Thoughtful Design for Your Landscape : A Way to Begin.

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For planning purposes, the landscape thought process starts by reviewing your most important ultimate goals for the 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 seems to me that everything a person creates is most satisfying when it connects to their own ‘I’. Finding your own ‘everything’ begins by considering what matters a lot to you and what doesn’t.
It will help if you make a list of your needs and wishes, clarifying what you wish to do in your landscape and figuring out where it might be best to do it.

“The planning process should proceed from
the general to the particular.”

F.L. Wright

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 each of them and having them join up gracefully in the end.

Success lies in the complete realisation of one ideal, the ideal for your place.
At this point the thoughts have little to do with style, but rather help you towards landscape designer Garret Eckbo’s ideal of

the development of the maximum human livability”

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


Carlos Dorrien


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 Centers with fixed locations, 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 fixed location Primary Center will need certain things close at hand to make the place work optimally for its purposes. Such related considerations will direct the location and detailing of the flexibly located Secondary Centers. These are the accessory parts of the design that develop naturally in relation to the Primary Centers.
The Secondary Centers may be design elements or places, with content that serves your purposes. Their existence is essential to the whole.

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


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.
Above, the well water has drawn the buckets, pitchers, cups and children to its place.

In the case of the well, now we will need a place to work with the water, a surface to put things on and and perhaps a place to sit. Such Secondary Centers are designed into the landscape with respect to the dynamics of the fixed Centers, to establish configurations that create or allow best use and linkage between all the parts of the place.

You are Designing in sets of things. Every decision affects other aspects of the whole landscape.

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


Once you have identified your centers, you can begin to physically uncover how to best connect them. Within the framework of your overall goals you can explore many ideas regarding the combined organisation and linkage of your land. The paths deserve first consideration. They will later guide your everyday journey of experiences and views and can unify your surroundings. They steer you when you enter and leave the place and determine how you move through the spaces within it.
Roughly sited at first, path
shapes can be adjusted during the design phase to work around other landscape elements.


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.
Landscape design is really about problem solving.
Problems are guidelines, shaping your design solutions.


Like every kitchen, every home landscape must have a certain basic set of features, tools and materials to serve its various purposes well, no matter what the size or complexity of the place. Beyond these essentials, there will probably be more ‘parts to your whole’ if you will  want to do alot outside, just as an enthusiastic cook often wants a more complex kitchen than someone who doesn’t cook much. The more parts there are to your set of wishes, the more inter-linkage there will need to be, and the more design and building decisions you will probably have to make to accomplish those extra goals.

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? There will be lots of choices and some compromises.

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 your place to be conjoined as well as possible.
Traveling the maze after the landscape comes to life will then have a flow that feels easy and right. Your chosen solutions will 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.

Paths can become outlines for planted beds or hopscotch configurations, or perhaps they can stretch at some points and become floors in sitting areas.
Steps can become seating and tables if so configured.

As an example of multi-purposing, the collage below shows how we hid 2 air conditioners by what might have been a simple fence, but instead, by design, that needed fence also became wood storage, a tool cabinet, and a hide-behind place for miscellaneous. Over this construct, a planted roof enhances a previously 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 most 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 flexibility allows you decide what needs to be decided for the work you are doing while leaving final detail adjustments 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

Link for ‘More about Beginnings’

My Best,
Ellen Cool

A Reasoned
Landscape Composition.
Stonework and Garden Design.

[1] Christopher Alexander

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One Comment

  1. Posted March 16, 2018 at 5:44 am | Permalink

    I suppose that this thoughtful design for a landscape is something doable! Thanks so much for the shared information!

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