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How to Design Gardens


Designing a Landscape Garden
Any beautifully designed landscape may be attractive to view, but if it doesn't accommodate the needs of the people who use the property, the landscape design is not practical. Before making a plan for your space, discuss with the members of your household the needs and plans for use of the landscape.

Create a functional sketch when designing a landscape garden.

With a sketch pad, carefully plot the relationships between
indoor and outdoor space in a landscape design picture.

Make a list of desired functions before making the actual plan. The following functions are some that you may want to consider: sitting/dining area, clothesline, barbecue, dog pen, wind protection, vegetable garden, compost, lawn recreation, children's play area, and firewood storage.

Draw a simple sketch showing the general location of the elements needed in relation to the house and one another. For instance, if an outdoor eating area is needed, sketch it near the kitchen, and firewood storage should be convenient to the door nearest the fireplace. The relationship diagram will help you in the beginning steps of putting a plan together. In addition, decide the level of maintenance you are willing to meet. Your plan should reflect the amount of maintenance time you're interested in spending in the yard and garden.

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 create a transition between the house and 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 the house in the summer while allowing sunlight in during the winter. Be sure to screen service areas -- trash cans, laundry lines, and the like -- from the public area.

You'll want to develop other sections of your landscape for outdoor living. You may decide to incorporate a service area -- toolshed, doghouse, clothesline, potting area. It should be convenient to the house yet tucked away from public view and private entertaining. If children will be using the landscape, plan for a children's play area: A swing set and sand box may be in your plans. You'll want this area set aside but in full view for easy supervision. Separate the children's area from the eating and entertaining area with a low border, and you'll get a feeling of separate outdoor rooms.

A private entertaining and eating area is among the most common space needs 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 or terrace with adjacent lawn for occasional spillover works well. Privacy from neighbors as well as shade can be achieved through the proper selection and placement of screening materials and a canopy of trees.

Create a Functional Sketch

When you plan for outdoor activities and traffic patterns, related functions should be grouped together. For example, parking and entrance to the house go together. With a sketch pad, carefully plot the relationship between the indoor space -- windows and doors -- with the outdoor space -- public, private, and service. From the list of functional areas you need, designate space to accommodate each function in your landscape design picture.

Traffic Flow Design

The purpose of paths, walks, and driveways is to direct and safely move traffic from place to place. The heavier the traffic, the sturdier, wider, and more permanent the path should be. Make entrance walks comfortable enough for at least two people to walk abreast (a minimum of four feet, five is better). Service and rear-entry paths should be three to four feet wide. Garden paths should be designed so visitors feel comfortable on a stroll through the garden. Stepping-stone or mulch-covered paths allow easy access to corners of the garden during maintenance. All paths should be flush with the ground for safety. Make sure steps and grade changes are stable, safe, and well-lighted.

Mapping Things Out

A simple assessment of your landscape needs is your first step in planning your property. Make a list of the features you want to incorporate into your design. Then you can begin to find the room for it all and start putting the elements in place.
  • Draw a map of your property and decide where the new beds and plantings will go before you start buying and planting. The map needs to be to scale -- an exact replica of your property in miniature. Many landscape designers use a scale in which 1/4-inch on the plan equals one foot in your yard. This scale usually provides enough room to show considerable detail but is likely to require the use of oversized paper so everything will fit on one sheet for a complete landscape design picture.

    When designing a landscape garden, get inspiration from public gardens.

    Get inspiration from public gardens.

    Measure the yard using a measuring tape (50-foot lengths work well), and sketch the perimeter on graph paper. Draw in existing trees, shrubs, fences, and other features you intend to keep, using an overhead view. Make some copies so you can experiment with designs. Then pencil in possible bed outlines and imagine how they will look. Once you've decided on the location of the beds, pencil in the plants you want to add (at the proper spacing) and get an accurate count of how many plants you'll need before you start shelling out any money.

  • Plan the shape of the lawn, which is usually the biggest feature in a yard. The lawn's shape is more important than the shape of the beds. If it's designed with straight or gradually curving lines, the lawn can make a pretty picture and remain easy to mow. Avoid sharp turns, wiggly edges, and jagged corners, which are irritating to the eye and extra work to mow.

  • Take photos and photocopy them. You can shoot the entire front yard or backyard, the plantings around the house's foundation, or individual gardens. Enlarge them on a color copier, if one is available. Then you can sketch in prospective new plants and get an landscape design ideas of how they will look. Winter is a great time to do this. Although the yard may be dormant, you won't forget how it usually looks.

  • Borrow ideas from neighbors' gardens. There is no better way to learn what grows well in your area. You can also get great garden landscape design ideas from other people. Remember, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

  • Visit public gardens and nurseries with display beds for inspiration. These professionally designed gardens may have the newest plants and creative ideas for combining them. Look for gardens about the same size as your yard so you can apply what you learn directly.
This is just the beginning of landscape design. Click to the next section for more inspiring landscape design ideas.

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