The best landscaping is intentional. A good eye and well-thought-out strategy make the difference between an enviable oasis and perfunctory plant plopping. Gardens new and old alike can suffer from rushing to get something in the ground or letting overgrowth suffocate an existing design.
Evaluating your own landscape challenges your preexisting bias. It’s not easy. Even though I coach, design and do what I call “the vision thing” for a living, it’s a completely different story in my own garden. What comes to me easily in someone else’s space is harder in mine.
Existing plants, beds, topography and style can blur your ability to come up with a creative new plan. What should you do to see beyond the chaos? Simple — use your smartphone to discern your landscape needs.
See your garden as a blank canvas
Take photos of the entire front and back of your house and your yard and beds. Then use your photo program to print them in black and white. Depending on the time of day or the amount of shade, lighten the images so that the plants and trees are somewhat faded.
Now you have a pale, semi-blank canvas uncluttered by the visual interruptions that interfere with a comprehensive evaluation.
Treat your landscape as though it weren’t hampered by that giant row of shrubs that now obscure your front windows, or those sun perennials that never bloom because the trees have grown, shading them out. Rethink a straight skinny bed along the front of the house or plants squeezing out your front walkway.
You can drive around your neighborhood looking for inspiration, and you can noodle around websites like Pinterest or Houzz to find a style and plants you like. Once I start surfing those sites, I find myself pinning dozens and dozens of great ideas to my own Pinterest and Houzz boards.
Then, grab your pencil and sketch in rough images in colored pencil or tape on some colored mini plant pics to get an idea of how it will all look together.
Remember these top tips for a garden design update
Keep your landscaping in proportion to your house and property. Consider all things in your line of sight. For example — a charming little cottage with a postage stamp-size front yard isn’t the place for a towering fountain.
Work to achieve balance with all your elements — trees, plants and hardscape. Don’t put too many of your big plants on one side of the house or a bed. Balance doesn’t just mean creating a mirror image; asymmetrical design could include a tree on one side and several good-size shrubs on the opposite side. It doesn’t have to be matchy-matchy, just not overly heavy on just one side.
Add in a focal point or two. The best designs highlight a specimen plant or another element that draws your eye and brings the garden into focus. This provides definition in the landscape.
Think pots, birdbaths or a fountain, gazing balls — you get the idea. Here, less is more.
Plan according to the design rule that items in threes and odd numbers are more interesting in any design. Repetition of plants, colors or forms make the best beds. Don’t plant one of everything — it will look chaotic. Plant one focal point and then use clusters of three, five or seven to fill spaces.
Add texture into your planning. Think about combining coarse and fine plants. Your result will look best if you have contrasting textures — big plants and delicate leaves and strappy or spiky forms all play off one another.
If you’re not sure about your first attempt, just print out another set of photos and try something different. The possibilities are endless.