Best Management Practices - Planning Your Landscape

Daniel Gill, Owings, Allen D., Bush, Edward W., Trawick, Robert C.  |  3/22/2005 7:01:10 AM

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. Developing an attractive, properly functioning landscape is best done using a process.

Two general gardening styles you might want to consider:

The formal style is characterized by 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 very effective, but can look stiff, lifeless and boring. It requires relatively high maintenance.

The second general style is informal. Plants are allowed to develop their natural forms (pruned but not regularly sheared), and they are arranged more irregularly in a way that resembles nature. The lines in the landscape and the shape of the beds tend to be curved and flowing. There are few straight edges and no geometric shapes. Building materials are more relaxed and may even be rustic. This style of landscape design 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.

Think about your budget. Although it would be nice to garden with unlimited funds, the available money for the project must be considered. Don’t forget that once the plan is drawn up, it can be installed in sections over time, allowing the cost to be broken up into more manageable installments.

The next part is going through the process to develop a landscape design. These steps help you to organize your thoughts and efforts so you end up with is what you want and need.

Step One: List your needs. Think about yourself and your family, and decide what your landscape needs to include. Write the list down. 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 Two: Study your site. Become familiar with the grounds. Notice the compass directions. Notice 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 play with various ideas and need copies to try those ideas out. Never draw on the original.

Step Three: Diagram space needs. In this step you 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, a circle 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 the best one is found.

Step Four: Shape the spaces. Now, 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 you decide how they will actually be shaped. Although you don’t actually select the plants at this stage, you should decide on the characteristics that 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 Five: Select the materials. At this point, you select the components that will be chosen to create the landscape. If, for instance, in step one privacy was listed, in step two it was decided what view needed to be blocked, in step three the location of the privacy screen is determined, in step four the size of the screen is determined (how tall, how wide) and in this step what the screen will be composed of is decided. You may choose to plant a holly hedge or build a lattice fence or a brick wall. Go through the rough plan selecting what plants will be used, what surfacing materials, etc. Cost is a factor that enters into which materials are selected.

BMP Checklist:

  • Decide on your landscape needs.
  • Analyze the property and evaluate your site.
  • Determine any financial or environmental limitations.
  • Prepare a land-use plan that diagrams the space needs.
  • Develop an irrigation plan or select drought tolerant plants.
  • Select plants and other landscape materials to match the site and purpose.
  • Implement according to LSU AgCenter BMP recommendations.
  • Maintain properly using LSU AgCenter BMP recommendations.
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