Select garden style, then make plans

John Young, Gill, Daniel J., Owings, Allen D.  |  1/23/2009 8:17:54 PM

Sustainable Landscape News Distributed 01/23/09

By LSU AgCenter Horticulturists

When it comes to home landscaping, many gardeners remain confused about how to create what they want. Efforts at landscaping can be disappointing despite spending a substantial amount of money. The important thing to remember is that developing an attractive, properly functioning landscape is best done using a process.

Most home landscapes generally can be classified into one of two styles – formal or informal. Formal has bilateral symmetry, clipped plantings, geometrically shaped plants and beds, orderly rows of plants regularly spaced, traditional garden accents (classical statues, for example), a central decorative feature such as fountain, “crisp” building materials (smooth, painted wood, cut stone, brick) and everything neatly manicured. This style can be effective but also can appear stiff, lifeless and boring to some people. In addition, it’s not considered sustainable because of its high maintenance.

An informal landscape contains plants that are allowed to develop their natural forms (pruned but not regularly sheared) and are arranged more irregularly in a way that resembles nature. The lines in the landscape and the shapes of the beds tend to be curved and flowing. Informal landscapes have fewer straight edges and no geometric shapes. Building materials are more relaxed and may even be rustic. This style is generally less demanding when it comes to maintenance.

Get a feel for what suits your taste and the style of your home, and use it.

Also, think about your budget. It would be nice to garden with unlimited funds, but available money is a major factor. You can, however, break up your costs into manageable chunks by developing a plan you can install in phases. Here are steps for such a plan. They will help you organize your thoughts and efforts so you end up with what you want and need affordably.

Step 1. List your needs. Think about yourself and your family, and decide what your landscape needs to include. Write the list down on paper. It might include such features as privacy, outdoor living area (patio, deck, courtyard, etc.), shade, flower beds, vegetable garden, swimming pool, greenhouse, children’s play area and storage – basically, all the things the landscape needs to provide and include. Be thorough.

Step 2. Study your site. Become familiar with the grounds. Notice the compass directions. Which areas are shady or sunny, wet or dry? Note existing features such as trees, buildings, beds, fences, walks and the like. Draw up a simple sketch of the property showing the relevant features. Better yet, do a scale drawing. A scale drawing is much more effective when you actually start to do the design. Any inexpensive book on landscaping has directions on how to do a scale drawing. Once the drawing is done, make copies of it to draw on. You will be playing with various ideas and need copies to try those ideas out. Never draw on the original.

Step 3. Diagram space needs. In this step decide how much space different activities and areas will need and where in the landscape they will be located. At this time you will see how many things in your list you will actually be able to fit into the landscape. On your scale-drawing copy, draw circles or ovals to indicate where and how large areas will be. For instance, circles would represent where and how large the vegetable garden would be, where the play area would be, where the patio would be and so forth. Try several arrangements until you find the best one.

Step 4. Shape the spaces. Decide exactly what shape the areas will have. If you indicated flower beds with an oval to indicate where and how big they will be, at this point decide exactly how they will be shaped. Although you don’t actually select the plants at this stage, you should decide on the characteristics the plants should have (size, flowering, color, evergreen, etc.). This is a creative stage. It will be guided by the previous steps as well as the style you have decided for the garden.

Step 5. Select the materials. At this point, select the components to create the landscape. If, for instance, in step 1 you listed privacy, in step 2 you decided what view needed to be blocked, in step 3 you determined the location of the privacy screen, in step 4 you determined the size of the screen (how tall, how wide), and in this step you decide what will constitute the screen. For example, you may choose a holly hedge, a lattice fence or a brick wall.

Go through the rough plan to decide on the rest of the landscape materials, plants, surfacing materials, etc. And don’t forget the cost factor when making your decisions.

Come to LaHouse in Baton Rouge to see sustainable landscape practices in action. The home and landscape resource center is located near the intersection of Burbank Drive and Nicholson Drive (La. Highway 30) in Baton Rouge across the street from the new LSU baseball stadium. Go online to and for more information.


Dan Gill at (225) 578-2222 or
Allen D. Owings at (985) 543-4125 or
John Young at (225) 578-2415 or (225) 578-2222 or
Editor: Mark Claesgens at (225) 578-2939 or

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