Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Site Analysis

Garden design is a creative process. Much like any other type of design, it often begins with a goal in mind. For example, one might want to create a backyard garden. How does one get from point A to point B? It is simple. By creating a plan and following it. However, before a plan can be created, a site analysis must be performed.

The first step in the design process is to conduct a site analysis where everything that may effect the site can be identified and inventoried. In other words, we must first take stock of existing conditions in the site analysis before we can move forward with a design. Only with this data in hand, are we equipped to make educated decisions regarding the design of the site and its implementation.

What goes into a good site analysis? Just about everything that can be observed at the site. First, an inventory of existing plants should be taken. Are the plants upland species or wetland plants? Are they considered of future value or are they expendable? By observing what grows at the site naturally, we can acquire an enormous amount of information about the ecology of the site and how this might impact any future design.

Photo by angelscantdance

Soil must be analyzed to determine it's properties. Sand, silt and clay soils all have different implications as to what plant life each can support.

Next, the geology and soil type should be identified. Is the soil gravelly, sandy, silty or is it clay? Does it dry out quickly after a rainfall or does it stay wet for several days? This will most definitely impact the types of plantlife that can be supported and will determine whether or not soil amendments will be needed. Soil samples can also be taken to the nearest county extension service for a free soil analysis which will contain information about the organic content of the soil and its nutrients or lack thereof.

Is the site high and dry or low and wet? Is it flat or on a hillside? It is imperative to identify the slope and drainage on the site. Where does the water from a downpour flow? This will allow us to determine if site-altering grading is needed to collect and move the water in a positive manner. Also, is the property in a floodzone? If so, berms might be necessary to deter floodwaters away from the site. If it is very dry, what can be done to collect and store water on the site?

Climatic factors should always be taken into account before the design process can begin. What are the climatic conditions at the site and how will they impact its future design?

Climatic factors in regards to sun, shade, wind, and temperature must be identified in the site analysis. If it is a windy site, than windscreens may be necessary. If it is extremely hot, than shade-providing trees can be specified to provide a cooling effect. Planted in the right spot, deciduous trees can effectively shade a house in the hot summer months and allow light in to warm the house in the colder winter months. Plants can and should be used to create a desired micro-climate for the site.

Regional climatic factors should also be noted. What is the average annual rainfall? Does the wind pick up at different times of the day or grow stronger in different seasons of the year? Is the event of a hurricane or snow blizzard a possibility? What is the average temperature in summer? Winter? All of these things will effect the design of the site and it’s future use.

Lastly, social factors must be considered. How is the site to be used and how often? When is it going to be used and by whom? Is noise an issue? Is there a road or highway nearby that produces unwanted noise? Can the noise-generators be identified? What is the quality of the sound? An ocean would be considered a good sound, while a highway, a bad one.

The garden designer must first take into account how the site is to be used. A garden for a beach house would be designed very differently than a suburban one.

What are the views from the site and into the site? Unwanted or undesirable views can be screened with plants just as plants can be used to provide privacy and prevent views into the site. How the site is to be used determines what direction the design should take.

Photo by schom

Plants can be used to provide privacy.

All of the information that is collected during the site analysis phase or the first phase of the design process, is used to help guide decision-making throughout the entire design phase. Designers should make notations regarding the collected data from the site analysis onto a site plan. In this way, it is readily accessible and can easily be referred to throughout the entire process.

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