Defining do-it-yourself landscape design is a useful exercise: By exploring all its ins and outs, we may discover an aspect of this diverse field that we've been overlooking all this time.
Let's begin with a basic definition that considers both aesthetics and practical concerns. Further, let's call this a definition specifically of do-it-yourself landscape design, so as to keep our discussion distinct from professional work.
Do-it-yourself landscape design is the art of arranging or modifying the features of the grounds around a home to improve the property from an aesthetic and/or practical standpoint.
This definition, however, raises the questions, "Aesthetic for whom?" and "Practical for whom?" The issue of aesthetics, in particular, is fraught with subjectivity. What one person finds to be attractive might not excite you at all. But this doesn't mean that nothing needs to be said about landscape aesthetics for the DIY'er.
You may have your own distinct tastes, but there are still useful guidelines to help you achieve maximum aesthetic impact on your landscape. If you'll be selling your property, there are distinct home landscaping tips for you to learn; you must consider the tastes of potential buyers. If, instead, you're landscaping simply to suit your own tastes, you'll still want to keep in mind some general design guidelines for landscape aesthetics.
Practical Elements: Energy Conservation With Trees, Land Use
Answering certain questions helps narrow down the possible landscape designs best suited to your needs. All of the following will determine how you should landscape:
Whether you have children who are active outdoors
Whether you'll be landscaping with dogs
Whether you plan on using your yard for exercise, sports, or entertaining
Large lawns are useful for homeowners interested in badminton, ball playing, and hosting social barbecues. But if you're more interested in enjoying serenity, solitude, and contemplation, the role of turfgrass may be reduced drastically in favor of trees, shrubs, garden beds, etc.
One aspect that warrants inclusion in any introduction to landscape design is energy conservation. A well-planned incorporation of trees and shrubs in your yard, as in the following examples, is an effective means of energy conservation:
Plant deciduous trees to the south and west of a home to serve as shade trees, reducing summer air conditioning costs. Because such trees drop their leaves in winter, they won't deprive your home of sunlight when you need it.
Evergreen trees planted to the north and west of a home serve as windbreaks. By breaking the wind, such trees reduce heating costs in winter.
Likewise, shrubs used as foundation plantings can reduce heating costs, creating an insulating dead air space around the home. Plant the shrubs a few feet away from your foundation.
But after such practical concerns have been addressed, you'll still want to make your landscape design as aesthetically pleasing as possible. An introduction to aesthetics is as much a part of do-it-yourself landscape design study as is an introduction to its practical side.
Regarding aesthetics, you first have some decisions to make about hardscaping, existing trees, and what you'll have as a view when you gaze out the window. Getting the hardscaping part of the project right will make implementing the softscaping refinements relatively easy.
You do your hardscaping first, saving the refinements (planting) for last. Hardscaping constitutes the heavier work, forming the backbone for your landscape aesthetics. Leave such icing on the cake as the planting of beds of perennial flowers for last: They're delicate and will just be in your way during the hardscaping phase.
Two of the most labor-intensive hardscaping projects are the building of decks and patios. Yet, as potentially large and beautiful outdoor living spaces, decks, and patios are also two of the more common and rewarding features. Other hardscaping features include: