Every landscape project begins with a design. The design process ensures the space is laid out in a thoughtful and useful way. Working through a landscape design provides opportunities to consider different placements for garden elements, different materials and the impact of each choice on the long term functionality and beauty of the project. Over the next few months, we will be profiling our design department, asking our Lead Designer, Jessica Roundy, provocative questions, and trying to get her to spill the beans on what it really takes to create a successful urban farm:
What are some of the questions you like to ask a new client during their initial site visit?
I like to start by getting an idea of what their dream garden space would look like. Many people have some sort of idea in their head about how big they would like their garden to be and what elements; such as raised beds, gathering spaces and pathways; they would like to include. It’s great to get all of those ideas on the table right away and then walk through the site to see and discuss what’s really possible. For example, it’s not uncommon that the part of the site picked out by the homeowner for annual garden space just doesn't get enough sun. Our job is to weave together a garden design that is drawn off of our clients ideas and goals for the space, but layered with our technical and creative skills to create an intelligent, productive, and beautiful space.
After your first meeting with the client, what are your next steps as a designer?
An initial design process is essential to the success of every productive garden. A comprehensive site plan allows you to combine individual elements of your urban farm to create a cohesive, functional, and beautiful space. A garden design includes scaled drawings of the space, planting recommendations, material specifications and precise dimensions for garden elements such as: garden beds, pathways, trellises, irrigation, tool sheds, washing stations, greenhouses, and seating areas. Additional, more detailed drawings including planting plans, grading plans and renderings can also be produced, as applicable to each project. Design budgets vary depending on the scale and complexity of the project.
Describe one of the most interesting design challenges the SUFCo design team has had lately?
One of the most interesting design challenges that we've had lately was to create a garden for a client that was to function both as the aesthetic front yard and entrance to their home while at the same time serving as a highly productive vegetable garden producing crops for a nearby restaurant. The overall site had a very strong aesthetic that was already established through the design of the existing house and structures. Our job was to create a space that would blend seamlessly in with the established aesthetic, be a welcoming entrance to the entire site but also be really functional in terms of creating an environment that would allow for highly productive crops.
One of the challenges we encountered was negotiating its border with the sidewalk. We wanted to define the garden edge as a way to create privacy and blend in with the neighboring landscapes without sacrificing sunlight. The solution we came up with was to construct a berm planted with short perennial plantings. The subtle change in topography created by the height and depth of the berm creates the illusion that there is more space between the sidewalk and the garden than there really is. The short plantings covering the berm add year-round visual interest and screen the garden at eye level.
We also structured the main pathway through the garden so that it is at an oblique angle from the street to the house. When you first look down the pathway you get a view through the garden but you're not actually looking directly at the house. As soon as you enter the pathway it turns and you see the path towards the house. Your view of the house continues to unfold as you're walking through the garden and approaching the front door.
Can you talk about plants that SUFCo clients are really excited about right now?
I think one of the plants our clients are most excited about right now is what people are calling the kiwi berry vine or the small kiwi. It has a number of different common names, but the scientific name is Actinidia kolomikta. What's exciting about it from a designer standpoint is that Actinidia kolomikta has been used for years as an ornamental plant, by just planting the male, and not the female. It's been heralded by designers for its gorgeous leaf which alone can be modeled with green, white and pink. Just over the last few years have people finally figured out that when you plant both a male and a female, you get kiwi berries! It's been really fun utilizing the vine in spaces that are really visible and for clients who really like the look of it’s leaves. To have a vine that is both really productive and really beautiful, and to be taking something that for such a long time in landscape design has been use for only its ornamental qualities and finally getting to use it for it’s edible qualities as well is very cool.
Can you talk about a particular designer whose work is inspirational to you?
I have been really inspired by the work of the Tom Leader Studio. They are based out of the Bay Area and they work on a really wide range of scales which is something that I find really inspiring. They worked on master planning projects for big parks, all the way down to very small scale installations that are very temporal. I think that it shows the talent of their staff, that they are able to think and build on all these different scales, and I think it also really relates to our work. We've done everything from a weekend installation of living wall in Pioneer Square for the Seattle Design Festival to working on master plans for several acre farm sites.
I think that always being grounded in knowing how something will be built, regardless of it scale, is what makes our practice very strong. It’s inspiring to be able to look to another studios work and see that same quality and to see the ways in which they apply their creativity to these different sites.
Jessica joined SUFCo in 2012 to design urban farms for residences, schools, restaurants, and public spaces. Her work is informed by regularly digging into the soil while farming across the city and working with clients in educational gardening sessions. Jessica received her Masters of Landscape Architecture from the Rhode Island School of Design. On behalf of SUFCo, Jessica has presented at Living Future, American Institute of Architects, American Community Gardening Association, and Pecha Kucha.