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Designing A Landscape

A typical home landscape consists of too much grass, too few broadleafed plants and too many unexploited possibilities. It could have been a place where hummingbirds and butterflies abound. It could have displayed an almost year-round progression of blooms. It could also have been an individualistic interpretation of a forest, meadow or rocky slope. But alas, it more closely resembles a hedge of overgrown shrubs plastered against the house, surrounded by a monotonous expanse of lawn.

So how do you go from the typical green blob next to green blob next to another green blob landscape? Observe, explore and learn. Take at least a year to know your site.  Begin by understanding the following: 
1 Exposure, whether to sun or wind, makes a huge difference.  2 Drainage is also an important consideration. Learn the habitat requirements of the particular plants to be incorporated into the landscape. And, to complete the three-dimensional lanscape puzzle correctly, be aware of the various microhabitats within a landscape. 

Good landscaping is both an art and a science. A beautiful design with inappropriate plants is worse than a poor design with appropriate plants. There is no one correct style of landscaping. Select the style that most appeals to you. Do a bit of research and a great deal of planning. The steps below are an outline of the process of designing an extraordinary landscape.


1.  Prepare a site plan, drawn to scale, (usually one inch equals eight feet) showing the house, driveway, sidewalks, fences, utilities and existing vegetation which will be preserved. Add also the locations of underground and aerial utilities. Draw a circle around each existing or proposed tree delineating its canopy spread in twenty years. Determine the exact property boundaries, location of easements and utilities (including overhead wires and buried pipes and conduits). Note views that should be preserved and those which need to be blocked.

2.  Determine the nature, depth and quality of the soil. Observe drainage patterns and record locations which are poorly drained or very well-drained. To avoid excessive and expensive soil modification, select appropriate plants for your site and its microhabitats.

3.  Survey your neighborhood and list those plants which are thriving and those which are not. Ask your neighbors about the local herbivores (from molluscs, to insects to mammals). Ask them also about the peculiarities of your microclimate (is it a frost pocket, wind tunnel, etc.?).

4.  List your landscape requirements and priorities: children's play area, vegetable garden, dog run, privacy screen, orchard, sprinkler system, rose garden, swimming pool, west sun protection, water garden, storage space, croquet court, compost pile, etc.).

5.  Establish a five-year-budget for both time and money.


6.  Make notes and take photographs of landscapes you like. Develop a list of plants you wish to include in your design, and note their mature height and spread, as well as the time and color of their blooms.

7.  Start drawing or hire a professional to draw the design.

8.  Place compatible plants together. All the plants in one bed or sprinkler system zone should have similar water needs.

9.  Consider the maintenance consequences of your design decisions. If figured on a 20 year basis, installing the plants costs about 5% and their maintenance 95%.

10.  Choose the right plant for the right site.  Don't plant a shrub capable of growing 20' high under a 3' window. Do not place a shade-loving plant in full sun.  Avoid placing a tall plant in front of a dwarf one.


The botanical images on this site were produced by The Photon Hunt.

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Copyright at Common Law by Manuel Flores