Landscape Design

Project Planning for Gardens

Getting started on landscape design

If you've just moved into a new house or want to improve the yard that you already have, you're going to have to do some planning in order to create the garden of your dreams. Garden planning is more than just marking out where you're going to place your rhododendrons or plant your new boxwood; to plan a garden, you've got to keep certain elements in mind and follow certain regulations to the letter. You want your garden to be beautiful, but at the same time, it should be well-designed so that it will last you for as long as you live in your house.

On this page you'll find information on project planning for gardens, including:

Property lines and utilities should show up on any garden plan that you create. These are incredibly important to the placement of your flowerbeds, structures and fences, and should be carefully plotted and adhered to. Before you start to design your landscape, you might want to get your land surveyed or check your city's bylaws to properly zone your property. This will help for later planning stages and to ensure that you won't get into any disputes with the city or your neighbors.

Before planting or creating flowerbeds, it helps to consider the environmental elements in your garden. These can include the wind, sun and water conditions, as well as the temperature. The weather conditions in a small space are referred to as microclimates, and knowing your yard's microclimate will ensure that your plants, trees and shrubs will thrive. The microclimate can make all the difference to the success of your garden and outdoor rooms, so it's good to keep this in mind when landscape designing.

If you've ever taken an art class, you've already learned the principles of design when it comes to creating a painting, sculpture or any other piece of art. Design principles create order, symmetry, rhythm and variety in your garden's layout. When you create a garden, you want to create curiosity while still keeping a modicum of order and beauty to draw interest. This will really make your design stand out. As well, proper placement of paths and walkways will help to divide your garden so that you can create different themes in the different "rooms" of your yard.

One of the best parts of landscape design is the choice of plants to beautify your space. Plant choices have to reflect the conditions of your climate, but you can still create a wonderful group of plants - full of color, texture and beauty - in your yard. Combining plants can really make or break the style of your yard, and choosing plants that will not only look good but also grow well together is extremely important. Create your own garden style to complement your home and outdoor space. It will go a long way toward making your garden the ultimate place to be.

Property Lines and Utilities

Knowing where to start planting

When designing a garden, you need to keep several things in mind, including the environmental elements of the space; the color, placement and texture of the flowerbeds; and the lines and utilities located on the property. Property lines, though seemingly unimportant except to mark where your property begins and ends, are actually crucial to the placement of components in your design. Contrary to some belief, property lines don't just encompass the edges of your land; they also include several important considerations that you should be aware of before starting your landscape design.

Every home is placed on a piece of land, known as a lot. Your lot can be any size or shape, but it's important to know how much land you actually own before starting a landscape design. Finding your property lines essentially involves looking at invisible lines that edge a property and determine its size. They're measured by bearings and distances. A bearing is the horizontal direction, measured in degrees east or west of true north or south. A distance is the horizontal linear measurement of the property line. The line is normally marked by metal stakes driven into the ground.

Utilities are those pipes and lines that provide power, gas and water to your home. The place where utility pipes are buried is called an easement. Before you dig, call your utility providers to obtain a detailed diagram indicating where the services are and how deep they're located. The companies will also mark the easement with color-coded spray paint so that you know where not to plant.

A right-of-way is a publicly-owned strip of land, including the road, which extends 30 to 60 feet, depending on the use of the thoroughfare. On the right-of-way, you might find a sidewalk or other city-built element. Although this is outside of your property lines, you are normally responsible for the maintenance of the right-of-way. This includes the strip of land between the sidewalk and the road, called the boulevard. Check with the city to see what sort of regulations govern the right-of-way and what you're responsible for. This will also help you to determine what, if anything, should be planted on this strip of land, as well as in some cases, dictate which types of pesticides are allowed to be used on this land.

Whether and where to build structures, such as fences or shelters, depends very much on their placement from the property lines. A structure, including a house, must be placed a certain number of feet from the property lines. This measurement is called a setback. If you are going to build a fence, check with your city's bylaws to determine where your fence can be placed. In some cities, fences must be set back from the property line; in others, they can be placed directly on the property line. If you're going to build a structure, make sure you follow the setback rules exactly to avoid trouble.

Environmental Elements

Planning a garden around nature

Designing a new garden is an exciting time for those who love to create - you are considering the form, line, beauty, color and placement of your new flowerbeds and outdoor spaces. However, one of the most important things to consider when planning your garden is the environment. It will be the No. 1 factor in whether or not your plants will do well and you'll be comfortable sitting in your outdoor kitchen. Environmental elements have a huge impact on the placement and components of your new outdoor space.

