Putting plan to paper (or computer) is crucial in designing your landscape. Some of the questions to ask are: What do you want to get out of your backyard? Do you want a extension to your living space, such as, a outdoor kitchen or just a place to relax? If you’re working on a simple project, graph and tracing paper might be all you need. A professional landscape designer starts with a property survey and topographical map, and then typically creates a series of conceptual sketches, preliminary elevations and final renderings as your vision evolves and crystallizes.

Create the Basic Plan

Measure the area and transfer the basic dimensions to graph paper or input them in to an online design tool such as Google Sketchup. Visit the National Gardening Association for tips for drawing a landscape map.

Next, plot the position of fixed features that you can’t change, or don’t care to, such as buildings, trees, driveways, yard entrances, hardscapes, views, irrigation systems and the like.

Tip: In one corner of the paper, include a compass to remind you of sunlight and shadow patterns.

Sketch it Out

Now you get to play around. To audition various concepts, use tracing paper overlays or multiple photo or electronic copies that allow you to try out with different form compositions, paths and proportions. If you want a outside kitchen mark off where the cabinets, counters, appliances and sink will go.

It’s not too early to include elements such as shrubs and patios drawn to scale and placed in different configurations on the grid. Don’t overlook the practical details, such as the placement of irrigation and lighting systems, running electricity to the pond pump (or can you go solar?) and access (can you get the wheelbarrow down the stone steps?).

Draw the Final Plan

Once you settle on a basic traffic pattern and the “bones” of the space, the fun begins as cryptic labels morph into cute green blobs, colorful flower beds and paver patterns. As in decorating a room, visualize how the colors, shapes, textures and patterns will work together.

Understand What’s What

Landscape plans use symbols to indicate plants, hardscape materials, trees and architectural features. The symbols are not standardized so whatever you use, make sure they mean the same thing to you and your landscape designer. They should be simple yet suggestive of the actual appearance of the landscape features.

For example, hardscape areas should resemble the material and pattern to be used—zigzag rectangles for herringbone brick, random amoeba shapes for flag stone, little dots for gravel, and so on. Whether you color code or number the symbols, double check the final draft of your plan to make sure you have the right symbol in the right place.

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