This is Michael Spencer's Typepad Profile.
Join Typepad and start following Michael Spencer's activity
Join Now!
Already a member? Sign In
Michael Spencer
Naples, Florida
After 30 years' private practice…
Interests: gardening, writing, public outreach
Recent Activity
Image
Test Post New software called Desk, which is getting rage reviews; but I’m having trouble with it: pictures don’t upload, copy/paste text is wonky, updates to published posts appearing as new posts, and tags that get uploaded are spotty, too. I do need a better/ easier way to post new stuff here, and Desk appears promising. From the reviews and awards looks like my issues are isolated. The developer is responsive and I’ve posted to his community forum, so let’s see what’s what. Continue reading
Posted Feb 25, 2015 at Design Is Not Opinion
Design and opinion are entirely different critters. What you ‘like’ and what is ‘good’ are not necessarily the same thing. You might not like French garden design, but Versailles is a heck of a site, n’est-ce pas? So today, let’s take another pass at the nuts and bolts of recognizing good design. A musical analogy: I appreciate many musical styles, preferring blues, and rock and roll. But I simply cannot listen to bluegrass. I know that Alison Kraus is redefining the genre. And I recognize excellent picking, like Steve Martin. I just don’t like it. When I hear Earl Scruggs,... Continue reading
Posted Feb 6, 2015 at Design Is Not Opinion
Image
Your Design Pundit is enraged. I have been a botany-geek my entire life. Plants excite a passion. I want know everything about them. And my career choice has given me the opportunity to study growing conditions, peculiarities, nativity, flowers, and other characteristics of thousands of plants. Learning everything is gloriously impossible Thirty years’ practice, though, has widened my view as my passion for plants and design morphed into a passion for advocacy. In 2007, knowing I was going in that direction, a blog provided a suitable platform. In 2008 my blog morphed into this lovely weekly column. Since then column... Continue reading
Posted Oct 9, 2014 at Design Is Not Opinion
Image
This week, your Design Pundit shares another story of south Louisiana: this week, love and loss. He had a reason to get back to Lake Charles He used to talk about it He always said Louisiana Was where he felt at home Did you run about as far as you could go Down the Louisiana highway Now your soul is in Lake Charles – Lucinda Williams, "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road" (1998) She wasn't moving, watching me that day, so cold. I walked around my 1964 lime green Ford F-150, checking the load, avoiding the eyes I longed to... Continue reading
Posted Jul 4, 2014 at Design Is Not Opinion
Image
Orange Flame (Justicia spicigera) Do you have trouble choosing plants? Of course you do. Professionals struggle with this part of the design process, and with good reason: it’s complicated. (See photos of these great plants here). Clients expect exceptional plants and exceptional planting design. Plant combinations should really sing. Choosing these materials is tortuous and it is always time-consuming. It’s not that there’s not an easy way to do planting design. Of course there are short cuts; just look around. Imagine this medical analogy: Tetracycline treats a broad range of symptoms: it works and it’s cheap. On the other hand,... Continue reading
Posted Jun 8, 2014 at Design Is Not Opinion
Image
This piece was published in the Naples Daily News; PDF versions are available via email. Gate Entry In Honolulu This week, the first of two parts about design and art. It’s one of my favorite subjects, covered in dozens of columns. I want my readers to come away with a different, wider view of design and design process. What is design the relationship between art and design? When I began the graduate program at LSU in 1974, I did not know how to design. In fact I didn’t even know what it is. Not a clue. And now I stand... Continue reading
Posted Apr 28, 2014 at Design Is Not Opinion
Image
This week, a few really unusual plants drawn from your Design Pundit’s palette. First, though: While I really appreciate seeing unusual plants, opportunities are–well, limited. Here is one way to think about it. Brunfelsia grandiflora | Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow An Interesting Garden What makes a garden really interesting? Use ordinary plants in unusual ways, creating surprise with a few special or unusual species. Depending on commonly used material has many advantages, including experienced maintenance personal as well as availability and low cost. Commonly seen material is tried, true, and dependable, characteristics important as you form your garden structure. Using... Continue reading
Posted Apr 20, 2014 at Design Is Not Opinion
Image
Readers: This piece appeared in the February 21, 2014 edition of the Naples Daily News. Send me an email for a PDF version. In September 2008 monthly office billings from developers dropped dramatically. The same was true all over the country. The old days were gone. A bleak future, as it turned out, held some significant surprises. Back to the Future The firm was 20 years old in 2008, 20 years focused on design- and diversification. Developers dominated our Allamanda cathartica | Brown Bud Alamanda assignments, but we cultivated relationships with the residential communities. I enjoy community work, and my... Continue reading
Posted Feb 23, 2014 at Design Is Not Opinion
