Feature Article - November 2006
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Open Invitation

Landscape design brings in visitors

By Jessica Royer Ocken

Community input

This is also a good time to get the community—those who actually will use this green Shangri-La—involved. In addition to making sure you include the elements they want (within reason, of course—the Willy Wonka-style chocolate river may not work out no matter how many kids think it would be great), community involvement benefits you in the long run as well.

"Those who will use the park or garden need to be involved in the planning so they will feel ownership and responsibility," explained Lucia Droby, executive director of the Community Outreach Group for Landscape Design (COGdesign) in Waltham, Mass. "Then one would hope they become the stewards of the park, helping to keep it safe and clean and maintained."

Jay Goulde, executive director of the Outdoor Arts Foundation, a Tampa Bay-area organization that adds artistic elements to all sorts of outside areas, takes an even broader view: "If we can incorporate kids into a project, we always try to do that. Our goal is that someday some 40-year-old will say, 'Hey, when I was 12 I worked on this mural.'A vested interest [in a park] increases civic pride, and if every community felt pride, we wouldn't have problems with vandalism, littering and crime in some cases."

Professional help

OK, but back to the present. Now you've analyzed, talked with the community and have a sense of what you need, but it's still not time for the grounds crew to get to work. Before the planting starts, you'll likely want at least a little professional help. If you're extremely fortunate, there will be resources in your area like COGdesign. This not-for-profit group works with community organizations throughout New England on landscaping projects.

"So often a client comes to us with ideas in mind, some sort of vision already, but they just can't get started, they can't pull it together to move forward," Droby said. This is just where COGdesign can be of assistance. "We can help them clarify what they need and what they want," she explained. "We can bring multiple constituencies together through a review process or a community planning event, and we can provide tools for them—a design, a cost estimate, a maintenance plan."

If your outdoor grounds are outside the New England area, you may have some luck finding help via a local landscape design school or university, and there's also likely a professional landscape design firm somewhere in your area. Just be sure you interview them thoroughly, suggested Mesa's Fraze. Check out their portfolios and resumés, as well as their design philosophies and approaches.

"Quiz them on how they'll realize your goals," Fraze said. "A good consultant should be asking you about your goals way before they get the job.

It should be a collaborative process."