Basic Principles of
By Dewayne L. Ingram
Landscaping combines elements of art and science to create a functional,
aesthetically pleasing extension of indoor living to the outdoors. One initial
purpose of landscape design is to blend man's technology (house or building)
into the natural surroundings. To work toward a desirable landscape design,
the landscape horticulturist must have a working knowledge of art elements and
design principles. This publication is intended for the commercial landscaper
with little or no training in the use of these basic principles. This
publication is not a complete landscape design text.
ELEMENTS OF ART
Elements of art include but are not limited to color, line, form, texture
and scale. These elements are never independent of each other, but we will
discuss their individual natures before considering the interactions.
Color variation can best be explained by use of a color wheel (
Figure 1 ). Primary colors are red, blue and yellow. Orange, green and
violet are called secondary colors because they are combinations of two
primary colors. For example, yellow and red are combined to yield orange.
Tertiary colors are the fusion of one primary and one secondary color. These
colors would be between primary and secondary colors.
Tint refers to a light value and is accomplished by adding white to the
pure color on the color wheel, while shade is a dark value and is created by
adding black to the pure color on the color wheel. Black, white and grey are
neutrals and are compatible with any color. Light colors and tints tend to
attract attention as do bright, vivid colors.
Colors are combined into color schemes for practical applications. Three
basic color schemes are monochromatic, analogous and complementary. A
monochromatic color scheme consists of different tints and shades of one color
and is seldom achieved in its pure form in the landscape. An example of an
incomplete monochromatic color scheme would include white and pink flowers
with a background of a dark pink and red brick house.
Analogous color schemes combine colors which are adjacent or side-by-side
on the color wheel. An analogous color scheme could include green, blue-green,
green-blue, blue and violet blue. This color scheme could be achieved by
varying the foliage color from green to blue-green or by using pyracantha with
orange-red berries against a red brick house.
Complementary color schemes combine colors directly across the color wheel.
For example, red and green would be complementary colors. A complementary
color scheme may be achieved by using plants with green foliage against a red
It is possible to have varying color schemes in one area of the landscape
as the seasons change. White and pink azaleas flowers can yield a
monochromatic color scheme with a red brick house. The green azalea foliage
would produce a complementary color for the red brick during the summer.
Pyracantha berries would be an analogous color to the red brick in the fall.
The landscape designer should consider the color changes throughout the year
when developing a landscape plan.
Colors can be used to visually change distance perspective. Warm colors and
light tints like red, orange, yellow and white advance an object or area
toward the observer. These colors and tints placed near the foundation of a
house would make the house appear closer to the street. Cool colors and deep
shades like blue, green and black recede and can be used to make the house
appear farther from the street. Cool colors are restful while warm colors
express action and are best used in filtered light or against a green or dark
Color can be used to direct attention in the landscape. Due to this strong
characteristic, color should be used carefully. When color is used for this
purpose, consideration must be given to year-round color not just to seasonal
color. Consideration may also be given to the time of day when this color will
be enjoyed. White or light tints could be used to create interest on a patio.
Dark colors would add little to family enjoyment of this area as the daylight
Line is related to eye movement or flow. The concept and creation of
line depends upon the purpose of the design and existing patterns. In the
overall landscape, line is inferred by bed arrangement and the way these beds
fit or flow together (
Figure 2 ). Line is also created vertically by changes in plant height and
the height of tree and shrub canopies. Line in a small area such as an
entrance or privacy garden is created by branching habits of plants,
arrangement of leaves and/or sequence of plant materials.
Straight lines tend to be forceful, structural and stable and direct the
observer's eye to a point faster than curved lines. Curved or free-flowing
lines are sometimes described as smooth, graceful or gentle and create a
relaxing, progressive, moving and natural feeling.
Form and line are closely related. Line is considered usually in
terms of the outline or edge of objects, whereas form is more encompassing.
The concept of form is related also to the size of an object or area. Form can
be discussed in terms of individual plant growth habits or as the planting
arrangement in a landscape.
