Plants come first. No matter how beautifully designed a deck or patio is, it will look uninviting without plenty of plants. Landscape design recommendations typically suggest starting with the hardscape (sidewalks, steps, gates, paths, decks or any non-living element in the landscape), and this is a practical approach. Hardscapes define the space and dictate how traffic will flow through the garden.
I suggest starting with a list of plants that are likely to thrive at the site and that you love. You don’t need to decide where to plant them yet, but making this list can help to inform other design decisions. As an example, if you want to create a small grove of trees, you need to allow enough space and decide how to invite people into the area. To learn more about making plant selection the first consideration, I highly recommend Lauren Springer Ogden’s book, Plant Driven Design.
Now come back to the hardscape design. Think carefully about the needs and uses for the space. Hardscapes are not transient and can be expensive. Who will use the area and for what purpose? What is more important, a place for the kids or entertaining friends? There should be a plan for how people will get from one space to another and a method to unify the elements.
Consider drainage, as hard surfaces and walls will absolutely affect where water flows on the property. Front yards need a landscape that helps visitors find the front door. Back or side yards need utility areas. Take your time as you work through this process; this is a good time to practice your impulse control.
Do not let the hardscape overpower the garden. A garden has plants; you must not break this rule. As a special favor to me, would you minimize straight lines in the design? I allow use of straight lines and rows of plants in the vegetable garden. Even with edible gardening, though, curved beds are an option. Organic shapes are more interesting and accommodate plants in a more natural way. Hardscapes should enhance trees, shrubs and flowers, not the other way around.
Susan Harris welcomes questions and comments. You can email her at email@example.com.