Have you ever wondered what makes some landscapes stand out from the rest? For centuries, landscape designers and gardeners across the globe have tried to answer that question with their own sense of style. The great landscapes of Versailles, Villa d'Este and your own backyard have one surprising thing in common: Their great looks stem from basic design principles plus creativity. The basics, which include unity, balance, function, scale and emphasis, are the roots from which cutting edge landscape design can grow. Get started, and then add your own creative flair, for a distinctive landscape.
Consider how the space needs to function. Think of your outdoor space as an extension of your house, with a series of rooms with windows, doors and hallways. Include factors like solar orientation, prevailing winds and views you'd like to enhance or screen out when planning your landscape layout.
Allot enough space for each activity or function. This easily overlooked, but essential step in the design process will ensure that landscape elements remain in scale. For example, pathways should be at least 3 feet wide and have a level surface.
Take a walk around your house, or house site, and look for something exciting. What colors and forms stand out? Maybe it's the irregular line of the roof, or the view of a distant valley dotted with blue-gray, native vegetation. Choose elements that interest you, and incorporate their shapes or colors into a theme for your landscape. For example, if you're inspired by a view of dusky, rolling hills, imitate them with undulating masses of rounded shrubs in similar hues. If the architectural style of your entryway features irregular lines, then repeat that in the landscape with a clipped hedge, which plays off the same geometry.
Make a rough sketch of your house footprint in plan view. If you have your building plans handy, you can trace over the building outline with tracing paper, but this level of precision isn't necessary. Add existing vegetation, fences and property lines. Now draw in some bubbles, which are roughly the shapes of the spaces you want to develop as outdoor rooms. Connect the bubbles with arrows, which will become pathways.
Focus on each area in greater detail once your bubble sketch is finished, and decide where to add site amenities like a screening hedge or water feature. Move these around on the plan until all the elements fit together well. Refer to the plan often, as you install your landscape.