POV: Site visit leads to life lessons

The writer is a Glenmont resident and the owner of the garden design business Perennial Wisdom.

When Walter Cudnohufsky talks about his “Principles of Residential Landscape Design,” I listen with my designer’s ear. But my “how to live a better life” ear perks up too.

I have signed up for his “Traveling Design Clinic,” a course offered through the Berkshire Botanical Garden. Some members of the class have paid extra to have us visit their homes and do on-the-spot problem solving under Walter’s guidance. We are standing in the back yard of one of these sites.

It is afternoon on a beautiful September day but at this moment most of us are uncomfortable. We have been on the road visiting landscapes in need of help since 9 a.m. This site strikes those of us who don’t own it as the worst we have seen. It is unprepossessing at best, actually boring and dreary. A large back deck projects out over a gravel patch and looks down a grass slope to scrub brush. Blue spruces line the two sides of the yard; from my perspective there are about 16 blue spruces too many. Does the yard need to look like a bowling alley, I wonder?

We shuffle, scrunch, and twist as Walter keeps pressing his point. “You must find the positives. We are not leaving this site until you can find them, and as many positives as negatives. You can’t solve problems until you know the positives. Keep looking, they are there.”

We look again, dig deeper (those blue spruces create a great privacy screen, the scrub brush provides habitat for wildlife) and finally come up with a list that satisfies him. But I am thinking, “This would be a good way to approach the backyard of my life!”

I got my first hint that a course in landscape design could also be a course in life skills earlier in the day. Before we started, Walter prepped us by emphasizing the importance of observation. “Effective design starts with response to what exists,” he said, “so the first thing you have to do is see what’s there.”

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