Designing Your Ideal Gardens: An Interview with Sally Naish of Light & Shade Garden Design

Tell us a little bit about your company and its foundation.

Light & Shade Garden Design, Inc. was founded in 2004 while I was earning a Certificate in Landscape Design through, what was then, Harvard's Landscape Institute. I would take on small design projects that gave me immediate opportunities to practice the skills I was learning. Drawing on my project management skills honed in the corporate world, I have grown the business steadily into a full-service residential design company that offers everything from advice for the home gardener to design and installation services for entire properties. We always work in collaboration with the natural environment as we turn our clients' dreams for their landscape into reality.

In a quick overview, please explain how a professional landscape designer can help design and renovate your garden from start to finish.

During the design phase, a professional landscape designer can help you:
Identify your family's needs and wishes as they relate to your outdoor space.
Determine an appropriate budget for you and your project.
Assess the merits of your property and identify problem areas.
Propose differing approaches to achieving your goals, including any necessary structural changes, potential layouts, alternative materials and preferred plants.
Map out a final design with the chosen hardscape materials (such as stone and brick) and numbers of specific plants.

During the installation phase, the designer can:
Help you hire a reliable and experienced contractor.
Manage the installation process.
Ensure client satisfaction.

What are a few ways one can plan for this process?

It's a good idea to take note of how you currently use your outdoor space, keeping track of what works and what doesn't. Are paths located where you need them, for example? Are there natural features, such as a distant view, that you particularly enjoy? You can also begin collecting ideas and pictures that will help your designer better understand what you have in mind, your likes and dislikes.

What regular maintenance is required for someone who wishes to upkeep their garden's appeal?

All gardens require some maintenance, but how much and by whom is a topic I always cover with the client before developing the design. A garden that is planted mostly with trees, shrubs and groundcovers will require much less frequent attention (months to years) beyond occasional weeding than the classic cottage garden of perennials that must be deadheaded almost daily to be kept in peak condition.

What suggestions do you have for someone whose soil is not ideal for gardening?

Test results from a soil sample sent to your local agricultural extension service will help you understand your soil and any amendments needed to improve growing conditions. I don't recommend simply adding fertilizer without testing first, as it may not provide what, if anything, your soil is lacking. Instead, try incorporating some compost; it will add beneficial organisms to the soil and in general, will help improve its condition. Learning to work with what you've got and planning for gradual change, when necessary, is often the best approach.

What is your favorite garden feature, and why?

It would have to be a water feature. Water offers such a myriad of choices in sight, sound and movement. Think of an intimate garden with a gently bubbling fountain in a half-barrel or decorative jar and compare that with the wall of water in New York's Paley Park; there it masks traffic noise and cools the ambient air. On many properties, water can be collected right on site and used to benefit both humans and wildlife.

What is the best way for people to reach you and or your company?

They can e-mail me at or reach us through the contact page of our website: There they will also find many before-and-after pictures of a wide variety of projects we have completed.

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