Renée Byers knows how your garden grows

When you want to turn your property into a showpiece, it’s the rare homeowner who has the skills to do it on his or her own.

So why not turn to a professional?

Renée Byers, a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects and president of Renée Byers, Landscape Architect, P.C., in Bronxville, is one who really knows her business. After all, this year she’s marking her 30th anniversary in the profession.

Byers devoted the first half of her career to large-scale corporate and urban design projects. She went on to open her own practice to design residential landscapes exclusively and is licensed to practice landscape architecture in both New York and Connecticut.

Byers says her work is “characterized by gracious and well-proportioned hardscapes that are carefully integrated with plant and land forms – and always appropriate to the architecture and site’s natural setting.”

Her work was recently featured in Charlotte M. Frieze’s book, “Private Paradise: Contemporary American Gardens,” (Monacelli Press), a national survey of residential landscapes by the country’s leading landscape architects.

Though we caught her in the midst of her busy season, Byers took the time to answer a few questions for us – and offer a glimpse into her professional world.

What are the advantages of working with a landscape architect?

“Working with a good landscape architect allows clients to address every single aspect of the property’s design, in the proper sequence, in a holistic way. From the layout of the ‘bones’ of the site for optimal function both practically and visually (driveways, retaining walls, terraces, swimming pools), to all the technical components (storm drainage, land grading, above and below-grade site utilities), to infinite details of planting and lighting design, exterior carpentry, metalwork and furniture selection, every component can be considered within the framework of a master plan that achieves client goals. By following a pragmatic planning process, each element is appropriately scaled and is placed in relationship to the whole. Landscape architects are professionals trained not only technically and artistically (with education and licensing requirements similar to architects) but also as team leaders capable of managing consultants and contractors for their clients.”

What is the most important thing a client needs to keep in mind during a project?

“The single most important mindset for a client to develop is the view that the landscape and architectural design are integral and inseparable parts of a project that should be considered as a whole when it comes to planning, prioritizing and budgeting. The most successful homes are the result of architect and landscape architect functioning as equal partners on the design team from square one (whether a small renovation or a new building). I cannot tell you how many times clients have said, ‘If only we’d known how important it was to have you on board earlier.’ All too often, the landscape is relegated to an afterthought once all the house decisions are made. Not only does this result in numerous, often staggering, missed opportunities, but precious funds are poorly allocated and valuable time is lost.”

What are the trends in garden design today?

“In my practice, I am almost always asked to design gardens that are simple, elegant and low maintenance, and clients are also increasingly concerned with sustainability. I try to translate these concepts and parameters into clear, sculptural forms, often by manipulating the land through grading. If the outlines of the design are relatively robust, we can use a limited plant palette and still achieve wonderful outdoor spaces that are not difficult to maintain. I use a lot of natural stone and the highest quality materials possible so that the garden’s built portions retain longevity and gain character over the years. (A North Salem project) typified this approach, where a steep, invasive-ridden woodland was cleared and re-graded to create a serene garden centered around the swimming pool. Often the path to simplicity is surprisingly complex in today’s gardens, though for many, sophisticated features are often requested also (outdoor kitchens and fireplaces, audio and lighting control systems, water features) and are built into the landscape.”

Are there any particular challenges that our region’s climate or terrain present?

“Yes, of course, there are many, and each and every site usually presents significant challenges. But I like to frame them as the opportunities that keep each property unique and always interesting to tackle. For example, steep topography is a wonderful chance to create a garden on multiple levels, and the transitions between spaces often become the most interesting places in the garden….We also experience extremes in temperature and rainfall, so plant selection and installation schedules, as well as careful irrigation design, are critical. Of course, deer browse seems to increase every year, along with the ever-expanding territory they are moving into.

What was your most rewarding project – and why?

“That is truly a tough question as I feel very lucky to genuinely enjoy most every commission. But I would cite a recent project as one of the most rewarding due to the client’s vision and organization and a very collegial project team. The architect Chuck Hilton, of Hilton-Vanderhorn Architects, and I collaborated on a new home project together from scratch, literally from the ‘back-of-the-napkin’ phase to determine how a new house, pool and out-buildings would be positioned, how the buildings would function in the landscape. The clients possessed their own wonderful vision but placed their confidence and trust in us to interpret it in order to create the private refuge they desired for their family and friends. We also chose terrific contractors and craftsmen early on. Once a collaborative team structure is in place, remarkable results can be achieved.”

For more about Renée Byers, visit reneebyers.com or call (914) 337-3103.

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