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What is Landcape Architecture?

Landscaping is not gardening.

Landscaping is a profession that requires the application of a broad range of technical and creative skills while gardening is what Aunt Fanny does with her trowel. Unfortunately there are those that wish to carry out the odd cashectomy or two on unsuspecting victims while foregoing the 3 years of study in some highly respected seat of learning to say nothing of the 10 years experience required to turn your fingers a deep shade of green.

A man who sticks plants in the ground calling himself a landscaper is rather like a bakso man calling himself an international chef.

As in any artistic endeavour visual effect is the mark of a true landscaper. A garden is a three dimensional living entity and, in just the same way as an architect designing a building, the landscaper must construct a physical form and then add finishing materials, plant life and perhaps the odd gnome or two to create something that is both functional and appealing.

When we start adding the visual effects of colour, sunlight, water features, wind movements and, of course, scents to the equation we can start to understand that landscaping is a complex profession combining a wide range of both artistic and technical skills.

At a fundamental level a true landscaper will get to grips with the land he is to work with. He will study its aspect, shape, levels and the type and acidity of the soil before coming up with a plan.


What goes under the ground can be just as important as what goes on top. Bali is a place where the land is constantly on the move, usually the result of water retention or erosion, and sloping and terraced sites will need particular attention to make sure they are properly stabilised.

Drainage is also very important and must be carefully designed, too little drainage and the site may become waterlogged, too much and lush vegetation might not grow. Well designed land contours and the use of drainage pipes, soak pits, gravel, sand perhaps even a stream or two can ensure that water is where you want it and surplus water is disposed of.

Retaining walls may be needed, steps, ponds, footpaths, carparks all will need properly designed foundations and construction if they are to last heavy downpours of rain or ground movement.

This part of the work is a science in itself and is known as “hardscaping” which, as the name implies, is the solid infrastructure of the landscaper’s work.

As in architecture the finishing of hardscaping is important for the final effect, wall finishes, paving surfaces and other visible constructed elements are all as important as the flora being planted.

Even the task of filling the ground has to be properly understood, badly filled ground will settle over time and what may start off as a nice smooth lawn may end up looking like a load of bums on a crowded beach. Of particular importance is that you shouldn't fill a hole using non composted vegetable matter (such as old plants or trees) which, as it rots down, will shrink leaving hollows in the ground. Lazy landscapers have a tendency to bury their waste.

The nature of the earth has to suit the plant types being planted and finally we reach the bit that Aunt Fanny and your friendly Bakso man might understand. For many it is a hit and miss affair, plant it and see if it grows, but the true landscaper will understand plants, green digits will instinctively know what will grow where and experience will be able to visualise the final height and shape of the foliage and the colours that will result.

How to set up and carry out a landscaping project

If you are going to have some serious landscaping done, particularly in challenging terrain, then you need to approach the task in just the same way that you would a construction project. You need to know exactly what you are going to get, you need a breakdown of costs and you need a project timeline that will tell you how long each part of the work will take and the order in which they will be carried out.

Find a landscaper

You will need to find a Landscaper. Be careful who you choose. Interview him or her, check his credentials and go and look at samples of his work. It is a good idea to find someone who is on the same planet, if possible the same wavelength, as you are, gold miners and artillery gunners for example do a lot of landscaping but the results can be a bit questionable.

Create your design and prepare detailed drawings

Next you need a design so pay your selected expert to come up with some initial concepts. A word of caution - only commit yourself to preparing the full design when you are sure you are getting what you want.

The result should be a set of detailed drawings that fully document the design. A layout that indicates where paths, garden beds, lawns and any other features will be placed. If the land is not flat (and most isn’t) then you particularly need to know the levels and how the land will be drained. There will be a planting plan indicating the trees shrubs and plants selected and their placement in the layout. There should also be a drainage plan, a lighting plan (illumination at night may be particularly important) and, in the case of water features, a plumbing plan.

Some people can read drawings easily while for others it is very difficult. Try and visualise the design, picture the garden, the shape of it and how it would be to be in it. A good landscaper will be able to help you with this by painting a picture in your mind of how it will look and explaining such things as how he has used the site, the feel and atmosphere he is creating and such things as the height and placement of plants.

Obtain a Bill of Quantities (BOQ)

Once the plan is decided and you are happy you will need a breakdown of the costs. Once again, just as you would in a building project, you will need a BOQ (no this is not a Bloody Obnoxious Quarrel which many building projects tend to precipitate, it means Bill Of Quantities). A Bill Of Quantities will give you a breakdown of all the costs involved in the project such as 25 square metres of grass, 12 square metres of paving, 5 palm trees, 3 metres of stone wall, a fountain and, of course, a plastic gnome with a fishing rod. It should also include such things as consultant and design fees and taxes.

The BOQ is invaluable. It will detail exactly what you are going to get and how much it will cost. You can use it to trim the costs at an early stage triggering questions like “why are we spending 20% of the budget on a statue of a little boy peeing into a pond?”

The BOQ also gives you a basis for making progress payments. You can check things off when parts of the work are complete and calculate the financial cost of progress to date.

Determine the project timeline

The third thing you need is a time schedule usually in the form of a “Gantt” or bar chart. This will tell you how long the project and its component tasks will take and when each part of the project will be started and completed. You can use this to check progress and know if the project is ahead or behind the planned schedule.

Plan for ongoing maintenance

Finally a word about maintenance. Landscaping needs ongoing maintenance and this is very often a blind spot particularly in Indonesia where even expensive items such as hotels deteriorate quickly because their owners after spending very large amounts of money on initial construction do not want to spend money for the upkeep.

When you first plan your project it is a good idea to discuss ongoing maintenance with your landscaper. He or she can design for low maintenance. For example a lawn is great for people who like to have barbeques or need a place for the kids to play but it will need to be cut regularly to keep it in good shape. Carpet grass is tougher and doesn’t grow as fast as fine bladed grass but doesn’t look as good.

Just like our toenails growth is inevitable, the shrubs will need pruning, beds need weeding and grass needs cutting, perhaps we can find a use for Aunt Fanny and her trowel.

Copyright © Phil Wilson 2013
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