Landscape Architecture’s History

Louise Schiller

Working for Robert Geddes

Training for Landscape Architects

Tips for Landscaping Your Home

Jerry Ford, Architect

Michael Kuzma, Appraiser

Corrections or additions?

Landscape: Please Yourself, then the Market

This article by Tricia Fagan was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on April 7, 1999. All rights reserved.

Done right, say the real estate brokers, landscaping

improves curb appeal. Done right, say the architects, good landscaping

enhances the design of a home.

If carefully done, say the appraisers, you can get the same return

on your money for good landscaping as you do for a new bathroom.

But doing it right means more than buying a few bushes. It might mean

careful research for a plant-your-own project, or hiring a landscaper

to draw up the plan. But some of the savviest home owners hire the

most skilled planners: They invest in the services of a landscape


Meet Louise Schiller, a Princeton-based landscape architect with major

institutional credits on her resume. Schiller brings to her practice

a classical education (a Ph.D. in English in addition to horticulture

and other architectural courses) tempered by real world experiences

(including a stint with the Peace Corps in Turkey).

Top Of Page
Landscape Architecture’s History

In the 20th century, Schiller notes, landscape architecture —

once revered as an art form in itself — has become much more utilitarian.

The formal gardens often identified with landscaping at the beginning

of this century, Schiller says, "were reflective of a society

that was heavily trained in history and literature, so it could quote

from those sources and draw inspiration for what they wanted to make

out-of-doors. Our society doesn’t have that to draw on, so we make

our gardens for other reasons. Someone today may have traveled and

seen something they liked. Someone else may have been inspired by

a neighbor or friend.

"The contemporary American garden has evolved from that sort of

English form into a much more naturalistic model, one that emphasizes

our own native plants, flowering shrubs, woodland materials, and grasses.

That gets away from those formal flower borders where each flower

was chosen for its literary source — sometimes even getting back

to a biblical source — which required very high maintenance in

terms of water and irrigation. Modern American gardens survive without

heavy irrigation or fertilization because, environmentally, these

things are not very good for the landscape. So most Americans have

moved away from what I might call these classical models to contemporary

gardens that are self-sustaining models that don’t require that type

of high maintenance."

"When I started out, people wanted design that involved more gardening.

I guess that through the change in our culture, and the growth of

our profession, people have really begun to ask for environmentally

based projects, which is really what landscape architects do best."

Schiller’s 18-year-old firm has worked for internationally

famous architects and won major awards for public projects (Philadelphia’s

City Visions competition), academic institutions (such as Princeton

University), and corporate headquarters (the Howard Hughes Medical

Institute in Maryland). But she also enjoys doing residential projects.

Schiller and her colleagues believe that homeowners who spend their

landscaping budget wisely can not only enjoy their lawns and gardens,

but also get a fair return — 50 to 60 percent on the dollar —

for their investment.

For some people — including herself — the landscaping actually

comes first. Schiller laughs as she describes herself while house-hunting.

"When we first looked at our current house in Princeton, I don’t

even remember coming inside. All I remember is walking around the

outside and falling in love with this garden space. I just stayed

outside and I figured `Well, it’s a house. It must have a dining room

and living room — there must be a kitchen. So, what’s the big

deal?’ I’m interested in space outside that I can work with."

Top Of Page
Louise Schiller

Schiller grew up in Washington, D.C., with her parents — both

of whom were attorneys — and one brother. She explains that the

city itself gave her an early appreciation for landscape. "It’s

a very beautiful city that takes great pride in its gardens and its

public spaces. With its climate slightly warmer than here, the landscape

also tends to be very lush." Her artist’s eye was also nurtured

through weekly painting lessons. "Originally I wanted to be an

artist, but my parents insisted that I get a strong liberal arts education

first. They felt that I would have a much harder life if they let

me go directly to art school at that time in my life."

Describing her academic and professional life, Schiller says, "Maybe

for me it is true that I’ve come last to the thing that I really love

most. I took a circuitous route that eventually got me back to doing

what I most love to do — making landscapes — which I believe

is really is a form of art." Her circuitous route began at New

York University where she received her B.A. with a triple major in

English literature, government, and French.

Immediately upon graduating, she signed up with the

Peace Corps. "That was a really important experience in my life

— living in another country, immersed in the same way of life

as the people who live there. One of the things that the Peace Corps

gives you is a genuine attachment to and interest in another country.

