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Landscape design

Landscape design using a bubble graph
Landscape design using a bubble graph.

The first step in the landscape design phase would be to get your platmap. This can be quite intimidating but it can easily be overcome. The platmap will be used in the design of your landscape garden. From this platmap you will be able to see the "actual" shape of your plot, and you will also be able to locate all the utilities and services as well as the property lines. (Tip: Get a site survey from either your builder or the local municipal records office.)

Many landscape architects and almost every landscape designer will stress the importance of the correct information on the base landscape plans. So, when you do have the platmap in your hands, it is important to make absolutely sure that the house is where it's supposed to be as indicated on the plan. Check the distance from the house to the street. And make sure that the north arrow is pointing north and all other measurements are correct. Also make sure that the utilities and services are accurately represented on the plan; you don't want to be digging through cables and pipes. If the information on your platmaps are in order, then you already have base landscape plans to work with. Keep them handy for accuracy and future reference.

But what if the platmap is not available? Do not fret; you can also do your front yard landscape and backyard landscape design on graph paper. (Tip: Purchase a couple of sheets of graph paper, just in case.) You would need to measure your front yard, your backyard, your house and your utilities and services; and then represent them as accurately as possible on your graph paper. If you need to make your own platmap then proceed as follows:

  • Do a check of the grid on the graph paper to ensure that you will be able to use a scale that will accommodate your entire landscape on one single sheet of paper. It will be necessary to take a measurement of your entire lot perimeter to know this.
  • Start in the front or back yard. (For simplicity reasons, let’s say we start at the front.)
  • Measure from the front corners of the house to the front property lines.
  • Measure from the front corners of the house to the side property lines.
  • Mark out the measurements on the graph paper. (By now you should have the exact location of your house on the plot.)
  • From the starting corner, measure the exterior walls and all angles of the house and draw it onto the graph paper.
  • Now measure from the back of the house to the back property lines and make a note of existing elements such as driveways, sidewalks, decks, swimming pools, etc.
  • If there are mature trees and shrubs, or even big rocks that you want to keep then you should also measure and include them on the landscaping planning template as well.

VOILA – you will have your base landscape design to work with! (Tip: Before you do anything else make a couple of photocopies of your base landscape plans.) Right, now you can start with your landcape design.

I recommend that when working with the platmap one can continue further by making use of a Bubble Graph. A Bubble Graph is simple and can be designed using Microsoft Paint or simply pencil and paper. This graph is a great way to generate ideas for your landscape or garden design. Do not for one minute underestimate the simplicity of this approach as though it might seem simple and sketchy, it allows one to "think out loud".

Each bubble should represent a specific part of your garden landscape design. Also, make the bubbles or blocks different colors to show their different characteristics (Tip: Make use of blue to indicate water features such as garden ponds, green for grass, etc.)

It's important to keep your graph as close to the actual scale of your garden as possible. This will make calculation of materials such as pavers and landscape edging more accurate. It's also no train smash to overlap areas as needed for realistic design. (This is akin to quantity surveying in the built environment).

Now would be the appropriate time to consider the themes and garden styles that you wish to implement in your own garden. The general form of your landscape and the style of your house will definitely influence your choice.

The Landscape Design in Stages:

Stage 1: You now need to make a simple rough sketch of the various activity areas using bubbles to identify each area. At this stage the exact size and shape of each activity area is not so crucial. Start off with using one of your platmap copies, or alternatively place a fresh sheet of tracing paper over your platmap. (Tip: Make use of a soft lead pencil that allows for easy erasing as this will facilitate you considering and trying a lot of different ideas.)

Stage 2: Now you should start drawing in the different elements of your landscape design. However do keep in mind the information that you gathered from your site analysis and mobility and flow through your yard or garden. It is always helpful to physically take a walk through your garden and plot out the natural path as this will indicate where you need to place paths or walk ways on your landscape plans.

Solar garden lights
Landscape lighting using solar garden lights

Stage 3: Now you can be artistic an add a sense of motion and smooth gracious flows to your landscape in making your paths curvy and even planning your landscape edging of your paths to be used as borders for the flower beds or even separating the different rooms or themes in your garden.

By now you already have an idea of the garden theme and styles that you want to incorporate into your design. You may or may not have thought about the plants that you want to use at this stage. Not to worry since now it is the actual placement, size and spacing of the plants that takes precedence over the actual type of plant.

Stage 4: Now would also be the ideal time to decide on whether to incorporate changing any slopes or grades to accommodate drainage, whether to add retaining walls, terracing or even stairs. Now you should have all your necessities in place, making it time for the finer details to be added.

Stage 5: You should now define, separate, create the rooms as well as create your themes for your landscape. Elements like focal points, water features, garden statues, décor gazebos, arbors, decks, bridges, etc. should all receive attention now. Elements like garden statues, garden gnomes, gazebos etc. all will afford you the opportunity to create entire rooms/themes and separations in your garden.

Stage 6: This stage represents the "going back to make adjustments" phase to make everything fit together. By now you should be able to visualize and even get a feel for what the end product will be. You have some basic landscape plans. What will be required now is –

Stage 7: A bit of clean up and putting it into scale. Officially you will now have your landscape blueprint.

Stage 8: Trace your final landscape design to the scale that you have chosen on a clean sheet or on one of the platmap copies that you made right at the start. Indicate all the base plan elements such as property lines, house, walk ways, landscape edging, existing structures, decking and plants that should be retained. Add in all new areas and materials as well as structures and label them accordingly.

Stage 9: Now it is time to choose the plants that will fit into your landscape. Place the plants in your landscape design and label them for reference. VOILA! You have your landscape design done.

But hold on – it doesn't end there! The last stage must still be done and ironically though this is the last stage it is done in your garden as the first project. You need to layout your irrigation and sprinkler system on your landscape design.

Stage 10: Make a copy of your stage 9 design and then proceed with your surface irrigation design. The irrigation plant also includes the irrigation systems and irrigation pumps that you intend to use. To this end irrigation pipe and irrigation pump placement should also be indicated on the irrigation plan. In areas with a water scarcity it would be wise to remember that drip irrigation systems might be a great way to ensure that your plants get sufficient water without wastage.

Stage 11: Here you can also include landscape lighting features since you should remember to place conduits for both the irrigation and lighting under paths, patios and other permanent fixtures. An energy saving alternative would be to make use of solar garden lights. Advantages of using solar garden lights and solar landscape lighting is that there would be no need for electric cables, and you would cut down on your energy bill. If you however find yourself in a section of the garden where there is hardly sunlight to harness as a light source, then you would need to make use of low voltage landscape lighting.

Your landscape design is done, now you are ready to start gardening!