Posts Tagged ‘pruning’

It seems that about every time Landscape Architecture Magazine reviews a designed landscape the reviewer writes a single line about how a place is poorly maintained, and so difficult to assess properly.  

In the latest issue of LAM, an extensive article about three Thomas Church gardens describes how Church often could be seen out on one property, in his work clothes, pruning the shrubbery well before the clients had even eaten breakfast.  So great!  I have known other LAs — and I do this myself — to make site visits with a pair of Felco clippers in hand, so that the opportunity to refine the habit of a shrub or to nip back a wayward branch doesn’t pass by. 

When did landscape architects move away from this sort of care-taking of their designs?  We lament the poor maintenance our landscapes receive, but behave as if we have no say in the matter.  Perhaps we don’t have final say — but we sure can lobby.  And we can show, through our actions, what a difference even small caretaking gestures can make in a place.  How can we be stewards of our work, and the environment — and how can we model that ethic for our clients — if we don’t do the most basic maintenance tasks at least occasionally?  

Several years ago my bike route to work took me along Mass. Ave. in Cambridge. The edge of Cambridge Common was populated with an assortment of largish shrubs growing in the planting bed between sidewalk and curb.  The shrubs — a mix of forsythia, flowering quince, barberry, and privet — had the desperate look of plants that want to grow into their natural form but get sheared every year.  The City of Cambridge DPW did the work.  

It occurred to me that I could give a pruning workshop to my fellow LAs in the office, and we could set up a volunteer cleanup effort one Saturday to work on the Cambridge Common shrubs.  Good civic initiative, good training for the design professionals, good PR for our firm (we did a lot of public work in Cambridge anyway). 

I proposed the idea to a firm principal, who sounded interested and told me he’d talk to the Big Cheese about it.  Later in the week, he called me in to his office and said that the BC had nixed the idea; in fact, she was actively discouraging about it.  “She told me that because we’re landscape architects, we don’t want to be seen working on maintenance jobs, even if they’re voluntary,” he told me, and that was that.

The longer I work in this profession, the more I disagree.  We need to be showing the rest of the world that caretaking is important, and modeling the idea to our clients that we, and they, are responsible for fostering the places we make. Getting out of our offices and into the landscape might just give this profession more of the credibility it seeks, too.

Rant over.

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