Plant forms include upright, oval, columnar, spreading, broad spreading,
weeping, etc. ( Figure 3
). Form is basically the shape and structure of a plant or mass of plants.
Structures also have form and should be considered as such when designing the
area around them.
Texture describes the surface quality of an object than can be seen
or felt. Surfaces in the landscape includes buildings, walks, patios,
groundcovers and plants. The texture of plants differs as the relationships
between the leaves, twigs and branches differ (
Figure 4 ). Coarse, medium or fine could be used to describe texture but
so could smooth, rough, glossy or dull.
Scale refers to the size of an object or objects in relation to the
surroundings. Size refers to definite measurements while scale describes the
size relationship between adjacent objects. The size of plantings and
buildings compared on the human scale must be considered (
Figure 5 ).
PRINCIPLES OF DESIGN
Color, line, form, texture and scale are tools which are used in
combinations to adjust design principles. Design principles include unity,
balance, transition, focalization, proportion, rhythm, repetition and
simplicity. All these principles interact to yield the intended design.
Unity is obtained by the effective use of components in a design to
express a main idea through consistent style. Unity is emphasized by
consistency of character between units in the landscape. Use of elements to
express a specific theme within units creates harmony. Unity can be achieved
by using mass planting and repetition.
Unity means that all parts of the composition or landscape go together;
they fit. A natural feeling evolves when each activity area belongs to and
blends with the entire landscape. Everything selected for a landscape must
complement the central scheme and must, above all, serve some functional
Balance in design refers to the equilibrium or equality of visual
attraction ( Figure 6
). Symmetrical balance is achieved when one side of the design is a mirror
image of the other side. There is a distinct dividing line between the two
sides. Equal lines, forms, textures or colors are on each side of a
Asymmetrical balance uses different forms, colors and textures to obtain
balance of visual attraction. These opposing compositions on either side of
the central axis create equal attraction. For example, mass may be opposed by
color or linear dimension by height.
The landscape designer must skillfully manipulate the design elements to
create asymmetrical balance. The central axis must be predetermined and then
developed by the elements of art and other principles of design discussed in
Transition is gradual change. Transition in color can be illustrated
by the radial sequence on the color wheel (monochromatic color scheme)
previously discussed. Transition can be obtained by the arrangement of objects
with varying textures, forms, or sizes in a logical sequential order. For
example, coarse to medium to fine textures, round to oval to linear structural
forms, or cylindrical to globular to prostrate plants. An unlimited number of
schemes exist by combining elements of various size, form, texture and color
to create transition (
Figure 7 ). Remember, transition refers to the 3-dimensional perspective
of composition, not just the flat or facial view.
It is possible to use transition to extend visual dimensions beyond actual
dimensions. For example, radical lines in the private area of the landscape
can be used to enframe and/or focalize a lake scene. Transition of plant
materials along these lines can make the scene become a part of the landscape
( Figure 8 ).
Transition from taller to shorter plants with textural changes from coarse to
fine along focal lines emphasizes the beauty of a lake scene. Transition from
shorter to taller plants and from fine to coarse textures would enframe the
scene and make it appear closer, like a painting on a wall. Generally,
transition assists in the gradual movement of a viewer's eye to the design and
Proportion refers to the size of parts of the design in relation to
each other and to the design as a whole. One large towering oak may compliment
an office building but would probably dwarf a single story residence (
Figure 9 ). A three-foot pool would be lost in a large open lawn but would
fit beautifully into a small private area. And of course, a colossal fountain
would dominate a private garden but could enhance a large city plaza.
Proportion in landscape design usually relates to people and their
activities. The desired size relationships of components in a design should
pose little problem for the designer who considers this principle routinely in
systematic thought processes.
Rhythm is achieved when the elements of a design create a feeling of
motion which leads the viewer's eye through or even beyond the designed area.
Tools like color schemes, line and form can be repeated to attain rhythm in
landscape design. Rhythm reduces confusion in the design.
