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When it comes to designing—anything—it can become very personal. While we all have certain aesthetics that suit our tastes and budgets, there remain some basic design principles to look to as a starting point. Yes, rules are meant to be broken, and your garden design should be a personal reflection of yourself! But, let’s put all creativity aside for one moment. Landscape professionals follow fundamental design principles as a compass to lead their project, and then pile on the creative touches as they go. We offer you this crash course in garden design to give beginners a chance at designing a landscape that could rival the pros.


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Designing a Garden Requires Learning Your Landscape

It can be tempting to simply dive into the dirt and begin planting, but there really are some preparatory steps to take first. Hold onto your spade for just a moment and get to know your garden landscape first. Beginners, look at the garden space where you plan to begin designing and ask yourself these questions:

  • How many hours of sunlight does this area get? 
  • Is it primarily morning or afternoon sun or all-day sun?
  • Is my landscape primarily wet or dry?
  • Are there areas where I’d like to add a large shade tree or perhaps a smaller ornamental tree/shrub?
  • What is my planting zone (Here in Illinois and Iowa it’s 5a to 4b, depending on where you live in our service area.)
  • What features in my yard do I want to highlight?
  • What features in my yard do I wish to camouflage?
  • How big will my garden be? (We suggest you measure your landscape.)
  • Will I need to bring in amendments such as mulch, landscape rock, weed barrier, and soil compost?
  • Where is my closest water source? (It’s always nice to have a hose closeby—new plants require frequent waterings.)
  • What are my personal tastes i.e. Favorite colors and design aesthetics?


Scale and View in Designing Gardens for Beginners

Regardless of size, an ideal garden makes you feel like you are in a
private retreat, yet not enclosed to the point where you feel suffocated. You want to feel a sense of vastness while creating niches within the garden for the eyes to rest and flow. While this may sound too architectural for your tastes, it can easily be created with the addition of certain landscape and garden design features. Varying scales, focal points, and heights are your design friends. There is nothing more appealing to the eye than a large tree or arbor as a main focal point, balanced by varying levels of shrubs, perennial flowers, and groundcover. 


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Consider Flow in Your Garden Design

Consider creating flow when designing your garden with the addition of walkways and paths. It can be as simple as laying large flagstones or
pavers along certain areas between your gardens to create a sense of welcome and movement. You want to encourage people to explore your garden space and enjoy all your hard work. Designing an appealing flow takes your landscape from a beginners garden to one that looks like it was designed by a pro!


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Think About Color and Texture in Your Garden Design

A garden becomes a feast for the eyes when you balance color and texture. Add hardscape elements such as stones, wicker, wood trellis, and cement garden statues. Also add a varying array of foliage color, flower color, woody shrubs, balanced by soft weeping shrubs, and flowing groundcover.


Remember Rhythm and Symmetry

It can be tempting to go overboard. When considering all of these elements mentioned above, remember to place plants in a manner that creates an even rhythm throughout the landscape. This can easily be done by placing certain larger elements in symmetry for a more cohesive, well-thought-out look. For example, place two larger shrubs symmetrically on either side of a garden, or place certain flowers or colors in even multiples. Rhythm is also attained when you plant smaller perennials in evenly spaced clumps throughout the garden. A clumping or grouping of flowers is always more appealing than a singular stem.


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Let’s Talk About Bloom Cycles and Height Sequence

Now that you’ve taken a good long look at your landscape, it’s time to think about seasonal blooming and succession planting. Most gardeners wish to plant a sequence of blooms; they pick plants that will bloom in
spring, others that begin to bloom in summer, and others that show their true colors in the fall. This way you have a garden that looks gorgeous throughout the entire season. 

There’s another sequence to consider—height. As a general rule of thumb, a well-designed garden has layers of height, going from low groundcover, to mid-level perennials, up to taller shrubs, and finally trees. When you visit our garden center, be sure to purchase plants that will bloom sequentially with the seasons, and also plants of varying height levels. 


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There’s an App for That


We won’t play favorites, but take a look in the app store; there are plenty of great apps that help beginners design the landscape of their dreams, such as Leafsnap, My Soil, and iScape.

Our final piece of advice for beginners designing their garden? Don’t forget to have fun! Questions? Come visit us! Our landscape design professionals are always happy to help turn a beginner into a pro. 



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