The Owner Built Home and Homestead: Planting Design

Ken Kern shares his knowledge of creating a homestead with a functional yet beautiful planting design that serves the home owners and the planting site alike.

| November/December 1970

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    Modern landscape designers miss the boat entirely as far as designing for spiritual "uplift" is concerned. Where can one find a garden (this side of the Orient) which gives man essential revitalizing contact with the plan growth and fecundity of the earth?
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    In Western gardens we seek more of the comforts or conveniences which people have come to consider essential to their well being. Another factor is garden beauty; we arouse interest through variety of planting, excitement through planting sequence, stimulation through planting color.

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Ken Kern, author of The Owner-Built Home and The Owner-Built Homestead, is an amazing fellow and everyone interested in decentralist, back-to-the-land, rational living should know of his work. Back in 1948 he began collecting information on low-cost, simple and natural construction materials and techniques. He combed the world for ideas, tried them and started writing about his experiments. Eventually, Mildred Loomis started publishing Kern's articles in The Interpreter, Way Out and Green Revolution. Ken has also issued a three year series of pieces (called Technic) on his own and a greenhouse-sun pit design of his has been featured in Organic Gardening. 

This installment of Ken's work is taken from The Owner-Built Home. I'll be featuring never before published material from The Owner-Built Homestead in my No. 7 issue. Again, I have to apologize for jumping back and forth as I reprint Ken's excellent material, but that's the way I have to do it and Ken's writing makes it all worthwhile. 


The Homestead Building Site: Planting Design

A new approach to planting design is now in its formative stages. Advocates of this new design-concept maintain that the interior space should be harmoniously extended and connected with the space outside. It is demonstrated that the very same principles of building-design apply to the outside planting-design. Every plant, no matter what form it may take is a construction in space and an enclosure in space.  

As enclosures of space, plant forms expand from the walls, floors and ceilings of rooms to the hedge-wall, lawn-floor and tree-ceiling outdoors. Again, outdoor shelter-forms, such as arbors, pergolas and pavilions, find shelter-counterparts within the house. And as constructions of space, the sculptural effects of rocks, flowers, garden pools, and specimen plants can be likened to furnishings and utensils of the building interior.

This integral concept of building and planting was actually practiced by the 18th century Chinese. Called Feng shui , the basic principle was derived from the teachings of Lao Tze, the 6th century Chinese philosopher who taught a return to nature. Nature and man were harmonized in the Chinese garden. The garden was symbolic of nature, while the house was reserved for man. That is, where the house served man's practical and serious needs, the garden was a place for the playful, romantic and carefree side of man. In the house man is in the society of his fellow beings, but in a garden he is in the society of natural forms.

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