Focalization involves the leading of visual observation toward a
feature by placement of this feature at the vanishing point between radial or
approaching lines. Straight radial lines as in Figure 10 create a
strong focalization when compared to curved lines. The viewer's eye is quickly
forced along straight lines to a focal point. Generally, weaker or flowing
lines of focalization are desirable in the residential landscape. Transition
of plants or other objects along these lines can strengthen or weaken the
focalization. Curved lines are stronger when curved toward each other than
when curved outward. Indirect focalization is created by lines curved in the
same direction. Focalization can be adjusted by plant materials along the
lines to create symmetrical or asymmetrical focalization. Asymmetrical
focalization is indirect while symmetrical focalization is more direct,
creating stronger focalization.
Since focalization can be used to direct attention to a point, traffic in
an area is usually directed to that point. Therefore, focalization could be
used to direct traffic in a garden area. Guidance of view toward features of
commercial, aesthetic or cultural value may attract the eye of the unaware
without conscious effort.
Repetition refers to the repeated use of features like plants with
identical shape, line, form, texture and/or color. Too much repetition creates
monotony but when used effectively can lead to rhythm, focalization or
emphasis. Unity can be achieved better by no other means than repetition.
Think of repetition as not having too much variety in the design which creates
a cluttered or busy appearance.
Simplicity goes hand-in-hand with repetition and can be achieved by
elimination of unnecessary detail. Too much variety or detail creates
confusion of perception. Simplicity is the reduction of a design to its
simplest, functional form, which avoids unnecessary cost and maintenance.
STEPS IN DEVELOPING A LANDSCAPE DESIGN
The benefits of an organized system in developing a landscape design are
tremendous. As with most endeavors, the level of efficiency relative to time
input is greatly increased with an organized approach. The game plan for the
landscape designer should follow a sequence such as the one presented here:
Steps In Design
- Develop a plot plan.
- Conduct a site analysis.
- Assess family needs and desires.
- Locate activity areas.
- Design activity areas.
- Plant selection and placement.
Develop a Plot Plan
It is difficult to visualize certain aspects of design without putting it
to scale on paper. The designer should think with drawings or sketches and
make the mistakes on paper not on the landscape site. The plot plan should
consist of 1) accurate house placement on the lot, 2) accurate lot and house
dimensions with window and door placement and 3) existing driveways and/or
walks. It saves a lot of time if the customer has an accurate plat of the
house and lot and a house floor plan with outside dimensions. These plans
maybe secured from the builder, developer or county or city property records.
Although the floor plan scale will probably be different from the scale you
use, it will still be easier to convert the scale than to physically measure
the house, lot, etc.
Once the house position on the lot has been determined, this should be
drawn to a predetermined scale on tracing paper placed over grid paper.
Commonly, 1 inch equals 5 feet or 1 inch equals 10 feet, but you may choose
another scale based upon your drawing equipment and project dimensions.
Recommended drawing equipment includes: drafting pencils, T-square, scaled
rulers, triangle, art gum eraser, drafting tape, grid paper (8 or 10 squares
to the inch) and tracing or drafting paper. The designer must have a firm,
steady working surface.
Conduct a Site Analysis
A complete survey of the customer's property is essential. The plot plan
will assist you in organizing the information from the site analysis. A
thorough site analysis can save you time and money. Existing vegetation,
natural factors and features, views, noise levels, utility placement,
easements/setback lines and primary architectural features of the house should
Existing plants should be examined. Tree condition and placement
should be recorded. Trees on adjoining property that would affect shade
patterns on the customer's lot should also be surveyed. This information is
essential to designers, especially since it is their responsibility to blend
this home into the natural or existing setting, or to create a setting to be
functional and to complement the structure. Shrubs, groundcovers and grasses
should also be examined as to their condition and potential use.
The landscape horticulturalist may also be involved in protecting existing
vegetation during construction. It may be desirable to block vehicular traffic
from areas close to valuable trees.
Natural factors and features of a landscape include house
orientation, land form, soil conditions, rainfall distribution, seasonal wind
pattern and micro-climatic conditions. House orientation affects the exposure
of various portions of the house to the sun (
Figure 11 ). This knowledge is essential so the designer can provide shade
in important spots and locate activity areas appropriately. For example, a
southeastern exposure is generally the most comfortable spot year-round while
a western slope will be hot in the summer and cold in the winter.
