Landscape Planning and Design in Mountain Environments IS Different! - Part One
In some ways Landscape Design in warmer climates is similar, but in many ways, it is VERY Different! A number of factors play into the planning and design of mountain landscaping. Following are areas where the differences affect design and planning so that Mountain Landscape Projects can not only survive but thrive. In Part One we discuss critical aspects of the Mountain Environment that influence planning and design for snow country living.
In Part One we’ll discover what drives design for the mountains.
What is Mountain Style?
- Classic Mountain Architecture brings about images of Alpine buildings found in the Alps of Germany, Switzerland, Austria, France and other high mountain regions of Europe.
- Low Angle slopes shedding in only two directions – to the sides – there is a reason for this
- Some combination of stucco and timber often with scenes of wildlife and wildflowers etched into stucco in the classic fresco style
- Window boxes, shutters and divided glass
- Gardens of window boxes filled with bright geraniums and spilling vines characterize this classic style accompanied by a front yard filled with seasonal vegetables and perennials
- Snow accumulation on roofs is either directed to slide off the sides or often held on the roof with restraints – often timbers or rocks set to keep snow in place to protect pedestrian and vehicle zones
- Contemporary and Modern Mountain Architecture is characterized by many roof angles and pitches, varied juxtaposition of vertical planes, and a variety of materials – timber, stone, concrete, stucco, wood siding.
- Snow is often directed in a multiple of directions – in some cases when inexperienced architects pitch shed roofs so that snow deposits right onto walks and driveways.
- Landscape design has to be driven by where snow is deposited by people, roofs and nature
- Outdoor activities and usage will shape the modern mountain landscape with amenities such as patios, firepits and spas.
- In the built landscape, I believe landscape design depends on the style of Architecture, as well as the individual tastes and needs of the Owner, Developer and Ultimate User.
- Aesthetic influencers include:
- Intended uses
- Native surroundings – geology – type of stone readily available locally, and vegetation –inform a lot of mountain landscape designs by region – what’s great in the Sierra isn’t necessarily good for the Rocky Mountains
- Variety in color, texture, height, and form
- Sense of order, typically demanded by the strong geometric forms of Contemporary Architecture
- Formality – informal vs formal or some of both – in the Mountain Landscape I’ve often created schemes that are very structured close to entries and outdoor living spaces that gradually loosen as the design transitions to the native fringes
- Organized Chaos – loose meadowy or garden style that is structured by use and snow deposition patterns, confinement, and definition, but may be characterized by lots of variety in color, form and texture throughout the growing season and visually softer hardscape using native rock
- Structured geometrics accentuated by linear plant placement, strong angular site hardscape elements
- Unity and Harmony
- Color elicits emotion and emits energy, as does texture – demands careful consideration for the intended use of space and is curial to elicit desired feelings
- Maintenance – can be very minimal to a very intensive level – I don’t believe there is a no-maintenance landscape for the built environment – this depends upon the occupants desires.
Snow – Where does it Come From? Where Does it Go? Where can it Go? How does it get there?
- Yes, snow is pretty but once it’s on the ground, or roof, how does snow affect design thinking when it comes to Landscape Design
- Here are some aspects to consider
- Removal/deposit of snow from streets, driveways, and walks for convenience of access
- Sliding off roofs – what does it land on and can it withstand the impact and accumulation over the course of the winter
- Drifting and cumulative effects of storm cycle winds
- Man-made control systems designed to improve traction and reduce snow and ice buildup
- Ice-melt salts and road sand typically have detrimental effects on the vitality of plant material and integrity of paving materials, though companies are coming out with less harsh options
- Cold shady spots, particularly on north facing aspects caused by structures and evergreen trees
- Tree and Shrub protection from snow storage practices
- Most woody plants don’t withstand sustained heavy man-caused snow loading
- Accumulation on walk and driveway surfaces becoming ice hazards
- Drifting from winds during and after storms
- Compacted by vehicle and/or foot traffic
- Snow left on the drives and walks between use periods – seen often at second homes that are used infrequently and are not maintained on a regular basis will compact and ice up over time
- Melted snow that has nowhere to go – often trapped by snowbanks or clogged drainage systems
What can we do about Ice?
- Ice is a ubiquitous beauty and at the same time can be a problem feature in the snow country Winter Landscape
- Where and how it forms greatly informs the site and landscape design of mountain properties
- shading of drive and walking surfaces must be carefully considered when choosing and locating certain plant materials and structures
- Providing Drainage Systems that facilitate the removal of melted snow between freeze cycles help to create safer paved surfaces
- Potential Impacts of Ice Melt systems and chemicals that can compromise paving and plant materials as mentioned above, plants and paving surfaces can be adversely affected by salts
- Where budgets allow, a subsurface paving heating system can greatly improve on maintenance and the safety of users
- Protection from potentially destructive freeze and thaw cycles through proper construction methods and use of mulches
- Paving system installation, particularly base treatments, must always be designed and installed with freeze-thaw in mind
- Even the hardiest of plants benefit from protection from extremes in freeze-thaw through use of mulches.
- The added benefits of locally sourced organic mulches, such as ground bark, is soil structure improvement as the mulches break down over time, retention of soil moisture and weed control.
Paver walkway – without a subsurface melt system will ice up if not frequently maintained or a chemical ice melt applied
Where Does the White Go When Snow Melts?
- You should see the look on a little kid’s face when we would ask that during a ski school class!
- Can it be easily drained off roofs, walks and driveway surfaces or will it become an icy hazard?
- Snowmelt is a form of Stormwater – how it is managed on site is critical to the health of local waterways
- Streams, Rivers and Lakes are affected
- Road sand and salts, snow melt chemicals, motor oil, asphalt treatments and other pollutants are picked up by melted snow and ice and if not directed into appropriate landscape receptacles, can be carried to local water bodies.
- Landscape can facilitate on-site infiltration and as a filter
- In Part Four we will delve into impacts and mitigations measures regarding stormwater issues.
In Part Two, we’ll explore some key challenges, in addition to snow and ice, presented in the Wester Mountain Landscape.