Landscape Design Blog

Articles by John D. Longhill

Designing Outdoor Spaces

The most important function of a well-designed landscape, is to create outdoor spaces – whether it be an entry courtyard, a sitting area in the woods, a patio, or perhaps a woodland garden. Ideally, the landscape should be an extension of your home, enticing you into it by stimulating your senses, much like a well-decorated living room, with a comfortable couch and beautiful fireplace.

A variety of factors, such as boundaries, textures, and individual plant characteristics make a landscape space comfortable and inviting, and affect the way you feel when you experience that space. The landscape designer, through the choice of plants, hard-scape materials and their placement, controls these factors. Physical boundaries should be considered first because they define the space and create intimacy. These boundaries can be plantings or structures, used to block unwanted views, buffer unwanted sounds, or simply to direct the eye to a hidden entry way.

Plant textures allow the landscape designer to manipulate the feel of a particular space. Fine textures (plants with small leaves, dense structure) tend to move away from the eye giving the illusion of distance. They appear farther away than they really are, giving one the perception of a larger space. Coarse textures (large leaves, open structure) do just the opposite, moving toward the eye or even jumping out at you. These plants make a space visually smaller, or can be used to direct the eye to something important like an entrance or special feature. Because most garden spaces in residential landscapes tend to be small, fine and medium textured plants should be used more often and coarse textures should be used primarily as accents, guiding the eye to important features.

Plant characteristics are as varied as people, and each one has its own “personality”. This personality is communicated visually, and through different fragrances. Some plants are soft and inviting, while others are harsh and imposing. Certain plants have a sculptural quality, or may be non-descript. All of these characteristics, when properly understood, can be used to your advantage, when designing the landscape.

Typically, a home tucked away, down in a valley, affords a greater opportunity to create intimate spaces, more so than a home perched along a ridge-top. The mountainside home, sited for views, may only have a landscape space at the front of the house, whereas a home at a lower elevation, more connected to the ground is more likely to have the ingredients necessary, for an intimate woodland garden.

There is no such thing as a poor landscape site. Each site presents its own unique opportunities, and typically, the most problem-plagued sites inspire award-winning solutions.


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By Design, Landscape Architecture, founded in 1999 by John Longhill.....