Readers: This piece appeared in the February 14, 2014 edition of the Naples Daily News. Send me an email for a PDF version. As construction boomed in the summer of 2004, my design office began a fortuitous expansion, adding many more planting design projects. Until then, a typical client would be Vice President for Acquisition, a corporate VP looking for quick, accurate yield assessments as he considered possible projects and sites. I really loved that work, have a certain propensity and reputation, even though wearing long pants and socks to meetings was required. The corporate client is respectful too, probably... Continue reading
Posted Feb 23, 2014 at Design Is Not Opinion
Readers: This piece appeared in the February 7, 2014 edition of the Naples Daily News. Send me an email for a PDF version. In 2008 I was walking down an unpaved and dusty road at O’Donnell Nursery in Estero. Wandering through the plants, stopping here and there, Al O’Donnell pointed out a newly acquired or interesting specimen. We were talking about plants, about design problems, and about the completion of a major improvement project at Spring Run in Estero that we were doing together. Six years later, we would be knee-deep in plant material research, working on a project with... Continue reading
Posted Feb 14, 2014 at Design Is Not Opinion
Image
Land planning and planting design are as different as asphalt and Gardenias. So how is it that landscape architects are sought for expertise in planting design- and are solicited as land planners by developers as well? Usually, I use this space to talk about plant material, horticulture, and planting design. A new planning project arrived in the office this week, reminding me that the design process exposes similarities among projects at all scales. This week, let’s talk about the universality of design. Tools Start with the design tools. The language we use in both cases is the same: focal points,... Continue reading
Posted Jan 28, 2014 at Design Is Not Opinion
Image
Your Design Pundit is enraged. I have been a botany-geek my entire life. Plants excite a passion. I want know everything about them. And my career choice has given me the opportunity to study growing conditions, peculiarities, nativity, flowers, and other characteristics of thousands of plants. Learning everything is gloriously impossible Thirty years’ practice, though, has widened my view as my passion for plants and design morphed into a passion for advocacy. In 2007, knowing I was going in that direction, a blog provided a suitable platform. In 2008 my blog morphed into this lovely weekly column. Since then column... Continue reading
Posted Jan 19, 2014 at Design Is Not Opinion
Image
Readers: This piece appeared in the August 15, 2009 edition of the Naples Daily News. I am posting it here on the website because I've mentioned it in my column that will be published January 17, 2014. You can download a PDF version as it appeared in the newspaper here. A lovely garden by Tianjin Qiaoyuan Park by Turenscape Landscape Architecture How to Hire a Landscape Architect Here’s a simple way to find the right Landscape Architect for your project. First, some background. And don’t skip to the end. How does one hire an attorney? Or a doctor? More than... Continue reading
Posted Jan 13, 2014 at Design Is Not Opinion
Image
An expanded version of this discussion will appear in the Naples Daily News in January appeared January 17, 2013. The piece had an excruciated provenance: it was submitted twice for print but not used due to space limitations and an editor error. The original piece is below, but the expanded (and better) piece is above as 'Hiring an LA: Botany First'. Confused? I was, too. Your Design Pundit worries about the course of his profession. In 2009 I was invited to submit a Proposal for a small Mediterra community. I noted that the level of site improvements was not appropriate... Continue reading
Posted Jan 5, 2014 at Design Is Not Opinion
Image
Download a PDF of this article as it appeared in the Naples Daily News here. …let us go on and win glory for ourselves…Illiad XII.322-328 Florida was enchanting to a young landscape architect fresh from LSU’s graduate school in 1979. One end of a magnet, and I the other, Florida drew me. The people and culture of southern Louisiana would be missed. New Orleans Jazz Festivals, and Mardi Gras were fine, but the soul of Louisiana lies in the hearts of in Bayou Lafourche and by Vacherie and Dulac; in Bayou Gauche, Ponchatoula, Thibodaux, and Tangipahoa where generations of families... Continue reading
Posted Dec 30, 2013 at Design Is Not Opinion
Image
Download a PDF of this article as it appeared in the Naples Daily News (and in a slightly different form) here. Our glorious, lusty summer sun roars endlessly from her impossibly high perch, day after day allowing just a blink of darkness. She rules her long hot days an anointed monarch scornful of night. Time pass will lock away her haughty spirit. Darkness approaches. As a tortoise. He harries fevered summer days, in morning, in evening. Leaving out twilight, once-blinding noon whispers seven hoarse hours. She bides her time. Divinity Hides in Us An infinitely finer sort of brightness appears... Continue reading
Posted Dec 30, 2013 at Design Is Not Opinion
Image
Your Design Pundit regards mulch as a temporary evil. This view seems counter to the collected vision of the green industry, which lionizes the virtues of mulch. This week, why that view is (mostly) wrong, how to use mulch, and some common mulch products. Why Mulch? While mulch is used to retain soil moisture and discourage seed germination, soil protection is provided by mature plants in a priorly designed garden because they naturally cover the soil. Yes, some attention should be paid to the perimeter of a planting bed, but a mature bed will require no mulch between the plants.... Continue reading