That interest has been a lifelong reward for me." Schiller taught

English to Turkish high school students in Diyarbakir, a small, rugged

town in the east of Turkey "This was the Kurdish area, the wildest

part of the country. It was sort of like being a cowboy in the 19th


When her Peace Corps tour ended, Schiller attended the University

of London, where she received a Ph.D. in English literature. She returned

to the states and spent some time teaching English on both the college

and high school level but ". . . I just didn’t enjoy it. So I

decided to switch."

In the late ’70s, at age 31, Schiller convinced Cornell University

to admit her to its master’s level landscape program. They had never

before allowed anyone but traditional science undergraduates to enter

the program. "I refused to go through their complete undergraduate

program," she explains, "I said, `No, I have too much education.’

So we compromised. I did one year of their undergraduate training

in horticulture, which I absolutely needed, and then I entered their

two year master’s program."

Schiller’s pioneering course of studies proved to be a boon to Cornell.

The year after she started, the university established a brand-new,

and very popular, three year M.L.A. program for people who already

had liberal arts degrees.

At Cornell Schiller also met her husband, a mathematician, now a senior

vice president with Bell Atlantic International. The couple relocated

to New Jersey when he was first employed by Bell Labs. They now live

with their two sons, ages 17 and 13, in Princeton.

Schiller established her firm in 1981 after receiving the James Eidlitz

Prize at Cornell. She began working on small public projects with

a partner in Philadelphia. In 1986 she won the City Visions Competition

for her proposal "Ribbon of Gold." The project, which introduces

a band of black-eyed susans throughout Philadelphia’s open space,

has been implemented for over a decade by the Pennsylvania Horticultural

Society. The award opened new doors for Schiller.

Top Of Page
Working for Robert Geddes

She began doing work for Robert Geddes, then dean of Princeton University’s

School of Architecture — jobs which included the landscaping for

the Griggs Farm development in Princeton. The publicity for the City

Visions award also brought her to the attention of the Hillier Group,

at that time recently commissioned to do the new 23-acre headquarters

complex for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Maryland. The Hillier

architects asked Schiller if they could include her on the list of

landscape architects that they had been asked to present to their

client. Already on the list were 15 "extremely well-known firms

with national stature. I didn’t feel that I could compete with such

well-established firms, but the Hillier people persisted." To

her great surprise, Schiller was awarded the contract. "It was

a very exciting project, and a wonderful opportunity to work with

an enormously intelligent and interesting client."

Since then Schiller’s firm has worked on an impressive series of projects,

including several in the Czech Republic. Her husband’s job brought

the family to Prague where they lived from 1993 and 1995. Schiller’s

expertise, as well as her fluency in Czech (she also speaks French

and Turkish) enabled her to work as a consultant to the curator of

Prague Castle. "I also worked on the landscape of the new International

School in Prague which was being built. I worked with Czech architects

and landscape architects, and that was a fascinating experience seeing

how they went about doing their work. I also re-designed the gardens

of the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Prague, which is this gigantic

late-19th century, fin de siecle mansion with beautiful, huge public

space for large parties."

She finds residential projects particularly rewarding. "I have

on-going work at a very beautiful alpaca farm in Lawrenceville. It’s

a great joy to work over a number of years with people who are genuinely

interested in their landscape. And I also love working with Princeton

University. There are always lots and lots of projects going on, which

have an impact on a great many people — all the students that

pass through and use the space, as well as the thousands of visitors

that come through each year."

Top Of Page
Training for Landscape Architects

Indeed, says Schiller, the landscape architect offers a unique set

of skills and expertise. "Landscape architects are highly trained

to do the kind of work they do. It really can’t be done by engineers,

or garden centers, or architects — many of whom try to do it without

the proper training. People sometimes ask their architects to design

their gardens, and they end up with formal geometries because architects

are trained in geometric forms and have no training whatsoever in

plants and environment. Garden centers do a lot of residential work

that most landscape architects aren’t necessarily interested in competing

for, but if you have a large or medium-sized property, hiring a landscape

architect gets you a level of training in art, design, and environmental

studies that other people — even professional gardeners —

just don’t have."

For homeowners who are beginning a landscaping project on their own,

Schiller offers some suggestions. "The best advice I can give

to any homeowner who has a modest amount to spend is `Spend your time

analyzing your property, and then spend your money wisely depending

on the site conditions and environment of your property.’ Look at

climate. Identify where the hot spots are and where the cool ones

are, where the bright sun is and where the shade is. Find out where

there are wet areas and dry areas.

