The “ultimate” backyard means different things to different people. One person’s space for solitude in a secret garden is another’s gathering place for entertainment. Using the principles of landscape design, designers and architects transform your outdoor space into your idea of the ultimate backyard. The result is an aesthetic that matches your style while providing the form and function you need.

What are the 7 principles of landscape design?

To give you a better understanding of how landscape designers and architects approach outdoor spaces and to know what to expect for your project, it’s good to be somewhat familiar with the seven principles of landscape design. They are:

  1. Simplicity. If it’s unnecessary or doesn’t contribute to the beauty or functionality of the space, get rid of it. Make a list of things that you feel can or should be removed. This list will help you prepare for your consultation meeting, and you’ll be glad later when your space is more functional and easier to maintain.
  2. Variety. Diversity and contrast will add interest and create a more natural environment. Your designer will create this element by intentionally choosing various forms, textures, and colors in your outdoor space (but not at the expense of simplicity).

  1. Balance. Although very common, not all spaces are symmetrically balanced. They may also use asymmetrical or perspective balance to create equal visual attraction and weight. Texture, color, form, and placement all affect whether your space looks balanced.
  2. Emphasis. Also referred to as dominance or focal point, emphasis is used to attract attention and can be created by contrasting plants or objects with adjacent plants or objects using size, color, form, or texture.

  3. Sequence. To give movement or life to your landscaping, changes in plant size, texture, number in groupings, and color are used. For example, in a flower bed, you would sequence by putting the larger, coarser texture plants in the back and the smaller, finer texture plants in the front inside curve of the bed.
  4. Scale/Proportion. Scale refers to the size of the components in a landscape, whereas proportion is how they relate to each other. Landscape designers think about your outdoor space and consider the proportion of elements with humans, with the house, and with new plantings. For example, a patio should be large enough for entertaining but not too big for the house.
  5. Unity. Everything should tie together for a cohesive look. Unity is achieved through following all the other principles and may start with a favorite color or plant type. Or unity may begin with a theme such as a time period or sacred space.

What is involved in the design process?

Way before a single plant or stone paver gets placed, a design process gets underway. This crucial planning phase ensures that your outdoor space is built to last using the principles of landscape design. Now, let’s discuss the steps in the design planning process. (Note: to make the design process easier to understand, we’ll use drawings that focus on plants. However, landscape design can encompass everything from fireplace areas and outdoor entertainment areas to pools and hot tubs and more.)

  1. Site inventory and analysis. Your landscape designer will get a lay of the land and take into account the soil type, topography, and regional climate. While anything is possible, it’s advisable to stick to plants and structures that are friendly to the environment they are in. This is also the step when your utilities and other limiting factors will be noted.
  2. Inventorying your needs. Depending on how you use the space, your landscape designer will make sure to accommodate for that in the design. For example, if you are using your area for entertaining, you’ll need more seating areas. Do you want seating in the shade at certain times of the day and in the sun at others? Your designer will make a note of this and many other details that will factor into the best design for you. 
  3. Create functional diagrams. Functional diagrams show the major elements and their function within the space. They are not concerned with the exact items or materials at this point. Your landscape designer may create a few options before determining the best solution to accomplish your goals.
  1. Develop a conceptual design plan. During the conceptual design phase, areas are broken up into smaller areas to show different types, sizes, and shapes of materials, but specifics are not detailed. The dining space isn’t a circle on the diagram any longer. It’s a defined place, with an island, a grill, a sink, a refrigerator, and bar seating.  Looking at the diagram below, you can see form and function starting to take shape.
  1. Create the final design plan. During the final design plan, the concept plan becomes more refined. We now know what materials make up the kitchen island. We know what our walls will be made from, whether it’s hardscaped or softscaped. Once you approve the detailed plan, construction begins.

Whether or not you have a solid idea of what your ultimate backyard should look like, a landscape designer or architect can help with the process using the principles of landscape design and a proven design process. Contact us and we’ll set you up with a qualified landscape designer who will discuss your needs and wants, interpret them, and work with you to formulate a plan that’s as unique as you.