Land form refers to slope or land elevation changes. It determines
surface water drainage patterns and is essential knowledge for the landscape
horticulturalist in developing functional and aesthetically pleasing
Soil characteristics will determine selection and placement of plants. Soil
pH, nutrient and waterholding capacity and drainage should be considered.
Native fertility levels and soil characteristics may be indicated by existing
vegetation. Turkey oaks on the property usually indicate dry, infertile soil.
Native cypress trees usually indicate poorly drained soils exist or did exist
in that area.
Rainfall distribution can be determined on a regional basis. Periods of
heavy rainfall can magnify the problems of shallow soils or a hardpan
resulting in unwanted standing water. Sometimes these conditions may require
the engineering of drainage modifications by some type of tiles or pipe. Often
the conditions simply require careful plant selection.
Predominate wind directions differ with the area of the state, the season
and the time of day. Where the wind direction differs in summer and winter,
plantings can be arranged to block the cold winter winds from a patio and
direct summer breezes into this same area (
Figure 12 ). While conducting the site analysis, be sure to look for
existing wind breaks provided by plants and structures on the property or on
All of these factors interact to create micro-climates. This means that the
conditions in a isolated spot may differ considerably from the conditions in
another area of the landscape. The designer must consider those variations in
order to "fine-tune" the landscape plan and plant selection.
Views should be identified that are to be preserved or accented. Likewise,
less desirable views must be considered so screening can be planned. Views and
activities 30 feet (9 m) or so from the property line must be surveyed. During
the site analysis, views should be observed from inside the house to outside
and from outside to inside the house (
Figure 13 ). Observe the neighbors' property from positions on the
customer's lot and view the customer's property from the neighbors' lots if
possible. The house should also be observed at multiple angles from the
street. Pictures from an instant camera can be helpful in reminding the
designer of specific views when sitting back at the drawing table.
Surrounding distractions must be identified. You may need to question
neighbors or the property owner about these factors. Record a noise source
like roads, factories, saw mills, etc. and plot the direction and distance of
the source. The time of day for peak noise levels can be important as well. It
may be necessary to return to the site during such a period. Other
distractions could include glare or odors.
Utility lines may be on poles or underground. Locate the position of these
on the plot plan. Also locate the electrical meter on the house, the
air-conditioner unit and water outlets. Consider the position of television
and telephone cables, water lines and sewage lines, or a septic tank and field
line. Television cable companies and the telephone company will usually locate
their service lines accurately. However, these services must be requested in
Architectural style of the house is of primary importance. Specific
details of interest must be identified during the site analysis. Things like
the height of windows, the height of house corners from the ground and
overhang widths should be considered. Is the house guttered or should it be?
If so, locate the outlets. Notice major traffic problems so proper access and
movement can be provided.
Assess Family Needs
A landscape should be an outdoor extension of indoor living areas. It
should be functional and provide space for family activities. Before the
designer can create such an environment, knowledge of certain family
characteristics is essential.
The questions used in the form at the
end can be among those asked of the customer.
Locate Activity Areas
Once the family needs have been determined, areas for these activities must
be located on the property. Their placement should be considered in terms of
the house plan and in relation to other activities in and adjacent to the
property. These activity areas could include a public area, entrance, living
area, quiet zone, service and work area, or vegetable or cut-flower garden
These areas should be defined on the plot plan or maybe on a piece of
tracing paper laid over the plot plan. Actually sketch the outline of these
areas ( Figure 14 ).
Be sure to include all needed activity areas and draw them to scale and to the
size necessary to accommodate the activity, yet still fit within the property
Two major considerations for the placement of areas must be emphasized. 1)
Place outdoor areas in relation to indoor activity areas (
Figure 14 ). The outdoor living or entertaining area should be an
extension of the family or living room in the house. The service area and work
area may be an extension of the laundry room, kitchen or garage. 2) Arrange
areas relative to the activities in each and activities on adjoining property.
