by Julie Moir Messervy

In my experience as a landscape designer over the past many years, each individual object in a landscape—whether a building, a plant, a path, or a view—holds and expresses energy.  So it’s my job as a creative professional to manage the energy for the good of the site, the house, and my clients, in order to create visually satisfying designs on the land.

A weeping cherry tree has energy that starts high and moves outward and downward. A deck that is cantilevered off the end of a house has strong energy that moves away from the house into the landscape. A classical statue or clipped topiary sits happily on its pedestal, its energy balanced and complete. Drawing by Bethany Gracia from Home Outside: Creating the Landscape You Love (Taunton, 2009), page 171.

In my book Home Outside: Creating the Landscape You Love, I discuss the “4C’s”--  concentrating, connecting, conveying, and containing energy.  Conveying energy may be the hardest of the concepts to explain.

There are times when you need to transmit an object or space’s energy outward into the landscape.  The concept of conveying energy is useful when an object feels particularly forceful, such as a deck that juts way out into the backyard or when you’d like to “spread” the energy around, as with an overgrown tree that sits too close to the house.  There are two helpful techniques for doing this:  creating visual breathing room and employing the ripple effect.

This ancient maple tree needs some breathing room around it, not only for the health of its root system but also for visual appeal. The shape of the handsome stone retaining wall mimics the drip line of the tree’s canopy. Photo by Randy O’Rourke from Home Outside, page 191.

Visual Breathing Room

Just as we all need a certain amount of personal space to feel comfortable in a crowd, an object, whether a birdbath in the backyard of a house in the landscape, often benefits from some visual breathing room, or a zone of open space around it.

Imagine that a house has fallen forward onto its front façade.  The imprint it leaves is usually the right amount of level ground needed for a garden, patio, or lawn.  A similar approach can be applied to a birdbath, a fountain, or any other round or squat object.  In all these cases, the space around the object draws attention to it and gives it room to breath. 

Around a house without gutters, you can give visual breathing room to the structure while draining water off the roof by creating a drip line outside the perimeter of the foundation.  Install a clean edge of granite, steel, or wood and infill with gravel or pea stone from the foundation out to the drip edge.  (see page 55.  Drip Edge)

The Ripple Effect

Just as there are ways to concentrate energy in the landscape, there are also ways to disperse it.  One of these is to create a ripple effect.  When you drop a pebble into a still pool, concentric waves of water ripple outward, decreasing in intensity until they meet the shore. Similarly, when you place an object in your landscape, its energy can dissipate into the objects and space around it. You make a simple ripple effect around specimen trees or shrubs when you plant ground covers or rake gravel at their bases. A more intricate ripple effect would involve planting in concentric rings around a focal point, like is done around an island stone in the pebble “pool” of a Japanese garden.

A house has a lot of latent energy. One way to disperse that energy into the landscape is to use concentric rings that ripple out from the house. Here, a semicircular motif is repeated in the deck, the retaining walls, and the lines of the terrace.  Drawing by Bethany Gracia from Home Outside, page 192.

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