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Landscape Design
By Brian Wilson - Landscape Designer
Wilson Bros. Landscape Design

A well-planned landscape can tremendously benefit the lives of those who dwell among it


Just about anyone knows a great looking landscape when they see one. Take a drive through any neighborhood and it's easy to spot the landscape that should receive the 'Yard of the Month Award', every month. Chances are, a professional landscape designer designed it, or someone who has the working knowledge of art elements and design principles.

Want to design your own landscape? If you know very little about landscape design, and are trying to decide whether or not to design your own landscape, the brief overview below may be of some help. At least we hope so.

Elements of Art

Elements of art include but are not limited to color, line, form, texture and scale.

  • Color can be used to visually change distance perspective and to set a certain mood. 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 background.

A color wheel is a diagramatic way of showing relationships between colors. Colors on the right side of the wheel are warm. Colors on the left side are cool. Colors adjacent to one another are analogous. Opposite colors are complementary.

What is important to gardeners, is how colors clash with or complement one another and the distinction between warm and cool colors.

  • Line is related to eye movement or flow. In the overall landscape, line is inferred by bed arrangement and the way these beds fit or flow together. 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. Bedlines in our own designs often flow across hard-surfaced areas such as driveways and walkways


  • Form and line are closely related. Line is considered usually in terms of the outline or bed edges, 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, mounding, vase-shape, etc. 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 Coarse, medium or fine foliage could be used to describe texture but so could smooth, rough, glossy or dull. In a design we often alternate large-leaved plants with small, or dull-leaved with shiny to create eye-appealing contrast in texture.
  • 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. If you are designing a landscape for a single level home on a 1/4 acre size lot large shade trees such as red oaks or elms should be substitued with smaller-growing shade trees such as the Trident maple or flowering trees such as crape myrtles.


Principles of Landscape Design

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 purpose.

  • Balance in design refers to the equilibrium or equality of visual attraction. Symmetrical balance is achieved when one side of the design is a mirror image of the other side. We often use this principle in foundation plantings by placing the same type of plants or trees on the corners of a home or on each side of an entryway.

    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 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 here. Asymetrical balance in design is much more difficult to achieve by the novice designer. Design professionals can work for years to become skilled in this principle.

  • Transition is gradual change. Transition can be obtained by the arrangement of objects with varying colors, 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

    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 in the distance become a part of the landscape 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 within it.

  • 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. 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.

  • 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, whether it be a plant, tree, structure, or an object such as a fountain or statue. Straight radial lines 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. We often consider the front entrance to a home or building as the primary focal point and thus will design the landscape to point the viewers eye towards it.

  • 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. We often use repetition in front yard designs where a more formal, clean appearance is desired. However, in backyard designs we often let go of this principle. The backyard is where residents spend most of their time relaxing outdoors, and the more variety in plant material can be a pleasant distraction and conversation piece for you and your guests.
  • Simplicity goes hand-in-hand with repetition and can be achieved by elimination of unnecessary detail. Too much detail, such as sqiggly bed lines, creates confusion of perception to the passerby. 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 and 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 you can obtain an accurate plat of the house and property and a house floor plan with outside dimensions. These plans may be 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 paper. Commonly, 1" = 5' or 1" = 10' , 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, landscape design template, and drafting paper. The designer must have a firm, steady working surface.


Conduct a Site Analysis
A complete survey of the 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 be noted.

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.

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. 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 since it provides afternoon shade 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 in developing functional and aesthetically pleasing landscapes.

Soil characteristics will determine selection and placement of plants. Soil pH, nutrient and waterholding capacity and drainage should be considered.

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 or grading for correction. Often the conditions simply require careful plant selection. For instance an area that retains moisture could be turned from a liability to an asset quite inexpensively with plants that prefer moisture retentive soils such as the Yellow Flag Iris.

Predominate wind directions differ dpending on location, the season and the time of day. Where the wind direction differs in summer and winter, plantings using screen plants can be arranged to block the cold winter winds from a patio and direct summer breezes into this same area. While conducting the site analysis, be sure to look for existing wind breaks provided by plants and structures on the property or on adjacent property.

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 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. Observe the neighbors' property from positions on the property, and view the 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 very helpful in reminding the designer of specific views when sitting back at the drawing table. We always take lots of pictures.

Surrounding distractions must be identified. Locate noise sources like busy roads and plot the direction and distance of the source. Use plantings with screen plants to buffer the noise. Glare is another distraction that should be considered.

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 or satellite dishes, 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 advance.

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. Notice major traffic problems so proper access and movement from one area of the landscape to another will 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 considered by the designer.

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 living area, quiet zone, work area, water feature, or theme garden plots such as a butterfly or vegetable garden.

These areas should be defined on the plot plan. Actually sketch the outline of these areas on the plot plan. 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 lines.

Two major considerations for the placement of areas must be emphasized. 1) Place outdoor areas in relation to indoor activity areas. 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 - formal or natural. Plan for structural needs, consider land form modifications, determine traffic flow, develop bed form and then specify plant materials.

Structural needs should be considered first. If a storage building or gazebo is needed or desired, 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. Care should be taken not to create surface water drainage problems with land form modifications.

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' of rise per ' 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.

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 alone. History reveals that foundation plantings were used to block the view of raised foundations and to slow cold air movement under the house. 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. Try not to overcrowd the foundation planting on the front of your home making sure to properly space plant material. It is very helpful to research mature heights and widths of the foundation plants you will choose for this area and indeed all areas of your landscape.

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 foundation plantings.

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. 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. Under windows consider plants that will grow to a height no higher than at, or beneath, the bottom of the window.

