List the family’s wants and needs

Assessing your family’s needs

With a complete base plan and a thorough understanding of the site, you are now ready to list your proposed use areas. Each family’s needs vary with their outdoor activities. These are the types of areas you may consider when developing your landscape plan:

• Pet areas, such as open lawn and pens

• Cooking areas

• Sun bathing, lounging, or reading areas

• Entertaining areas

• Recreation areas

• Outdoor storage for equipment, firewood, vehicles, or boats

• Gardens, water features, pathways

• Attractions for birds, butterflies, and other wildlife

As you consider the areas you will include, be realistic.

How much time are you willing to spend maintaining gardens and use areas? Be sure to budget how much you are willing to spend for various improvements.

Step 4. Locate the use areas

The outdoor areas of your property should tie into the areas and activities within your home. For example, outdoor cook­ing areas should be located near indoor kitchen or dining facilities. Service and storage areas should be located away from main use areas and views from the home. Patios and decks should connect directly into main entrances of the home.

Take another sheet of tracing paper and overlay onto the base plan. Draw zones where these different use areas could best occur and their approximate sizes. Try several different schemes until the best layout is evident.

Figure 13 shows an example of a general layout plan.

Step 5. Develop outdoor use areas

It is easier to develop each of the outdoor use areas sepa­rately and later combine them into the overall plan. Imagine yourself sitting within or using each area as you develop the design ideas. For example, to design a patio space, first decide on the elements that would make a successful seating area. You may include seats, tables, overhead shade struc­tures, a sense of enclosure, views, water features, or other ele­ments. Reviewing your home landscape idea file, looking at garden magazines and books, and visiting other successful spaces may provide visual ideas to assist you. Remember to keep in mind the important principles from your site analysis so that your proposed use areas do not conflict with other ele­ments, such as utility lines, water drainage, and other existing conditions.

To get an idea of the size of a space, use a garden hose to approximate the outline for the area. Move the garden hose to adjust the size of the space until it is the appropriate scale and form. It is best to select building material types and forms that will match and fit the character of the home and the surround­ing area. After you have chosen the size that seems best in the landscape, transfer this general outline to the landscape plan at its proper scale.

Considerations for designing or creating outdoor living spaces

Just as a room in a house has walls, ceilings, and floors, so does a landscape space. As each room is designed for a specif­ic function—kitchen for preparing food, living room for leisure, bedroom for sleeping—so are outdoor use areas. Outdoor spaces should accommodate their functions: eating, relaxing and talking, playing, or gardening. See Figures 14, 15, and 16 for examples of these outdoor use areas.

Outdoor "ceilings" may be composed of constructed materi­als such as building overhangs, arbors, fabrics, or other mate­rials. See Figure 17. They may even include the open sky or the branches of large canopy trees overhanging the space.

Many different floor materials may be used in an outdoor space, and detailed flooring materials such as pebbles or brick may provide a rich ground texture. There are many good paving materials that provide a wealth of colors and patterns. A solid pavement allows for permanent heavy use and pro­vides direction for traffic (Figure 18). Turf and vegetated groundcovers are suitable for areas that are infrequently trod­den, and may provide a strong contrast to nearby hardscape materials (Figure 19).

Fences or building sides can provide a sense of enclosure. "Walls" may be constructed of stone, brick, concrete, wood, or metal (Figures 20 and 21).

To hide adjacent views, these walls work best when more than 6 feet tall. Wood slat fences or open masonry block may provide a sense of enclosure yet still allow breezes into the area. Evergreen plants can be dense enough to allow for priva­cy while still allowing some air to pass through.

Just as a room in a house has hallways and doors, court­yards and other landscape spaces also have pathways and entry areas. These should be designed to make one feel that they are transitioning to or entering a special place. Gates are a wonderful way to separate different outdoor spaces (Figures 20, 21, and 22).

An entry may be framed into a courtyard space by using a pergola or trellis, creating an inviting entrance. These separate the patio space from the lawn or front entry.

Garden rooms are designed for the activities and functions that will take place there— such as sitting and relaxing. Make sure the areas are com­fortable. For example, in a Southern climate it is especial­ly important to provide shade from the hot sun (Figure 23).