Microclimates in Your Yard

When you think about where you want to lay a new garden or outdoor room, a good thing to think about is your property's microclimates. Microclimates are just as they sound - the conditions of temperature, sun and wind exposure, and humidity in a certain space in your yard. Your yard's microclimate can make all the difference in your comfort and the health and growth of your plants. The best thing to do is to design your new garden with these conditions in mind. Remember, different sides of your house will have different microclimates, depending on the sun and the wind.

The east side of your house will get sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon. This makes it a good place for morning and afternoon entertaining. You might find that plants requiring partial shade will thrive here, such as achillea millefolium.

The south side is another desirable location, because it's the warmest place year-round. It receives the most sun and has the longest growing season. Many people use the south side of their house for much of their planting.

The north side of your house is perhaps the most undesirable place to plant a garden or design an outdoor room. It's the coldest and dampest place through the year, receiving little to no sun through most of the day. It may be desirable for outdoor entertaining in the summer, but you wouldn't want to plant anything that needs a lot of sun here or entertain in this space at any other time of the year.

The west side of your house is the hottest part of your yard, and also the windiest. Only plants that are resistant to wind and drought will find a home here. On hot days, you might find that you can entertain outdoors quite comfortably in the afternoons and evenings, but you'll need and outdoor shelter and shade if you're going to do so.

Designing Around the Elements

When you plant a garden, you know that you'll have to take the sun, wind and water conditions into account. Sometimes you can predict and use the climate to your advantage; other times, it's harder to pinpoint exactly the ideal spot for your plants to grow their best. With the sun, you can track its movements and predict which plants will respond best to direct, partial or little sunlight. Tracking the sun can also help you with placing shade trees or building a pergola. Wind is harder to track, but in the majority of the United States and Canada, it blows mostly from the south and west. It also follows the seasons and fronts that cross the continent. Knowing the wind patterns should help with planning how much exposure your garden will get.

If you live in a wet, warm climate, tropical rainforest plants will do well; however, if you live in a dry climate, it can be hard to get anything that isn't drought-resistant to grow. You can try xeriscaping your garden to make the best use out of the water resources that you have. If you live in a relatively moderate climate as far as rain goes, just keep up a faithful watering regime and you can grow almost anything.

Principles of Garden Design

Keeping design elements in mind

Designing a garden is more than just picking out plants, organizing paths and walkways and building a deck. It's about taking your yard and transforming it into something that will fulfill your dreams and stimulate your senses. A garden can run the gamut from a simple place to plant flowers to a fully equipped outdoor room with spas, structures and cooking implements. Whatever form it takes, it's got to be able to accommodate its owner's comfort, use and pleasure, as well as be aesthetically pleasing and well designed. Thus, you need to apply simple principles of landscape design in order to create a usable space that's also beautiful.

Three Rules to Start Your Design

When you think about designing anything, not just a garden, you unconsciously think about three things. These are the rules of unity, order and rhythm. Gardens work better when they follow certain principles of design, and using these elements will help you create a garden that will give you great curb appeal, and more importantly, please you and your family.

Unity and variety are big considerations when you are planting anything. You want to balance between keeping similar plants together and providing enough variety to create contrast and interest in your flowerbeds. An example of this would be when you are mixing your dispersion of annuals and perennials within your flower garden. When you're laying out your design, it helps to think about line and form. You want to create an interesting landscape, but remember, without a certain order to the plan, your garden will look scattered and separated. It's great to plan your garden in accordance with what nature would do, but you need to have interconnection between the elements in order for the observer's eyes to travel fluidly from one flowerbed to the next.

One thing you will need to have in your garden is one or more focal points. An observer's eye should be drawn to the showpiece of your garden, be it a tree or a garden fountain. A focal point will give your garden purpose, and you can design the rest of your garden around this dominant element. A garden that doesn't have a focal point can be uninteresting, and an observer's eyes are more likely to pass right over it.

If you use a few focal points, make sure that you don't have too many or that you don't place them too close together. A good way to lay out your landscape design is to put one main focal point at the farthest end of the garden and smaller ones beside any flowerbed that you're particularly proud of or that is particularly beautiful. The one at the end will pull the viewer's eyes to the end of your garden, and the ones in the other sections will create interest and add to the theme of whatever you've planted there.