Posted Dec 16, 2013 at Design Is Not Opinion
Image
Download a PDF of this article as it appeared in the Naples Daily News (convenient for printing) here. It is easy, sometimes, to underestimate the skills brought to a task by a seasoned professional. I see this constantly in my business life. Usually there is no malice involved. Some have a high opinion of themselves: “it can’t be as complicated as MY job!” There is another explanation. We are increasingly accustomed to a social fabric of entwined specialists, princes in ever-smaller areas of expertise. Each microcosm becomes naturally isolated, ever-more difficult to explain to the non-specialist. Professional isolation results while... Continue reading
Posted Dec 7, 2013 at Design Is Not Opinion
Image
Ecology is on my mind this week as the success of a current site planning project in my office depends on the outcome of a pending environmental survey. The question on the table is this: is this development consistent with current Florida law? What the survey doesn’t ask is far more relevant: Will the development significantly impact wildlife currently living on the site? It’s a far more difficult question that has, until now, eluded real answers. Field Ecologists are hampered by the baseline complexity of the natural world. Everywhere we look, undisturbed systems are complex, richly convoluted and compounded. Study... Continue reading
Posted Dec 6, 2013 at Design Is Not Opinion
Image
Download a PDF of this article as it appeared in the Naples Daily News here. Color! We want more color! If there is a common request amongst a world of disparate clients, it’s the request for color. And especially for winter color. “So”, the designer might reply, “Plant Bougainvillea and the problem is solved.” If only. This week, a designer’s approach to color: how to think about it, where to use it, and where to get it. Color Me Focal Readers will remember that a garden is a cohesive whole, properly organized around individual and natural spots of special interest... Continue reading
Posted Nov 30, 2013 at Design Is Not Opinion
Image
Download a PDF of this article as it appeared in the Naples Daily News here. Winter is coming! Time to say ‘adios’ to heat and humidity, time to say ‘hola’ to long lines at restaurants…and time to think about winter annuals. You know. Flowers? Our wonderful custom of planting winter flowers, then summer flowers, then winter flowers? It’s confusing and very very easy to choose the wrong plant, resulting in months of heartache and self-loathing. Your Design Pundit feels your pain. And he has some advice gleaned from an informative afternoon at American Farms here in Naples. Jim Pugh’s guided... Continue reading
Posted Nov 25, 2013 at Design Is Not Opinion
Download a PDF of this article as it appeared in the Naples Daily News here Sometimes a landscape is so awful, and in such disrepair, that one is tempted to just rent a bull dozer. Perhaps you have tried replanting, and perhaps more than once, to no avail. The landscape is populated with high-maintenance or failing plants. It just makes you crazy looking at them. Worse, there is great reluctance to throw more money away, especially when budgets are limited. What to do? Phase the work, of course. But how? By prioritizing, that’s how. A current project can serve as... Continue reading
Posted Nov 24, 2013 at Design Is Not Opinion
Download a PDF of this article as it appeared in the Naples Daily News here. Congratulations! You are on the landscape committee of your community! Now what? Community common area improvements are extensive and expensive. Often, a community will include tens of acres of plant material alone, but there is much more: irrigation, street lighting, landscape lighting, special paving, fountains–all sorts of improvements that we expect and that make the Florida lifestyle in gated communities so appealing. You know this is important. You know that the care of these improvements directly affects residents’ happiness. In truth, though, your neighbors, couldn't... Continue reading
Posted Nov 15, 2013 at Design Is Not Opinion
Are you a landscape committee looking for some answers? You have come to the right place…you will find information on how to manage a large landscape, how to choose maintenance contractors, how design saves money; you will find tips on planting design, and on how a professional chooses plants. Feel free to call us. We are happy to talk about your project: 239.598.2828. Or, you can email. And check back here. We are adding new content every day (as well as easier ways to find it). Continue reading
Posted Nov 14, 2013 at Design Is Not Opinion
Download a PDF of this article as it appeared in the Naples Daily News 2.22.2013 here. What follows has been edited from the print edition to reflect updates and sensibility. Your Design Pundit is on a Rant Why is sub-standard planting design the standard? Let's slog through some of the possible reasons that the quality expectation is so low. I received my Master of LA from LSU in 1978, after four years of post- BA work. The MLA was, at that time, the terminal degree in my field, and was treated as a PhD program, complete with original research, dissertation,... Continue reading
Posted Nov 13, 2013 at Design Is Not Opinion