For social spaces, include seats and tables, a place to serve food, and lighting for night functions. Organize seat­ing in nooks or crannies away from the main walkways (Figure 24). This keeps seating out of the main traffic path and offers more privacy.

Small, personal spaces create opportunities to provide detailed features. Adding lush plants, urns and planters, and just the right bench in just the right spot can create a rich environment.

A key for creating personal spaces is to keep all things sized for the number of people that will typically use them.

For example, a small wall ornament would get lost in a large garden, but a small area is the perfect place to put detailed features such as art objects and garden ornaments. Water is a wonderful element to add to gardens, whether it is a still, shallow pool with a few lilies or a feature with a spray head that provides more activi­ty. Small courtyards and gar­den spaces are appropriate places for sculptures and fea­tures of interest. Any area for night gatherings is a great place to add fire for cooking, warmth, light, or character. Small spaces can also show­case strong plant textures (Figure 25).

Richly textured plants, such as palms and bamboos, do not take much room because they are tall and grow out of a nar-

row bed area. This is also the perfect place for fragrant plants, such as roses, garde­nias, and jasmine. The walls actually contain the aromas somewhat, so you can really appreciate the subtle scents of plants.

Here are a few use areas to consider:

Vehicular access and parking

Most likely your driveway and walk already exist, but they can be changed if there is a more functional and practi­cal solution. Think about the arrival of your guests or your­self and how you would like to be welcomed to your home. Would you like to see flowers at your driveway entrance, to park in a shaded spot, to have enough pavement at the edges as you step from your car? Should there be a separation from the drive and parking to the entry walk of the home? These are all personal consid­erations that add to the quali­ty of your life and guests’ experience.


Add walks where they are needed, including along the street or to connect from the street to your home. Before adding any permanent paving types, always check the loca­tion of property and setback lines. There are many different types of paving materials for walks and drives, and there is a wide variety of installation costs.

An important consideration is whether to use a permeable or impermeable paving materi­al (Figure 26). Permeable means that rainwater can filter through or around the paving, and impermeable means that rainwater cannot filter through the paving material. Loose gravel, unmortared brick on
sand, or permeable concrete or asphalt are examples of perme­able paving. Urban areas with expansive amounts of imper­meable paving are experienc­ing severe water quality prob­lems in local streams and are having concerns with drop­ping water aquifers. Because of these water problems, some communities are limiting the amount of impermeable paving allowed in site devel­opment.

The front walk should con­nect your front entrance to where your guests park or to the street. You may consider providing a walkway from the outdoor public area to the pri­vate area, so that guests will not have to go through your house or garage to get to the backyard party area. The walk­way form should reflect the main type of form used throughout the design. For example, if you are using curved planting beds, the walkway may curve as well to provide an organized approach. Walks should be wide enough for comfortable use. A minimum of 4 V2 feet is typically wide enough for two people to walk side-by-side together. To add interest to a walkway, consider varying its width. Walks should always be designed for safety and com­fort, and public walks must be accessible for disabled or eld­erly people. Consult with a professional for any walkways that require retaining walls, ramps, or steps.

Accenting the main entrance

For small front lots, the most important focal point from the street is the front door. The main public entry should be easily identifiable and attrac­tive. Typically, all other ele-

ments in the front yard should accent and highlight the front entry rather than compete for its attention. The front entry location on the home deter­mines the visual balance of the front composition. Study the appearance of your house. Imagine the entrance as a pivot point for balancing. The house may appear heavier on one side. The "light" side may need more mass (larger plants, etc.) to balance the visual weight of the "heavy" side. Putting it all together

The form of outdoor use areas should complement the architecture of the home and surrounding structures. For example, if the home has rec­tangular forms, then rectangu­lar shaped patios, planting beds, fences, walls, and water features are appropriate. Clear and simple designs are always best, as combining various forms can be difficult to achieve successfully.

Label another sheet of trac­ing paper "preliminary plan." Draw your ideal vision of each space to scale on this paper. Keep imagining and refining each space until it is fully resolved.

Updated: October 1, 2015 — 10:19 am