For example, do not position the children's play area beside the quiet zone.
Always leave a clear view to the children's play area from some identified
observation point like the kitchen window.
Design Activity Areas
A systematic approach should be taken in designing activity areas. First,
determine the objectives of the design and establish the general type of plan
ญญ formal or natural. Plan for structural needs, consider land form
modifications, determine traffic flow, develop bed form and then specify plant
Structural needs should be considered first. If a storage building is
needed, a level spot and access must be planned. Required access may mean a
path or limited vehicular access to haul in firewood, etc.
Land form information derived from the site analysis can be used now. Do
surface water drainage problems exist? If so, determine how to correct them.
Engineering and legal considerations are involved in major surface water
drainage problems. Seemingly simple solutions may affect someone else's
surface drainage. Consider grassed waterways, paved waterways or possibly
drainage tiles. Drainage problems may not exist but land form modifications
could be used to create interest, or help block undesirable views or noise.
Care should be taken not to create surface water drainage problems with land
Existing land form may have slopes which will erode. Existing slope or
steepness will determine what actions should be taken. Ground covers may be
the answer for long, gentle slopes while terraces with railroad ties or blocks
may solve the problem of a short, steep bank. Grass should not be put on
slopes greater than 1:6 (1 foot of rise per 6 feet of run) because of
maintenance safety. Other ground cover materials will probably hold a 1:2 or
1:3 slope. Bark mulch should not be placed on a slope greater than 1:10.
Bed form, traffic flow and plant selection and placement utilize art
elements and design principles previously discussed. These can best be covered
as the development of specific areas is discussed.
Public Area. The public area is the portion of the
residential landscape the public sees and uses. The current trend toward
smaller residential lots encourages the development of some of the front yard
for family living. The public area contains the driveway, parking, walks, open
space and entrance area. The purpose of the public area is to enhance the
home, provide comfortable access and lead the visitor to the entrance.
Foundation planting is not all of landscaping but can be a vital part of
functional landscape design. Too often foundation planting is overdone and
left to stand along. History reveals that foundation plantings were used to
block the view of raised foundations and to slow cold air movement under the
house ( Figure 15 ).
Although these needs do not often exist today, some landscapers and homeowners
think it is a must to cover every linear foot of the foundation with plants.
The objectives of foundation planting are to focalize the main entrance,
compliment the architectural style of the house and to break long continuous
lines of the house and blend it into the surroundings. The designer should
avoid competing elements which detract from the main entrance and the house in
general. An isolated bed in the middle of open lawn area is one of these
competing elements. Plants should be selected which can easily be maintained
to proper scale with the house. This is probably the most common failure of
A general rule of thumb is that the height of plants in the foundation
planting should not exceed two-thirds the height of the wall at house corners
( Figure 16 ).
Generally, plant height should not exceed the height of a line extending from
the doorway to this imaginary point at the house corner. This does not mean
every house should have plantings this high.
Balance in landscape design is not always necessary. Imbalance may be used
with architectural features of some houses to create desirable, interesting
effects. However, when balance is suggested, it should be achieved.
Symmetrical balance has been overdone in residential landscape design. This
approach seems formal and monotonous (
Figure 17 ). Asymmetrical balance is often more desirable for residential
landscapes as balance is created without monotony. Size is balance by mass and
texture in this example. Architectural style may dictate the use of symmetry
or asymmetry. Driveways, parking and walks must be functional. They must be
positioned to provide easy access from points of entry onto the property to
the entrance of the house. Too often walks are placed from the street to the
front door with no consideration of access from the driveway to the front
door. Many times a walk dividing the front yard is not necessary and may
detract from the house.
Walk and driveway surfaces should be selected based on traffic demands. Low
traffic walks and driveways may be surfaced with less expensive materials such
as bark or gravel, but walks and driveways with high traffic demands should
have a hard surface.
Walks accommodating two people abreast should be at least 4 feet (1.2m)
wide ( Figure 18 ).
