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The Real Poop

The first and last perfect landscape was the Garden of Eden, created and defiled within the first few days of Genesis. Landscape Designers have been striving for this sort of perfection in their creations ever since. (But preferably with a bit more staying power.) They bring plants from all over the world together to replicate nature in the most unnatural ways. Plants from dry deserts, dripping jungles, dense forests, sparse tundra, lowlands, and mountains come together and are expected to play nicely. It does not always work. That is what happens when you mess with the forbidden fruit.

Drawing a design and making it work are two different things. Plants are so much more than circles on paper. They are alive, dynamic, and none too happy about what happened back in Eden. They can sometimes cooperate to function as we want them to, but only if they get what they want. Tropical plants cannot replicate a jungle in Alaska because they cannot take the cold. Cacti can not replicate a desert in Brazil because they rot with too much rain. Landscape Designers know what plants can survive (and hopefully thrive) in particular climates.

They also know how to place particular plants around buildings and other features that are already present in the landscape. Some plants can take the shade on the north side of a house. If the house has two stories, this shady area is a bit larger. Skyscrapers have huge shadows that can affect plants blocks away. No problem. Landscape Designers know what to do. And it doesn’t entail blowing up any skyscrapers either. Although they may be tempted.

Landscape Designers know what trees are good shade trees, but also what shade trees will be proportionate to a particular area. They know which trees are deciduous to let warming sunlight through in winter, and what trees are evergreen to obscure unwanted views. Vines can cover graffiti without damaging the wall. Shrubs can muffle the sound of traffic without taking over the neighborhood. Flowers can add subtle color without making the front yard look like a garage sale of '80s fashions. That is what Landscape Designers do.   

Yes, it is a lot of work to learn about design and plants. Both are important, but the horticultural depths of knowledge is what many Landscape Designers lack. Many just want to draw pretty pictures. Those who have a grasp on the hardcore mechanics of how flora meshes have essentially a broader paintbrush with which to work. Those who treat Landscape Design like it is merely architecture without understanding the complexities of the plants that they use likely produce inferior product over time.

Fortunately, Landscape Design is probably the most "professional" of the horticultural industries. Landscape Designers are often hired on a per-project basis and then work in the solitude of their design studios. However, there is a certain degree of involvement with the crews who must install the landscapes that are so meticulously designed. That can be—scratch that, always is—incredibly frustrating! Landscape Designers need to be passionate and serious about what they do. Otherwise, the day's work is really just a bunch of silly circles on blueish paper.

Good Landscape Designers need to be aware of how their creations affect the rest of the community. Will your trees block someone's view or shade solar panels as they grow? Many landscape projects involve public spaces like parks and medians of boulevards, so they are seen by everyone in town. The stakes are high, as it were, because no one wants to give Old Man Willers one more thing to complain about at Town Hall meetings.

Then there is "style." Some clients want sleek, simple landscapes to preserve views or show off their cool houses. Some want Tuscan gardens with olive trees. Some want English cottage gardens with lots of flowers. Some want crop circles with room for Alien welcome signs, milk, and tentacle-shaped cookies.

The "hardscapes," which are the patios, barbecues, swimming pools, hot tubs, trellises, and whatever else people are getting installed in their landscapes these days, may not have anything to do with horticulture, but have everything to do with Landscape Design. They too need to be accommodated and planned for. Messy trees that might be acceptable over ivy would not be welcome over swimming pools. Trees with aggressive buttressing roots need to keep their distance from concrete patios. Basic idea: Barbecues should not be installed below combustible cypress trees.

Latin is not the language of horticulture, but that is precisely the language that is used to identify many plants. It is the universal language for nomenclature (which is a fancy way of saying "the way things get their names"). All horticultural professionals use Latin because common names are so variable depending upon whom you are talking to. A locust tree can be a black locust or a floss silk tree or a carob tree. That is why we know these trees as Robinia pseudoacacia, Albizia julibrissin, or Ceratonia siliqua. Latin may seem confusing, but its use actually ensures that we are all talking about the same thing. (Try saying Lyonothamnus floribundus asplenifolius to impress your friends.)

If horticulture is not something that interests you, your decision is pretty simple—don't be a landscaper. Landcaping isn't just "something to do" when you haven't found your way. If you don't have a passion for plant life, you will soon wilt in this biz. You need to pour yourself wholeheartedly into learning everything there is to know about...all those weird Latin name—and the trees and flowers they represent. Then, once you've learned everything there is to know, you have to give yourself over to the implementation of that knowledge, working night and day (but mostly day) to design the most gorgeous lawns and gardens imaginable, without forsaking the greenery itself. 

Interested in horticulture but don't have the artistic eye it takes to design landscapes? There are plenty of other options available, including working in a nursery, becoming a florist, or gardening. Any of these can be just as fulfilling, albeit less creative. But if you were really creative, you would have thought up a better way to make money than horticulture, eh?