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Landscape Design Series: Starting at the End

Landscape Design Introduction

My favorite time of year has arrived-autumn. With the cooler air comes life. Our communities are filled with a vibrant spirit. But as our landscapes begin their annual slumber, it gives us the opportunity to start planning for next year’s landscape design.

Designing and planning a new landscape or updating parts of your landscape can be intimidating. As we begin to think about the forms and elements of landscape design, plant choice, or landscape character, you easily get overwhelmed. When I first began my undergraduate landscape architecture program, I wished the Landscape Architecture 101 manual had “Don’t Panic” inscribed in large, friendly letters on its cover.

The following blog series will introduce tips for planning or designing your landscape. Coupled with patience, coffee, trial-and-error, and maybe more coffee, you will be prepared to install parts of your landscape this spring. Who knows, you might be the next Fredrick Law Olmsted or Piet Oudolf.

Starting at the End

When you first start thinking about designing your landscape, start at the end. What would you like your landscape to become? Who will the users of the space be and how will they use the space? As an example, the needs of a family with small children might be different from a retired couple or someone who lives alone. Our varying personalities, interests, backgrounds, and needs create such a unique foundation for landscape function and aesthetics.

Landscapes have the ability to be formal or informal. Formal landscapes are typically symmetrical and contain straight lines. Informal landscapes create a natural appeal by being asymmetrical and using curved lines. Go exploring to discover fun landscapes that you would like to replicate. Our neighborhoods, gardens, books, magazines, or online searches are great resources to get inspiration. Look for plants, landscape designs, or other elements while you exploring that you really like or find creatively inspiring.

Organizing your Landscape

Think of the landscape as an extension of your home to create an inviting place for guests to gather, for us to unplug, or to recreate. If you have space in your yard, create multiple rooms. Based on the uses you would like to see in your landscape, could you create different rooms to accommodate those uses?

Use of trees, shrubs, hardscapes, or other landscape elements help create and organize three-dimensional spaces in our landscapes. For example, use bricks or pavers to define an outdoor dining area or plant material to define a small, quiet retreat in the back of your landscape.

How do your landscape uses relate to one another? When I start a design, I always consider the location of different items or areas in the landscape. Majority of landscapes have an area for storing lawn equipment, tools, trashcans, or even random car parts-I call this the “utilitarian area.” If I created a very formal outdoor entertaining space for guests, I would not a utilitarian area detract from the landscape’s value. Smelly trash next to an intimate gathering space is not very appealing.

Landscape design is not limited to aesthetics but includes landscape management. How much and what type of maintenance will your newly designed landscape require? The Florida-Friendly Landscaping program is a nine-principle program from the University of Florida that promotes sustainable landscape practices, which can reduce landscape management costs and negative environmental impacts.

Landscape design is a combination of art and science. Our preferences determine how we combine plant material to define spaces in an artful manner in our landscape. Every design will be different and comes with its own successes and failures. So be prepared to get frustrated, be prepared to get inspired, and be prepared to try something new. Most of all- Don’t Panic.

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