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Landscape Design Basics

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For some gardeners, the middle of winter can be a depressing time. Freezing temperatures, mounds of snow and a barren landscape can become disheartening to those who enjoy being out in nature or working in the yard under a warm sun. In fact, recent studies have determined that the wintertime blues are real. Officially recognized as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, doctors say the lack of sunlight along with increased time indoors can negatively impact our mood and even our health. To combat SAD, it’s important to bring as much light into the home as possible and keep your mind focused on positive thoughts. One great wintertime garden activity you can do to prevent the blues is to design, or redesign, your landscape. This involves creating the plans and blueprints which you will use to construct your landscape come spring.



You don’t have to be a landscape architect, artist or plant scientist to achieve a professional looking landscape. Any homeowner can create a beautiful, functional space as long as they understand some basic design principles. But before you begin deciding where you're going to place your plants, it’s important to figure out the needs and function of your yard. First, grab a sketch pad and draw the outline of your home in the middle of the paper, then draw the property lines around the house. Include the approximate locations of major trees and hardscape. Don’t worry about drawing anything to scale yet. Next, determine what you want each area of your yard to achieve and write it down on the sketch. Do you need an area to entertain guests, park a boat or for children to play? Where are the highly visible areas? Do you need a section of your backyard for a vegetable garden, pet area or compost pile? Once you have decided how each area of the yard will be used, you can move on to the next step.



Now place a piece of tracing paper (vellum works great) over the sketch and trace the house and property lines. This time however, you’ll need to decide how you’d like people to move about your landscape from one place to another. Imagine each area of your yard as a room, and the path from one area to the other as a hallway. Draw arrows on the sketch to represent movement around your landscape. Eventually, these arrows will show you where you need to install sidewalks, paving stones or lawn. While people naturally want to get from point A to point B in the straightest path possible, creating a curved path will give the landscape a more casual feel that will encourage people to stroll through your garden. Remember sidewalks should be wide enough that two people can walk comfortably side by side.


Plan Lawn Area First

Once you have the function of your yard planned out, you can begin to form the design from your previous sketches. Start a new sketch, this time to scale. One of the most common ways to do this is to draw a replica of your yard in which ¼- inch on the sketch is equal to one foot in your landscape. After you have drawn your house and property lines to scale, begin your design by establishing the shape and size of your lawn. Remember you’ll be mowing it regularly. Straight or slightly curved edges of the lawn will make maintenance a lot easier than sharp, tight angles. Refer to your function sketches to determine which areas will be grass, garden beds or hardscape. Once you have your lawn planned out, you can begin designing the gardens.


Plant Selection

There is no right or wrong way to design your gardens. Much of your design will be influenced by personal preference, climate, plant availability and cost. Professional landscape designers will spend a considerable amount of time with plant placement, applying the elements of design such as balance, harmony, color, shape, texture and unity. If your design skills are lacking, find inspiration from other gardeners. Look in gardening magazines, websites, or books to find a style you like. Visit a garden and take pictures. Mimic the plant selection and layout of these gardens. After you’ve selected the plants, sketch them into your plan. Don’t worry about getting detailed with your sketch. Simple circles representing plants work fine; just remember what plants the circles represent.

A completed landscape plan will provide direction as you begin installing your landscape. It saves time and guesswork, maximizing visual appeal and functionality. So if you’re planning on doing some landscaping this spring or redesigning a part of your yard, beat the winter blues by creating a landscape plan.

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