How to Create the Perfect Landscape Design

Careful planning is a key ingredient for uniting all the elements that make up a beautiful garden.

A well-designed yard yields a number of benefits, the most important of which is the enjoyment we gain from its use. A close second is a pleasure derived from beholding a beautifully landscaped garden.

And, thirdly, unless you live on a mountaintop, deep in a forest, or on a secluded manor estate, most, if not all of your yard is open to public view; a beautiful yard sends a positive message to visitors and passersby.

How to Create the Perfect Landscape Design
Image by Mathis Jrdl

This “curb appeal” is related to a fourth benefit: Good landscaping adds value to a house. A fifth benefit is that working in a garden can be a fun and stress-reducing activity. The list goes on, but it’s plain to see that it pays in many ways to put some time and energy into beautifying your property.

The main purpose of landscaping a house is to provide a functional space that’s pleasing to look at. Landscaping solves site problems that may exist in the yard, expands the living area of your home, increases the property value and provides a space in which you and your family and guests can relax and enjoy life.

It’s easier than you think to have a beautiful yard. All it takes is a little planning, patience, and perseverance.

First Things First

A successful landscape theme is a well-planned, coordinated combination of different kinds of elements based on a single design motif. To get ideas for your yard, browse through gardening books and magazines, visit public gardens, and gardens of friends and relatives. Walk through your neighborhood and see how others in your immediate area have landscaped their property.

Before settling on a theme, consider how it will accentuate the architectural style of your house. The theme should complement the interior and exterior, particularly where there is a direct transition from house to yard. If you have a definite interior design theme, consider expanding that to the landscape for a complete look.

Your choices of features should be based on practical and utilitarian requirements as well as suitability to the overall landscape theme. For instance, if you want to use your yard for entertaining, consider the most practical area in the yard for it, and the amount of space you need to do it.

Entertaining is usually done on a patio, deck, gazebo, or lawn, perhaps near the kitchen or living room for combined indoor-outdoor parties. Entertaining areas should include water lines for an outdoor bar, electrical outlets, lighting for nighttime parties, seating and table room, and flat open areas for sports.

Location, Location, Location

Image by Robert Katzki

The climate surrounding your house consists of its prevailing weather conditions, described in terms of the annual precipitation, humidity, winds, and average range of temperatures.

Within large regions, local conditions create microclimates, so that any neighborhood may feel very different effects from altitude, site orientation, sun, and shade, or wind chill.

The orientation and slope of your lot also create microclimate effects that influence plant selection and area use.

The region affects the type of plants that you can install in your landscape. The best way to see how plants do well in your particular area is to take a look at nearby gardens to see which types are thriving and then duplicate those conditions in your yard.

If in doubt about which plants are suitable, consult a local nursery or your agricultural county extension agent about the conditions in your area.

Before you can plan the new landscape, you must determine exactly what you have now. Spend time viewing the yard from the house, imagining what items you’d like to have, and in which spot. Walk around the yard with an eye for ways to improve your property.

Make a Plan

Make a scale drawing on graph paper of your entire yard, showing exact property lines, the size and location of the house and other structures, any changes in ground levels that occur on the property, and the location of utilities. Also include any existing trees, walks, driveway, fences, walls, ponds, or obstacles such as boulders, and note the direction they face.

Once you have this base plan, make copies of it and experiment. Pencil in the features you want in various places to see how they’ll work—it’s much easier to move and rearrange flower beds, trees, and decorative elements now than at a later stage.

When your plan is finalized, you can use it to estimate the amount of materials you’ll need, and to obtain permits for construction projects. Bring a copy along when purchasing plants or discussing growing conditions at your local nursery or garden supply store.

detailed design drawings for garden
Image by Ryan Ancill

Elements of Design

The six principles of a good landscape design are: form, scale, rhythm, axis, color, and texture.

Form refers to the shape and structure of the elements you’re using in your design. Too much of one form – flowers that are all planted in rectangular beds, for example – will be monotonous; too many different forms can become confusing.

The forms you choose for your design will determine its “mood” or personality:

  • Vertical forms (such as a row of tall junipers or a towering trellis) present a sense of awe;
  • Horizontal forms (sweeping beds of wildflowers) offer peacefulness; straight lines (perfectly spaced rows of tulips or irises), reason;
  • Intricate forms (plants of varying heights and color), curiosity; curves (a meandering brick path), harmony;
  • Circular forms (plants encircling a tree), a sense of closure or completeness;
  • Jagged forms (a zig-zagging wall of hedges), power.

Scale refers to the size of the elements you use. When choosing the size of elements (trees, gazebo, deck), make sure they are in proportion to the size of the house, property, and number of people using the space.

Rhythm involves placing elements in the landscape in such a way that they convey a sense of order – repeating similar forms on the same scale to provide symmetry, for example.

Axis gives a garden visual orientation, drawing the eye to areas of the yard you want to accentuate. Paths, paving patterns, lighting, and plants that hide, frame, or create views are all ways of forming an axis.

Color is key to your garden design. Cool colors, such as green and blue, recede, making a yard look larger. Warm colors, such as red and orange, stand out, making space seem smaller. Use the same color palette outdoors as is in the house interior to unify the two areas.

Also, consider how the colors will work together over the length of an entire year. For example, many deciduous plants turn from spring green to autumn red to winter brown, and these seasonal changes should be incorporated into your landscape design.

Texture refers to the visual and physical surfaces of the materials used in your design. Smaller yards look best with delicate, fine-textured flowers and willowy trees; larger ones are more appropriate for coarser textures. Or combine different textures to add interest to your design.

how to create the perfect landscape design