Thoughtful Design for your Landscape : A Way to Begin.



It seems to me that everything a person creates is most satisfying when it connects to their own ‘I’.
Finding your ‘everything’ begins by considering what matters a lot to you and what doesn’t.

For planning purposes, the thought process starts by reviewing the most important ultimate goals you have for your property. The details may be determined as the place develops, but the purposes of the place and the structural features need to be considered beforehand.  
It will help to explore what you wish to do there, and where it would be best to do it, so making a list of your needs and wishes is a good way to proceed.
Even if only a few of the elements will be built in the nearby future, roughly designing in the places for all the important things early on in your plans will give you a better chance of finding good locations for them and having them join up gracefully in the end.
At this point your thoughts have little to do with style, but rather help you towards Garret Eckbo’s ideal of

the development of the maximum human liveability”

Style is an overlay that can come a bit later in the design thought process.




The things you are sure you must have will become Centers in your design planning.

Essential elements such as water sources, entrances or parking are destined to become Centers in your outdoor life. These and other fixed Centers, whether existing or planned, are starting places for your designs. Subsequent organisation takes these as the givens and works around them.

Each Center has a field of effects all around it.

Each center will need certain things close at hand to make the place work optimally for its purposes.
It helps me to think of Centers as acting somewhat like magnets. Things will flow towards and away from Centers because of necessary interrelationships for our good use of them, just as the well water has brought the buckets, pitchers and cups to a nearby place for the children pictured below. We prepare for these kinds of flows by the locations of secondary centers.

 “Roughly site each contextual center,
and then consider the necessarily related objects needed
around this center to make the place whole” [1]

In response to the placement of the fixed primary Centers, the many Secondary Centers, those whose existence is essential to the whole but whose locations are flexible, then get designed in configurations to create or allow best use and linkage between all the parts of the landscape.

You are Designing in sets of things.

is part of “a larger wholeness in which it is embedded.
Smaller Centers cooperate to bring (larger Centers to)… life. [1]


Landscape design is really about problem solving. Problems are guidelines, shaping your design solutions. Design is the process which helps to make everything work together physically and esthetically in the best possible ways within your landscape and home grounds.

The design choices all along the way usually come down to ‘If, Then’ propositions….What are the implications of each decision, If I do this, then what else happens or can happen ?
The thought journey to find the best way to organise things is working out your own personal maze. To solve the maze you need to make design choices that will allow all the parts of the landscape you need and want to work well together, to instill a flow.

Your chosen solutions will then choreograph your daily life.

“When I am working on a problem I never think about beauty.
I only think about how to solve the problem.

But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful,
I know it is wrong.”

- Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983)


Anything you are making can become multipurpose.
Many of the things you will be building anyway create opportunities to resolve multiple landscape needs or wishes almost automatically, making a big difference in the overall use of your space. With adjustments of just some inches or a few feet, design thoughts can often adjust the form of what you are making so as to serve extra purposes.

You might as well be able to set your glass on it, sit on it, lean on it, climb on it, have a planting banked against it, hide things with it, or put your buckets, planters or pumpkins on top of it – if design planning can allow.

As an example, the collage below shows how an unsightly air conditioner was hidden by what might have been a simple fence, but instead, by design, that needed fence became wood storage, a tool cabinet, a hide-behind place for miscellaneous and a large planted roof on an otherwise unplantable part of the property.


You want to avoid having to do things twice or cross over finished work to get to your next project – the dreaded backtrack. Your landscape plan may be built over time, and where you begin the actual work will depend partially on personal priorities, but whatever your plan essentials ultimately are, you will want to find a good sequence for the making of them. This will help you attain your goals with the least overall cost by taking into account the logistics of the work and implications of each project for the elements that will be made later.

Things that need to be conjoined in the end are often easily accomplished when the ground is dug up for the earlier projects. This concerns things like laying conduits for electricals or irrigation under paths or patios, or deep improvement of the earth in planting areas before adding new surface loam. Doing the same things later would mean digging up the work you had already completed.

Choosing a sequence of landscape creation which retains
maximum flexibility throughout the process,
using opportunities as opportunities arise, is a goal in itself.

if you wait until the surroundings begin to come to life, you can do the most finely tuned assessment of the best choices for the details of your next project. Sequencing the overall building of the landscape thoughtfully to retain this kind of flexibility allows you decide what needs to be decided for the work you are doing while leaving final detail choices for building each next part of the work until you are closer to making it.

For efficiency’s sake you always have to stay well ahead of the work, ready for each next project in design and materials, but this planning method will allow insights all along the landscape building journey to contribute to the quality of your outcomes.


“Just make it nice in every place.”
Christopher. Alexander

[1] Christopher Alexander

This entry was posted in Your Reasoned Landscape. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.
  • All written and visual materials on this site are Copyrighted. (C) Ellen Cool 2010 - 2017

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>