The Resilient Landscape Planning & Design (RLP&D) process uses site analyses to reveal the various roles that Natural Capital (NC) plays in a site’s condition. Such an approach ensures a resilient design that blends your goals with supportive natural systems.
Natural Capital includes the interaction of all life as well as climate, weather and natural resources that affect human survival and economic activity.
The number of analyses I recommend will be based on your goals, your budget and your site.
RLP&D Site Analyses are arranged into three basic groups: Natural Features, Local Considerations and Your Interests. While ‘Your Interests’ is defined by your goals, it actually uses combinations of site analyses from the other two groups. Each site analysis is described below within its group along with helpful details. Many of the site analysis are demonstrated in sample projects throughout the website.
Aesthetics Analysis is usually defined by cultural influences. Aesthetics can be likened to fashion. Some landscape features that we consider beautiful and necessary can actually challenge the health of Natural Capital. See Low Maintenance Landscapes for a more detailed look.
Energy Needs Analysis is another possible consideration. If you are interested in affordable solar energy, the siting of buildings for optimal solar gain is important. Space and water heating, transportation to and from the site, use of on site resources such as cordwood are included in this site analysis. If using firewood from the site is being considered, a forest stewardship management plan created by a licensed forester is wise. Our use of energy has a tremendous influence over Vegetative Cover, Wildlife, Water/Drainage and Climate Analyses.
Food Security Analysis is also important to some people. Many families and communities are taking positive action toward locally sourcing of their foods.
Home and community food security can include less traditional cultivation methods requiring less fossil fuels to sustain. Many gardeners are looking for ways to incorporate perennial crops such as fruits and nuts into their landscape while interplanting beneficial species for pest control and improved productivity using mycorrhizal associations and much more. This requires a number of site analyses including
Water/Drainage, Slope/Elevation, Vegetative Cover, Soils/ Geology, Solar Patterns and Climate Analyses.
Natural Features are divided into nine basic areas, each described below. Initially, each is examined individually. Their influences are realized by combining their results on other site analyses. For example, Wildlife can influence Water and Drainage; think about the impact beaver can have on changing water tables and drainage over large areas. Similarly, an overpopulation of deer can drastically alter Vegetative Cover by over grazing favorable plants and lowering forest’s biodiversity. The benefits of blending site analyses is essential to fully understanding the site’s complexity, attributes and constraints. Combining site analyses ‘layers’ in various combinations reveals long-term sustainable practices.
Natural Features is the second group that analyzes a site’s existing conditions. Natural Features are not limited by property boundaries, so searching beyond these is important and is referred to as region regarding conditions directly affecting your landscape.
For example, a forest to the northwest of your land influences wind patterns on your property during cold winter months and could provide valuable protection against severe summer storms. The heating and cooling of your landscape is influenced by this woodland, too.
Climate Analysis refers to the local conditions of long-term weather patterns, heating and cooling, precipitation types and amounts. It covers extreme events, both short and long-term. It has direct influence on Water/Drainage, Site History and Vegetative Cover. Of all the site analyses, Climate has the greatest influence on Natural Capital, and is usually interpreted by combining several other site analyses together as a unit.
Exceptional Features Analysis: This consists of view-sheds, sound-sheds and any landscape feature that draws our attention toward our spiritual and aesthetic interests. It can be as small as a trickling stream that soothes the spirit or as large as a mountain range seen at a distance.
Site History Analysis included the natural and human events that shape the landscape. For example, during the 1830’s most of southern New England forests were clear-cut for livestock farming. Field stones became walls; the bare soil eroded. Flat areas near river basins with rich bottomland soils were drained for crop farming. Additionally, fire and extreme weather events have had huge impact. Almost all health aspects of natural capital is shaped by Site History. It overlaps with many other site analyses including Soil/Geology, Slope/Elevation, Vegetative Cover and Wildlife.
Slope/ Elevation Analysis is also important. Slope is determined by how much a surface changes in height (rise) over a given distance (run). It creates elevation (shown as contour lines on some maps) and is marked in regular intervals. Slope/ Elevation influences Water/Drainage Analysis and Solar Patterns Analysis. Over the long term, it influences soil/geology.
Solar Patterns Analysis involves the seasonal sunlight patterns on a particular area. The shorter days of winter produce lower; less direct light angles for shorter periods of time while, summer months product the most direct rays. This analysis covers solar aspect or the compass direction the landscape is facing, an important detail affecting heating and cooling. Generally, three days are analyzed, each at three specific times: Vernal and Autumnal Equinoxes and Summer Solstice at 9 AM, noon and 3 PM. Solar paths are most directly influenced by Vegetative Cover and Slope/Elevation.
Soil/Geology Analysis is another consideration. Below the surface, the parent rocks along with the various types of weathering processes determine the soil’s characteristics. Because of its significant role in the landscape, it requires thoughtful analysis. Due to its highly complex and poorly understood nature, professionals consider soil science in its infancy. This analysis is heavily influenced by Climate Analysis, Slope/Drainage Analysis and has direct effect on Vegetative Cover Analysis.
Vegetative Cover Analysis includes canopy, understory and ground cover for all forms of vegetation that convert sunlight into food. It is the basis for the food chain/ food web; It determines how all of the wildlife will be nourished. Vegetative Cover Analysis includes native, introduced and naturalized species and exotic invasive plants. It is influenced by Slope/ Drainage, Solar Patterns, Soils/Geology and Climate Analyses.
Water/Drainage Analysis involves how water covers and exits your landscape either as runoff or by infiltration into the soil. It is heavily influenced by Climate, Slope/Elevation, Soils/Geology and Vegetative Cover Analyses. In more densely populated areas, the impervious nature of most infrastructure also affects Water/Drainage Analysis.
Wildlife Analysis includes all animal life, from insects to birds and mammals, plus those creatures that live under our feet in the soil. As consumers and pollinators, they have an important interaction Vegetative Cover Analysis. Migration patterns on the landscape are frequently referred to as wildlife corridors. In general, disrupting these patterns can result in conflicting interactions between humans and wildlife.
Local Consideration is the third group that covers four major site analyses, each one commonly linked by their relationship to culture and economics.
Access & Infrastructure
Access & Infrastructure Analysis includes the routes we use to move from one location to another and the hardscape that shapes our economy, respectively. This can be a simple as a little path through the garden, or as massive as a highway. It is influenced by Regulations/Legal, Slope/Drainage, Solar Patterns, Soils/Geology Analyses. It includes Zones of Use which is determined by distance from a central location and the frequency of use to that location.
Education Analysis is a major component of local culture and its economic vigor. It includes both public and private, lower and higher educational institutions. Since most public education is funded by local property taxes (Regulations/Legal Analyses), it is a an important consideration on all landscape uses.
Market Analysis involves access to local places for commerce to both sell and purchase goods and commodities. It is influenced by Energy Needs, Regulations/ Legal and Access & Infrastructure Analyses.
Regulations/ Legal Analysis encompasses the laws governing the rights and responsibilities of the landowner. These include wetland regulations created by the federal 1972 Clean Water Act and the 1985 Food Security Act. For Massachusetts residents see:In short, a wetland on your property is still held under regulatory requirements. This analysis also includes property setbacks for buildings, fences and driveway specifications.