Yard And Garden Planning

Without proper planning, your new landscape can be more work than it has to be and can actually take away from the beauty of your home and..

"A great landscape is the result of planning and vision."

Without proper planning, your new landscape can be more work than it has to be and can actually take away from the beauty of your home and property.

This section covers all aspects of do it yourself landscape design from measuring your plot to planting. This page will mostly outline designing on paper. However, you can still use a lot of this information if you're using landscape software. I've tried to keep this as simple as possible.

Lets design.

Preparation And Measuring Your Landscaping Plot

Some people can find measuring their plot accurately a bit difficult and intimidating. So the first step in this process is to make measuring as easy as possible.

You may or may not be aware that you can usually get a plat map or site survey of your property from either your builder, developer, or at your local county records office. This is or should be a to-scale drawing plan of your house and lot.

Generally, the plat map won't be the scale you will use in designing but transposing the scale is pretty simple. (We'll talk about scale in a minute.) More than anything, we'll use this plat map in landscape planning, as a design aid for accuracy, to see the "real" shape of your plot, and for locating utilities and property lines.

Make sure the house is where it's supposed to be on the map by checking the distance from the house to the street. And make sure that the north arrow is pointing north and all other measurements are correct.

If the information on the plat map is correct, you already have a base landscape plan to work with. Keep it handy for accuracy and reference.

If a plat map isn't available or if you just prefer, you can do your planning on a graph paper fairly easily. You can purchase single sheets of graph paper at art supply or office supply stores. But buy more than one sheet. Just in case.

Check the grids on the graph paper to make sure that they match the scale you would like to use in your landscape design. Most designers prefer to work with landscape plans drawn to a scale where 1 inch = 10 feet or 1 inch = 8 feet. This means that every 10 (or 8) feet of actual measure equals 1 inch on your plan.

Use a scale that will ensure that your entire landscape will fit on one single sheet of paper. It will be necessary to take a measurement of your entire lot perimeter to know this.

The easiest way to accurately measure a landscape is to start in either the front or back yard. It really doesn't matter which. But for the sake of this article let's just say we'll start the design in the front yard.

Measure from the front corners of the house to the front property lines and from the front corners of the house to the side property lines. Mark these measurements on your graph paper. Now you have the exact location of your house on your lot.

From this starting corner, measure the exterior walls and all angles of your house and draw them onto your graph paper. Once you've done this you'll have an exact template of your house and front yard.

Next, measure from the back of the house to the back property lines. Don't forget to include measurements of sidewalks, decks, driveways and any other permanent elements on the property. If there are existing trees, shrubs, or anything that you wish to keep, measure and place them accurately on your landscape planning template as well.

There, now you have a base design to work with. But before you begin landscape planning, take a trip to the nearest copy machine and make four or five copies of your base plan. Trust me on this. You might mess up, change your mind, or want to do several different design variations.

Let's start designing.

I'm sure that you already have a few great ideas and plans for your landscape but now is the time to expand your possibilities and vision and to gather as many ideas as possible.

First, a site analysis will not only generate some great ideas, it will also eliminate the possibility that any necessary elements have been overlooked.

Now, take a real good look at some of the different landscapes in your area and community. Look at your neighbors' yards. What are your likes and dislikes of these? What plants and types of plants work? Which ones don't? Take in as many ideas as you can. Check out the libraries, the internet, browse through my own landscape ideas gallery and garden styles directory.

Remember though, the key to using other peoples designs isn't in finding the perfect design to fit your yard. It's in using parts of all the ideas you find.

It's a good time to consider the theme or themes, and style or styles that you will follow in your design. The general form your landscape takes will be a direct reflection of whatever you choose. The style of your home should definitely be an influencing factor of landscape planning.

Styles and themes are different. Different styles may be considered formal, informal, English, Victorian, etc. The landscaping plans directory on this site is a great resource for defining some of the different styles of gardens.

Themes or theme gardens on the other hand revolve around a specific subject or passion. I'll point out here that any garden style can have its own theme or themes.

Your local library, books, and your neighbors' yards are all potential sources for other great ideas.

Master Planning

The first step in planning uses a designers "trick" called a bubble graph. At this point you're not interested in the exact size or shape of each activity area. This is just a simple rough sketch of the various activity areas using loose shapes (or bubbles) to identify each area.

Using A Bubble Graph In Landscape Planning

Begin this step by using one of the copies of your base plan or by placing a fresh sheet of tracing paper over your base plan. This is still in the planning stage so don't be afraid to wad it up, throw it in the trash, and start over (now you can see why you made several copies of your base plan). Use a soft lead pencil for easy erasing and for trying a lot of different ideas.

