Saturday, March 27, 2010

Landscape Design for Beginners

The home landscape is a work of living art. It changes with the seasons, reflects the preferences of the owner as well as the whims of change of the designer. Landscape becomes the frame for a home. Landscape design for beginners may seem like a daunting task of thousands of choices of trees, shrubs and flowers. DIY landscape design for beginners includes having a grand plan for the entire landscape that forms a pleasing environment for the family.

Scaled Drawing

Measure the house and any hardscape, permanent features in the landscape. Hardscape includes the driveway, sidewalk, porch, front steps, retaining walls, decks, patios, pool decks or fencing. Use a measuring tape and create an accurate drawing. Before you balk at this, imagine the incredible perspective you will have with this blank slate drawing.

What do you want to accomplish?

Stand at each angle of the house and imagine what you really want the property to look like in a finished state. The key lies in translating this first to paper and then making it a reality. Focus on the front entryway of the home. All traffic should flow to this point and the view from the curb should gradually direct the viewer's eye to the home entryway.

On the back of the house, what is the focal point?  A deck, patio or other outdoor living space grabs the center stage. Landscape should flow towards this point without overpowering it. Addressing the needs of the homeowner tops of the list of concerns. Landscape shouldn't limit access to portions of the property and should always include an analysis of what will serve best to accommodate play areas, pools, sports or living areas.

Blending the House and Landscape

Every landscape differs to some degree and it's virtually impossible to say what is "best" for any home. Landscape is a work of art and for that reason, learning some of the basic landscape principles will help the DIY landscaper apply these concepts at home. Let's look at the design tools used by professionals to help create the perfect landscape design.

Balance refers to the visual look created by landscape plants. A mass of shrubs on the right and a blank spot on the left isn't balanced. A better design would involves either a mirror image (formal look) or varying sizes of shrubs spaced differently on two sides of focal point to create asymmetrical balance.

Unity in landscape design looks at the entire property. One element blends with another to form a cohesive, organized landscape. Repetition of elements such as plants, border materials, rocks or plant color creates a relaxed feeling in the landscape.

Simplicity is a must in a landscape. A chaotic blend of flowers, shrubs, trees and hardscape elements makes for a messy and high maintenance landscape. Limit color choices to 2 to 3 flowers and use limited types of plants to create cohesion. Don't make the landscape too simple though by limiting your choices to one type of shrub. The color of a shrub can blend with the color of a flower bloom or choose plants that have similar shade foliage.

Proportion is an important issue when developing a landscape plan. Consider the mature height of all plants in the landscape. You don't want to block the view of the best features of the home; you want to enhance the home.


Take a soil sample to a local garden center or nursery for analysis. In fact, take separate samples from each planned garden area. The analysis will list everything lacking in the soil. These items should be added during cultivation to provide the best environment for your plants. Build these additional costs into your overall landscape expense list.

Vary heights, textures (plant foliage thickness) and form (overall plant shape) in your design. Consider the many types of plants that can be added to the landscape. Some types of different plants include:

*Evergreen shrubs-foliage remains green throughout the year.
*Deciduous shrubs-foliage drops in the fall and often provides interesting autumn color.
*Flowering shrubs-pick these based on bloom preference first, then foliage since blooming times are limited.
*Perennial flowers-return every year after initial planting and bloom at the same 2 to 3 week period of time each year.
*Annual flowers-also called bedding plants; grow from seed, flower and die in one season; provide instant color with abundant varieties.
*Native plants-refers to plant acclimated to your hardiness zone and soil; consult the garden center from ideas and specimens.
*Ornamental-any landscape plant that is valued for its flowers or foliage; purpose is for beauty, not food.

A Few Absolutes

Visit the USDA hardiness zone map and find your location. This "zone" features the lowest possible temperature for the average plant in your area. Only purchase plants that fall in your specific hardiness zone.

Evaluate how sunlight moves across your property during the course of different seasons. Choose plants that match the sunlight in each area. For example, sun-loving plants can't tolerate shade; shade lovers must be protected from the heat of direct sun. This single thing will improve the chances of success with your plantings.

Plan for the mature width of tree canopies. Nothing changes the light conditions in the home landscape as much as the increased canopy of a tree. Plan for these changes to limit the need for future transplanting of ornamental shrubs and flowers.

USDA Hardiness Zones Map

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