Sprucing a home’s curb appeal always begins with a “simple” landscaping project. But before getting into the physical aspects of landscaping, one must first start with the design.
There are 9 landscaping basics, i.e., the elements and principles, to design a home’s yard:
- Visual Weight
Confused yet? Don’t worry, that’s the formal way of looking at the design process. But I will be mentioning them occasionally in the following steps below where applicable to get you started on your landscape designing journey. Keep in mind, as you’re designing, you’ll have to maintain your yard (or have it maintained) too.
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1. Draw/Print Out an Outline of your Home including Fixed Features
For drawing out your home outline, you will need to prepare the following items:
- A measuring tape
- A pen/pencil
- A piece of paper
Here’s how you can get started:
- Look up your home address on Google Maps and zoom in to your property. Make sure to set it under the satellite images option and print out at least 2-3 copies.
- For features that don’t show up on the map, draw it on the printout.
- Now go outside and measure the relative surrounding size of your house, the property size, and the features (plants or structures) and mark it down on the printout.
2. Decide on your Central Theme for the Landscape
After going around your yard, you may have picked up on a recurring theme already set in your landscape. Or perhaps you have a specific theme in mind to add. Take care during this step because you may end up clashing the aesthetic of your landscape if you don’t take the current landscaping into account, which unfortunately could end up making it look kinda tacky.
This is where Form comes in, the 3-D shape of what your landscape will convey. Let’s start simple:
- Look at the shapes in your landscape. Does it have circles, squares, irregular polygons? Whichever is the majority, stick to that theme (unless you want to put in the work to change it).
- Look at the existing plant forms. Do they have specific functions like providing shade, planted there for decor only, or is it part of your food garden? Whichever their role is, that’s your theme for your chosen plants.
- Look at the pathways and borders, if there are any. Do the paths have natural forms like meandering river lines or strictly straight like a road? Are the paths fragmented with flagstones and interspersing grass or completely cemented over the soil with tiles? Are the borders between plants and pathways edged with rocks or nonexistent? The idea here is to choose between a theme where earth and man-made are strictly separated or harmonized.
These are a few questions to ask yourself to know what existing theme is already in your landscape and work off that. Or, if you’d rather start from scratch with a new theme, remember that you’ll need to adjust or remove your existing features to fit the said theme.
3. Outline Where you Want to Add New Features in the Landscape
Grab some tracing papers, lay them on top of the printout of your yard, get them lined up on a backlit drawing board (Amazon link), and start adding features you want to install in your landscape. Now there are 5 things you need to keep in mind while you’re doing this, namely: Unity, Balance, Scale, Repetition, and Texture.
You know what your central theme is now. So, let’s say you want something circular, with natural forms and plants that are functional. Whether man-made structures or plants, every feature will contribute to forming your theme as your connecting dots. This is Unity. Here’s a few examples of those features with the specified theme above:
- Berry shrubs regularly pruned into a circular shape lining the pathway every few meters.
- Curving paths to mimic a lazy river with interspersed river rocks on the ground.
- A large tree with a bench underneath it at the end of the pathway.
Then we come to ‘Balance’, ‘Scale’, ‘Texture’ and ‘Repetition’. So for these 4 principles decide on the following:
- On ‘Balance’, do you want a symmetrical or asymmetrical approach to your landscape? If you’re going for a natural theme, asymmetrical would be the way to go and vice versa.
- On ‘Scale’, you’ll have to decide the relative size of your structures and plants. With plants, it’s advisable to know their mature sizes, so you’ll know whether they’ll overtake any other structures in the landscape. With structures, you want to make sure it is average-sized enough for other people to use, like a bench or hammock.
- On ‘Texture’, coarse textures like frizzy palm trees or bristling berry shrubs look ‘busy’ and full of life. This is best used when creating an enclosed space surrounding a bench to make the setting more intimate. Fine textures like smooth stones on pathways give the illusion of larger space and distance. You can also place sprawling vines laid on arches to create an illusion of depth, making the space underneath seem bigger.
- On ‘Repetition’, you can add repeating elements in your design, for instance, the same flowers planted in multiple places.
4. Add in your Pathways Around the Landscape
With your landscape features set in their respective places, it’s time to add your pathways that will direct anyone towards these structures. Yes, sometimes you’ll get those who prefer wandering off the path, nothing we can do about those rule-breakers, but for most, pathways are a delight for those who get lost so easily.
This is where ‘Line’ and ‘Repetition’ (again) come in.
When creating pathways, sketch out where you want to guide people in your yard to appreciate the landscape. When it comes to the details, you need to decide the following:
- Do you want straight lines to create a formal, strict structure?
- Do you want curved lines to invoke an informal, comfortable atmosphere for a slow pace?
For ‘Repetition’, this refers to the sequences made with a repeating element. If you’re a fan of patterns, decide what to repeat and where the repetition should be. Take note that too much repetition can get boring real fast. Spice it up with a change here and there! For example, pathways with alternating patterns in their design make for an interesting component to both visual and texture. Think smooth flagstone pavers with a gravel sequence in the middle, then back to flagstone.
5. Finalize Any Little Details like Color and Visual Weight
Last but not least, you want to decide on the color schemes and adjust any visual weight (i.e. the overall look of the design with the elements’ sizes taken into account) on your landscape. You can get all crazy with the color theory if you’d like to or use something like Pantone to put together a color scheme, but these two tips will generally help beginners pick the colors they want if they haven’t already:
- Pick warm colors to evoke strong emotions and make an object appear close in the distance; bold colors are like a burst of character in any setting.
- Choose cool colors for a more calming flow of emotions; objects tend to feel farther when this is the case, like a tranquil detachment to reality.
For whichever colors you choose, make sure they are complementary and don’t clash severely. You don’t exactly want a hot pink structure and cool blue peonies in your landscape competing for “Who is the biggest eyesore in my yard today?”.
For ‘Visual Weight’, this is where the earlier mentioned ‘Scale’ comes into play. Reviewing your landscape design, it will be easier for you to see whether you have the right balance of high and low features in the landscape. You want your eyes to be naturally drawn to what is striking while the rest blends in the background. So take your time here and account for what you want to be the main focus every step of the way. Mix it up from high features such as fountains or a dwarf tree to low features like colorful groundcovers.
Tedious as it may seem to design a landscape using these basics, it does help to establish a foundation for what you want to achieve in your yard. With some help and a little research, you can develop a great showcase-worthy yard and garden from your very own mind.