Begin drawing the different elements of your landscape design by first keeping only two things in mind.

  • The information you gathered from your site analysis.
  • How you will move through your yard or garden to get from one place to the next.

Take a walk through your yard and plot out the natural paths of movement you will use to get to sheds, gates, pools, play areas, etc. This is where you need to place paths or walk ways on your plan. Sketch them down.

For added interest, you may want to make your paths curvy and not straight. Curves add a sense of motion and smooth, graceful, natural flow to the landscape. Remember that the edges of your paths can also be used as borders for flower beds and gardens and to separate different areas or themes.

Its all starting to come together now isn't it.

At this point you should already have the theme, themes, style, or styles in mind that you gathered from the different ideas resources mentioned above.

You may or may not have considered the specific plants you plan to use. This is O.K.. The placement, size and spacing of plants is more important than the actual plants at this point. For instance, you might say this is where I want a tree for shade or this is where I want a hedge to screen out noise or neighbors, or this is where I want a flower bed, or…etc. You get the picture.

However, you may want to check out the guidelines for plant selection either now or in future reference. If you go there now just keep what you learn in mind until it's time to actually select plants.

I would like to note here that one of the biggest problems that people have in designing their own landscape is the inability to see and design beyond what already exists. As you've been drawing you've probably attempted to use existing site conditions as they are and design around them.

There's nothing wrong with this but try and remember that you are designing a new landscape here and you can change almost anything to create your dream landscape. Use some of the ideas in the landscape planning books and references mentioned above.

Now is the time to consider if you need to change any slopes or grades to accommodate for drainage or any of your activity areas. Can you change any slopes or grades to create new activity areas? Do you need retaining walls, terracing, or stairs? How about berms (small hills)? Make these changes as you see necessary.

O.K. now that you have all the necessities and "have to's" in place, let's look at some of the frilly details.

We're almost to the point of creating your final master plan and transposing your bubble graph into a real working design. The following elements will help you to define, separate, create different "rooms", and create themes for your landscape. Although these elements can be considered as "filler", they are the focal points, character, and points of interest that your whole design will revolve around.

I won't go into detail about the following elements in this article (it's long enough already) but you can just click on the links to access articles and "how to's" that I've written on these subjects.

Water features, ponds, garden statues, garden decor, gazebos, arbors, bridges, and decks should now be given some consideration. If up to this point you've had spaces that you've wondered what will go here and what will go there, these could possibly fill those spaces. You can create entire "rooms", themes, and separations around these elements.

Now you may feel that I've gone about this process all backwards but my experience with home owners and do-it-yourselfers has proven that placing the necessities first and designing around them works best. You may now need to make a few adjustments to walk ways and such to make everything fit together.

O.K. now go out into your yard and try to visualize how it will look. Can you see it? How does it feel? Using stakes and string, paint, or even laying a rope or water hose along lines can help to visualize the final layout. Take notes and make changes now because we're almost ready to do the finished design.

The Master Plan

O.K., now you basically have your landscape plan. We're going to clean it up a bit and put it to scale. This will be the genuine "blueprint" that you will follow.

Trace your final design to the scale you've chosen onto a clean sheet of paper or onto another one of your base plans. Show all your base plan elements like property lines, house, walk ways, and existing structures and plants that you want to keep. Add in new areas and label materials and structures which will be added.

The next step is choosing plants which fit in your landscape and that will fit the needs gathered in your site analysis. If you're already familiar with plants this should be fairly easy. But whether you are or aren't familiar with plants.

Place plants into your design and label them for reference. Your design is done.

Now that your design is done there is one more step that needs to be taken care of. And although this is the last step it will be one of the first project you do now that you know where everything goes. This last step is the layout of your irrigation and sprinkler system.

Don't design this part of the plan onto your master landscape planning sheet. Either use a piece of tracing paper or make a copy of your master design and use it.

You should find everything you need to do it yourself in the directory under Sprinkler Systems

  • Take your design to one or all of the irrigation suppliers in your area and ask them to help you. Many irrigation suppliers will help you with your design. Some for free or for a very small price.
  • Ask a landscape or irrigation contractor to design it. Some contractors have a design service.

As you finish up your project, remember to place sleeves for irrigation, lighting, etc. under paths, patios and other permanent fixtures.

If heavy equipment will be used to deliver, or carry materials, it is best done before any new lawn or sod is installed. And the last thing installed should be your ground cover and lawn.

There you have it. A simplified, step by step guide to landscape planning. The only decisions you have to make now are what materials you want to use. Brick, flagstone, or gravel for paths? Mulch or gravel for flower beds? Etc.

I hope this helps