Having a solid plan is critical to having a good landscape design. If you’re working on a small project, graph and tracing paper might be enough. But for a larger landscape design, you’ll most likely need something more. Professional landscape designers start with a property survey and a topographical map. And from there, they will come up with a series of sketches, preliminary elevations, and some final renderings as your vision slowly comes to life.
A good residential landscape plan must work both functionally and aesthetically, but choosing the kind of plants you want is the last step of the process. You will first have to do the following:
- Understand the property’s drainage system, soils, and ecology.
- Locating all of the landscape’s existing elements.
- Putting together a “wish list” of useful areas and locating them properly.
- Combining these elements into a successful format.
For help with all of these structural features, be sure to speak to a qualified landscape architect.
Steps for Developing a Landscape Plan
The six steps for coming up with a good landscape plan include:
- Develop a base plan — Also called a “plot plan,” this will show the layout of a property while accurately locating the permanent elements on the surrounding land. In urban areas and developments, lots will have to be evaluated with survey and construction tools that show the property’s edges, setback and rights of way, building and pavement locations, as well any other permanent site elements.
- Perform a site inventory and analysis — Take a clean sheet of tracing paper and tape it over your base plan. This document should be labeled “site inventory and analysis,” which is a list of all the site elements and environmental factors that weren’t listed on the base plan. A site analysis is an evaluation or judgment of all the site elements.
- Evaluate your specific needs — Once you have a base plan and a better understanding of the site, you’re ready to list all of your proposed use areas. This should include your needs and wants. Do you use certain areas (such as an open lawn) for pets? You may want a space for outdoor cooking, sunbathing, lounging or reading. What types of outdoor entertaining do you need, and how big do these areas need to be? You may require other recreational areas for you and your family.
- Develop outdoor use areas — It’s easier to develop outdoor use areas separately before you use construction tools to put them together into an overall plan. Imagine yourself in that space as you develop your ideas, and you could draw inspiration from garden magazines or books that have other successful spaces. To get a rough idea of the space’s size, take a garden hose and roughly trace the outline of the area. Move the hose around so you can adjust the size of the space until you have it at the right scale and form. It’s also best to select building material types and forms that will fit with the character of your home and its surrounding area.
- Develop a planting plan — Come up with a general list of all the plants that will work with each of the site’s unique conditions. And depending on your landscape, organize your list according to various conditions. From there, you can combine them in a way that complements the space and each other. Planting plans will typically start with large shade trees. From there, you can move to understory trees, large shrubs, and then to smaller plants.
- Put it all together — Take another sheet of paper and label it “preliminary plan.” Use it to put together your ideal vision of each space to scale, and continue to refine it until each issue has been completely resolved.
- Establish your priorities — After you have put it all together, make a list of all your priorities before you implement your design plan. Decide which areas need to be developed first, and get them done one at a time according to your budget and schedule.
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