Master Gardeners: Plan landscape on paper before planting

This mature backyard landscape design features a beautiful mixture of plant materials, colors and textures that create privacy.  |  Courtesy of Julie Moore
This mature backyard landscape design features a beautiful mixture of plant materials, colors and textures that create privacy. | Courtesy of Julie Moore

A landscape design requires the right tools, and the first ones to pick up are a pencil and paper. A well thought-out plan will be your guide and should result in a more successful project than one that is done piecemeal.

If this sounds daunting, it doesn’t need to be, according to Richard Hentschel, University of Illinois Extension educator in horticulture.

“The landscape design should draw the eye to the front door,” Hentschel notes of the front yard. “This can be done using walkway and garden-bed designs that lead the eye to it. Walkways should be wide enough to accommodate two people and can be curved or straight, based on a casual or more formal outcome to be achieved.

“The plant beds created need to be large enough to support the desired plantings.

In the backyard, Hentschel says to take inventory of the areas your family will need.

“Will the yard be one with a lot of activity or more passive? Do you need a kid’s play area, or spaces for entertainment, adult recreation, gardening interest or storage needs?”

The next step in the design process is a site analysis.

“This step requires a realistic look at your home and grounds,” he says. “This can be difficult because we become so accustomed to what we see in and around our yards.”

Are there “challenges” on our property, or the neighbor’s, that could be hidden or softened with a planting or a structure?

“Taking photographs is a good way to look at your property and the visual lines into it from inside the house, as well as the visual lines looking from your property to surrounding properties,” Hentschel noted. “Photos help you to look at your site more objectively.”

Use graph paper to create a “to scale” map of your property. Include its borders, location of plantings and structures that will remain in the new design, windows on the house to show sight lines and any utility lines. Keep this as your permanent template.

Use paper overlays to experiment with shapes that represent all the areas from your family inventory.

“Do as many designs as you want and put the best parts of each one into your final design,” Hentschel said. “It is easy to correct on paper, not so easy once you have installed your plants.”

Email your home garden and lawn questions to uiemg-dupage@illinois.edu or phone the Master Gardener Helpline at 630-955-1123. Visit our website at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/.

Julie Moore has been a master gardener volunteer with the University of Illinois Extension in DuPage County for 10 years and has a degree in ornamental horticulture from the University of Illinois.

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