"Start out by orienting. Is your house on a north-south axis,

is it east-west? When you bought your house, your real estate agent

gave you a plot plan. Get it out. Figure out where north is —

north gets less sun. Use your plot plan to mark where existing trees

are. Shrubbery doesn’t count for much in the big environment, what

counts is where the trees are because they provide the shade and real

climate change.

"Only when you’ve completed this analysis should you begin to

research what plants will survive and thrive in the different climate

zones on your property. Don’t start out with a picture from a magazine

and say `This is what I want.’ That picture is what worked for some

other landscape’s climate. You have something different. You may love

and want a certain type of plant but may never be able to have it

at your house because you simply don’t have the conditions that will

support it."

Top Of Page
Tips for Landscaping Your Home

Schiller advises homeowners that they shouldn’t be afraid to grab

the interior of their lawn when developing their property. "Most

people simply plant around the edge of property line. I see these

vast, vast lawns with evergreens only along the property lines. That’s

not a garden, that’s a bore. If you really want a garden, do something

in the middle and let the edges go wild if you have to. If you look

at any classical gardens, the lawns are actually the pathways between

the living beds. Seize the center, seize the middle, and make something

of that — and then you’ll have interesting space."

Although less expensive investments such as annual flowers and shrubs

are tempting to the amateur landscaper, Schiller advocates that, despite

the early expense, property owners should invest in good-sized trees

that are at least four inches to five inches in diameter at the base

of the trunk. "Putting your money into a couple of really good

trees is more important than anything else you can do because trees

are the structure of your property. Trees are space making, they give

form to your garden. Only after your trees are placed should you invest

in understory — smaller flowering — trees, then shrubs. Last

would be the flowers."

Schiller points out that today’s emphasis on grassy yards is actually

costly. "It’s very expensive to maintain a really lush lawn, whereas

if you narrowed the lawn and made it a smaller part of the landscape,

and planted out the rest of the garden in different ways, it would

be less expensive to maintain, have a more naturalistic appearance,

and it would be more a part of the broader landscape you live in."

She adds that high columns or trellises are also costly. "And

stonework is very expensive. If you want to have stone walls or brick

walls, keep in mind that these are very expensive items. But there

are options. You can make a patio, for example, just out of pea gravel,

or the way the French do out of crushed stone rather than out of blue

stone. That’s a much less expensive way of having an elegant patio.

You just have to careful to provide for cleaning your feet so you

don’t track all that stuff into the house."

When a customer first works with a landscape architect, they can expect

to first go through what Schiller calls a programming phase. "I

use this time to really find out what their needs are," she says.

"Do they want active, outdoor recreation for their backyard such

as a pool or a tennis court, or are their needs more passive? I would

find out what their entertaining needs are, how much time they are

willing and want to spend each week gardening and taking care of their

property. All this eventually becomes a master plan. You produce plans

for clients, then you help them find contractors to build it, and

then the owner must maintain it. Most people really don’t want fussy

plants that they’re going to have to spend time taking care of, but

there is still a group of people who do want that — so you have

to work with clients on those issues.

"We work from the site, and every site is different. If you go

just from Princeton to Lawrenceville, you find very different site

conditions. We’ve done a large estate in Lawrenceville that’s extremely

hilly, and the land slopes down to a pond there. It had very specific

requirements. That’s the essence of landscape architecture — that

every project is very different from every other project because every

site has its own unique environment. There is no such thing as cookie

cutter design unless you have no training. If you have no training,

then, yes, you can do the same thing for every client, but that would

not be a landscape architect. A landscape architect is objective and

has nothing to sell you but professional service, and therefore designs

the best plan for you.

Schiller says that good landscape architects must follow through on

the installation of the master plan. "An important part of this

is getting good people to install the work — and making sure that

the owner understands how to maintain it. If someone just installs

it for you, and then walks away without giving an instructions for

how to maintain it, that’s a formula for disaster. People must understand

that even in a `low maintenance’ garden, there is maintenance to do.

There’s always watering, for example — especially the first year

for trees. Instructing people in how to take care of their property

is really part of the project.

She herself works a great deal with the Jersey City-based Vanhise

Mcniff Landscape Design & Construction company. Schiller describes

some of the qualities that make them such a valuable partner in her

work. "This is a young company, but they’re very, very well trained.

I’ve used them for projects and also at my home for my own landscaping

projects. They’re skilled in many areas — they know how to plant

things carefully, they do excellent stone work. They’re extremely

knowledgeable about plants and the environment, and very skilled in

working with the materials. It’s also wonderful to work with them

because they are so intelligent."

