Hey, who said you could put that bench there?

Let’s say you are Cosimo de’ Medici and you hire Donatello to paint your portrait. Several years later you decide your portrait would look better with a Snidley Whiplash mustache. Do you pull out a 15th century magic marker and draw it on? Do you e-mail Donatello and ask him to stop by and paint one on “when you’re in the neighborhood”?

Setting aside the fact that “Muddy Boots Landscaping” and “Italian Renaissance Master” probably should not be used in the same analogy, this illustrates a very common landscape design dilemma.

At first, landscaping seems pretty straightforward: we design and build/plant a landscape for you; then you enjoy smelling it, partying in it, watching tiger swallowtails in it, and most of all, feeling your blood pressure drop as you stroll through it after a hectic day at work.

But, at some point you are going to have the urge to tinker with it. You find a really cool bench at a garage sale, or you pick up one of the 400 new varieties of coral bells that came out this year, or your neighbor’s tree blew over in a storm, turning a shady spot into a sunny one.

My reaction to changes made by the homeowner to “our” landscape used to be, “You know, I didn’t really authorize this.” Believe me, I’ve discovered plenty of doomed-to-fail or downright ugly homeowner additions to landscapes we’ve done.

But I’ve become much more tolerant – even outright encouraging. What is interesting to me now is how differently clients react to their urge to tweak their landscape.

Some homeowners/gardenowners don’t think twice about adding plants and other stuff here and there to our meticulously planned and implemented designs. Some will be a little more reluctant to modify something that they spent good money on – even years later. Others will be paralyzed because they think they lack the expertise to make good design decisions.

I’ve found acts of brilliance. The bench in the photo is a few feet from the edge of the front lawn, tucked into a small clearing on the edge of an oak and maple forest in the front yard. It looks really sharp, and we didn’t have anything to do with it.

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