The Fundamentals of Landscape Design

Nov 20

An amazing landscape design isn’t just beautiful and enjoyable, it can have a positive impact on the value of your home or property. It also can improve how you enjoy your home and property for years to come. Putting some time, thought, and money into your landscape design can have enormous returns. A great landscape should marry good aesthetic with functionality and ecological sensitivity.

landscape design

There are three main principles to consider with landscape design before you start:

1. Understand and know the site well before you start design.
2. Consider budget and maintenance/user.
3. Create a design with attention to detail.


It is very important that you know your site very well and consider several factors before you even begin your first design sketches or get out any shovels! You should first conduct a thorough site inventory, consider existing vegetation, analyze soil, review drainage conditions, note climate as well as light exposure. This assumes you already have an official site survey and you know where your property lines run as well as any underground utilities, including septic tanks and fields. If you’re working within an existing landscape design, you’ll also need to know where your irrigation lines are located.

Analyze the soil: The type of soil found on the property determines your selection of plants. It’s always a good idea to use plants that will thrive in the soil for your area and, specifically, your property. Some plants simply won’t survive in heavy, clay soil, while others will. While you can amend soil, it can be tedious, difficult and expensive.

Existing vegetation: One clue to understanding your soil is to check the plants already growing there happily. If you see some plants growing well, then you know you can use plants with similar growing conditions. Decide if there is any existing vegetation you plan on keeping.

Drainage: It important to note the topography of your property in order to understand drainage. Water needs to be channeled and drained away from any structures and toward other areas of your yard. However, it’s always a smart, as well as neighborly, to ensure you aren’t draining water into your neighbor’s yard or property.
Exposure: In order for your garden to grow, you need sufficient light and other climate considerations. Consider any potential shadows cast over vegetation from existing structures or vegetation. Plant placement is directly related to exposure and need.


Sometimes it really does come down to money. Decide on a budget unless you don’t have a budget and can spend freely (lucky you!). Be realistic and practical when planning a budget. This means you will be adjusting the budget throughout the design process until you finalize the design and plant selections. Some prudent planners build a buffer into their budget in case of unexpected expenses.

User: Who will be using this garden and how will they use it? Are there children, teens, or pets in the home? Will there be, or are there now, a pool and other structure such as a tennis court? Do you entertain outside? If so, you will need to budget for hardscape such as terraces, decks, or paths. Do you want a vegetable garden? Think very carefully about these factors. Don’t forget to think ahead a few years so you don’t suddenly find yourself with an expensive, but abandoned pool or vegetable garden.

Maintenance: Who’s going to maintain your beautiful, new landscape? Will you be doing it or will you need to hire professional landscapers and gardeners? (They’re not always the same thing and one can be more expensive than the other.)


Let the fun begin! To successfully create a design, you have hopefully adequately addressed issues 1 and 2 mentioned above. You should know your site very well now. You know what drainage will need to be addressed and what the soil is like. You have had an honest conversation with yourself, and possibly your family, about maintenance. There should be a consensus of how you plan to use your new landscape design! Lastly, you should have a budget!

You now have the beginnings of your perfect landscape design! However, it’s important to not go over-budget, stray from what you really need, and not select incorrect plant materials!

Themes: There are two themes to consider for your new landscape design. One is more important and common than the other. Form theme is important because it determines the shape and layout of your spaces and the links between them. Every landscape needs to have a form because you will need to decide how to use and layout your garden space and what shapes you want to use in doing so. For example, a homeowner loves geometrical lines and the garden is designed based on geometrical symmetry. Your form theme will need to consider the architecture of your home, your neighborhood if your yard is seen from the street, your topography and regional landscapes.

Style theme isn’t always considered or actualized. Some gardens don’t have a specific style other than to uniformly repeat plant materials (for a formal or traditional look) while other designs allow style to grow organically as its gardener adds to it over time. You should also think about how plant material and hardscapes will feature in to form and style. You can do do this by drawing your space onto paper. Putting pencil to paper as you begin to think about your landscape garden design will be tremendously useful. Keep that eraser nearby!

Space, shapes and everything else: You can fill in your spaces by creating shapes with plant materials/plantings and plant beds, as well as hardscapes or structures such as pools or sheds. The size, form, shape and density of a plant are the three main traits to consider when determining their placement. Don’t underestimate the importance of hardscapes, not just in space planning, but in maintenance and usage! Carefully decide where plants will go based on their individual needs, mature dimensions (once they’re fully grown), and surrounding materials! Also, consider what function you might need them to serve. Do you need privacy screening or shade? Pay attention to detail by noting the shapes and sizes of plants as you add them to your design space on paper first. You can use unique plants for their shape as a feature in a corner or special placement just as you would a sculpture. However, keep in mind that any wise gardener will tell you that aside from mature trees, plants are easily moved around if you see they’re not thriving in a particular spot.

Lastly, a great landscape design doesn’t just incorporate wise use of plants, but of water and building materials. It should be as environmentally friendly as possible with little to no negative impact on the environment.

A great landscape design is like a great painting – it should be visually pleasing and balanced. But like any great painter, you can spend as much time as you want fine-tuning your canvas. It’s your canvas after all!

The Fundamentals of Landscape Design was last modified: November 20th, 2015 by dpadmin