I finally had an opportunity to watch “The Outdoor Room with Jamie Durie” recently and I must say I’m a bit perplexed by the term “sustainable landscape design” quite frankly. Now this post has nothing to do with Jaime’s design style or abilities, which unquestionably are considerable and well renowned (It’s at this point I have to admit I never heard of the guy until HGTV). My thoughts have everything to do
with what constitutes the term “sustainable” especially in light of what I saw on the show.
The premise was creating an Australian styled outdoor room for a home in Duarte, California. In order to do this Jaime flew back to Australia for design ideas and inspiration from some of his previous design installations. This notion alone bothered me immensely because, after all, the man is from Australia! Does he really need to fly back and forth from California to Australia and back to California again just for design inspiration and to see in person how his designs are doing? Really? (OK, maybe he stopped by to say hi to mom and dad.) What makes this notion even more appalling is the fact that is TV – all this is “done for show.”
Couldn’t he have just asked a buddy to email him some photos from the garden he did? I mean think of the jet fuel waste and air pollution alone of this one fact finding flight and how it could have been avoided. Ah, TV.
I have to say that I have never been to Australia and yet, if I want or need Australian inspiration for a garden design, I can just whip-out my handy, dandy Sunset Garden Guide and find literally hundreds of Australian natives – many readily available right here in So Cal from locally based wholesale nurseries. That being said this is California after all, not Australia. Wouldn’t the notion of using California or Southwestern natives be more in keeping with the whole notion of “sustainable”? I think it would be frankly.
My next thought has to do with the quandary (contrived or not I can’t say) regarding the shows horticulturists’ mission to find an Australian Grass Tree, Xanthorrhoea preissii. She managed to drive to three different supply centers/nurseries in an attempt to find this plant and couldn’t find any. Thank goodness she did in fact finally find one! Question: Is it more sustainable and thus better for the environment to frantically scurry about in a Toyota Pirus (as opposed to normally aspirated internal combustion engine, i.e. gas hog) than it would be to simply look up the plant on the internet? It took me all of ten seconds to find the plant on the internet and confirm its availability not too terribly far from Duarte! Personally I don’t think this lump of grass-like leaves holds a candle to the Mexican Grass Tree, Nolina longifolia, but hey, that’s just me.
My last thought regarding the show and this misuse of the term “sustainable was the use of “rammed earth walls”. The whole notion of these walls was to create sustainable design by using extremely compacted earthen walls as raised planters for the wonderful assortment of Australian natives used in the landscape. After finally finding a contractor familiar with the technique (snide remark alert because after all we build so many of these earthen walls in So Cal), of building these walls a concrete truck is called into pour the footings. This is where I began to think that it simply would have made more sense just to use poured-in-place concrete walls with colored concrete and rough finished but hey, what do I know? Once the footings were in place and the forms for these rammed earth walls were done the use of motorized (two stroke engine) tampers was employed. So how is this technique more sustainable than just simply using one truck and one pour? It just seems to me that while it may be “chique” to want to use these types of walls from a sustainability aspect (I guess because the technique is cool or whatever) the technique used to install them is hardly more sustainable, earth friendly, environmentally conscientious (insert your favorite “green earth” term here) than just using P.I.P. concrete walls.
Then I read on the HGTV web site
that Jaime “In addition to being an award-winning designer and TV host, Jamie also is an advocate for preserving our natural surroundings and environmental future. He trained with former Vice President Al Gore as a Climate Change Ambassador and regularly participates in environmental lectures around the world.”
Oh, well that says it all then, he must be part of the “do as I say, not as I do crowd”.
The Unreality of “Reality” TV
How many times have you seen them? You know what I’m talking about. Those reality TV shows where the host of the show talks and walks us through the complete installation of an entire landscape in just a scant 23 minutes?
Unfortunately, as you are well aware, reality is much different than what we see on TV.
What our clients don’t see, and generally never really consider, is that a quality landscape can take at a minimum of several weeks to even many months from initial concept, complete design, planning and then final installation. Rarely it seems are even the simplest landscapes installed without something unexpected happening; yet our clients sometimes seem to base their ideas on what happens by what they see on reality TV. One would hardly consider that anything could go wrong based on the seamless operation these shows portray. And that is one of the major drawbacks of these types of shows.
Now, when our clients see this fantastic transformation of a landscape, from bare dirt to lush paradise, take place in the space of ½ hour their understanding of what can really happen (and generally does) can indeed become rather skewed. For example, do our clients really consider that many months of planning go into the production of these shows? Have our clients stopped to think that behind the host, the “talking head” of the show so to speak, a literal army of producers and technicians stand at the ready to make everything go as smoothly as possible? Or that virtually everything is carefully planned months in advance? Unrealistic expectations can and unfortunately do arise from not considering these facets of TV production.
Now I am certainly not going to knock these TV shows. As a matter of fact, I appreciate them very much because they have actually helped grow our industry more and more, have highlighted for the client the value of planning ahead and putting their ideas on paper before even one spade of dirt gets turned or one dollar is spent. I have even learned a few new techniques and design ideas from these shows! Thanks to these shows many people have been inspired to invest in one of the most important tangible investments they can ever make, their home. That has certainly led to some new business for my firm for sure and yours I would guess.
What I would like the landscape designer to take away from this article is simply this: It is vital to temper your clients ideas and expectations about their landscape project with a rather large dose of “true” reality and to have them plan ahead accordingly. Many times the lead time for a landscape design from beginning concept to final presentation is 6 to 8 weeks, maybe even more depending on work loads. As you know a quality landscape design takes that kind of time because there is quite a bit that goes into producing a unique design tailored to the individual client. Add to that a minimum of 2 to 4 weeks in getting bids for the project from various contractors (if that is part of what your services) and we know that close to 2 to 3 months will be expended without one shovel turning dirt. Add to that the 2 to 6 weeks (or more depending on the size, features and complexity of the project) of construction of the landscape and it doesn’t take long to see that a quality landscape can take many months, not a mere half-hour, to install. Making sure this is fully explained to the client ahead of time is vital in enhancing the reputation of the design firm and bringing the entire landscape design/installation process back to “reality.”