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A Quick Guide to Low-Maintenance Landscape Design: An Interview with Porter Poirier of Poirier Garden Designs

By Porter Poirier

Please tell us a little bit about your company and the services you offer.

I specialize in designing easy-to-maintain, climate-appropriate gardens that provide year-round color and interest for both homeowners and wildlife visitors. Clients typically want their garden to look good all year, with ease of care and low environmental impact. My training in both horticulture and landscape architecture as well as years of experience, allows me to design pleasing outdoor spaces that enhance my clients' lifestyles and their home's value.

What's one of the biggest surprises for Bay Area homeowners when it comes to ecological landscape design?

One of the biggest surprises for clients and one of my biggest challenges as a designer is how variable Bay Area microclimates can be. Conditions for outdoor living and plant growth can literally change from street to street within a neighborhood, and they vary even more from one area to another. For instance, homes within sight of the bay can have much milder high and low temperatures throughout the year, but generally experience windy conditions that affect outdoor comfort, especially in the evenings. Farther inland, plantings must be designed to withstand higher daytime temperatures in summer and frostier nights in winter, and shade for outdoor spaces is a must!

Can you briefly describe what ecological or low-maintenance landscape design means?

Designing ecologically requires understanding and a willingness to work with the natural forces that occur on any given site. A design that harmonizes with existing conditions like soil, slope, available sunlight and, most of all, California's dry Mediterranean climate can not only create a pleasing and long-lasting result, but also save money and scarce resources over the lifetime of the garden.

What are the main benefits compared with typical landscape design?

Many of us are looking for ways to connect with and care for our natural world. Ecological design allows each of us that owns a home to transform our bit of the planet through a garden that makes conscious use of space and resources. Good design can help us tread more lightly on the planet while making a haven for both homeowner and beneficial wildlife.

What are some of the most important things for people to consider when they start a new landscape or garden project?

Of course, one of the first considerations is budget. When getting acquainted with new clients, I typically ask in round figures what they expect to spend on their project. Once I have a sense of this, I can better advise them on design and material choices. Another big first question relates to theme or overall feeling they want for their outdoor space. I encourage clients to choose a clear and vivid phrase that captures their desires like "meditation garden," "family play space" or "cottage garden," which can greatly simplify and guide choices throughout the design process.

What is one of the most common questions (and the answer) that people ask you about ecological landscape design?

New clients often say they want a native garden, thinking that this will mean less watering and simpler care. The reality is not so clear. Native California plants often require specialized care and many are intolerant of typical garden conditions like summer watering. Designing a purely native garden is a special challenge I'm happy to take on for adventurous clients, but generally I recommend climate appropriate plant choices. This means carefully picking plants from California, along with those native to other areas of the world with similar climates, such as Western Australia or the Mediterranean basin.

What's the best way for people to contact your company?

They can visit my website to see examples of my work and schedule a consultation.

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