Practice what you preach?

Practice what you preach?

The world of Garden design is chock full of talented people from all walks of life, and from all corners of the globe. And depending upon one’s perspective, the approach to designing a garden might follow a certain criteria to success. But does this mean that there are hard and fast rules? And (for the purposes of this post), do artistic denizens of Garden Design practice what they preach on their own Gardens? Well the answer to each of these questions is a definitive Yes…. and No. You see, just like the “Pirates Code” in the Pirates of the Caribbean, these rules  ” is more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules”.

Here are a few of the rules… er guidelines that I follow when designing a Garden:

The Garden must match the surroundings. A garden or landscape should appear to fit comfortably into its space, and should complement the architecture of the home. The transition of that, which is designed, be it house or garden, should appear seamless, to that which is nature.

The soft tones of Boston City Hall pavers, and the blue of Nepeta create a pleasing entranceway.

The design should address realistic expectations of the client’s interaction with the garden. For the client with a green thumb (or even a want of a green thumb) bold swaths of perennials can be combined with shrubs and even vegetables. For those with little time or desire to work in the garden, lovely conifers, shrubs and a smattering of perennials will require little maintenance. For the entertainers, a patio garden and lawn space will provide ample room to play.

Bold swaths of perennials capture the remains of the day.

It should embody Genius Loci. Genius Loci, or sense of place, ties the garden to the heritage of its site. Alluding to the past can be a powerful design element when creating a garden. Experiencing the history of the site connects us to the life force of garden.

This Brownstone slab was found three feet below ground, when digging the corner pier for this porch. It now stands as a welcome reminder of what lay beneath this garden.

Finally, to paraphrase Captain Barbossa, there really are no rules, so have fun, and create something you will connect with and enjoy!

For myself, I do follow these guidelines at home, but it seems the one I am most successful with is Genius Loci, as evidenced by the wagon wheel in the picture below. It came with the house, and was soon placed against this sugar maple. That was over ten years ago now, and every time I pass by I am reminded of those that brought it here, and I hope they are happy with my efforts.

A lingering reminder.

This post was inspired by friend and fellow Garden Designer Susan L. Morrison of Creative Exteriors Landscape Design in the San Francisco area. She recently proposed a question to me and two other of our colleagues, Susan Cohan of Susan Cohan Gardens in New Jersey, and Rebecca Sweet of Harmony in the Garden, also in the San Francisco area. The question: Do designers practice what they preach? She then suggested we all post our responses on our blogs at the same time. It’s a great idea Susan thanks, it’s an honor to be included with three very talented designers

You can read each of their responses here:

Susan L. Morrison    Blue Planet Garden Blog

Susan Cohan     Miss Rumphius’ Rules

Rebecca Sweet     Gossip in the Garden

Thank you, dear reader,  for sharing this time with us, and I sincerely hope that you are happy with the garden you’ve created. Please leave a comment below and let us know.


Scott Hokunson

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16 thoughts on “Practice what you preach?

  1. Scott–All true and all will make a garden unique to its owner and its location. The wagon wheel was surprising and the sandstone fragment a delight. Thanks for sharing your ideas.

    1. Thanks, Susan. I treasure the wagon wheel, but the sandstone was only a delight after the hard fought task of getting up to ground level! 😉 My clients really loved that we used it to welcome them home each day.


  2. Love the pirate quote – ‘guidelines’ is much better than ‘rules’! (…makes me think of something I heard from an Italian friend of mine who told me that stoplights in Italy are merely ‘suggestions’).

    I very much agree with your Genius Loci ‘guideline’ and love the sandstone and wagon wheel. Those are the types of things that would be my #1 garden treasures and I’m glad to see you revere them as well!

    Lovely photographs, and lovely post!

  3. Well I learned something new today! I’m familiar with the concept ‘sense of place’ but never heard it referred to as genus loci. It’s interesting to think about the different ways the idea can be interpreted. In your examples, a sense of place connects the present with the past. Here in California, where so many ideas of what a garden should be have been imported from other parts of the country, the sense of place that’s often missing is an awareness of California’s natural beauty, and a connection with gardens that are unique to our climate, culture and tophography.

    I love that as designers we have so much in common, yet are able to create gardens that are so unique. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Susan,

      Genius Loci is newish to me also, in terminology. First came across it in Claire Sawyer’s book “The Authentic Garden”, and liked that a term so old can be used to connect a garden’s history to its present (my interpretation). Although we may be a bit older in our history with regards to European influences, we have much in common. At one point in time, the east coast was the final destination, as California eventually became later on. I agree with you, we should all look to the natural beauty of our surrounds for inspiration. This is something both you and Rebecca have shown us so well with your blogs and websites.

      Thanks for the comments,


  4. I too love the term ‘genius loci.’ When I visit a site my clients are sometimes puzzled when I’m looking over the fences and into the distance, to see what far views can be borrowed, and the context into which this garden will fit.

    The choices I make are often unconscious, guided by what I’ve seen and felt, and sometimes it isn’t until after the garden is finished that I fully realize what I’ve created. I like the idea that the ‘genius loci’ is the source of that inspiration, and that I am simply a means for it to be expressed. It takes the pressure off!

    Great work fellow-APLDers, well done!

    1. Laura,

      I know exactly what you mean, I love the borrowed landscape. Letting the design come to you, so to speak, is such s great way to bring out natural beauty. Thanks for the comments!


  5. Well done Scott. I have learned volumes from you and the other designers who took up this challenge. From the supplier side, I rarely even see the site, let alone the finished product, most of which is commercial, production type landscape anyway, but the manner in which you describe the connections of location, environment & history are outstanding. I lack the artistic eye you all have and respect your abilities immensely. Thanks for sharing this great insight.

    1. Matt,

      Thank you for the kind words, I’m glad you enjoyed this group posting. It was a great experience for me, I thoroughly enjoyed it. As designers, we owe a great deal of our success to contractors, and suppliers, such as your self. Without you, our designs are just ideas waiting to happen.

      Thanks for commenting,


  6. I like the way you emphasize that the landscaping should fit or go with the house…I never really thought of it that way but as a gardener for other people I think that is what I have been trying to do…how successfully is up for debate…

    1. GartenGrl,

      Thanks for your comments! It is not often easy to marry the garden to the architecture, but harmony in the landscape suffers when this is over looked. We all strive to accomplished this, and it doesn’t always work as planned. Keep at it!



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