How To Design Garden Landscape

Thinking of building an oasis full of flowers, shrubs, and water fountains? Before you touch a single plant, you need to learn how to design a garden landscape.

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Thinking of building an oasis full of flowers, shrubs, and water fountains? Before you touch a single plant, you need to learn how to design a garden landscape.

Designing a garden landscape really comes down to assessing the space it will be taking up and making sure you have a thorough plan in place. This will entail considering your budget and figuring out what types of plants and other features you want to include.

In this article, you’ll learn everything about designing a garden landscape on your own. By the end, you should be ready to bring your ideas to life.

As a landscaper, I’ve been building custom gardens for over 10 years. If you’re thinking of designing a green escape for your home or elsewhere, this guide is for you.

Table of Contents

Factors to Consider Before Designing a Garden Landscape

Your wants, needs, and budget should all be significant factors when approaching your garden landscape design.

Here are some additional tips to get you started:

  • If you’re not already settled on an overall theme or style for your garden, then you can gain inspiration from social media sites like Pinterest and Instagram. There are thousands of images displaying different garden styles.
  • Consider utilizing the cooler months out of the year to design your garden so you can start the actual build in the spring when flowers are in bloom and the weather is nice. If you live in a part of the US that is warm year round (Florida, California, etc.) then this doesn’t really apply to you.
  • Don’t feel bad if you need to hire a professional landscaper to help you design your garden. If you’re a novice, this may be the best route to take.

How to Design a Garden Landscape

Now, let’s jump into the fun part… here’s a step-by-step guide on how to design a garden landscape:

1. Consider Your Wants & Needs

You should start by creating a design brief which clearly outlines everything you want and need from your garden landscape.

This is a crucial first step as you’ll need to have an understanding of any potential problems that need to be addressed such as:

  • A lack of privacy in your garden
  • Water logging issues
  • Lack of color

You’ll also be able to flesh out all of the goals you want to achieve with your garden project. For instance, you can decide upon a specific style (cottage, sensory, tropical, modern, etc.).

This will help provide the vision for your garden landscape and will be the jump-off point for the remaining steps in the process.

2. Assess The Space

Assess the space you’ll be building your garden landscape. Is it a backyard to a home? Do you own the home?

The answers to these questions will help you plan your landscape design appropriately and help you understand any limitations you may run into if you don’t own the space you're working with.

You can still create a garden landscape when renting, it will just require a different approach that allows you to easily remove or replace items.

For instance, you can install container plants and portable garden lighting.

3. For Existing Garden Landscapes, Figure Out What Needs to Change

If you have an existing garden landscape in place and are looking to redesign it, you’ll need to figure out what needs to stay (if anything) and what can be replaced.

While a complete redesign and makeover can produce the most coherent results, it can be cost-prohibitive and time consuming.

Making smaller tweaks will cost you less, but may be limited in terms of scope. This is why you should take your time to look at your current garden landscape with a critical eye.

Take note of both the good and bad attributes of your garden before you plan to either completely overhaul it or tweak the existing design.

For instance, you may want to replace all of the softscape items (flowers, plants, trees) in your garden while leaving behind hard-scape landscaping features (fountains, rockwork, etc.)

4. Come up With a Budget You Will Stick to

As I mentioned, a brand new garden landscape can be very costly, especially if you’re planning on including modern elements with clean finishes.

Garden design experts recommend you spend 5-15% of your home’s value on the garden. This can add a similar or larger amount to the overall value of your home in the long run.

You’ll also need to factor in any professional contracting services you may need into your budget.

The point here is to be realistic with your budget to ensure you won’t go over it (or if you do, not by that much).

5. Start Creating Your Design

Unless you hire a professional landscape designer, you’ll be handling the design on your own. If you’re an avid DIYer (like me) you’re probably up for the challenge.

Keep in mind though, it won’t be easy and will take up a lot of your time. The best part, though, is that it will save you money.

The important part is to let your creativity run rampant. As I touched upon, you can gain inspiration from multiple resources on social media and different websites.

You can start putting a few ideas together in a photo collection on your smartphone so you can start figuring out which elements you’ll want to include.

