Landscape Design in Snow


Two Chairs in SnowTaking time over the drawing phase of your landscape making journey, whether in snow, on sand, lawn or paper, will strongly influence the quality of the choices you will ultimately make in the design of the things for your landscape.

  • Drawing in snow is a pleasant way to get thoughts going for your future projects. The great thing about snow as a medium is that it comes right to your house and presents you with a full clean canvas, allowing you to draw everywhere within your connected landscape, at full scale and all at the same time.
  • As you wander through the snow and mark the outlines of  shapes that you are thinking about creating, you will be exploring the tangible ‘footprints’ of your future built projects, planted beds and the paths to such things.
  • Once drawn out roughly, you can physically experience the relationships of all the landscape elements. Walk everything to see how the flow and the relational shaping feels, from all directions, adjusting your imprinted lines until you are pleased with form, flow and linkage of all the parts of your place.
  • Play with slow curves, fast curves, driveway apron curves, deck configurations, or anything you like.  Site wall beginning and ending points, table and chair locations. You are searching for pleasing spatial relationships both functionally and esthetically. These will endure when the projects come to life.
  • Now you can check the views of your evolving outlines from elsewhere, indoors and out. Try to avoid random footprints as best as you can until your intended shapes are done, but if the process gets messy, there will likely be a next snow for a new clean canvas.  You will have more chances to try various things to find some ideal solutions if you start with the early light snows, This process can be one of the upsides of the snowy season.
  • With a tape measure in your pocket, when you come to some conclusions you can give yourself some coordinates for key relational points to roughly record what your winter thought process has concluded.
    Even without much in the way of recorded measurements though, you will have learned alot from your experience with the snow lines, and the thoughts they engendered.
  • By Spring you will perhaps have developed some ideas of what you may want, consulting your memory and measurement notes. Once the ground is green or brown again you can be laying things out in an exploratory way using some braided line[1], marking sprays[2] and stakes.
    Invariably there will be new or preeminent considerations which come to the fore as your organic things reawaken, become fully three dimensional and your active outdoor life begins again. Add these thoughts into the mix and keep thinking.

    “Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake”

    ………………………………………………………………..Wallace Stevens

  • While having carefully considered your range of choices before beginning your projects, you may find that you want to adjust and fine tune your compositions right up to and even during the time of building. That’s fine.
  • Leaving details as flexible as possible until it is necessary to finalise them usually leads to the best custom work with natural materials, if you can continue to pay close attention all along the way.

“If the designer is forced by complications to figure things out on paper, the final result will be better if the plan is then memorized and hidden, and the work laid out on the ground with the help of stakes and string”

…………………………………………………….Fletcher Steele   Gardens and People

1] 5/8braided marine or arborist’s line is my favorite, in 30’ lengths or so. Tosses well and can be fine tuned in its shaping.
Cans of invertible white chalk or waterbase spray ‘paint’ are my usual choice for marking grass or earth but not for masonry or stone.  These wash out of the grass after a couple of weeks , if there are the usual delays, it is simple to overspray again as long as you can still see your lines. If you mark after the grass is just cut, the outline will last better.

( Based on my articles ‘The Quiet Season’ and ‘Landscape Design in Snow’)


  • If it happens to be a warm season instead of winter, and you can get to a suitably sandy beach, you can try out alot of your ideas with just your feet and hands and perhaps a ‘pencil’ of driftwood or shell.
  • Drawing in the sand in a reduced scale can help you think about shapes, curves, intersects and relationships of things experientially. If/Then propositions are easy to experiment with in the forgiving sand.
  • Contemplating the forms made by the lapping waters of lake or ocean can inform your thinking about naturalistic curves  that may be beautifully incorporated into features of your own place.
  • Since you can’t take the beach to your house, it is only a conceptual exercise, but it can be very helpful. You may want to find a time when there are no other people on the beach, as they probably won’t understand what in the world you are doing and it is a nuisance to have to explain and lose your pleasant concentration. If the sand is just moist enough, your lines seem especially beautiful, so try for the time of an outgoing tide.

“Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake”

………………………………………………………………..Wallace Stevens


  • All written and visual materials on this site are Copyrighted. (C) Ellen Cool 2010

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  • All written and visual materials on this site are Copyrighted. (C) Ellen Cool 2010 - 2021


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2 Trackbacks

  • By Shaping Your Landscape | A Reasoned Landscape on October 8, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    [...] If your layout with the line runs over existing structures where chalk paint might not come off easily, you can use large sticks of sidewalk chalk to write temporarily on stone, wood and even a painted house. Chalk markings are truly ephemeral since the first rain may wash them away, but once you have decided your shapes by using chalk as a visual aid, a good graphite pencil, grease pencil or mason’s marking chalk will serve for more permanent reference points, final markings to inform the upcoming work. … Snow is also a useful tool. If you are lucky enough to have some, the great thing about snow as a medium is that it comes right to your house and presents you with a full clean canvas, allowing you to ‘draw’ everywhere within your connected landscape, at full scale and all at the same time with your feet as the principal tools. As you wander through the landscape you can physically mark the outlines of shapes that you are thinking about creating. You will be exploring the tangible ‘footprints’ of your future built projects, planted beds and the paths to such things. (see also ‘Drawing in Snow and Sand‘) [...]

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by dr.natalia, Margie. Margie said: Landscape Design in Snow [...]

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