance and peace in a chaotic and sometimes disturbing world. I am hopeful that this effort of mine will produce more gardens in the world, giving me more opportunities to experience them. It is for these self-serving reasons I am sharing this information with you.

I don’t view myself as a teacher or educator, bent on imposing a set of guidelines that you must follow to accomplish your goal, but more as a mentor or “inspirator”, someone who can inspire you by sharing a process that is guaranteed to assist you in discovering or developing your own creativity as a garden designer. I came to understand this process, from my experience as a garden designer and landscape architect over the last 40 years.
It should be obvious even to neophytes that gardens are a uniquely human phenomenon, because as humans we are obsessed with manipulating the environment we live in. This sometimes results in a better environment and sometimes not. But it is this desire, and the ability to implement these desires, that allows us to create the physical experiences we call gardens. It is also noteworthy that only the human species finds it necessary to go beyond survival needs in search of happiness and fulfillment, and garden design is certainly a vehicle that fulfills this need. The picture below illustrates the impact of garden design on a site that started out as a limestone quarry. This is one of the most famous gardens in the world – Burchardt Gardens in Victoria, Canada.

Burchardt Gardens Before

Burchardt Gardens Before

Burchardt Gardens After

Burchardt Gardens After

What you will gain as a designer

On this website, I will offer methods and techniques for successful garden design. The methods are based tradition, design theory and what works. The techniques are as varied as the personalities that will visit this site. I will discuss these things within an understanding based on the nature of creativity itself, enabling your right brain to be in the forefront of the effort, not the left-brain.

Thankfully, recent scientific studies have laid out a lot of information about the brain, its operation, and how it is distinctly partitioned into two hemispheres. The right hemisphere of the brain is the seat of creativity or “The Innovator” and is designed to lead the way in all things creative. The left-brain is devoted to more linear functions, such as speech, mathematics and logical thinking.

While the right brain is critical to creative function, we cannot discount the power of the left-brain. The left-brain gets things done - it is the great implementer. It may not be wired to innovate like the right brain, but it is essential to your success as a designer and it needs to be used for what it is best designed for – the implementation of your ideas. I will discuss this in more detail later.

Great designers have the ability to bring forth a design as an expression of their being and by that I mean their designs express their own uniqueness. This essence is sometimes referred to as spiritual. By “spiritual self” I am referring to those intangible things that make you who you are – your beliefs, fears, passions and desires. Spiritual is not necessarily religious; in fact in the dictionary it is defined as that, which is “of the spirit”.

An intimate relationship with your spiritual self is essential to not only being a successful garden designer, but also a great one. It is within your own unique spirit that you will find your genius - your ability to design great gardens.

Obviously, your spirit is not a physical thing. It cannot be seen, touched or rationalized into existence. It is a uniqueness born of who you are and who you want to be. It can’t be found by cutting yourself open and analyzing what you see. It is found in the consciousness of the unique being that defines who you are, and it blossoms through the expression of your creative being.

The essence of creativity

How do you discover this essence within you or the “genius loci” of who you are? It is found in those things that you love to do, which in turn provide you with the happiness and fulfillment you are looking for.

It is self-evident that each and every one of us is unique in the expression of happiness. What makes one person happy is different from the next. In fact, of the 7 billion people on this planet, each one is singularly unique in the how, where and what it takes for each one of them to find fulfillment and lasting happiness. Many are searching for this outside of themselves, even though it makes no sense to look outside for something that lies within. So, what is this thing within us that allows us to experience happiness? I believe it is the unbridled expression of our creative being.

Creativity is the impulse to make things better, more enjoyable and more fulfilling. This creative impulse drives us because in it we find a connection with that spiritual being within us that is unique, happy and fulfilled. Some people call it our real self, or the soul. Whatever you decide to call it, it is the essence of who you really are.

Our obsession with creating things has allowed us to create a world that for the most part, is safe, and comfortable. Unfortunately, it has also been used as a means of destruction and unspeakable horror. When the manifestation of these ideas, serves to improve the quality of our lives, giving us more time to enjoy life and be happy, it is surely a positive use of this gift. When creative ideas provide us with new ways to destroy ourselves, through war and environmental destruction, then surely it is not beneficial. We must consciously decide how our creativity will be directed – as a benefit or detriment to ourselves, and the planet we inhabit. Our creative efforts can serve to uplift and enlighten mankind or it can do the opposite. In short, our creativity can support our love or dislike for humanity.

Designing gardens as an expression of love

Doing what you love, as a creative expression, naturally extends beyond yourself, because it becomes a way of loving and serving others through your creativity. As the famous landscape architect, Thomas Church, wrote: Gardens are for People and it is for people that we design gardens, and as such our designs should be the expression of our love for the people who will be walking through our gardens.

The focus of loving what you are doing and the expression of love for the people who will experience your garden is the foundation of successful garden design. The expression of love is a flow of energy that strengthens life and supports our existence as human beings. The restriction or absence of this energy through hate or ill will has the opposite effect. You only have to go so far as the research done with babies who experience unconditional love as a child compared to those babies that don’t, to see the effect that love has. Their brains develop differently. When designing gardens, create them with love. When people walk through your garden, they will feel your love and your passion, even though they may never meet you or even know why they feel what they feel.

It is no secret to anyone who has a love of gardens, that they promote happiness and fulfillment. We know this, because they uplift our individual and collective consciousness when we experience them. A garden experience is life affirming, because it promotes happiness and fulfillment.

If you love gardens and find happiness in designing them, then this website will help you. It will give you a better understanding of your own creative ability and how to partner these talents, with your logical left-brain, to get the job done and produce the masterpiece of inspiration that gardens are made of.

"Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions." ---Albert Einstein

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Company Info

By Design
P.O. Box 25689
Silverhorne, Colorado 80497
Office: 970-389-8496

About Us

By Design, Landscape Architecture, founded in 1999 by John Longhill.....