Walks for one person should be at least 30 inches (74cm) wide (Figure 18). A
straight driveway for one car should be at least 8 feet (2.4m) wide while 14
feet (4.3m) is required for two cars side-by-side. Circle drives should have a
minimum inside radius of 18 feet (5.5m) and an outside radius of 32 feet
(9.8m) with a surface width of 14 feet (4.3m). Steps should be designed with
human comfort as the top priority. Generally, a taller step, one with greater
rise, should have a longer tread area. A handy rule of thumb states that twice
the rise in inches plus the tread should equal 26 or 27 (
Figure 19 ). Ramps for wheelchair access are necessary or desired in some
residential landscapes. The average wheelchair user can negotiate a 5 percent
gradient independently and the minimum width is 3 feet (90cm). The bottom and
top approach to a ramp should be clear and level for a distance of at least 5
Driveways must be wide enough at the street to allow cars to merge easily
into the flow of traffic. The higher the average speed of the street traffic
the wider the mouth of the drive should be.
The view of street traffic from the driveway entrance should not be
blocked. Large plants placed along the driveway entrance create a dangerous
situation. Plants on the outside of a curve in a driveway or highway aid the
driver by giving definition to the traffic flow. Make sure such a planting
blends into the total design. A plant screen on the inside of a curve in a
driveway or highway is hazardous because it blocks the driver's view of the
Trees can be used in the public area to soften lines, provide shade and
enframe the house ( Figure
20 ). Also trees placed in the backyard can provide an excellent
background for the house as viewed from the street. Vertical lines of many
houses can be effectively softened by a small tree planted in conjunction with
other plants at a corner. Tree shape is very important. A low-branched,
rounded tree softens this line while a slender upright tree only accents the
line. Trees with a lot of exposed trunk, like a sabal palm, will also accent
and not soften these vertical lines.
A long low house (ranch style) can be made to appear taller in relation to
its length by proper placement of plant materials (
Figure 21 ). Larger trees planted as a background break the horizontal
roof line. Smaller trees spaced a few feet from the ends or corners of the
house would also help the house seem taller in relation to its length.
A tall slender house seems longer when few or no trees are placed in the
background but medium-sized, rounded trees are positioned on either side of
the house ( Figure 21
). Plants placed near these trees should be shorter and decrease in height the
farther from the house they are positioned. This planting design effectively
created a sloping line to replace the strong vertical line of the house. The
house then appears longer in relation to its height.
Trees positioned for shade must be carefully located. The designer must
learn what area needs shade, and during what time of the day and what seasons
the shade is needed. This information will determine where to plant the trees
relative to sun angle, sun direction and areas to be shaded.
A moderate amount of open area in the front yard can create the feeling of
a large expansive area that allows the observer's eye to move from the street
to the planted areas. The planted areas can then direct the observer's eye to
the appropriate place. Some family game activities need not be in the private
living area and can be accommodated by open portions of the public area.
Entrance. The entrance should be an area of transition
between outdoors and indoors. Considerable detail should be given to the
planning and maintenance of this area. This is true because a visitor is close
to this area and moving slowly or actually standing still. Therefore there is
time to view this area and a favorable impression can be developed before a
person enters the house.
Plantings in the public area should focus attention to the entrance. This
means there should be no doubt in the visitor's mind where to enter the house.
If the house is approached commonly from more than one direction, the
focalization of the entrance form these different perspectives must be
considered. This focalization is achieved through repetition of plant masses (
Figure 22 ). Transition of plant form, color and texture and the bed lines
can help direct attention.
Focusing attention toward the entrance is not the same as accenting the
entrance or access area. Plantings, like liriope, along both sides of a walk
in the open lawn only draws attention to or accents the walk. These do not
direct attention to the entrance, but actually distract the observer's
attention from the entrance area to the walk itself.
There should be a feeling of intimacy or comfort with limited exposure when
a person is standing in the entrance area. Security and the need to focus the
entrance may dictate the extent of exposure in this area. In a outdoor public
area for a larger home, an extensive entrance garden may be appropriate. Be
careful to keep this area in scale with the house and its surroundings. These
areas are sometimes called "good night" areas, because they provide an
effective transition between the indoors and the vehicle parking outside.
