Design Basics

1. How to get started: Assess your site and begin conceptional visioning
2. Building your base map:  Layout and Perspective
3. Conceptual Plant Shapes: Ideal Height and Width
4. Design with Greens - Choosing Plants for All Seasons
5. Color Palette - Flowers and Foliage
6. Finalize, Order, and Install

 1. How to get started: Assess your site and start conceptional visioning

    Beginning to envision your new landscape can be a challenge. Following a few easy steps can position you to understand what you are hoping to achieve and guide you through the design process to truly make your garden your own.
    To help explain the process I will be doing a case study on developing a concept for my new home. Currently I have the builders special and am looking to update and improve the aesthetics for my front beds.
    The first step to any landscape project is to assess your site. Sun and watering needs are a great place to start. This property runs North-West (Back) to South-East (Front). The front beds receive mostly sun all day with a small amount of shade at the end of the afternoon. Since it receives more than 6 hours of sun it will be in the full sun zone. As far as watering there are no issues with standing water and has some planting soil. The watering would be in the normal range. The bed has drip irrigation installed so when planting I will need to watch and avoid the irrigation hoses.

Front Beds - Facing South-East

    After Assessing the conditions on site, begin to look at inspiration online and around you.  For these beds I am looking for year round interest with some contrast in foliage and textures. With those goals in mind and equipped with reference photos from the web and any photos I take during my day we will begin to set up our basemaps. We work with overhead plans and perspective sketches.

2. Building your base map: Overhead Layout and Perspective Sketch

    The different types of basemaps are used for different types of projects. Typically the perspective sketch is the quickest and easiest to accomplish for smaller designs. The more complicated and larger the design the better choice an overhead layout will be. Often, and for our case study we will be developing both types and using the plans together to develop a complete vision.
    For the perspective sketch I can use the photo above that is a straight on photo of the area. Some larger projects will require multiple photos. The key is to take the photo at a distance where you can easily sketch the plants onto the photo while also being able to see as much as possible of the bed.
    For the overhead layout we will be taking some measurements and drawing them on graph paper. The attached document has the design checklist and 1/8"=1' grid paper on the reverse to aid in developing the map. If the areas you are working on is smaller you can adjust your scale to make each 1/8" grid square six inches instead of 1'. This would result in a 1/4"=1' drawing. As was done in the example.

3. Conceptual Plant Shapes: Ideal Height and Width

    Once we have the maps and photos together we can begin the conceptual phase of the design process. Start with you perspective sketch. Sketch out the ideal forms (height, width, general shape) of the plants you are looking for.  This can be accomplished digitally (this example is sketched on iPad) or you can print the photo and draw with sharpies. For this concept I have 6 planting areas.

    1. Larger pyramidal evergreen shrub/tree
    2. Back row medium evergreen shrub
    3. Larger ornamental entry shrub (there is also another one directly across the walkway)
    4. Lower shrub or perennial
    5. Lower shrub or perennial
    6. Seasonal color


    Take this perspective sketch and the overhead layout we have created in the previous section. Draw circles or plant symbols on the overhead plan to see how the plants line up with the space you have to work within.  I like to number my conceptual plants on both the perspective sketch and the overhead map. This helps me when deciding which plant to choose to include into the design. You can work up to your desired precision but typically for general planting plans rounding off to the nearest 6" is not a problem.

4. Design with Greens - Choosing Plants for All Seasons

    From here we have a good idea of how the beds will look as far as ideal height and width.  Begin filling in the info that you know you are looking for on the landscape design checklist. Designing during this phase pay close attention to the foliage/Leaf color. Making sure you have different tones of greens will guarantee that you don't have a flat landscape. Choosing too many plants that have the same green color will make it hard to read and will visually blend the tiers in the landscape. Even planting concepts that use a lot of the same type of plants (boxwoods for example) will use other shrubs to separate and visually divide the greens where needed. Looking at my home and layout I can determine that:

 Plant #1 - should be taller and not get too wide. I am looking for something that is more conical in shape and easily trimmed. A dark evergreen tree like a holly would be my ideal choice.
Plant #2 - I am looking for a back row foundation shrub. Having the windows to my office directly behind them I do not want them to get too high on the windows so am looking for something less the 3’-4’ tall. Evergreen with a medium to dark green foliage. Having flowers would be great but not necessary.
Plant #3 - This shrub will be the pillars of the entrance so I am hoping to find something a little taller than Shrub #2 that is easy to keep trimmed and clean looking. I don't want something that is going to get too wide and cover the walkway.
Plant #4 - This begins the plantings that are in the front tier of my landscape. All of these plants will need to be smaller than the plants directly behind them so that from the front you can see both rows. I am looking for something low growing that will contrast with the dark green of plant #1.
Plant #5 - Here in the front middle of the bed I would like to go with a small shrub that has good flower color. It could be evergreen and keep its leaves through winter but being deciduous and losing its leaves in winter is fine too.
Plant #6 - Seasonal Color - Looking to tie into the rest of the design and get a color to compliment the other shrubs and their flower color.

Example of design worksheet for conceptual plantings

After filling out the characteristics of what your ideal landscape would look like begin to explore the site and look for plants that meet the criteria or ones that really spark your interest. This exercise and research can be done at any time during the process but is most easily accomplished once you have decided on a general direction.  At this point it is common to do multiple iterations and revisions to explore your options.

5. Color Palette - Flowers and Foliage

    After doing some research and getting an idea of which plants you will be choosing. Begin thinking about the shrub, perennial, and seasonal flower colors. There are many color combinations that work well together such as pastels, whites with blues, pinks and purples. We will be discussing color palettes in more detail in the future but in a general sense make sure you like which colors you are choosing and that the colors make sense where they are located. An example of this would be to not place a yellow flowering perennial in front of a shrub with very light green leaves. There are also plants that have purple, red, or variegated leaves which can affect a color palette significantly.
    In my own example for foliage I am leaning toward a darker green overall feel with some lighter plants to contrast with the dark green in the back row. With my flower colors I am looking for some mid/dark pink and possibly some white or blue.

6. Finalize, Order, and Install
    After spending some time researching and experimenting with different plants we should be able to update our design worksheet with the actual plants we will be using.  For this project we have:
Plant #1 - Emerald Colonnade Holly - This holly is pretty new to me but I like how compact it looks and it is a little smaller than Nellie R. Stevens Holly.
Plant #2 - Encore Azalea 'Autumn Embers' - Evergreen medium shrub. Flowers watermelon red each season for a couple weeks. It doesn’t like direct afternoon sun but I am hoping my house will give it some shade. Its my favorite shrub so I am giving it a chance.
Plant #3 - Pyramid Boxwood - Generally matching the shape of the larger holly. Evergreen conical - topiary so will need to be trimmed to maintain its shape.
Plant #4 - Sweet Flag 'Ogon' - Light green grass - using it as a ground cover around the large holly - its color will really stand out.
Plant #5 = Dwarf Butterfly Bush - Small deciduous shrub - only 24”-30” height - Choosing the white flowers over the purple
Plant #6 - Seasonal Color - Currently it’s winter so would go white and blue pansies - Spring - mixed pentas. Most likely mixing it up each seasonal change. 

Once the Plants Are in Order

Once we have finalized our planting plan. We will determine how much soil and mulch we will need.

To be continued...