Amelanchier arborea — commonly known as the serviceberry — is a deciduous, early-flowering plant that’s considered to be showy and fragrant, has low required maintenance, enjoys a medium amount of water and has the capacity to tolerate clay soil and air pollution. It’s native to Missouri and happens to be one of Greg Pfau’s favorite species of tree to utilize on the job.

As SKW’s landscape architect, and a LEED accredited professional, Pfau embraces the challenges of balancing the art and science of his profession to create sustainable landscapes that our clients and communities experience on a daily basis.

“I like to use the serviceberry in the multi-stem form because of its branching patterns. It can look almost sculptural during the winter months,” Pfau said. “It also presents red foliage in the fall and white flowers in the spring. It’s a nice year-round plant,” he said, and considering local weather patterns, the tree is a must for any midwestern landscape architect’s plant palette.

But it isn’t always his go-to, because — day in and out — Pfau is balancing a client’s vision with nature’s demands. Ultimately, his goal is to achieve a thriving outdoor space where a building and its surrounding landscape complement one another. Pfau’s expertise and breadth of knowledge surrounding living, breathing plant material enables him to achieve this balance, but there’s a process.

Creating a Sense of Place

Image courtesy of the Sunflower Foundation.

Image courtesy of the Sunflower Foundation.

Pfau understands the creation of a particular atmosphere for a commercial development requires artistic patience. The design has to promote plant life while still highlighting the new construction.

“This work is incredibly dynamic and requires a sense of forethought,” Pfau said, noting that some landscape designs can take anywhere between five and 10 years to fully develop. “You can complete a project and in three years hit a drought. But after another three years the site looks great.” And that means lots of checking in on the living canvas.

“Revisiting a past project is immensely educational,” he said, and he take’s those lessons learned to the next client, where the job always starts.

“There isn’t one set factor or even three or four set factors that influence the design of a project. It all comes down to the physical characteristics of the site, what the owner’s vision is, how the owner wants to maintain the space and how the plant wants to grow,” Pfau said, noting specific questions that help him narrow down the plant palette. “Does the client want to water or not water? Do they want an irrigation system? Are there sightline issues? How much do they want to maintain the property? Do they want spring or summer flowers? No flowers? What is the condition and makeup of the existing soils? How fast does it drain or infiltrate? Does it even drain or infiltrate?”

Image courtesy of the Sunflower Foundation.

Image courtesy of the Sunflower Foundation.

Based on those answers — and instead of immediately declaring any kind of plant material he’d recommend for a given location — Pfau takes his client’s vision back to the office and rolls out the tracing paper to brainstorm plant mass and sketch out ideas on how best to organize the living material. “It’s important to set the stage regarding how the space wants to feel,” Pfau said. “And if multiple layers are needed, that material must also be considered to determine how it will affect the feel of the space. Even the creative use of landform can help reinforce the overall design.

“When the owner agrees to that spatial and landscape character, then you get into actual species selection,” Pfau said, who will at this point take inspiration directly from the surrounding landscape.

In the end, the balanced result reveals a sustainable aesthetic that allows nature to weave around and complement a site’s construction, and vice versa.

“A successful project means the site has a unique character about it,” Pfau said. “You can feel it and that indicates a successful partnership between not only man and nature, but also between SKW and our client.”