In the midst of winter, Eileen Finn is already getting ready for spring. As a landscape architect, she designs honest spaces in collaboration with clients and other professionals. Inspired by a landscape’s context, conditions and function, her firm crafts creative and sensitive solutions for residential and public clients for a variety of scales and budgets. Eileen works on single + multiple family residential projects, school yard designs, green roofs + green walls, urban wild backyards, edible landscapes, public art services, memorial landscapes and a host of other projects in the family of ecology + urban agriculture. Today she shares ideas for a garden design project in your own backyard including questions to consider and tips to apply. She’ll also be giving a workshop in January (details at end of the post) on DIY Edible Gardens which makes a great gift for Green Thumbs.
Upgrading your underused outdoor yard, patio or balcony is a great way to expand your family’s living space and make a special connection with nature in the city.
As a landscape architect I design a variety of outdoor spaces from playgrounds to public art to residential projects. For residential projects, the starting point is always the same question: What do you have? Outdoor spaces are all about context, so a garden or landscape design lives and dies by how well it’s customized to the site and what’s already there.
When approaching a garden design project, start by studying your space. How much sun does it get? 2 hours a day? 10 hours a day? Try taking a photo in the morning, one at noon and one in the evening. This can tell you which plants will thrive and which will wither. Also, check out the dirt. You can even grab a handful and smell it. Sweet smelling soil is good soil with good respiration. An alcoholic scent means that your soil is in desperate need of aeration and improved drainage. Take inventory of the plants that are already there, which are healthy, which ones bring you joy and which ones leave you cold. Are the trees healthy? Do all the branches bloom with leaves in the spring or are there sections of branches where only mushrooms bloom? Try to pay attention to any secret visitors to your outdoor space: Is your neighbourhood ruled by gangs of tomato-chomping squirrels or overwhelmed with alley cats? If so, you may need a small fence around any edibles. Finally, it’s important to look for signs of probable soil contamination. Accurate soil testing is expensive, so it’s important to look at what the history and current uses of your neighbourhood. Was there an old rail yard nearby? Do you live next door to a dry cleaner or an auto garage? Are you bordering the Lachine Canal? If so, it may be safest to plant any edibles in containers.
I love working with families at a variety of income levels to come up with custom solutions that fit the budget and the site. Design takes time and landscape and building materials cost money, so the cost of a typical residential project can be more than some might expect, more like renovating a room in your house than picking up a few plants at the Market. But by expanding your living space to include a beautiful natural pool, custom patios or creative play space, you can make the right space for your life and your family.
For those wishing to keep things more affordable, I can provide short consultations and site visits, quick sketches and custom plant lists. I also offer a DIY garden design workshop focusing on the nuts-and-bolts of planning and creating an edible landscape. The cost is $25 and includes a custom instruction booklet with plant lists for different conditions, buying guides with cost and location of materials and plants for those wishing to create their own custom DIY edible garden.
The next workshop is at La Tasse Gamine on January 25, 2015 from 12-1:45pm. This is a great gift for Green Thumbs looking for the organization and encouragement to get everything planned and prepped for the spring time.
Spring will come.
Eileen Finn, Architecte paysagiste
Images via Eileen Finn Landscape Architecture