Charlotte Landscape Architect Explains The Three Essential Elements In Creating A Landscape That Lasts

Posted on | July 19, 2016 | No Comments

We often talk of creating a “forever home” – a place in the world that gives us roots, grows with us, and eventually becomes a part of the family. But what about a “forever landscape – one that’s thoughtfully planned and lovingly cultivated, so that it brings us joy and respite for years to come? With a great blend of passion, artistry and thoughtfulness, celebrated Charlotte landscape architect J’Nell Bryson builds every landscape with an eye toward forever. She was kind enough to share her methods for creating a timeless outdoor spaces with North Carolina Design.

Images Courtesy of J’Nell Bryson Landscape Architect ©

J’Nell tells us that there are three elements to creating a landscape that lasts, the first of which is structure. “Providing the right structure is vitally important,” she reflects. “I think of the outdoors as a giant room, with the ground as the floor and the sky as the ceiling. To create a defined space, you have to have a solid foundation, a good framework and good architectural bones – just as you would if you were building an indoor space.”

“When it comes to structure, you can’t rely on bloom colors, or lots of pretty deciduous trees. You need something that’s intentional, and has a sense of permanence. You should be able to appreciate the intent and beauty of the space, even in winter. Each outdoor space should ‘speak’ to and flow well with all of the others. And you have to take a long view of how things will grow and change – over the next 30 years.”

The next essential element in a forever landscape is scale. “Scale takes on an entirely new significance in landscapes, as outdoor spaces tend to dwarf things,” she explains. “An 8 by 10-foot space may seem like a good fit for a patio – until you see how small it looks outdoors. You might find a sizable outdoor sculpture that you love, only find that it ‘disappears’ once you add it to your landscape. You really do have to think in much larger, broader terms outdoors.”

The third, and most important element in a landscape that endures is a great plan. “Planning is everything,” J’Nell stresses. “You will have a much more successful result if you have a solid plan in place.” For J’Nell, this means considering the wants and needs of clients within the confines of their budget, measuring carefully to ensure that the scale will be right, mapping out the hardscape and choosing the plant materials that will anchor the space.

J’Nell believes that a simple, well-edited plan is best. “I like to choose 10 to 15 trees, space them out well, and give them room to grow,” she says. “I also choose hardy trees that I know will do very well in this area. Once I have created the structure, I add in texture and dimension with perennials, ornamental grasses and deciduous trees. These act as the accessories in outdoor spaces – you should be able to change them out without compromising the integrity of the space.”

J’Nell always plans with a long view in mind. “I counsel people to invest in more expensive, larger size plants, as they will make new landscapes look fuller, and they will require less care at a lower cost,” she affirms. “I also encourage them to avoid creating permanent structures based on things that are temporary. Trends fade, and children grow up. It’s important to focus on things that are timeless.”

“You can also create flex spaces that can serve current and future needs, like a playhouse that can easily be turned into a garden shed. And, you can keep your options open. I like to carve out space for things my clients want that aren’t in the budget today, but might be in 10 years. It really is all about investing time, care and money now, to have something that serves you effortlessly, well into the future.”

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