Designing Your Landscape for your House (and You!)

“Look at those shrubs; they are way too big for that spot.” “They have no landscape at all!” These and other statements are often heard by my patient wife and kids on drives to the city. Being a landscape designer and lover of architecture encourage me to proclaim these ideas. This past weekend my family and I participated in a Christmas movie night, watching ‘Christmas with the Kranks’, a hilarious movie about an empty-nester who wants to skip Christmas and take a cruise. During the movie, I repeatedly noticed that the landscapes of the upper middle-class neighborhood are grossly under-done. No trees for height at the corners, no sweeping curves of evergreens or grasses, and no brightly colored beds of annual or perennial favorites.


The sweeping curves, tall trees, and large planting beds fit the scale of this house.
The sweeping curves, tall trees, and large planting beds fit the scale of this house.

When out consulting on landscapes, I often mention simple principles of design to homeowner or businesses.  Ideas of scale, balance, repetition, and enframement all play a large part in what your landscape is to become. Are you looking for simple foundation plantings to show off your home? Or are you searching for a richly landscaped yard where your children can play and you can relax? Or do you want to be the envy of the neighborhood? All these ideas can be achieved with proper design and planning.


One of the most important things that get overlooked in most landscapes is the height of the building and trying to frame or soften the structure’s angles. What do I mean? Buildings that are 2 or more stories in height are often left bare at the corners or planted with trees that never fully frame it. Large structures should be framed with larger trees, ones that grown 2/3 the height or over. These could be large shade trees or upright evergreens or deciduous trees.  By adding trees in the proper location to frame your home, you have will have added quick value to your home and allow the eyes to find your home more visually appealing.  Even if you have a 1 story home, adding trees or shrubs that match the scale of your house is important.


These plantings are too small for the size of the house.
These plantings are too small for the size of the house.

If you are planning a simple foundation planting versus a complex landscape, you still need to consider scale and balance in your design. One of the biggest mistakes I see in landscaping is the under use of plants and bed sizes. Beds should be at least six or more feet in width and filled fuller with plants.Yes, plants and bigger beds are more expensive, but it will make the difference between a well-landscape house and a poorly-landscaped house. For example, if you are using weed fabric covered with gravel or landscape rock, there is a tendency to underplant to save money-but the result is a pretty bed with poor plant placement and design. Most rocked landscapes do not have the plant material necessary to soften all the hardness of the rock and the house matched together.  Beds that are too small for the right plantings will be poorly designed.


When planning and designing large, extensive landscapes it is important to remember the design and architecture of your house-if you have a large colonial-style brick home it may not work to plan a boulder-strewn, Colorado mountain inspired landscape. A more appropriate style would be colonial cottage garden or a formal landscape with straight lines and hedges.


Repetition is important to help balance the landscape into a cohesive whole. If you plant a group of hydrangeas in one bed, use an odd number of them in another bed as well. Planting in mass is also an important idea for repetition, use large sweeps of grasses, perennials, and shrubs for a fuller, more defined landscape. Collectors’ gardens may have specimens of plants scattered about their yard, but they likely will tie them into the landscape by surrounding them with repeated selections of shrubs or perennials.


Just remember that when planning a new landscape or updating an existing one, it is important to focus on simple principles and ideas to maintain a healthy and beautiful landscape.

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