Fridays with Bud
November 20th, 2007
Bud at his drafting table. He added the words “less is more.”
Last night, while searching my files for notes from my landscape design coursework, I came across a favorite project from 2002. The project was to write and illustrate a report on a principle or element of design. I chose rhythm. I figured it would be a fun piece to share here on ShedStyle.com, but after looking through my folders, spiral-bound sketchbooks and flimsy tissues filled with drawings and concepts, I found myself reflecting on the individual who made my year studying landscape design such a powerful experience.
He was the late and legendary G. Bud Merrill, my design instructor at South Seattle Community College. Bud greatly influenced my aesthetic attitudes toward residential design. He was an un-arrogant design talent, generous with his craft and nurturing of anyone who was willing to work hard and be open to his guidance. He had a great wit and a passion that made him a fabulous teacher.
During the 2001-2002 school year, I had the privilege of spending three quarters with Bud and his wonderful “assistant,” daughter Ann Merrill Lantz, also a talented garden designer. Every Friday, all day, we would gather in the design lab. Each student had her/his own stool and drafting table. As we sat surrounded by the tools of the trade – a rainbow of Prismacolor markers, templates with tree and shrub shapes for plan drawings, oversized pieces of tissue and that trusty eraser, Bud’s words and wisdom filled our minds. He would lecture for an hour or so, and that was when the raw material of his design philosophy began to seep into our collective and individual psyches.
One of Bud’s mandates, well before most of the design world latched onto the buzzword “sustainable,” was to practice Environmentally Responsive Design. He shared many other “Budisms” with us during that year and luckily Ann collected them for us. I have listed many of them below.
After Bud’s morning lecture we worked on any number of drawing, drafting, rendering and design projects. Bud spent one quarter teaching us the rich and varied history of landscape design – a wonderful experience that has helped frame so much of my understanding of those talented and often unsung men and women of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.
There was something pretty wonderful about our Fridays with Bud. He seemed to relish the chance to share tales, plans and plant lists of specific projects he’d designed. (No question was too ridiculous to address, no plant unworthy of examination.) He told stories about the early days of Seattle’s landscape architecture scene, when he and others (the who’s who of landscape architecture) would drive up to the Cascades and collect — rootball and all — native conifers, broadleaf evergreen shrubs and swordferns to help populate Seattle’s emerging suburban landscapes. Clearly, that practice was eventually discouraged, but the idea – of drawing from the wild for a natural-looking garden setting – was carried through all of Bud’s work.
At the end of the 2001-2002 school year, Bud retired. He wasn’t really ready to, I don’t think. But I’m sure the administration thought he was ancient. What a mistake. Bud was a true design influence – a visionary voice – and those of us who studied with him were enriched for having done so. At the end of the third quarter, Bud gave us a letter summarizing his thoughts about our progress. I’m so thankful that I saved the letter. Here are a few sentences that I really love:
“Unless we accept the responsibility and discipline that good design requires, we will fall short of our goals and those goals are to design landscapes that enrich the qualities of people’s lives with a respect to environmentally sensitive work.
“Remember to walk with nature. Design that which is practical and aesthetically pleasing. Simplicity with interest; stay away from overcomplication. Less is more! And by all means enjoy what you are doing.”
Clearly, I am not a professional garden designer. I find my satisfaction writing about and reporting on great design. But many of my fellow classmates from what was Bud’s last year of teaching Landscape Design I, II and III, have gone on to create beautiful residential gardens and enjoy success as professional landscape designers. They have done so by honoring Bud’s plea for environmentally and architecturally responsive designs. I hope to add some of their comments about studying with Bud in future days.
Bud died in September 2003, and I’ve just learned from his daughter Ann that work is nearing completion on a community garden in Indianola, Wash., that will be called the “Bud Merrill Pavilion,” in his honor. She writes: “He had originally designed it but in time the structure needed new posts and beams, surfacing enlarged and plantings replenished. The community has stepped forward in amazing ways and the North Kitsap Herald has been documenting the heartwarming progress (“Pavilion Project Nears Completion“). I can’t tell you what an absolute treasure this has been. It has been so fun remembering all that Dad stood for (Budisms) and incorporating that into the park.”
To wrap things up, here is a partial list of “Budisms.”
>Complex things are easy to do. Simplicity is the real challenge.
>One of the many paradoxes in designing the small garden is that one must think BOLDLY.
>A thing that is pleasing to look at is easy to use.
>The crux of what total design is all about is the realization that everything that surrounds us is interrelated.