Landscape Design 101

By Pam Roy | May 23, 2012

Is that cute little plant from the nursery so big that it covers the window? Are there unfinished projects here and there in the yard that seemed like a great idea at the time, but just aren’t coming together? Was the Saturday you set aside to get some things accomplished in the garden spent trying to decide where to start?

If you said YES to any of these, you might benefit from having a landscape design for your yard. With a well thought out plan, you can have year round color and interest in the garden and incorporate the elements on your wish list.

The design becomes a road map that allows you to focus on projects that are achievable, giving a sense of satisfaction. With a plan, you can install the yard in phases that work together.

Where to start? Here are a few tips:

Site analysis

Take a walk around the yard. What is the soil like? Clay or very sandy soil will probably benefit from amendments and you may need to select plant varieties that suit the type of soil conditions. This may vary in different places in the yard.

Notice where the sunny and shady places in the yard are. This may vary depending on the season and time of day.

Are there any drainage problems or wet areas in the yard?

Do you have slopes that could be terraced or need retaining?

What are the effects of any neighboring properties? Do you need to screen anything?

Wish list/dreams

How do you want to use your yard? What would you like to see?

A great way to get ideas is to look at photographs of gardens. Some of the elements to consider are: lawn (or not) and hardscapes – patio areas, decks and how many people will be using them, pathways, retaining walls, fencing, containers, water features, edibles, lighting, fire-pit, gazebo, garden rooms, arbors, compost bins, rainwater management. Prioritize which of these are most important.

Do you have favorite plants you would like to include?

Plot plan

Start with a plot plan showing the outline of your house on its lot, or grab measuring tape and graph paper and draw this yourself. It makes installation easier if you draw this to scale.

Design principles

Start by creating a concept plan by putting in circles on the plot plan and labeling what you’d like them to be (deck, vegetables, water feature, etc.) Save the details for later.

Follow some basic design principles in putting things together. Unity gives the feeling of all elements working together. Achieve this by repetition of plants, shapes, colors or elements. Rhythm is created by repetition, alternating elements and gradation of layers. Use focal points in balance either symmetrical or asymmetrical.

An experienced landscape designer can guide you through this process, and give a fresh perspective to your project. Many clients have happily stated that with a plan in place, the yard took on life of its own and was easily installed.

Pam Roy, owner of Planscapes, has been a landscape designer and horticulturist for 30 years in the Northwest. Contact her at 425-252-9469 or view

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.