New Hampshire Landscaping Blog


Landscaping Design Basics

Let’s say you’re working on your back yard landscape design. You may think that there aren’t any real “rules” to a good back yard landscape design. After over 30 years of designing landscapes, I can tell you that there are definitely rules to follow for good design. You can look at the blank canvas of your yard and get lost on how to design it so it has form, function and beauty. Look at these following “rules” of landscape garden design and look at the picture. See if you can identify any of the rules in this landscaping project. Back yard landscape design or entire property landscape design, the rules are the same.

A good garden design should not consider just one area of the property, but must view the entire property as a cohesive composition. Here are a few thoughts on the subject.

First of all, ALL landscape designs should adhere to the basic design principles of UNITY, BALANCE, INTEREST, RHYTHM AND MOVEMENT.

I’ll start with laying out the initial design, then move on to how to scale the projects proportions for the most pleasing visual impact, and then on to plant selection.

1. HAVE SPECIFIED AREAS OF USE. When we first start out in landscape design class, we use “bubble diagrams” to delineate certain areas such as ‘utility’, ‘outdoor eating’, ‘walkway’, ‘play area’, ‘open space’, etc.

  • This is to ensure that things such as garbage cans don’t end up getting stored on the corner of the patio because we forgot to designate a place for them.

2. CREATE UNITY: Unity can be achieved in many ways. Unity will bring a sense of order to the design. Here are a few examples of creating unity:

  • Repeat the circular lawn shape in a circular patio shape
  • Transition from one design element to another element with ease
  • Use similar materials throughout such as natural stone instead of mixing it up

3. BALANCE: If a design is out of balance, it just won’t feel right. A tiny border garden near the edge of an expansive lawn is an example of being out of balance. Balance can be achieved either symmetrically or asymmetrically.

  • Balance one tall tree with an equal mass of shrubs
  • Use the ‘golden mean rule’ for proportion. A 5’ x 8’ sized raised bed, for example always looks balanced... it’s just one of those weird rules.

4. START WITH THE ‘BONES’ AND THEN PUT ON THE ‘MEAT’: The ‘bones’ of the design is what we need to build everything else off of. In these bones, you will create the RHYTHM and MOVEMENT in the design (although other aspects such as plant choices can assist with rhythm and movement too).

  • The bones will be things such as walkways, patios, retaining wall, trees, the big stuff. Lay these out so that the designated use areas flow with pleasant rhythm and movement. Different shapes can be used here too. When we move seamlessly from the front of the home, along a meandering walk on the side of the home, and come through an arbor and open up onto a patio, there is a sense of movement.

5. INTEREST: Something must always attract our eye in any given view in the landscape or it will be boring.

  • Every view should have a focal point.

6. PLANT CHOICES: As far as design goes, plants should be placed in groups, and balanced with their overall mass. Always place the larger plants first, and build the smaller plant groups around the bones of the design and the larger plants. Plants are the ‘meat’ on the ‘bones’


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Thanks for sharing these landscaping design basics ideas. I appreciate for this work.
9/6/2021 1:31:24 AM | Reply
Wow! Very useful content and we hope you continue to post similar concepts. We love your basic design principles of Unity, Balance, Interest, Rhythm and Movement. We have recently started our new Landscaping service and came across this article. Thank you for sharing and looking forward to seeing more.
9/4/2021 10:05:49 AM | Reply
Outstanding post. Truly valuable information to be read and reread just to take it all in. I loved the tip about finding balance symmetrically or asymmetrically to get to create a space that feels right for the heart and eyes. Having a landscaping business this is a core "savoir-faire" that we won't offer to our customers so thanks for highlighting it in this resourceful post.
8/31/2021 11:39:36 AM | Reply
Interesting point about grouping plants. I've never thought about laying out a diagram for exactly where everything is going to go (including a place for garbage cans, These can easily change the entire look of the garden.
8/19/2021 1:35:24 PM | Reply
Interesting point about grouping plants. I've never thought about laying out a diagram for exactly where everything is going to go (including a place for garbage cans, These can easily change the entire look of the garden.
8/19/2021 10:18:58 AM | Reply
This was a great article. I'm not well seasoned with landscaping. It truly is an art. I appreciate you laying out the framework, extremely helpful!
8/19/2021 10:16:08 AM | Reply
I love your tip about having a pace for everything planned out so it doesn't get thrown aside. My husband and I have an old pool in our yard that we would like to spruce up for guests. We would love to have a nice patio installed so we can have a more usable space out there.
8/13/2021 1:58:09 PM | Reply
Outstanding detail. Must read for all the summer landscapers out there!
8/10/2021 1:57:44 AM | Reply
Wow great writing! This entire article had me going "Aha". If you look at the big picture - instead of just a backyard think of the house, the driveway, the stairs and patio and more I already feel more in control of my design instead of not knowing where to start. Then the steps and stages in between. Great content! I will be reading more of your stuff in the future!
8/9/2021 11:01:00 PM | Reply
Excellent article! I especially liked your observations about balance. It is difficult to achieve sometimes and requires an experienced eye, but it makes all the difference in the finished product. Thanks for your tips!
7/22/2021 3:39:16 PM | Reply
Great article! Thanks for posting this and reminding us all about the basics of landscape designing!
7/20/2021 3:08:31 AM | Reply
Nice. This is very helpful
7/18/2021 2:55:55 AM | Reply
Thank you for sharing this information for which I am looking for long time
7/13/2021 7:50:37 AM | Reply
great information looking forward to some more articles on that.
6/11/2021 6:31:11 AM | Reply
Useful Content! You have explained everything very clearly, thanks for providing quality content.
6/10/2021 6:45:13 AM | Reply
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