What are the Benefits of Good Landscape Design? How do you Learn Good Design?

February 27, 2020

by Bob Pollack, Landscape Architect

Good landscape design is not a matter of going to the local big box store picking out a bunch of plants and sticking them in the ground, then sitting back and being satisfied that there are finally shrubs and trees in the yard. Good landscape design takes into consideration how all the elements — plants, hardscape, lighting, pedestrian and vehicular access — all work together. Good landscape design considers the environmental elements such as wind direction, snow, rain, sun direction. Good landscape design takes into consideration all the senses such as smell, sight, sound, touch, and even taste.

Finally, good landscape design considers the functions of all the landscape elements installed around a building. Do the plants block wind or provide shade to reduce heating and cooling costs? Are the colors of plants and hardscape elements in harmony with each other? Is the lighting soft and inviting? Is the scale of each of the landscape elements in good relation to the structure and space that is being landscaped? Have you used plants that reduce the necessity of artificial irrigation? Have you managed to reduce the storm water runoff by installing rain gardens or bio-swales? Have you installed landscape materials that, in the long run, will reduce our carbon foot print in the environment, such as plants that need little to no pruning and reduce the lawn area to reduce the need for excess amounts of mowing?

Here are some facts from the Arbor Day Foundation (www.arborday.org/trees/benefits.cfm) about trees alone and their effect on the landscape environment:

  • The net cooling effect of a young healthy tree is equivalent to ten room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day. – U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • If you plant a tree today on the west side of a building, in 5 years your energy bills should be 3% less, in 15 years the savings will be nearly 12%. – Dr. E. Gregory McPherson, Center of Urban Forest Research.
  • In one study, 83% of realtors believe that mature trees have a “strong or moderate impact” on the salability of home listed under $150,000 on homes over $250,000 increases to 98%. – Arbor National Mortgage & American Forests.
  • Good landscaping, especially with trees, can increase the property values as much as 20%. – Management informational services/ICMA

So how do we get good landscape/environmental design? One way is to attend educational programs such as those provided by NHLA. A second way is to take time to learn good techniques in a more academic way by taking continuing education classes at institutions like NHTI, Concord’s Community College.

NHTI provides two avenues of learning, one through an Associate Degree in Landscape and Environmental Design and the other through the Landscape Design Certificate. Such programs are designed to help employees and employers of the Green Industry to keep up with the latest trends and to train students to create good landscape designs that increase the value of property as well as consider the environmental effects of the design. The Landscape Design Certificate Program provides entry-level skills for those entering into or those who are already in the field of landscape design. The Certificate Program is for landscapers, florists/nursery growers, architects, and anyone interested in the broader range of knowledge of landscape/environmental site design.

The Associates Degree in Landscape and Environmental Design has been developed to accommodate a demand locally and globally for educated trained landscape/environmental design professionals. The Associates Degree program is for students interested in pursuing an education and or career related to the natural environment such as landscape management and design, wetland science, landscape architecture, urban planning, environmental technology, or environmental conservation. (Most all credits in this program are transferable to 4- and 5-year landscape architecture and landscape design programs.)
The Landscape Design Certificate Program offers eight classes that run from plant identification, basic landscape drawing techniques, to grading and construction methods.

The Landscape/Environmental Associates Degree Program offers 21 classes from environmental biology, to plant identification, design labs, construction materials, computer aided design, and much more. The whole range of classes can be seen at www.nhti.edu/academics.

The NHTI Environmental/Landscape Design Program is the only design program offered in the State of New Hampshire. The future of good landscape design is in the hands of well-trained landscape professionals.

In conclusion, Bill Russell in his book, Russell Rules, 11 lessons on Leadership from the Twentieth Century’s Greatest Winner states, in Chapter 6 on “Craftsmanship,” “learning should be a daily experience and a lifetime mission. Michelangelo stated, “I have offended God and mankind because my work didn’t reach the quality it should have.” If Michelangelo felt that way, then we as designers of the landscape and the environment should always strive for our best because anything else should not be enough.

Let us all try to fine some way to support the educational programs that NHLA and our institutions of higher education, such as the New Hampshire Technical Institute, Concord’s Community College, offer, to continue to provide quality professional services to your customers.
Remember, if you lap the lolli-pop of mediocrity you will be a sucker for the rest of your life.
Mediocre work is no longer acceptable in the landscape profession.

— Bob Pollock has been a licensed landscape architect since 1974. Spanning 34 years he was a landscape architect/planner for the cities of Fitchburg and Leominster, MA and Concord, NH. In 1977 he established the Granite State Landscape Architects (GSLA) and started, what is now, the Environmental Design Certificate program at NHTI in 1980 (now an Associates Degree offering). He founded and led Pollock Land Planning LLC 2006-2012. Now semi-retired, he is still active with GSLA as their Advocacy Chairman. In 2012 he was recognized by GSLA and the Governor of New Hampshire for 40 years of service to landscape architecture in the State of New Hampshire.