The Art and Science of Landscape Design


Written by Sean and Aimee McDonald

The successful planning and design of a home’s exterior landscape is both an art and a science; yet, the intrinsic and extrinsic values realized from artfully landscaped homes, transcends the arbitrary introduction of random vegetation. One of the best ways of complementing a home’s architectural appearance, is to extend elements of line and form into the surrounding landscape. Through the process of landscape design, a home’s functional exterior spaces and visual appeal can quickly be transformed, creating a private oasis for homeowners, while providing a natural habitat for wildlife. However, successful landscape design can only be accomplished through diligent attention to detail.

Whether seeking to heighten a home’s curb appeal or endeavoring to enhance outdoor living space, the preparation of a landscape plan, is a crucial step to creating a functional layout and orientation. Prudent planning ensures only sustainable trees, plants and flowers are integrated into the design. Yet, understanding the nuances of a property’s individual characteristics and qualifying the intended purpose of a homeowner’s efforts, are also important considerations when designing a functional and visually appealing landscape.

To begin, homeowners should sketch out an overhead view of their home and property boundaries. The layout should account for existing structures, such as the home, plants, trees, patios, walkways and driveways, while considering the natural topography and compass bearings of the property. A landscape’s climate, soil, sunlight, wind and drainage, are all key considerations when crafting an effectual design. The unique characteristics of each zone become independent factors in determining suitable vegetation.

Thoughtfully prepared landscapes are oriented around central focal points, starting small and built with scale and proportion in mind. The variations of color, shape, texture and size are fundamental to visual appeal; however, the establishment of a unified theme, creating balance, contrast, repetition, and transitions throughout the landscape is also of significance. For homeowners possessing limited outdoor space, vertical gardening has become an increasingly popular alternative to traditional design, especially for those residing in homes without suitable land. A home’s landscape is no longer relegated to its surroundings; rather, this new trend, affords owners, another means of enhancing their outdoor living areas with plants and flowers. The incorporation of vertical space, commonly found in fencing, walls, patios and decks, provides for the assimilation of greenery into once unconventional areas.

Throughout the planning stages, homeowners must consider how their landscapes will integrate with the exterior areas of their home. Outdoor kitchens, fire pits, spas, pools, outbuildings and other structural considerations must become an integral part of the design if they’re to appear as natural extensions. Intentional or not, these areas oftentimes serve as primary focal points, contributing to the broader design. To ensure visual aesthetics and functionality are retained, a transition from these spaces to the surrounding landscape should feel unified and seamless.

The artful science of landscaping has evolved over the years. Once considered a gardening preference of the environmentally conscious, xeriscape has grown in popularity in response to water conservation. Whether motivated by environmental concerns or financial constraints, xeriscaping has fast become an attractive option for many residing in semiarid climates. Xeriscaping seeks to create an attractive, yet diverse landscape using drought-resistant vegetation and mulches requiring minimal water and maintenance. The successful planning and integration of watering zones and the appropriate use of land-space, possess integral roles within xeriscape design. Plants and groundcovers, often native to the region, are incorporated into the design in effort to reduce water consumption and enhance visual appeal. Successfully prepared xeriscapes incorporate perennials and are watered using soaker hoses and drip-irrigation systems servicing only those immediate areas where vegetation is found. With water fast becoming an expensive and limited resource, residential landscaping efforts often benefit from xeriscaping.

The incorporation of rock gardens into a home’s landscape planning process is a common means of addressing undulating topography, diverting water where needed and preventing soil erosion. Proportional flow and scale hold ever-present roles in the design, with large boulders commonly positioned at a property’s edge and naturally occurring planting niches being created from rock groupings. To ensure a natural symmetrical appearance is retained, homeowners are encouraged to source rocks from the surrounding area; securing a natural blend of varied sized examples, each possessing common textures, characteristics and appearance. Sourcing rocks close to the property, is the most effective means of creating a consistency of design while saving money. Choosing a location, establishing a solid foundation and preparing the arrangements in a manner meeting drainage needs are all important considerations.

The integration of animal habitats and the inclusion of water features into landscape plans, are traditional extensions of the landscape preparation and design process. To attract wildlife, plans should include feeders and vegetation sought by native species found within the area. However, the inclusion of ponds, fountains and other water features can also heighten a property’s enjoyment and aesthetics.

When aspiring to enrich landscape diversity, homeowners are encouraged to seek the guidance of local gardening professionals. Their recommendations are often key to finding vegetation well-suited to a given area. Adding visual appeal to a property’s landscape requires patience. As to be expected, the thoughtful creation of most landscapes is evolving; however, homeowners shouldn’t feel rushed, embracing the process and most importantly, taking time to smell the roses.

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