Living area. Elements in the living area, primarily the
backyard, depend upon the desires and needs of the family. These desires and
needs were determined during the interview outlined previously. This area must
be clearly organized to avoid wasted space. Living area space must be
organized based on the activities to be included there. Consideration is given
to the house design, land form and house orientation as they relate to space
Private area(s) are usually a part of the living area. A private area may
be for reading and meditation as an extension of the master bedroom or it
could be an area for small group conversation as an extension of the living
room. A private area may be placed close to the house or in an isolated corner
of the landscape.
Space and equipment for children's play are required in many landscapes.
The play area should be an integral part of the landscape. Enclosure of this
area may be required, based on age of children, size of area and activities on
adjacent property. The permanency of the play area depends upon the ages of
the children and family plans. If the children are 8 to 10 and no other
children are expected, the area may be temporary and plans for future
modification should be suggested to the customer.
The children's play area may require some open space. This space may also
serve for adult entertaining. Planning for multi-use space of this sort can
lead to high space utilization and efficiency.
It is often important to provide a degree of privacy in the living area.
Fencing, walls or plants used for this purpose can also block views, enhance
views and direct or block prevailing winds.
Structural features in the living area could include a patio, deck,
terrace, water feature and/or garden and workshop. A patio used as an
extension of the family room should be at least 12 feet by 15 feet (4m by 5m).
The selection of surface material is based on land slope, expected use rate,
style of the house and the amount of funds available. Raised wooden decks are
suited for sloping land and are cooled by air flow beneath them. Brick and
sand is less expensive than brick and cement and if installed properly can be
quite durable. Stained concrete and concrete with an aggregate surface are
also alternative surfaces for patios.
A water feature could be a swimming pool, spa, or a simple reflection pool.
Moving water creates a secure, relaxed feeling in a private area and is often
overlooked for this use. Expense of these items is often the limiting factor.
The designer should be concerned with traffic flow and circulation in the
living area. Each unit in this area should be a part of the whole and
contribute to the overall circulation pattern. This is especially true in the
areas where entertaining is planned. Areas of limited access, like service
areas, may not be a part of this circulation pattern. Circulation refers to
the movement of people's eyes and then their bodies through a specific pattern
in the landscape. For example, a quiet sitting area located in the back corner
of the lot is hidden from view of the patio (
Figure 23 ). Proper bed arrangement and plant selection will lead the
observer to one focalization point in the landscape. The person, now located
at that point sees another focalization point and so on until the sitting area
is seen. This systematic method moves people from one point to another until
the desired circulation and traffic flow patterns are created. Walt Disney
World is a working example of planned traffic flow by this technique.
Service Area. The outdoor service area is an extension of the
indoor service rooms like the kitchen, utility room and/or garage. It is a
part of the overall design, but is usually screened from most parts of the
living and public areas. Access from the house and from other parts of the
landscape will be necessary. Sometimes vehicular access is desired. The family
interview previously discussed, will determine what must be included in this
area. The amount of space available and number and type of activities to be
included will determine the required size.
A service area could include tool storage, work space, clothesline, garden
supplies storage, trash cans, firewood and a vegetable or cut-flower garden.
It is possible to have service functions in two or more locations in the
Definition and Separation of Areas. Once the activity areas
have been located and ideas for development of these areas have been
formulated, the need for separation of these areas is often apparent. Space
can be the medium for separation when working with a larger piece of property.
Most often some other type of separation is required due to the number of
separate activities planned in a small area. Sometimes it is only necessary to
define space with a rail fence, etc., rather than providing a complete screen
or barrier. Spaces can also be separated by changes in elevation. Planters can
separate areas and can be a very attractive means of defining space.
A visual screen from one direction without being a physical barrier fits
the bill for some situations. Groupings of plants can be positioned to give a
visual block in one direction while allowing air flow into the activity area
as previously shown in
Figure 12 .
