“The right plant in the right place” is one of the most important things to know when you are planting new material in your yard. Ensuring that you have the right plant for specific sun, shade, soil, growth patterns, and moisture conditions is the first consideration you should make, but after that, a little bit of artistry comes into play. Successful landscape design requires looking at your yard from a big-picture perspective and thinking about what is important to you as the homeowner. Here are the steps we recommend taking if you’re going to design your landscape.
First, think about what you’re going for. Make a list of important elements that you want in your yard. A grassy space for kids to play? An outdoor “room” for cooking out and entertaining? An oasis where you can relax and watch birds and butterflies?
Next, look at your property and determine what direction you face, where you get the most sun or shade, and if you have an “issues” that bother you…maybe you have a neighbor with an ugly fence that you want to hide, or you back up to an alley that has a lot of traffic. Make note of those things as well.
From there, draw a rough plan of your property and make note of your problem areas, favorite views from kitchen or dining room windows (what do you want to see when you look out the window?), and existing plant material. We recommend starting with the area closest to your home and working your way out. Evergreen hedges (boxwood, taxus, juniper) along the foundation will give you a solid background for flowers and will also provide visual interest in the winter. Taller evergreen elements like pines or spruces can be placed on the corners and act as an anchor to place your home in the landscape. Consider a grouping of spruces on the northwest corner of your property if you have the room—they will act as a wind break against winter winds and provide a habitat for birds.
After you consider your base layer, think about midsize shrubs, perennials, or ornamentals that will add some visual interest throughout the year. If you want to accent your doorway or the walkway to your home, ornamental trees like serviceberry or magnolia add interest without obscuring or overpowering your house. Shade tolerant hydrangea or rhododendron will add color and texture, and there are lots of great sun loving perennials (including knock-out roses) that will add beauty and value. Keep in mind that your landscape will look more visually appealing if you demonstrate consistency in color and materials, and avoid the trap of planting two different plants in an every-other-one pattern.
Symmetrical plant placements lend a more formal look (think two small trees or shrubs flanking a door) while asymmetrical arrangements create movement and drama. If you have a shallow yard, layering plants short to tall from front to back in a bed give the illusion of more depth, just be careful to make sure your transitions between the layers are gradual and even.
To sum up:
- Create a working plan, explore your yard and take note of sun exposure, soil conditions and existing elements. Clearly define you needs/wants
- First Layer: establish your “backbone” and vertical anchors–make sure to include evergreen elements.
- Second Layer: Start building layers and movement with flowering shrubs and ornamental grasses.
- Third Layer: Perennials and annuals will create pockets of color.