This article appeared in the January-February 2002 issue of Horticulture Update,
edited by Dr. Douglas F. Welsh, and produced by Extension Horticulture,
Texas Cooperative Extension, The Texas A&M University System, College Station, Texas.

Planning The Landscape

By Dan Gill
Extension Horticulturist, Louisiana State University

hen it comes to home landscaping, many gardeners remain confused about how to create what they want. Efforts at landscaping can be disappointing despite spending a substantial amount of money. The important thing to remember is that developing an attractive, properly functioning landscape is best done using a process.

The first step is to decide on the style your garden will have. Look at other gardens and figure out what style you are most comfortable with. Gardening books, magazines and books on landscaping present photographs that can inspire you and help you make a decision. The style you choose is generally a matter of taste, but should strongly be influenced by the architecture of the house. The chosen style will guide the more aesthetic aspects of the landscape design.

There are two general styles that you might first want to consider. The formal style is characterized by bilateral symmetry, clipped plantings, geometrically-shaped plants and beds, orderly rows of plants regularly spaced, traditional garden accents (classical statues for example), a central decorative feature such as fountain, "crisp" building materials (smooth painted wood, cut stone, brick) and everything neatly manicured. This style can be very effective, but can also appear stiff, lifeless and boring. It is a style that requires relatively high maintenance.

The second general style is informal. In this type of landscape plants are allowed to develop their natural forms (pruned but not regularly sheared), and they are arranged more irregularly in a way that resembles nature. The lines in the landscape and the shape of the beds tend to be curved and flowing. There are few straight edges and no geometric shapes. Building materials are more relaxed and may even be rustic. This style of landscape design is generally less demanding when it comes to maintenance.

As an alternative, or in addition, you may want to consider one of the distinct design styles that have developed through many centuries of landscape design. If you have sufficient design skill, you may even be able to combine the features of one style with those of another. Some of the popular ethnic styles include oriental (Japanese and Chinese), Spanish, French formal and English cottage style. There are also ecological styles such as desert-like (if appropriate), tropical and native. Get a feel for what suits your taste and the style of your home and use it.

Think about your budget. Although it would be nice to garden with unlimited funds, the available money for the project must be considered. Don't forget that once the plan is drawn up, it can be installed in sections over time allowing the cost to be broken up into more manageable installments.

The next part is going through the process to develop a landscape design. These steps help you to organize your thoughts and efforts so that what you end up with is what you want and need.

Step One: List your needs.
Think about yourself and your family, and decide what your landscape needs to include to provide for their needs. Write the list down on paper. It might include such features as privacy, outdoor living area (patio, deck, courtyard, etc.), shade, flower beds, vegetable garden, swimming pool, greenhouse, children's play area and storage. Basically, all the things the landscape needs to provide and include. Be thorough.

Step Two: Study your site.
Become familiar with the grounds. Notice the compass directions. Which areas are shady or sunny, wet or dry. Note existing features such as trees, buildings, beds, fences, walks and the like. Draw up a simple sketch of the property showing the relevant features. Better yet, draw up a scale drawing. A scale drawing is much more effective when you actually start to do the design. Any inexpensive book on landscaping has directions on how to do a scale drawing. Once the drawing is done, make copies of it to draw on. You will be playing with various ideas, and need copies to try those ideas out. Never draw on the original.

Step Three: Diagram space needs.
In this step you decide how much space different activities and areas will need and where in the landscape they will be located. At this time you will see how many things in your list you will actually be able to fit into the landscape. On your scale drawing copy, draw circles or ovals to indicate where and how large areas will be. For instance, a circle would represent where and how large the vegetable garden would be, where the play area would be, where the patio would be and so forth. Try several arrangements until the best one is found.

Step Four: Shape the spaces.
Now, decide exactly what shape the areas will have. If you indicated flower beds with an oval to indicate where and how big they will be, at this point you decide how they will actually be shaped. Although you don't actually select the plants at this stage, you should decide on the characteristics that the plants should have (size, flowering, color, evergreen, etc). This is a creative stage. It will be guided by the previous steps as well as the style you have decided for the garden.

Step Five: Select the materials.
At this point, you select the components that will be chosen to create the landscape. If, for instance, in step one privacy was listed, in step two it was decided what view needed to be blocked, in step three the location of the privacy screen is determined, in step four the size of the screen is determined (how tall, how wide) and in this step what the screen will be composed of is decided. You may choose to plant a ligustrum hedge, or build a lattice fence or a brick wall. Go through the rough plan selecting what plants will be used, what surfacing materials, etc. Cost is a factor that enters into which materials are selected.

Once you have decided upon this basic framework, your landscape plan will quickly materialize, and there will be no unpleasant surprises.

(Reprinted from the December 15, 2001 Ornamental/Turfgrass E-mail Update, LSU Extension Service).