Landscape Design for Beginners

By Amanda Lutz Updated February 7, 2024

Get Estimate

If your landscaping prowess is limited to maintaining a neat front yard or tending a flower bed, the idea of taking on a complete landscape design project can sound intimidating. Yet, landscapes can add as much as 15% to the value of your home and grow in value over time. They can also extend your usable living space, create curb appeal, and even help you mitigate the impact of climate change on your property.

Many homeowners choose to hire a professional landscape designer rather than take on the job of designing their outdoor space themselves. No matter what route you take to develop your landscape plan, it’s crucial to understand the basics of landscape design to make informed choices about your layout. This guide will help you understand how your property type will affect your landscape choices, the fundamentals of landscape design, and what is required to design a landscape.


Types of Landscapes

Your geographical location has a substantial impact on your terrain and the type of soil on your property. Understanding your landscape type can help you choose functional hardscapes for your property and the plants that are most likely to thrive. The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map can help you learn more about the types of plants that grow best in your area.

The three basic types of landscapes include mountain, flat, and coastal. Each landscape type has different properties that affect outdoor spaces.

Mountain landscapes may be prone to erosion and require plants to survive in demanding weather conditions. Hardy plant types and specific hardscape choices can mitigate the effects of these harsh conditions.

Flat landscapes feature a lot of open land, which offers little protection against the elements of nature. They’re often affected by droughts and sustained winds, which can impact the components of your landscape.

Coastal landscapes are constantly exposed to sandy and salty conditions that require specialized plant hardiness. Depending on your climate, these landscapes can also have notable weather demands, such as icy winters and fierce winds.


Landscape Design Fundamentals

Artful landscape design follows basic fundamentals to create spaces that are pleasing to the eye. You can develop a cohesive outdoor space with harmony and flow by using interconnected elements to create an overall feel for the landscape. These elements make up the foundation for appealing landscape design.


How to Design a Landscape

Once you get a firm understanding of the fundamentals of landscape design, you can use basic landscape design principles to blend hardscapes and carefully designed softscapes into natural surroundings. Artistic use of these basic design elements should be incorporated into every landscape design.

Color

In a landscape, you can use color to construct a mood, produce dimension, develop balance, or direct attention to a particular spot. You can use different colored native plants and flowers to create contrast or remain within warm or cool color groups to unify an area. For example, a cool-colored stone or gravel walkway contrasts nicely against dark grass or foliage. Yet, in another situation, you may wish for a garden composed of different plants featuring cool colors to create a relaxing atmosphere.

How you use warm and cool colors can also add dimension. Warm colors like reds can advance toward the viewer, while cool colors shrink into the background. You can use a color wheel to evaluate which colors work best together and how to arrange colors to create smooth transitions, focalization, and rhythm.

Form

Form is defined by the shape of plants and trees or hardscape features. It can impact proportion as form is related to the perceived size of an object. Plant forms include broad, columnar, oval, spreading, and weeping. Texture also plays a role in plant form, creating dimension with surface quality. Hardscape forms are more closely related to shapes, including square, rectangular, and elliptical.

Form is closely linked to line and plays a vital role in creating balance and establishing a foundation for your landscape design. Groupings of plants can be used to develop symmetry, while hardscapes put the focus on function. The shapes of your natural landscape elements and hardscapes can help you develop a unified design.

Line

Every element of your landscape creates lines that connect spaces and draw attention in one way or another. Borders of plants, hardscapes, walkways, and transitions create straight, curved, even, and uneven lines. They can make your landscape look neat and orderly or messy and chaotic.

Lines established by various plantings and walkways can separate hardscapes from softscapes, creating the illusion of an outdoor room. In another approach, a clear line can direct attention to a focal point or highlight the entry to your home. The addition of outdoor lighting will add a dramatic effect to intentional lines when the space is used after dark.

Scale

Closely related to proportion, scale refers to the size of objects in relation to their surroundings. Measurements are used to calculate the actual size. Yet, the way objects fit into a space can trick the eye into believing something is smaller or larger than it is. For instance, consider the image presented by planting trees near a home. Large trees can dwarf a home, making it look smaller, while very small trees can make a home look disproportionately large in relation to the property.

Scale can be recognized on a big-picture level and in individual areas of a landscape. The size of plantings should be considered in relation to the size of buildings, the lawn, and each other. Adding various landscape features of different sizes to your outdoor space can help you create natural transitions, dramatic lines, and focal points. Your choice of color can further emphasize these points or be used to blend areas.

Texture

Due to its subtlety, texture may be more likely to be overlooked than other elements of landscape design. Yet, it has the potential to generate the same effects.

Texture describes the surface quality of any object. It can be seen and felt and has an impact on how your landscape components work together. Texture in any landscape includes the smoothness or roughness of hardscape materials, the relationships between leaves and twigs in shrubs and trees, and even the thickness and height of various grass types and ornamental grasses. By varying the textures in your landscape, you can create dimension and develop unity.

For example, plants with coarse textures (large, well-shaped leaves) stand out and draw attention, while those with fine textures recede into the background. The textures of varied hardscapes can also be used to create different landscaping effects. Consider the appearance displayed when rock underpinning meets the smooth surface of a wooden deck. The contrasting textures bring out the best features of both materials.


Our Recommendation

Landscape design and installation projects are investments in your property that add enjoyment to your lifestyle and value to your home. Understanding the basics is only the beginning of your landscape makeover journey. Most landscape projects will also require rigorous physical demands and construction knowledge. Before taking on a do-it-yourself (DIY) landscape makeover, evaluate your physical limitations and experience level.

As a beginner, the idea of designing your own landscape can be exhilarating, intimidating, or a bit of both. Yet, it’s not an adventure you must embark upon alone. You can hire a professional landscape designer to create a design for you or offer professional advice to develop your existing ideas.


Landscape Design for Beginners FAQ

What are the five basic elements of landscape design?

The five basic elements of landscape design include color, form, line, scale, and texture. These elements will occur naturally in the components of your landscape. By using them purposefully, you can achieve various landscaping goals that will improve the appearance of your outdoor space and your home’s exterior.

What is the difference between a garden and landscaping?

The difference between a garden and a complete landscape lies mainly in the scope. Landscaping is the design and construction of all outdoor spaces, while gardening focuses directly on cultivating plants. While your garden is part of your landscape and gardeners use some of the techniques described in landscape design, garden design doesn’t encompass the entirety of landscaping.

What does a landscape designer do?

A landscape designer (or landscape architect) constructs the arrangement for attractive and functional public or private outdoor spaces. They create designs by sketching or using specialized software, prepare models, analyze job sites, consult with customers, and work closely with landscape installation teams.