As you develop your ideas, try working with actual images of your yard. Take photos and photocopy them. You can shoot the entire front or backyard, the plantings around the house's foundation, or individual gardens. Enlarge the photos, then sketch in prospective new plants to get an idea of how they will look. A great time to do this is in winter. Although the yard may be dormant, you won't forget how it looks in other seasons.
If your house is visible from a road, you have a public view area. Think of your house, or front door, as the focal point of a picture. You'll want to frame the view, to draw attention to your house. Typically, foundation plantings are set at the base of the house to frame the house and connect it to the landscape. Foundation plantings can be a simple mix of small evergreens and flowering shrubs, ornamental trees, ground covers, and herbaceous plants. Consider shade when choosing trees; deciduous trees will shade your home in the summer while allowing sunlight in during the winter. Be sure to screen service areas -- trash cans, laundry lines, and the like -- from public view with shrubs or fencing.
You'll want to develop other sections of your landscape for outdoor living. You may decide to incorporate a service area -- a toolshed or clothesline. It should be convenient to the house yet tucked away from private entertaining and away from public view. Landscape designs might include work areas; places for composting, plant propagation, or vegetable gardening; even areas for storing trash cans and other less-than-decorative necessities. On the other hand, if you have a great view of a lake or a farm, don't cover it up with too many fences and shrubs. Frame your view with careful placement of plantings off to the sides.
If children will be using your landscape, a swing set or sandbox may be in your plans. There are attractive designs that look natural and fit into the landscape nicely. You'll want this area set aside from heavy traffic yet still in full view for easy supervision. Separate the dining and entertaining area from the children's area with a dwarf shrub border. It will seem more private but will still offer a view of the kids at play. One great idea for a children's sandbox is to make it look like a raised bed, in sight of the outdoor dining area. Instead of mulch and plants, fill it with sand and kids.
A private entertaining and dining area is among the most common functions of a well-planned landscape. Design it as you would a comfortable room in your house. The size of the area should be determined by the number of people who will be accommodated. A patio with an adjacent lawn for occasional spillover works well. Shade, as well as privacy, can be achieved through proper selection and placement of screening materials and a canopy of trees. All the furnishings and materials should complement the style of the house, whether it is modern or traditional.
The same goes for shapes. Go to the next page to read about why the shapes of your beds and lawn are important to the overall result of your garden design.