Lifescapes International

The Art of Plant & Tree Selection

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One of the many things that we pride ourselves on at Lifescapes International is our commitment to a thorough and thoughtful planting design that is unique to each project’s style and needs.  We believe that the softscape needs to be just as layered as the built environment, with a wonderful collection of shrubs and groundcovers of different textures, colors and seasonality.  Along with this, and most importantly, large trees are paramount to achieving a project that not only looks sensational on day one, but feels as if it belongs there and has been there for years.  How do we accomplish this?  Planting design and art direction are considerations from the very beginning of the design process and isn’t over until opening day, or later.

We are not a team of generalists. Our ethos is to have experts that specialize in the many facets of design so that every project gets the best that we have to offer.  In horticulture, that is represented by Roger Voettiner, who has been with our company for over 40 years and brings his vast experience to bear on all designs.  In what he does, planting design is more art than architecture, as you are really painting with living plants that grow and change as they mature.  This means that finding the right shrubs and trees for installation is paramount, to make sure the vision for the project is carried out.

To ensure the realization of the design, as a matter of standard practice on every project, Lifescapes sends representatives out into the field and to nurseries, domestically and internationally, to find just the right plants.  This starts with working with the landscape contractor and reaching out to the nurseries that we know of, or researching to find new ones, that specialize in growing the types of plants that we are looking for (in the sizes we need).  They submit photos to us of possible candidates.  Just because a nursery might have a particular plant/tree, doesn’t mean they are of the right character, maturity or bloom that we need.  If they look good, the next step is to have someone on our horticultural staff go to the nursery and physically verify and select all of the plants or trees that we need by placing a special tag on them.

Using Plants of all Species in our Palette

Field Specialist, Patrick Derry, relates it to a theater production,   “We specify certain trees, almost by doing a ‘casting call’ to see what ‘role’ that tree can play.  Will it play in the project as the star or as a supporting cast member?  Once it is decided, the trees work together to bring the project to life.”

When designing the seasonal change outs at the Rockefeller Center Channel Gardens, our Landscape Architect Adam Kober came up with wildly varied fanciful designs that highlighted the different seasons and holidays, all with the planting playing the starring role.  Created to keep New Yorkers and tourists alike coming back to the retail area, the designs featured themes that would stand out in the busy city, from tropical oases to spring floral displays.  Finding this array of flowers, shrubs and trees required our representatives to go across the country to locate material.  From specialty evergreen topiaries in the Pacific Northwest to sculptural palms and succulents from Florida, no region was off limits.

Climate Considerations

Fluctuating temperatures, humidity, water levels and amount of sun at the site will impact which trees are selected. In a location like Las Vegas, where it can be hot and cold on the same day, the right variety of trees must be assessed with the climate in mind. Where the trees are grown is also a great consideration; beautiful trees growing in North Carolina, if shipped to Las Vegas, may not thrive; because they can’t go from being raised in a climate that is humid and wet to being planted in a dry, arid one. Lifescapes plays a part in advising what nurseries to select from and assists the contractors in the process to ensure the mixture of trees in a project grow well in a climate they can flourish in.

We also have to be cognizant of the seasonal restrictions facing a project, and adjust our planting time. For instance, many trees are field-grown, so in colder climates, they can’t be dug up or planted when the ground is frozen. We also have to come up with contingency plans when necessary. At Encore Boston Harbor, we needed an abundance of cold-weather acclimated plant material because it is swapped out every few weeks. Therefore, in order to get the necessary quantity needed, it was essential to come up with a solution, which was to grow annual color in Canada during construction (and it continues to be grown there) so we would have enough plant material at installation.

Replanting and Salvaging Trees

Though not always able, Lifescapes tries to salvage trees whenever possible. Our team will walk a site before breaking ground to determine which trees can be saved. Then, we decide whether the variety of trees and their sizes will work in the new planting design; in which case we could make the call to salvage – or even leave them in place and work around them. If they aren’t able to be reused at the project and are healthy, they could be sold off to nurseries to be used elsewhere.

Our work at Bellagio and Wynn/Encore Las Vegas is a perfect example of this.  Both properties had decades old existing golf courses that featured large amounts of mature Aleppo Pines, some mere days away from being demolished.  Lifescapes worked with the owner and contractor to not only save them, but feature them in our new designs for the properties.  The trees were so large that, even if you could find their equivalents at a nursery or in someone’s yard, their cost would be prohibitively expensive, not to mention the impossibility of moving them on the road to get them to the site.  The trees that we saved have now become a signature of both properties.

History is also a consideration.  To many indigenous people, the oak tree has a special significance.  Specifically, it has come to embody the identity and character of the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians: strength, wisdom, longevity, and determination. For thousands of years, the Pechanga people depended on it to produce acorns that they would grind into flour to use in baking for sustenance. During the expansion of the Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, CA, Lifescapes relocated four existing oak trees from within the property as a testament to this magnificent tree and what it represents.

Our team’s hundreds of years of collective experience in horticulture is a key driver to our success. Tree selection is just one step in the horticultural design process, which culminates in art direction at the site. We are there through all of it, and take pride in the procurement of the right material.


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