The Expert Guide to Planning the Landscape Design of your Dreams

Begin with a dream and a plan

Whether you’ve found the perfect setting to build the home of your dreams from the ground up, or you are hoping to revitalize your current landscape, you are at the threshold of an exciting journey.

This eBook will provide some guidance as you take the first steps toward putting your landscape dreams into an achievable plan.

ebook offer: Expert Guide to Planning the Landscape Design of Your Dreams

The way to imagine, plan, and achieve

You are at the threshold of an exciting journey. This eBook offers sound guidance as you take your first steps. Fill out the form and get the guide!

Four Reasons People Invest in Landscape Design

Many people are inspired to make an investment in landscape design for one of three basic reasons. Perhaps it is one of these four that prompted you to start thinking about it now:

  1. You’ve been in your home for three or four years, perhaps done some renovations and now feel ready to turn your attention to the outdoors.
  2. You inherited your landscaping from a previous homeowner, and it just doesn’t feel right to you. It’s a bit dowdy, dated, and you want a do over.
  3. You are in the planning stage of building a new house. You need a landscape master plan and help siting the house on the lot so the home
    and its surroundings are in harmony.
  4. You have just moved into a new construction home with only the builder budgeted landscaping—which is either incomplete or uninspired or both.

Whether you’re planning to build the home of your dreams in the perfect setting, or preparing to redesign that less than perfect landscaping that was installed too many years ago, you are at the threshold of an exciting journey that will transform your front, side, and backyards into versatile outdoor spaces, customized to fit your lifestyle and highlight the most attractive features of your homesite.

Of course, you want beauty. You want to create an outdoor environment that gives you pleasure simply to behold. Also, it will be a space for living. You want to live in that beauty. You will be extending the comfort and beauty of your indoor life into the outdoor surroundings of your home, creating meaningful personal spaces where you and your family can flourish and enjoy simple everyday moments together. Where to start?

Begin by Imagining Your Ideal Backyard Environment

To discover the perfect combination of outdoor elements for your family, it’s important to take time to imagine the kinds of moments that will resonate for you and your loved ones.

For some, the wished-for experience might be catching a glimpse of a hummingbird or being immersed in the fragrance of flowers as they walk through their garden. For young families, maybe it’s the sound of laughter and splashing as the kids and their friends play in the pool. A couple might enjoy a crackling fire against the crisp night air as they cuddle in a comfy oversized lounge chair at an outdoor fireplace.

Once you’ve put some thought into it and discussed it with the family, it’s time to share your thoughts with a landscape design professional who can bring your dreams to life. There are several ways to approach this next stage.

Three Approaches to Creating Outdoor Living Space

1. Hire landscaping contractors for individual projects

Maybe you’ve already attempted to improve your yard over the years by having landscape contractors make some limited improvements or enhancements—but this “ala carte” approach didn’t quite deliver the effect you were hoping for. Maybe you thought that installing a patio or deck would tempt everyone to spend more time relaxing outside in the fresh air. But that one feature alone didn’t create the ambiance that draws people into a space and makes them want to stay. It fell short of delivering the experience and feeling you imagined because you didn’t go quite far enough.

The main disadvantage of taking the a la carte approach is that the landscape contractor who installed your patio or border beds was focused only on that one job. And if you’ve tried that approach a number of times over the years, the result might be a mish-mash of features that don’t altogether contribute to a cohesive and satisfying outdoor environment.

Although you may have invested in some lovely plantings and attractive features, the missing link is a design vision that ties them all together. A piecemeal approach gives you a collection of backyard features that may not relate well to each other and may leave behind nuisance issues such as poor drainage that adversely affects plants and activity areas.

Seeking advice from an experienced landscape design professional is the surest way to creating a holistic outdoor environment that contains a variety of backyard spaces. So you’d have a patio that is shady in just the right place at just the right time of day, a firepit surrounded by cozy seating, and planting beds with colorful, fragrant blooms—all functioning independently but tied together aesthetically because they were designed that way.

A thorough design plan balances consideration of the conditions on the site with an understanding of your short and long term desires and aspirations

2. Hire a design-only landscape architecture firm to create a master plan

Work with a landscape architect to create a plan for your property, then put the plan out for bid among several landscape contractors. This approach may give you some control over the cost of implementing the plan because you will receive a range of cost estimates from the various contractors.

