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Creating Places of Peace and Joy 

Landscape Design Strategies with Bloom's Liz Elkin

click to enlarge Organic vegetable garden and gardening shed - LARRY DECKER
  • Larry Decker
  • Organic vegetable garden and gardening shed

Liz Elkin founded Bloom Landscape and Fine Gardening Service ("Bloom") in 2008 in New Paltz, where she lives with her husband of ten years, Matthew, and their two children: Tahlia, age six, and Jonah, age three.

Elkin says, "I fell in love with horticulture while working in a greenhouse that grew organic, hydroponic basil in Western Massachusetts. The owners devised a creative system that cycled fish waste from aquaponic tanks on the first floor to hydroponic basil tables on the second floor. The basil received nutrients from the fish waste while also cleaning the water to be pumped back into the fish tanks. This efficient, well-crafted system inspired me and got me thinking a lot about smart, ecologically minded design concepts."

In 2001, Elkin earned a BS in Earth Systems Sciences; while in college, she also earned a certificate in permaculture design from La'akea Gardens in Hawaii. In 2002 she received a certificate from the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at the University of California Santa Cruz. Since 2009, she's continued her education with courses in landscape design at the New York Botanical Garden to help keep her business on the cutting edge of the field.

click to enlarge Densely planted herb garden with offset bluestone path. - LARRY DECKER
  • Larry Decker
  • Densely planted herb garden with offset bluestone path.

How would you describe your design philosophy?

Liz Elkin: Bloom allows me to create places of peace and joy for my clients. I design landscapes that are sustainable while considering the needs and vision of each individual client. My designs are not about me. I use my skills and knowledge of plants to achieve my clients' functional and aesthetic goals. Whether a client's vision involves an ultramodern look with clean lines and architectural plants, a limited color palette, or an aquatic oasis, I thrive on exploring a wide range of outdoor living environs.

What are the key questions you ask your clients before you do their design?

LE: There are many questions that I ask my clients when I meet with them to get a complete understanding of what they're looking for in a garden. Some of the first questions I would ask are:

What will the garden space be used for? Is it for entertaining guests, enjoying outdoor family time, hosting events, or simply relaxing? What are your favorite plants and colors? How much time and energy do you want to spend keeping the gardens looking their best? What are your past experiences in different areas of your property? For example: does it flood seasonally, does it get hot sun all day, do nearby trees shade the area? If so, when and for how long?

click to enlarge Dipping pool, spa, stonework, deck layout, and planters all designed by Bloom. - LARRY DECKER
  • Larry Decker
  • Dipping pool, spa, stonework, deck layout, and planters all designed by Bloom.

After the key conversations, how do you execute your designs?

LE: This is the process that we at Bloom go through with clients. First, there's a free initial consultation during which we walk through the property with the client and discuss their plans. Then we create a design proposal to outline the design and design cost, after which the design team measures the client's property, incorporating any existing surveys and/or site plans the client possesses. Then Bloom's designers begin the design, using our software. This can include what's called "Sketch Up" plans for clients who are interested in seeing a 3D model of our design. Then we present the landscape design to the client and gather any feedback. When the final plan approval is granted, we provide the client with a comprehensive estimate for each area of the installation including all materials and labor.

For a homeowner who's thinking about hiring a designer, to what should the homeowner be attuned to make sure it's a good fit?

LE: One of the most important things to consider when working with a designer is whether they can be flexible and can match your vision within a specific budget. Also, the same way you'd hire anyone to work with you on a project, you want to make sure there's an open line of communication. The designer should pay close attention to any special requests and be sure to include those details in their final plans.

click to enlarge Every home needs a welcoming entrance. - LARRY DECKER
  • Larry Decker
  • Every home needs a welcoming entrance.

Can you talk about integrating native, edible, and deer-resistant plants in your designs?

LE: These days, there's evidence of environmental damage all around us as a result of irresponsible human choices. That's why it's a priority of mine to focus on balance and integrating native, edible, and deer-resistant plants. Deer are an incredible challenge in the Hudson Valley and therefore, deer-resistant plants are an absolute necessity. It's best to start a design as deer resistant as possible, unless there is a fence. Having a deer fence is a complete game-changer when it comes to garden design, opening up the possibilities of using native and edible plants that would otherwise get eaten.

Native species can often fill a space in a garden where other plants struggle to thrive. At Bloom, we love incorporating edibles; blueberry bushes are beautiful plants (when deer aren't a concern), along with hardy kiwi vine or even a rogue pumpkin to ramble through a garden here and there! Integrating edible plants in a design is a lot of fun, but it's definitely based on client preference since it requires a specific type of garden plan.

Are your designs plant-driven?

LE: Most of the time my designs are plant-driven. Plants can shape a space with their form, movement, and color. They give life to an outdoor space. I often design a space with a plant list already formed in my mind. I can envision the evolution of a garden as I explore a property on my first visit. For example, I might think that we want a bank of low grasses here, or an arbor to support flowering vines there, so I create each unique space in the design to make that happen.

Where do you draw inspiration for your designs?

LE: I am a visual person. I scroll through pictures constantly. I look through gardening magazines that focus on design, organic care, and the latest gardening trends. I collect pictures in a binder that I use for inspiration. I also use websites such as Houzz and Pinterest. Although many of the designs on those websites are over-the-top for the average person, they are a terrific source of inspiration. Every garden photo I see has something that I can use somewhere.

I also love to visit public gardens. Without fail, I always learn something new, meet a new favorite tree or plant, and have a lovely day. One of my absolute favorites is the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, but I have also had the opportunity to visit botanical gardens around the world.

click to enlarge Liz Elkin at work. - LARRY DECKER
  • Larry Decker
  • Liz Elkin at work.

What are your favorite kinds of design jobs to work on?

LE: My favorite design jobs are full-property plans. With a comprehensive property plan, Bloom can create a design that brings the entire landscape together. Each area on a full-property plan can attend to the client's interests and make sense for the client's lifestyle. For example, a vegetable garden and a pool can be situated in such a way that allows for both ease of access and seasonality. Or, a patio space for entertaining could be located near the kitchen area to become an extension of the home. Phasing a full-property plan over time is always an option, executing installations area-by-area over the years. Designing a master plan minimizes potential future problems and creates a thoughtful, beautiful landscape that's a joy for years to come.

  • Landscape Design Strategies with Bloom's Liz Elkin

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