How I Got My Groove – The Stages of a Landscape Design Career

landscape design careerUnlike now, when I graduated UCONN I didn’t have real world landscape design experience.

I designed landscapes by the book and my designs incorporated the latest cool plants at the nursery.  If the book said a plant grows in the shade to 10 feet tall I put it in shade where it could grow to 10 feet tall.

I talked with associates and read magazine articles about new plants.  I still do because there’s always room for improvement.  The palette of plants to choose from is constantly changing.

After designing, installing and watching my landscapes grow in for over 20 years I have more experience than most in my field.

Sometimes, even though the book says a plant grows in the shade it just sits there neither living nor dying.  Arborvitae planted in late fall are going to suffer from winter’s drying winds.  Over-planted landscapes fill in quickly and are a ton of work to keep up.  Landscape construction never goes exactly according to plan and small changes are a natural part of the process.

My design style is “Form follows function.”  I abhor complexity for simpler is always better.  I like focal points but don’t overdo it.  Viewers get headaches from bedazzled landscapes.

Landscape design and installation is an art and subject to interpretation by the designer and installer.  Seemingly small differences, like those above, make a big difference in your project.  You can talk to five landscape designers and get five completely different landscape designs.  You can then give that design to five different landscape contractors and get five different landscapes.

I hope you choose wisely when hiring your landscape designer or landscape contractor.

By John Holden

You Can Talk About it or You Can Keep It To Yourself

I went to a meeting last night for parents of Sandy Hook School children.

The leader of the discussion had a great insight on poor behavior.  When he was a child he would start arguments when something bothered him.

When he did, his mom very calmly said, “You can talk about it or you can keep it to yourself.  You’re not taking it out on someone else.”

What a great way to focus on the real problem.

Selectively Pruning Evergreen Shrubs – Part 2

In the first part of this series I showed you how to selectively prune evergreen shrubs.  Now I’d like to show you one of the greatest benefits of this pruning method.

By selectively pruning your evergreen shrubs you can control their height indefinitely.  Every time you prune you are cutting into the shrub, so the shrub stays the same size, or gets smaller, with pruning.

Measure Twice, Cut Once

In the video above I show you the results of a Japanese Holly that was heavily pruned.  The shrub bounced back quickly and within four months all signs of pruning were gone.

I don’t recommend people new to pruning start with such an extreme example.  If unsure how your shrub will respond prune some of the branches deep into the shrub.  If they don’t grow back there will be enough other branches to fill in.

I have Japanese Holly (Ilex crenata) growing in deep shade and the shrubs are extremely leggy.  Using selective pruning on these holly won’t make them more dense, there isn’t enough light.  The shrubs still look better because the growth is at different levels of the shrub, not all at the tip.

What About Flowering Evergreen Shrubs?

You can selectively prune flowering evergreens too.  The key is to prune right after bloom.  If you prune a flowering evergreen, such as a rhododendron (Rhododendron spp.), that blooms on the last seasons growth too late you can remove the next years blooms.

I hope you’ll try selective pruning, your shrubs will be glad you did.

By John Holden


Selectively Pruning Evergreen Shrubs – Part 1

Why do people get out their hedge shears once a year, usually during the heat of June or July, and prune their evergreen shrubs like a new recruit in the army?  Yes Virginia, there is a better way!

If you want healthy, attractive and easy to care for evergreen shrubs try selective pruning.

Benefits of Selectively Pruning Evergreen Shrubs

Selective pruning has many benefits.

  • Your shrubs will have a natural look, and be more forgiving of pruning mistakes.
  • Your shrubs will have an open habit to allow more air and light to enter, resulting in less insects and disease.
  • You can control your shrubs height indefinitely.

How to Selectively Prune Evergreen Shrubs

You can selectively prune many evergreen shrubs, such as:

  • Boxwood (Buxus)
  • Holly (Ilex)
  • Yew (Taxus)
  • Andromeda (Pieris)

Do heavy pruning in late spring to early summer and continue with minor pruning throughout the season.

Use a sharp pair of pruning shears to cut the branches at varying lengths throughout the shrub, try not cut them all on one plane.

Prune with the result in mind, knowing what you want the shrub to look like.  Then, one branch at a time, thin out the branches by cutting them back into the shrub.  Your goal is to cut the branch where there’s new growth or back to a crossing branch.  Work your way around the shrub pruning some branches a little below your desired height and some branches way inside the shrub.

I begin pruning where the foliage is most dense and cut some branches deep into the shrub to allow air and light to enter.

Next, I work my way toward the outside of the shrub cutting some branches about half way.

Finally, I level out the ends of most branches to give the shrub a loosely manicured look.

Take your time and everything will be fine.  The beauty of selective pruning is that if you make a mistake there will be other branches to fill in.

I have trained many on this pruning method and assure you it’s normal to be a little nervous the first time you do it.  Take your time.  After a few shrubs you’ll get the hang of it.  By the end of the season you’ll wonder why you ever bothered with a hedge trimmer.

By John Holden