The required height of a screen depends upon the elevation of the view to
be screened. A screen for privacy from the neighbor's two story window will
require a taller screen than one for blocking the view of a neighbor down in
the valley ( Figure 24
). Generally, a screen should be placed as close as possible to the item to be
Plant materials provide an inexpensive screen with color and interest. They
generally require more space than fences and it takes time for them to grow to
mature size. Fences provide an immediate screen, occupy little space and are
quite expensive. The budget and available space will be the determining
factors in this decision.
Screens can be combinations of raised land form, ground covers, small
shrubs, large shrubs, and trees to give a complete or strong barrier. This
combined planting is especially suited for noise abatement where the lot
adjoins a busy public street (
Figure 25 ).
Plant Selection and Placement
Plant selection is the last step in the design process. Up until this
point, plant form, texture, color and size have been visualized, but now a
name must be assigned to each plant. Plants are selected on the basis of
climatic adaptability to the microclimate of the location, plant architecture
No matter how well a plant meets the physical characteristics for a
location, if it is not adaptable to the conditions there, it will fail. These
microclimate conditions include sun intensity and duration, soil conditions,
rainfall, air circulation and temperature. Some plants perform better in
partial or full shade than in full sun. The length of daily exposure to a
particular light level also influences plant responses. Soil pH, soluble salts
level and drainage properties influence plant adaptability greatly. Plants can
be selected to tolerate varied soil conditions, but the designer must have a
working knowledge of available plant materials.
Some locations in a landscape may be characterized by little or no air
movement. Plants susceptible to mites, scales and other insects will usually
be attacked more severely in areas with poor air circulation. Also locations
in the landscape differ as to the maximum or minimum temperatures and daily
fluctuation between these extremes. Plants can be selected to tolerate one or
more of these conditions.
Plant architecture consists of form, size, texture and color. Plant form is
classified as columnar, upright, spreading, broad spreading and prostrate.
Plants should be selected on the basis of their mature size or a size at which
they can be maintained easily. Texture is referred to as fine, medium or
coarse. It is determined by branching habit, leaf size and shape, leaf
arrangement, leaf color and leaf surface texture (dull or glossy). Plant color
is determined by the foliage, flowers and/or fruits. Knowledge of a plant's
seasonal color variations is essential.
Landscape designers must also be aware of insect and disease problems for
plants they expect to include in a plan. Desirable plants are those resistant
to or tolerant of pests like mites, scale, nematodes, borers, root rots,
powdery mildew, wilts, galls, blights, and leaf spots. Plants in some
locations must be tolerant of human abuse, air pollution and animals.
Usually, plants should be spaced with consideration to their mature size.
Plants in large areas or groups are generally spaced to cover an area in 3 to
5 years. Plants should be spaced far enough from the house so that there is
adequate air circulation near the house. Generally, space plants from the
house by at least the distance of the plant radius at maturity. Spacing plants
too close to the house is a common mistake.
Minimal Maintenance Considerations. Maintenance cannot be
avoided, but it can be minimized. Even the perfectly designed and installed
landscape will fail if maintenance fails. However, many maintenance problems
are designed into landscapes.
Complex designs usually require more maintenance. Simplicity can be
achieved by avoiding unnecessary detail. Limit the number of plant species and
create well-defined planted areas by not scattering plants throughout open
Design the appropriate size of maintained area and arrange plants in groups
of like species to create a mass effect. Tree beds can eliminate trimming,
reduce lawn mower damage to tree trunks and increase the speed of mowing.
Edging of beds creates a sharp clean line and reduces maintenance
Make sure bed lines encompassing a lawn area meet at angles greater than 90
degrees. Walk, driveway and patio surfaces that are in grassed areas should be
above the ground level. Avoid improper plant selection, spacing and
installation that can cause maintenance headaches.
document is Circular 536, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of
Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. This information
supports Environmental Landscape Management, i.e., landscape design and
management for environmental horticulture. Publication date: June 1991.
Dewayne L. Ingram, former
professor and extension horticulturalist, Environmental Horticulture
Department, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural
Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville FL 32611.