The Design Process

Designing a landscape is not simply an ordered process of working with a known set of elements. As with any creative project, the whole of a successful landscape more than equals the sum of its parts. A memorable landscape — whether natural or man-made — makes an impression on the viewer on many different levels, some of which are quite subtle. This subtle quality is sometimes referred to as the force of a landscape.

This special force can be present in designed landscapes as well as natural landscapes. To create force, the designer must be sensitive to how all the elements in a landscape are combined. If there is magic in design, this is it: the ability to perceive and re-create a balance among the forces in nature.

When this force is missing, the result is often visually ambiguous — the product of uncertain intentions. In a landscape that lacks intent, the materials and space fail to achieve a balance, with displeasing effects.

Designing and creating a landscape can be as much a source of pleasure as enjoying the final product. The process of design, which involves the evolution of your thoughts about your garden and the possibilities for modifying it, begins by discovering new ways of understanding the existing landscape. Three steps help lead to this understanding: survey, evaluation, and synthesis.


All the basic information that relates to your garden should be included in the survey. Basic conditions — topography and existing plants, buildings, walkways, and other permanent features — are surveyed to discover what materials are available.


The second step involves analyzing the results of the survey to decide what is most important to change and what can be postponed. The avid gardener or professional landscaper never really finishes evaluating a garden. As new landscaping ideas emerge or as needs and tastes change, the landscape will also undergo transformation. Reevaluating a garden is a constant but pleasant task.


Assessing the information gathered during the survey will help draw together and form ideas about the garden. By examining the features of the landscape and the priorities for changing it, you can begin to create a design.