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Landscape Design: Unlocking the Garden Orchestra | Golden State Gardens

The San Jose based company, Golden State Gardens, describes their design process in the below article, which was published by the APLD- Association of Professional Landscape Designers California Chapter- from Golden State Gardens, Bianca Vallorz.


A beautifully executed landscape design is an orchestra, and we, the landscape designers, are the conductors. Our pen is the baton, the tracing paper is the sheet music to compose our ideas, and the plants are the notes. Much like the different members of an orchestra, each plant plays a specific role to help it shine as a specimen, provide structure as a background shrub, or add contrast in form, color, or texture. Whether the plant’s intention is to elicit excitement, create a private screen, or provide a food source for local pollinators, each element has a purpose, a reason for its inclusion in the orchestra. An incorrectly placed element can throw off the entire balance and shatter the harmony.

I often come across people who do not understand the harmony each element plays in a design - assuming that designers simply select a few plants to place anywhere. However, every design is special and unique, catered to the individual client’s needs, desires, likes, and dislikes.

Upon first meeting the clients, I listen to their story and ask them where they grew up and their favorite season. Some might question the importance their childhood city contributes to the design, but it is my belief that knowledge of these minute details helps me create a more intimate landscape. For example, I had two clients who requested a California native landscape. After finding out that one owner was from Atlanta, Georgia and loved large established trees, while the other was from San Diego and loved native wildflowers, I was able to create one cohesive landscape encompassing both of their landscape interests. The landscape includes an open wildflower meadow in one space, and a patio with a southern plant pallet in another space, while large trees are used to create balance and frame the property. Understanding your clients is the first, and most critical step to creating something they love for years to come.

Following the initial meeting, I perform a site analysis, examining the sun location, drainage and grading issues, privacy, limitations, and opportunities. Examining the entire residence and property is a crucial step in the design process and serves as a basic component for creating a base plan.

After the construction of a base plan, the real creative expression starts to emerge. Taking a few moments to look through the site photographs and analysis, I quickly jot down potential locations for key elements. Perhaps the ideal place for a private hot tub is located along the West fence overlooking the East foothills in order to capitalize and romanticize the slow setting summer sun? Or perhaps the “secret garden” can be tucked under the large existing Redwood tree, thereby creating a private space from the neighbors house on a hill? Or perhaps the broad deciduous tree is used to balance the landscape with the protruding driveway?

Once the elements are properly placed, formation of hardscape and planting beds are created. Again, listening to the clients is the best tool for identifying their style preference. If the clients are modern they may prefer harder edges and clearly defined lines, or if they are the “woodsy” types, they may prefer a softer form.

Next comes plant selection. An immense amount of decision and weight goes into identifying the right balance of contrasting elements, while still creating a cohesive design- deciduous vs. evergreen, tall vs. short, fragrant vs. non-fragrant, sharp edges vs. soft edges, green leaves vs. gray leaves, or purple flowers vs. yellow flowers. Too much of one element skews the beautiful melody that the plants are playing and appears “out of tune” with one another.

Each step along the design process is vital in creating a stunning landscape design. However, it is the final step of plant selection that the design comes to life and sings with excitement. It comes to life in the blue-green grass waving to you in the breeze. It comes to life in the tree whose heart shaped leaves change from lime green to golden yellow as she prepares for winter hibernation. It comes to life in the firecracker red flowers enticing her friend, the hummingbird to drink her sweet nectar. The garden’s notes playing loud for all to hear, all you have to do is listen.

(Published in California Landscape Design Spring 2021- Association of Professional Landscape Designers CA Chapter)


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About Golden State Gardens:

Golden State Gardens creates environmentally friendly landscapes. Our sustainable landscape designs emphasize California's biodiversity, conserve precious resources, and create a bridge between your urban garden and nature. We achieve this by designing mainly with California native plants and edibles, limiting garden waste, providing low water landscaping, conserving rainwater through rain gardens, and creating pollinator gardens.


Golden State Gardens is able to provide you with high quality designs tailored to fit your lifestyle. This is achieved through our horticulture and design expertise, attention to detail, and ensuring proper communication with you and contractors.


We pride ourselves on discovering unique solutions to your site challenges.

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