Once you’ve done that, here are the remaining steps to get your actual garden landscape design started:

1. Take Measurements

Visit the plot where your garden landscape will be built and start taking measurements. You will need a notepad, measuring tape, and a pen.

You need to measure the largest areas first, followed by the smaller sections (even the nooks and crannies).

2. Establish The Aspect

Revisit the plot at different times of the day to understand the ‘aspect’. This is the direction your garden will face.

Make notes of any shaded spots, as this will determine where you will need to plant softscape elements and help you create a layout. To do this, you’ll need a compass.

3. Determine Areas That Will Need Privacy

You can draw lines leading off from doors and windows as these will become your sight lines.

Once this has been established, you’ll be able to think about what you can do to make the garden private with garden screening ideas.

4. Draw up a Layout of Your Garden Landscape

Either use a program on your computer to render a garden design layout or sketch one by hand. This should be done to scale if possible.

5. Settle on a Theme or Style

Using your collection of inspiration ideas (and ideas you may have conjured up in your own head) bring everything together in one cohesive theme or style.

6. Incorporate Softscape Elements Accordingly

No matter if you want to create a thriving kitchen garden, a minimalist modern garden, or a tropical jungle, you’ll need to incorporate the right softscape landscaping elements.

Once you have the theme or style down, choose plants, flowers, trees, and/or shrubbery that are the perfect fit so they don’t look out of place.

For instance, a tropical theme would typically require big leafy plants. On the other hand, bright and colorful flowers are ideal for mediterranean style gardens.

Regardless of what you choose, you’ll need to consider what times of the year you’ll be out enjoying your garden.

This ensures your choice of softscape elements will be able to thrive when you’re spending time in your garden the most.

7. Think About The Hardscape Elements You’ll Need

What hardscape elements do you want to incorporate that will fit your theme or style?

For a more traditional garden, natural elements like stone, wood, and gravel work best.

On the other hand, if you’re going with a modern aesthetic, you’ll want clean-cut elements such as porcelain tiles, modern sculptures/fountains, and monochrome architecture.

8. Consider Any Bonus Features

Some may want to include storage solutions, like sheds in their gardens while others will have full-blown garden rooms and courtyards.

Anything that can enhance the entire space should be considered.

6. Understand Garden Aspects

  • East-facing gardens have plants that will enjoy sunlight in the morning and shade in the evening. This allows you to choose more shade loving flowers like Viburnums or Anemones.
  • South-facing gardens enjoy sunshine all day, from almost every angle, allowing you to do what you want in terms of the flowers you choose.
  • North-facing garden will typically have shaded spots for almost the entire day. With this in mind, shade garden plants are best.
  • West-facing gardens enjoy mornings full of shade and afternoons full of sun. The sunlight typically continues into the evening. Roses, geraniums, and tulips are ideal for this aspect.

7. Think About How You’re Going to Maintain Your Garden Landscape

Depending on your wants and needs, and the elements you choose to incorporate, your garden landscape may be high or low maintenance. For example:

  • Vegetable patches need regular upkeep throughout each season (watering, disease prevention, etc.). Rose gardens require consistent pruning as well.
  • For hardscape elements, like fountains, you’ll need to consistently clean the fountain and treat the water to prevent algae buildup.
  • Outdoor living spaces also require maintenance to ensure they last. Furniture may need to be cleaned or disinfected from time to time, while wood elements may need a fresh coat of paint.

At the end of the day, your garden WILL need maintenance. How much and how frequent comes down to your design.

8. Come up With a Timeframe For Completion

The last step in the process is to determine how long the project will take to complete.

Keep in mind, you don’t need to finish everything at once, especially if you’re on a budget. You can establish phases, each including different tasks and elements from your masterplan.

This will allow you to scale the project to fit your budget so you don’t need to pay for everything at one time.

With that said, you may be working against the clock to ensure you can plant flowers, shrubbery, and trees in season. If this is the case, these elements should be handled first.

Final Thoughts

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to how to design a garden landscape properly.

It all boils down to your wants and needs, your budget, and the amount of time you’re willing to spend on maintaining your garden landscape.

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