Top Of Page
Jerry Ford, Architect

For architect Jerry Ford, a principal at Ford Farewell

Mills and Gatsch Architects on Mapleton Road, working with a landscape

architect as a co-designer of a project can be essential to the final

outcome. "We’re always very happy when there’s an opportunity

to work with a landscape architect that we feel compatible with so

that the landscape complements the architecture of the house,"

he says. "It’s wonderful to be able to have somebody that you’re

able to talk with on professional terms who can continue your thoughts

to the outside of the house. For example, if an architect designs

a house or building with an axis that leads to the outside, but is

dealing with an unsympathetic person who is working with the outside

of the property, then the opportunity’s going to be lost.

"If, on the other hand, you have a landscape architect who can

understand the strength of the notion, and can continue it into the

landscape, you have a beautiful blending. Sadly, on many architecture

jobs, a lot of the exterior work is left out of a project because

it runs out of funding."

Ford notes that on-going relationships between landscape architects

and architects, the most famous of which may have been between Gertrude

Jaeckl and Sir Edwin Lutyens at the turn of the century, have yielded

some spectacular results. "I think a good relationship is one

in which the owner, the landscape architect, and the architect walked

over the raw site and considered various options. Unfortunately the

architect is often hired first and the landscape architect is brought

along much later — if at all. When the chemistry is there, though,

it’s a wonderful relationship."

Ford strongly believes that homeowners would do well to hire landscape

architects. "It’s too bad that so many people feel they can’t

afford a landscape architect. A lot of money is spent on the landscape,

and it makes a lot of sense to have it well directed. The total effect

is so important. Unfortunately, it’s often left to the amateur.

"You know," he adds, "all of us — one way or the other

— think we’re perfectly fine gardeners. So we’ll put some daffodils

out here, and when we happen to go by the plant store and see that

azaleas are on sale, we put in some of them, until we have kind of

a mulligan stew of a landscape. It doesn’t have a theme, doesn’t mean

anything. That’s a lot of money that’s been wasted when, with a little

guidance and a little understanding of how these elements are going

to grow in time — which a good landscape architect will be able

to give you — you could have something special."

Schiller emphasizes that there is no one element of landscaping that,

in itself, adds particular value to a home. In general, though, a

well designed landscape will improve the micro-climate around a house

— making it cooler in the summer, sunnier in the winter. Carefully

chosen shrubs can reduce maintenance. And it all adds to curb appeal.

Top Of Page
Michael Kuzma, Appraiser

Real estate appraiser Michael Kuzma, owner of Kuzma Appraisal Associates

agrees that landscaping must ultimately be for a home owner’s personal

pleasure, but adds a cautionary note. "One man’s fancy’s, another

fool’s problem," he says. "Landscaping is important, you can

go past some magnificent homes, and there ain’t a stick. there’s not

a bird, there’s not a blossom, nothing. I think that if it were profitable,

they’d pour in concrete and paint it green. These houses stick out

like sore thumbs from an esthetic standpoint.

"But if you’re looking for financial return in your investment,

the key is that it’s got to be within a reasonable range of the norm

for your neighborhood. That’s the key. You can put in whatever you

want, but you’d be a damn fool to, for example to spend $20,000 in

a $400,000 Toll Brothers development on a Japanese-type rock garden

when everybody else has five to ten thousand dollars tied up in landscaping

— and expect a return on your investment. You’re not going to

get any more out of it.

"One of the things that we try to explain to homeowners is that

it’s not the cost of producing something, it’s the contributory value

of any improvement towards the overall value of the property. We also

do a lot of research in appraising. In a study of Toll Brothers purchasers,

for example, we found that there was a specific percent of the overall

purchase price put towards an upgrading landscape package. It was

interesting. Everyone wanted what their neighbors were getting. A

report was published about five years ago that showed you get a return

of about 50 to 60 cents on your dollar for any improvement — carpeting,

new kitchen, landscape — up to the norm for the neighborhood.

If it’s out of the norm, then forget about it as far as investment

return goes."

The bottom line, says Schiller, must rely on the owner’s own esthetics.

"If you want a pool, put one in. There will always be someone

who wants a pool, and the people who don’t want a pool will move on.

You can’t live your life predicting what other people might want outside

your house. You have to live the way you live, and do what you want."

Louise Schiller Associates, Landscape Architects.

2 Campbelton Circle, Princeton 08540. 605-683-1011, fax 609-683-1004.

Next Story

Corrections or additions?

This page is published by

— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.

Facebook Comments