Rhythm is the repetition of a certain element in a garden throughout the whole design. This can be virtually anything, from a certain plant to your fence, walkway or even the pavers in your patio. If a garden has rhythm, it's more pleasing to the eye, and rhythm figures into quite a few garden styles.

A Bit About Color and Texture

Perhaps some of the most important principles of designing a garden are color and texture. When you envision your finished garden in your mind's eye, you don't necessarily think first of the form, lines and order of the design but of the contrasting colors and textures that you will use. In this case, you are thinking of secondary design principles because after you finish designing the physical elements of the garden, you will turn to making it as beautiful as you can through flowers and plants.

When you are choosing the colors of the plants you will put in your garden, you should think about using contrasting colors. These create the most striking effect. If you use colors that are beside each other on the color wheel, you will create an equalizing effect. For example, red and orange will create a hot-colored garden, whereas blue and purple will create a calming effect that could provide some valuable stress relief.

The texture of plants and trees will also go far to create an effect in your flowerbeds. This doesn't only apply to your plants - you can use texture in all components of your garden's design. Combining a rough wooden deck with soft, leafy plants and rough tree trunks will create a naturalized look, while using smooth-leaved plants with smooth natural-stone pavers will be more elegant. Use texture to convey the mood you want to set in your garden.

Combining Plants

Creating a stunning effect

Perhaps the best part of creating a new garden is choosing the plants that you'll grow in it. Many gardeners look forward to the beginning of spring so that they can create an amazing look that will last until fall in their yards. The colors and textures of the plants in your garden do more than just look pretty - they add interest, variety and depth to your landscape, inviting people in to take a closer look at your creations.

To create a truly amazing effect in your yard, you'll need to plan your garden Garden Plans first; a group of plants is only as good as its arrangement. A great landscape design will ensure that your plants aren't only set out properly but are also in the right place for optimal growth. Remember, follow design principles so that your garden has a focal point that will draw the viewer's eye first. Once they're looking at the garden, they will begin to appreciate smaller nuances like color and texture.

Some things you should keep in mind when combining plants in your yard:

  • The shape and height of your plants. When planting a new flowerbed that will go against a fence, place your tallest plants in the back and the shortest in the front. If you are planning a bed that can be viewed from all angles, place the tallest plants in the center and have the shorter plants "flop" over the border to create a softer effect. This gives a more regulated and attractive look to your garden.
  • The soil, water, sun and temperature conditions that the plants you want to combine need. If two plants require very different conditions, it's probably not best to put them in the same garden since one of them will likely die.

Many plants are chosen for their beautiful colors and the way that they look in certain seasons. Color is certainly a very important consideration when it comes to combining plants. Before you start choosing plants, think about your yard and the colors already in it. Do you want to create a "WOW" effect with bright colors that will be accents against your green foliage? Do you prefer colors that will combine to provide a harmonious effect? All color theory is based on the color wheel. To really get an idea of what you can expect from certain colors, you should note their placement on the wheel.

Colors that are opposite to each other on the color wheel are called complementary colors. These include examples such as red and green, purple and yellow, and blue and orange. Flowers that have complementary colors will play up each other's beauty and seem brighter and more vibrant when placed beside each other. Plant a bed with one complementary-colored flower (for example, a bed of violets) and then accent it with flowers of the opposite color (such as a small patch of orange daylilies) in the center. This will create an eye-catching result.

Colors that are beside each other on the color wheel are called adjacent colors. Examples of these include blue and purple, orange and red, and yellow and green. When adjacent-colored plants are placed together in a flowerbed, it creates a harmonious effect since both colors are cousins to each other and have similar hues. If you want to punch up your flowerbeds, create a contrasting effect by planting flowers in three colors that are at equal distance from each other on the color wheel (for example, green, orange and purple). You can plant up to five contrasting colors before the eye will get distracted, but it's a good idea to work around one dominant color and create a garden theme.


A plant's texture is nearly as important as its color - and helps to provide just as much variety. Plant textures don't just provide an interesting view in your garden; they also create a textile stimulus for visitors, especially children. Soft and fuzzy leaves invite touch and spiky and thorny plants provide an "exclamation point" effect that can draw eyes to an otherwise nondescript garden. Texture is also important when creating a theme in your garden design - rough-looking plants can add to a natural-looking garden, whereas smooth-leaved plants will add a more elegant look.