There are two potential disadvantages to this approach:

  1. You will be introducing a stranger (the landscape contractor) into a creative process that you and your landscape architect have been engaged in for
    several months.
  2. The accuracy of the project cost estimates you receive are dependent on how well the contractors interpret the design and how their pricing is
    structured. It may be impossible for you to determine whether or not the different prices are accurate based on a consistent interpretation of the
    design plan that you and your architect developed. If there are errors or omissions that emerge during construction and affect the final cost, it
    might be up to you to negotiate who will pay the overages.

3. Hire a landscape design build firm that does it all for you

An architect-driven landscape design-build firm offers a comprehensive solution that gives you the consistency of a single point of contact through every stage of your project to provide:

When you work with architects, engineers, and builders from separate companies, communication can be less than optimal and mistakes can be made. By dealing with the same firm for design and construction, communication between designers and builders is streamlined and efficient, which means a more reliable result and greater accountability.

It also makes for a more organic solution. All team members work together and take into consideration the natural characteristics of the site, the aspirations of the homeowner, and any challenges that arise. They make the best use of the site to accentuate views and optimize site conditions with drainage and grading plans.

You get an extra level of confidence and comfort from a full-service company. They understand that your project is an investment that will enrich your life—not just a transaction. The everyday pleasure you gain from experiencing the outdoor environment you’ve worked so hard to imagine and design will prove to be more valuable to you than the money it cost to achieve it.

A company that specializes in landscape architecture and construction and project management is accountable for all parts of the project from start to finish.

Begin a creative partnership with a landscape architect

Whether you’ve decided to go with a design-only landscape architecture firm or landscape design-build firm, your landscape architect will become your primary creative partner. This professional is trained in design and engineering for hardscapes, built structures, and landscapes (horticulture). The architect will make sure the design fits with the home’s architectural style and the characteristics of the homesite.

You may bring a lot of ideas to the table and may express interest in a variety of specific features. The landscape architect will help you to refine, organize and prioritize your wish list so it fits into a coherent plan. This is one of the most valuable services a landscape architect has to offer you. They can educate you about the options available so you can make informed decisions and confidently move forward in the process.

In addition, your architect should be able to offer feedback on your ideas that opens them up further. And on a practical level, they should be able to advise you on the feasibility of implementing your ideas in regards to your budget range.

Ideally, you want a working relationship in which the landscape architect listens to your ideas, addresses your concerns, and answers your questions.

Select Landscape Features

Often, homeowners feel that their backyard is an untapped resource and they’d like to maximize the potential of the space they have. They express a desire to add features that will turn it into a multi-purpose environment that can be used for parties but also be low key enough for everyday activities.

Here are some of the most frequently requested landscape features for which a landscape architect can offer guidance:

Swimming Pool

You will need to thoroughly discuss the pros and cons of different pool shapes, sizes, and styles. But before you dive into that exciting discussion, you must decide whether or not having a motorized pool cover is a high priority for you.

A motorized cover makes pool maintenance a breeze. It keeps debris out and helps retain heat between swims as you approach autumn. It also serves a safety/security function as it prevents free-wheeling teens or loose toddlers from gaining access. But it will put limits on how creative you can get with your pool style. Free-form naturalistic style pools are incompatible with automated pool covers.

It is also important to understand that you will be designing not just a swimming pool but a complete pool environment composed of interrelated design elements. Fencing, hardscaping, landscaping, and some type of shade structure are all necessary to complete the picture.

Outdoor Kitchen

The starting point for a kitchen design is a discussion about your preferred cooking style and the number of guests you would like to accommodate when you entertain. From there, you can reliably determine the approximate size of your kitchen, the number of components needed, and the layout.

Your landscape architect will steer you away from making the most common mistake which is to go for all the bells and whistles. A ‘trophy kitchen’ will certainly make a big impression on everyone who sees it, but if it’s more than you will ever use—save your money and it put toward other backyard enhancements.

Outdoor Fireplace

Your landscape is a different place at night and a backyard fireplace or fire pit lets you experience that dimension of the landscape. There is nothing quite like staying up late gazing into a campfire with friends and family.

Depending on your budget and the amount of available space in your yard, you’ll decide between a firepit with a 360-degree seating plan or a fireplace. You need to think about where it will be located and how it will relate to other features. For example, will you want to use it for warming up after an evening dip in a pool or spa?

Kid-friendly Features

The most important consideration here is flexibility. Your five-year old will grow into a teenager, so you want to plan play areas that will be fun now and adaptable to their changing needs in years to come. So that flat area where the play set was can be turned over to turf for sports and games.

Some features such as a swimming pool with add-ons like water jets and water spouts are fun for all at any age. Other features can be designed with built in flexibility: the treehouse that’s a playhouse now can take on a new role later as a welcome retreat for a pre-teen.

