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What is Landscape Construction?

Photo by Christina Hamlett

Planting a lawn, filling flower beds and designing walkways comprise only half the equation in framing a property with the right amount of "curb appeal" to make it attractive to both an existing owner and a potential buyer. Today's landscape technicians must also take into consideration issues such as sustainability, drainage, mold and pests/diseases that are harmful to trees, shrubs and flowers.


Landscape construction traces its roots to the early public parks in Europe and Great Britain. Since parks were popular places for carriage rides, leisurely strolls, and courtship rituals, they needed to be imbued with a sense of culture and civilization while, at the same time, preserve and maintain the unspoiled beauty of Mother Nature. This involved defining broad paths for horses and pedestrians, constructing bridges over streams, clearing away unsightly rocks and dead trees, and providing benches and shelters for people to respectively rest and get out of the rain. Unless one was wealthy and had servants to tend to their private gardens, individuals who lived in cities had little more than window boxes to "dress up" the exteriors of their dwellings; those in rural regions only planted vegetation that could be harvested and sold. Not until the advent of residential suburbs did homeowners finally have front and backyards that could be landscaped - a scenario that continues to require them to consult a professional to help them get it right and hire a gardener to keep it from becoming overgrown.


There are three types of landscape construction. The first is residential, which involves properties that are meant to be lived in by individuals and families. These can be anything from a cozy bungalow to a Beverly Hills mansion to an apartment or condominium complex. The second kind of landscape construction pertains to commercial facilities such as office buildings, restaurants, shopping malls, amusement parks, golf courses and stores. The third type is environmental design. A botanical garden, for instance, would fit this model because it's not only an educational setting where visitors can learn about indigenous plants but also where horticultural experts can effectively study the challenges impacting a region's fragile ecosystems.


Most people who enter the field of landscape construction as a career have a degree/expertise in horticulture, botany, environmental science, engineering, or architectural design. Although a lot of their time is spent outdoors in overseeing a landscape project from start to finish, much of the preliminary planning is now done indoors with CAD (computer-aided design) software programs. Instead of the olden days of sketching out a concept on a piece of graph paper, a landscape designer can define the dimensions directly on the screen, generate a complete irrigation network, and create a color simulation of what the finished garden will look like. Further, there are programs that can even project what the trees and shrubs will look like in the next 5, 10 or 20 years. The ability to run these computer simulations is an enormous cost benefit to the client because they can see in advance if the plan is pleasing to the eye before a single spade of dirt is even turned.


The most common misconception about the landscape construction business is that it's all about "mow, blow, and go." In other words, once the property has been landscaped, that's probably the last that will ever been seen of the designer. While there's no shortage of technicians who do things on the cheap and quickly move on to their next project, the ones who are successful in this business have a vested interested in ensuring that the fruits of their labor continue to look spectacular and won't unravel into a jungle that can only be traversed with a machete. Accordingly, landscape designers need to be sensitive regarding the use of plants that are low maintenance/low water, irrigation that's designed for maximum efficiency/minimal waste, materials that come from recycled, renewable or sustainable resources, and projects that can be approached in an environmentally conscientious manner to create beautiful sanctuaries. Likewise, regions of the country that allow its population to embrace a lifestyle largely spent outdoors have resulted in a high demand for designers who are well versed in the construction of patio decks, waterfalls, outside fireplaces, koi ponds, barbecues, gazebos, fire pits and exterior lighting systems.

Expert Insight

The following books are not only great resources for the do-it-yourself gardener but also provide a full spectrum of layout designs to give you a starting point when discussing your landscaping vision with a professional: "Sustainable Landscape Construction: A Guide to Green Building Outdoors" by J. William Thompson and Kim Sorvig; "Landscape Construction: Procedures, Techniques, and Design" by Floyd Giles; "Landscaping Principles and Practices" by Jack Ingels; "Master Landscape Pro and Home Design" (software) by Punch! Software; "Start-to-Finish Landscape Construction" by Ortho; "Landscapes Estimating & Contract Administration" by Stephen Angley, Edward Horsey, and David Roberts; and "Landscaping for Dummies" by Phillip Giroux, Bob Beckstrom, Lance Walheim, and The Editors of the National Gardening Association.

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