Getting Started with Landscape Design


To enjoy gardens to the fullest, gardeners must eventually consider landscape design. What we plant and where we plant it is often a matter of impulse. There's nothing wrong with just planting a few things you love, but you'll get more use from your space and more value for your money if you take some time to plan a landscape design.

What to Consider

Functionality of each Area

An overall design for your property includes spaces to serve a variety of function. Consider what purpose each area will serve when you make landscape design choices.

garden seats

The portion between the house and the street is traditionally designed for "curb appeal", framing the house and making it look attractive to people walking or driving past. Ease of access is important, as is giving visitors a clear approach to the front door. Parking may also be a consideration.

The backyard is traditionally reserved for family activities. Your choices will depend heavily on your habits and those of your family. You may want to include an outdoor cooking area as well as sitting and eating areas. You may need a playground for children or an exercise area for pets. Your vegetable garden is probably located here, and you may also need a place to pot plants and other garden chores.

If you require outdoor lighting for any of your activities, it is easiest to put it in before you add the rest.


People have to get from point A to point B, and a path is the best way to let them travel without hurting your garden. A narrow, meandering path is beautiful in a woodland garden, but it is not practical leading from the garage to the kitchen door. People will go the shortest way, so give them a prepared surface and save your garden.


Modern yards and gardens tend to be rather small, which makes it particularly important to consider boundaries in designing your landscape.

formal garden

For the last century, Americans have tended to let their lawns run into their neighbors' lawns without any formal delineation, making the entire area look like one large park with houses scattered about. If you and your neighbors prefer this open space, continue the tradition, by all means!

Consider fencing if you need to protect children or pets from traffic, screen out the view, or just give yourself some privacy. Many beautiful fences are available today, and they become more popular every year.

If some part of the view is particularly beautiful, consider organizing your plantings to emphasize it. You can frame a church spire with cleverly-positioned trees, or open a view into a neighboring wood.

Landscape Design Tools

Graph paper

A scale plan is the first tool a gardener will use. This helps give an overall balance to the garden and allows the designer to see how the different elements will fit together.Start by measuring your yard accurately, and transfer the measurements to graph paper. Mark all the features on your plan - both manmade ones like driveways, paths, and sheds and natural ones like trees and shrubs.

Then lightly draw in the plants you wish to include. Consider the growing needs for each plant, when they will bloom and in what colors, the color and texture of foliage, and plant height. When you put them on the plan, be sure to indicate their mature size. A shrub planted too near the sidewalk will be a daily annoyance, and a plan will help you to avoid these problems.

You will need to have several versions of the plan, one each for early spring, late spring, early summer, late summer, fall, and winter. Some designers draw each plan on a layer of acetate, so they can be overlaid to see how one plant will follow the other in each area.


The height and color of the plants in your garden can give a feeling of harmony and balance, or they can create an uncomfortable muddle. Photos taken the previous year can help with this.Look at each photo with an analytical eye. Is the overall profile of the garden pleasing to the eye? Perhaps you need more height in one area, less in another. If all your plants have soft, round outlines, you may want to place something with sharp, angular leaves in several areas to provide contrast. Try drawing the outlines of new plants on the photos to get a real idea of the way they will look. Photos are also useful for color choices in the garden. Are your color combinations pleasing? Consider the color and texture of the foliage as well as the flowers - you'll be looking at the foliage for a far longer period.

You will want a series of photographs taken throughout the gardening season to use this technique effectively. However, even a few photos can give you a good start to creating an ideal landscape design.


There are dozens of software programs on the market to help gardeners design their gardens. Before investing in a program, try the one at the virtual landscape design site provided by the BBC. You will need Shockwave on your computer to run the program, but it can be downloaded at the site.

If you think you're ready for a more sophisticated design tool, and depending on your skill level and computer savvy, there's a program out there for you.

Some top landscaping design tools include:

When choosing the best software, first compare the list of features and decide which ones are the most important to you. Remember, more features doesn't necessarily mean better. If you don't need all the bells and whistles of a comprehensive design tool, then opt for a program with less features but a simpler user interface or online tutorials and training.

In general, the best landscape design software allows you to import photos of your home and property, view projects in two and three-dimensional modes, and view your designs in different lights. You should also be able to project your landscape design into the future and see what your plant choices will look like five or ten years from the present.

Garden Notebook

You think you'll remember, but you won't. That's why a notebook is the most essential tool for landscape design. Keep a running record as you work in the garden. Include notes on plants and their habits, but don't stop there. Write down possibilities as they occur to you. If you suddenly think of another flower that would look good next to the one you're deadheading, write it down. If you decide one part of your garden needs more height, keep a list of possible plants. Your notes will help you decide what changes to make and what plants to order when you're planning for next year in your landscape design.

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Getting Started with Landscape Design