One of my jobs here in Austin is as a Garden Design Instructor at the Art School at Laguna Gloria and in the GoNativeU Program at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Over the years of teaching these courses, I have worked to simplify the design process for those homeowners that may not have a design background. These folks want to take an active role in creating their own unique landscape that suits their needs and beautifies the community. The basic concepts can help everyone understand what makes a good design plan and can get you on the way to re-working your outdoor environment.
There are three basics design principles to work with when planning a new garden. 1. Focal Point or Destination in the garden. 2. Axis, line of sight, or view corridors. 3. Scale, or relationship of size of objects to one another.
Before beginning the definition of these principles, have your property site plan at hand ready to sketch in the components. I recommend to my students that they start with the site plan they received when they purchased their property. Have this enlarged to a scale of 1/4" equal to 1'. This large size makes drawing and labeling plants and objects easy to read. We call the enlarged plan the base plan. We then will use tracing paper laid over the base to begin the idea process.
On your base plan, you will have to mark in the fixed items that will not be removed from your landscape. These would be items like mature trees, sheds, workshops, concrete patios, walkways, utility boxes, A/C units, or water faucets. The point being, you want to know where all permanent items are in your plan so you will not try to design over them. Next you will need to notate North on your base. This is in order to study and understand where the arc of the sun is on your property. The sunlight hours will greatly influence plant selection. Also notate where shade falls from the house and from large trees. Another important element to notate on your base is where water is common. Do you have rain gutters or not? Where does the rain rush or sit on your property? Or do you have slopes and outcrops to be aware of? Having a good feeing for the environment of your property will help you understand the work process on the land and help select plants that will thrive.
Now that the base is set, here are the basics of design that will give you an understanding of what makes a great landscape design. A focal point is the object of interest in your garden. What is the reason you like to go into your garden? What is the destination in your garden? Examples could be: gazebos, sculpture, fountain, fancy pot, reading bench, entertainment area, or a specimen plant. A specimen is a special plant that normally would on be one of. Normally this would be something really showy, or something very unusual. For instance: a redbud, peach tree, or weeping yaupon. Have you received a nice chair, pot, or tree as a gift lately? Or have you had a special item or spot in mind in the yard that you have wanted to place or beautify? This would be your focal point. Now, where do you want to see that focal point? Do you want it to be found from the front sidewalk? Do you want to see it from inside the house? Where ever you want to see or experience your destination, mark or circle that area on your base site plan.
I will continue additional steps in future posts.
If you are interested in personal instruction, I encourage you to look at these websites to learn more about classes offered in the Austin area.
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center hosts the GoNativeU program which is coordinated by the UT Informal Classes. Class times and descriptions can be found on the Willdflower Center web site:
The Art School at Laguna Gloria is part of the Austin Museum of Art. In addition to Garden Design Classes, the Art School offers a variety of traditional and computer based art classes for adults and children. I have a weekend class coming up in April.