Once again, the value of working this out with a landscape architect means that the play areas and “grown up” areas of your landscape will be thoughtfully laid out. So that the towering climbing wall won’t end up as the center-piece and main focal point in your backyard landscape.

Shade and Privacy

You’ll discuss ways of creating partial and full shade in the activity areas of your landscape where you need it. Most shade plans employ a combination of mechanical shade structures (umbrellas, awnings), living shade screens (hedging trees, classic shade trees), and built structures (pergolas, porches, pavilions).

The sense of privacy is in large part created by a feeling of “enclosure.” So you’ll consider a variety of techniques to restore or enhance the feeling enclosure in your yard using both “living” walls and constructed walls. Walls obviously create visual barriers but also serve as a buffer against unwanted sounds from neighbors or the nearby street. And, if you add a correctly sized water feature into the mix, it can further neutralize the effect of distant noise while it contributes to the tranquility of a space because the sound of water in itself creates a pleasing and calming effect.

The features and elements of the design are important but only as they express your desires for aesthetic pleasure, quality time at home, and the sensory pleasure of spending time in a beautiful, private outdoor environment.

There is a lot to talk about and think about, but it is important that you don’t get too caught up in the particulars of your wish list. Keep in mind why you are investing time, emotion, and money into this project.

Make meaningful outdoor spaces

At this point, people sometimes begin to question whether this whole endeavor may be just a bit too much for them. That’s understandable. It is a big investment and it does tend to bring up questions around value: Is it worth it, will it really make a difference, do we deserve it?

Here are some answers.

1 If our project is modest in scale, is it worth it to hire a landscape architect?
Yes. The size of your property shouldn’t dictate its aesthetic. If you have a smaller project, a landscape architect can still help you work through your ideas and plan the project so it fits with the architecture of your home, the vibe of your neighborhood, and the available area on your property.

2 How will we maintain “budget discipline”
Clear expectations and careful planning are the keys to achieving your vision. If your imagination flies higher than your budgetary comfort zone, there are ways to reduce the scope, yet keep the heart of your project by modifying the size of certain features, trimming the total number of features to must-haves only, or by installing parts of the project over time (i.e. phased installation). Another way to bring an overly ambitious budget into line is by finding substitutions for certain plants or construction materials that give a similar aesthetic but are less rare or expensive.

3 Will our landscaping project add value to our family life?
Priority number one is to develop a coherent design plan that considers the existing characteristics of the entire site and balances those with the additions and improvements you want to make. A solid design ensures that you get the right mix of features and landscaping, arranged to suit your family’s specific needs, from solitary relaxation to kids’ playdates to outdoor meals and entertaining.

4 Will our project add value to our home without exceeding the real estate values in the
Yes, but you must re-examine your definition of ‘value’. A real estate professional will tell you that a beautifully landscaped home with patios, terraces, lush plantings, and other features will be on the market for a much shorter time than a comparable home without landscaping. And, depending on the economy, it will sell for asking price or higher. That said, will you get back your entire investment? Not likely.

An artfully designed landscape is made to work in harmony with the natural features on your lot and fit comfortably within the overall character of the neighborhood. Your landscaping will stand out but won’t stick out.

So, think realistically about how long you expect to be in the home. If it’s less than five years, you’ll want to keep your investment conservative. In other words, do without the swimming pool and pool house. If you plan to raise your family there, then pull out the stops. Think of it as an investment that pays back in the currency of pleasure and happiness you will derive from living with an outdoor environment that you love for all the years you stay in your home.

And finally, people sometimes worry about calling attention to themselves. They don’t want a landscape that is “over-designed” for the neighborhood.

Begin with a dream and succeed with a plan

It can be difficult to envision the change from the empty or dingy backyard you have now to the vibrant, livable landscape of your dreams. That’s where a comprehensive plan comes into play. Start with the planning expertise of a landscape architect who then collaborates seamlessly with builders and gardeners.

Surrounds is both a landscape architecture firm and a landscape construction firm. We build what we design. Our architects know construction. Our construction and garden management crews understand design. We believe homeowners are best served by a design-build approach to landscape architecture because it delivers creative collaboration and procedural efficiencies that significantly benefit you, our client.

Are you ready to take the first step toward your dream landscape design by starting a discussion with a registered landscape architect? Click the link below to let us know you are

Discuss your landscape project with a registered landscape architect.

ebook offer: Expert Guide to Planning the Landscape Design of Your Dreams

The way to imagine, plan, and achieve

You are at the threshold of an exciting journey. This eBook offers sound guidance as you take your first steps. Fill out the form and get the guide!