Create Your Own Landscape Design

Landscape planning and design isn’t difficult. It takes time, but not artistic talent, and not creativity. Do what professional landscape designers do: borrow other people’s ideas. Gardens are personal, and should reflect your lifestyle and interests. If you like to barbecue for friends, plan a barbecue area with shady places to sit. If you like to sunbathe in the nude, plan some privacy hedges around a sunny spot. It’s that simple.

Interview Yourself: The first step in landscape design is to find out more about the client. What do you want to have in your yard? What do you need to have?

  • Play area?
  • Dog run?
  • Fountain or pond?
  • Vegetable or herb garden?
  • Outdoor entertaining spot?

What do you need to hide from you or others?

  • Boats?
  • Your sunbathing spot?
  • Your trash cans?
  • The neighbor’s trashcans?
  • A sewage treatment plant?

Let Your Scissors Do the Planning

This is the best part, because there is no work to it, and it’s almost free. Go through magazines and newspapers, clipping out pictures of gardens or garden features that appeal to you. Clip lots of pictures. They may be a way to hide trash cans, a cute flowerpot, or a magnificent dining terrace. Sit on the sofa, sip a seasonally appropriate beverage and snip away. Sort the clippings into plants, outdoor living, garden decor, or whatever sorting scheme makes sense to you.

Don’t worry about how to pay for that terrace. These are just ideas. Don’t worry whether the plants shown in the pictures will grow in your area, because you can usually find something that can create a similar effect for your climate. A neighbor wanted a “knot garden” full of herbs. He also wanted the herbs to be bordered with the traditional short boxwood hedge. Well, herbs were no problem, but true boxwood in Arizona is impossible. He substituted a drought-tolerant shrub that could be sheared like boxwood to get the effect he wanted.

Also, go to your library and check out books about gardening, landscaping, and architecture. Do not cut pictures out of the library books! Make a digital snapshot, a scan, or a photocopy of any pictures that appeal to you. Borrow books from friends too.

After you have a pile of idea clippings, go through the clippings again, separating the ideas you really want to live with from the ones that don’t look as attractive as they did at first sight. Try to decide what attracts you to the pictures you like, and circle it. You will probably see a pattern in what you like, whether it is colorful cottage gardens, serene Japanese gardens, shady dining areas, or lush jungles.

Make Some Quick and Dirty Scribbles

You also need some “concept drawings” … that’s landscape designer talk for scribbles on pieces of paper. Scribbling while discussing what you want is a great way to clarify your thoughts. Remember, this isn’t art class, these are scribbles. Neatness is not required! Illustration 2 is about as detailed as concept drawings need to be.

You will probably not be able to have it all, but decide what you absolutely have to have. Make a concept drawing for your “absolutely must have” and one for your “dream garden“.

  1. Draw a rough outline of the yard and house, indicating entrances, driveways, sheds, etc.
  2. Make circles approximately where you want an activity or item to be. Include, way off at the edges, notes about anything that isn’t yours that you want to hide (that sewage plant, for example) or a view you want to enjoy.
  3. Check the traffic flow on your drawing by tracing the route you will take for an activity. Will you be able to move easily from one area to another, or will you have to walk through the dog run to get to the barbecue grill?
  4. Make as many concept drawings as you need to make. It’s easier to move a tool shed on paper than in real life.

Let Your Camera Do The Planning

You don’t have to have a photo-editing program if you have some colored pencils and tracing paper. Trace or cut and paste, do whatever your artistic talents allow. Don’t worry about the quality. These are just working drawings showing some ideas.

  1. After you have some ideas, take a digital photograph of each area you want to landscape.
  2. Print several copies of each photograph.
  3. With colored pencils, start sketching what you think you want to do on the prints. Illustration 3 and 4 shows what this might look like, before and with a scribbled border of flowering plants and yucca.
  4. If you need to remove some of your landscape, you can simulate it by tracing the photo and leaving out the plants or construction you plan to remove.

Don’t Let Your Computer Do The Planning

I don’t recommend using landscape design software unless you are going to be a professional. I regularly download and try landscape design software. So far, several years and many downloads later, I have yet to find one that is suitable for homeowners. Most design software takes hours to learn how to use effectively, and you would be better off spending those hours scribbling on paper with colored pencils. The software that is easy to learn usually has a limited selection of plants and other objects.

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