By definition softening the view of the Houston landscape involves obscuring or partly obscuring the view of other structures, buildings, homes, use plant material, bamboo, shrubs, and other kinds of plants that can be hedged. Along the edges of property, this art is known as “pleaching”, and it involves training trees such as evergreens to form organic walls or grow together like giant bushes.
These forms help to lend organic sense to individual properties and create polite separation between homes and businesses.
Many Houston neighborhoods have very unique and magnificent homes, but they typically have smaller lots that offer little sense of privacy. Generally, we see such crowding most often in areas of town like Upper Kirby, Bellaire,West U, Southside Place, and Rice Village.
Softening the Houston landscape can help residents in these areas feel like they are in more private space and more open space all at once. It is private in that other elements of the neighborhood are obscured from view. It is more open because with a new sense of enclosure, a smaller yard looks larger.
One thing that makes this particular form of residential landscape design so appealing is that the structures used to create visual barriers are almost always designed as some sort of attractive, organic wall. The resulting barrier does not even have to be a total barrier—just a partial one.
There are also specific things that can be done to hardscapes, including patios and walkways, that work very well to soften the Houston landscape. One way to do this is to use gravel either as a means of connecting patios to ground cover species, or as a material for walkway construction. This avoids excessive use of concrete and makes for greater aesthetic variance.
Next, many different things can be done with gravel to soften it even further. Grasses and drought resistant plants can be planted within it to burl the boundaries of the inorganic and the organic. Small trees can even be planted in gravel.
Actual hardscapes can also be softened with organic elements by leaving open areas called cutouts. With stone patios, cutouts can be created either by removing stones or leaving them out deliberately. With concrete patios and driveways, concrete can be poured around geometric shapes that are then removed to leave open areas in which to plant tropical plants, flower beds, interesting grasses, or small tree species.
This is also a favorite technique of contemporary landscape designers.
Regardless of the part of the city we are working in, there are specific softscape elements that always work well needed to soften the view of the Houston landscape. Boxwoods and grasses are great ways to outline patios, driveways, and walkways.
Small hedgerows and grasses no taller than hip high are usually all we need to soften the harsh view of neighboring buildings and busy streets.
In all of this, one of the most vital elements in this process does not even appear until after the sun goes down.
Outdoor lighting is integral to the aesthetic of any Houston landscape, and it contributes heavily to a softened view of the scenery at night.
The great thing about outdoor landscape lighting is that you simply do not have to light something if you do not want it emphasized. Instead, up lighting or feature lighting specific elements such as planters, screen walls, architectural walls, and gardens is all that is needed to control the eye.