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 by the style of the home, it should be achieved. Formal style homes typically beg for a more balanced, formal landscape while contemporary homes with varying angles can benefit aesthetically from an asymetrical design.

Symmetrical balance has been overdone in residential landscape design. This approach seems formal and monotonous. Asymmetrical balance is often more desirable for residential landscapes as balance is created without monotony. Architectural style may, and should 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' wide. Walks for one person should be at least 30" wide. A straight driveway for one car should be at least 8' wide while 14' minimum is required for two cars side-by-side. Circle drives should have a minimum inside radius of 18' and an outside radius of 32' with a surface width of 14'. 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. 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'. 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 road ahead.

Trees can be used in the public area (front yard) to soften lines, provide shade and enframe the house. (SEE: All About Trees) Aside from using trees for shade, we often use trees to frame a home rather than tall growing shrubs such as hollies. Tall vertical lines that can be found on the corners of many two-story houses can be effectively softened by a 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. Also trees placed in the backyard can provide an excellent background for the house as viewed from the street.

A long low house (ranch style) can be made to appear taller in relation to its length by proper placement of plant materials. 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. 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.

Shade trees positioned for shade must be carefully located. The designer must locate 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 Japanese maple placed as a focal point can make a landscape.

Evergreen trees make great foundation corner plants or screens.

Flowering trees used in a row can define a property line or used as a specimen can be an eye-catching, beautiful focal point.

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 (front landscape).

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 home. We almost always place a laceleaf or upright Japanese Maple somewhere in the entrance planting.

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. Transition of plant form, color and texture and the bed lines can help direct attention. Never plant a large tree or wall of hedges in a location where it will block the front door of the home.

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 front 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 organization.

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 considered.

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 hedge 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. 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 garden pond. 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. 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. Most popular theme parks are working examples 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 landscape.

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 or container plantings 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.

The required height of a screen depends upon the elevation of the view to be screened. A screen planting 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. Generally, a screen should be placed as close as possible to the item to be screened.

Plant materials provide an inexpensive screen planting 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.

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 and availability.

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 type 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. Use the Plant Files in this site to become more aquainted with the various types of plants and trees that perform well in Zone 8 and surrounding areas.

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 and helpful.

The designer 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 and animals such as deer. SEE: Deer Resistant Plants

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. Foundation plants should be spaced far enough from the house so that there is adequate air circulation near the house and so that they will recieve beneficial rainfall. 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/Low Maintenance Considerations. Maintenance cannot be avoided entirely, but it can certainly be minimized. Even the perfectly designed and installed landscape will fail if maintenance fails.

Complex or overcrowded designs usually require more maintenance. Simplicity can be achieved by avoiding unnecessary detail. Use low-maintenance plants and limit the number of plant species if you do not enjoy pruning or clipping. Some actually enjoy clipping and pruning as it provides a calming sort of therapy. Create well-defined planted areas by not scattering plants or beds throughout open areas such as the lawn.

Keep line, and continual flow of the line in mind when designing lawn areas. When designing the shape of lawn areas use soft, flowing lines that will be easy to mow along. Try to avoid sharp angles when designing bedlines that will encompass a lawn area.

Design the appropriate size of a maintained area and arrange plants in groups of like species to create a mass effect. Place trees in beds or surround them with a bed of mulch that extends at minimum to the outside limb-line of the tree. Beds around trees 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 requirements.


Before anyone can design and build a 'Yard of the Month' landscape there are the basic artistic elements and principles to be considered. If you have never designed a landscape before we suggest that you re-read the basic guidelines above a second time...and maybe even a third before making your first attempt.

When it comes to designing a beautiful, practical, and functional landscape for your entire property there is much to consider, and much to know. If the thought of doing it yourself is a bit too overwhelming, you can set up an appointment with a Wilson Bros landscape designer. There is no charge for for a design quote. Call the nursery at 770-954-9862 or Brian Wilson at 678-859-8704.

For those of you who wish to design your own landscape, get busy - with patience of course - doing the necessary research. Pour through the information in this site. Drive around some subdivisions taking ideas from landscapes you find appealing. Visit the nursery to investigate plants and create your preference list. Consider purchasing a book such as 'The Home Landscaper', where you can find lots of great ideas from both 3 dimensional pictures and 2 dimensional drawings.


More About Wilson Bros. Landscape Design


Wilson Bros. Landscape Design is a full-time, year-round landscape design build company with a 21 year history of respected, professional design work. We provide a customized plan by working with the client's own ideas and preferences.

Wilson Bros Design offers quotes at no charge on both landscape designs and installations. A Wilson Bros desiger will meet with you to achieve an integrated landscape design that is practical and acknowledges budget requirements. The client has the option to use the plan and install plant material themselves, or to obtain installation bids from us or other local landscape contractors. We do designs for anything from a single flower bed to a complete property landscape and/or irrigation layout and can customize a plan to be planted in stages or all at once.

With our five acre nursery facility, Wilson Bros has the capability to store plant material ensuring timely installation and completion of any size project. Our clients can visit the nursery at any time to create a preference list before the design is drawn, and then to hand select plants, trees, and other materials before they are installed. Wilson Bros. also carries liability and Worker's Compensation Insurance.

For Design Appointment Contact:
Brian Wilson (678) 859-8704 
Nursery (770) 954-9862



Gardening 'How To'

Plant Files

Tips for the Month
Topics of Interest

D-I-Y Projects
FREE Designs
Map to Nursery



Gardening 'How To'

Plant Files

Tips for the Month
Topics of Interest

D-I-Y Projects
FREE Designs
Map to Nursery
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