7 Landscape Design Tips for Beginners to Help Make Your Garden Dreams Come True

Whether your yard just needs new plantings or a complete refresh, it can be challenging to know where to start. Here’s how to get your project off to a super start.

By Kelly Roberson

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Updated February 02, 2021

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If you’ve never tried your hand at designing a landscape before, you might find all the choices you can make a bit overwhelming. Which plants do you want to include, and where should they go? Should bed lines and paths curve or run in a straight line? And what about accessories such as benches, planters, and bird baths? It can help to think of a space in your yard as you would a room inside your home because many of the same principles that guide your room setup inside can guide your designs outside, too. Here are seven considerations that will help get your new landscaping project off to a super start.

flower garden patio area outdoor table

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1. Determine Landscape Needs and Wants

Make a list of needs and wants. Do your kids need a play space? Do you want to grow vegetables? Would your family enjoy gathering on a patio? Do some very rough sketches of the yard with thoughts of where you want to place things; it’s a great organizing principle for landscape design for beginners. They don’t need to be master plans (they can just be ideas), according to Marianne Lipanovich, author of the Big Book of Garden Designs ($38, Amazon). Her sketch for her front yard landscape design overhaul was just a few lines and a couple of circles. You can easily play around with ideas without a lot of time and commitment.

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2. Think About Location

Study the sun and wind patterns. You might want to place a patio on the west side of the house, but it will get lots of afternoon sun, which means dinnertime in August could be unpleasantly hot. And wind whistling around a corner will quickly extinguish a fire pit. Those are common mistakes in backyard landscape design for beginners. Your design should take into account what the sun and wind do at different times of the day and year.

asian style garden waterfall out door seating area

Credit: Andreas Trauttmansdorff

3. Sit Down and Enjoy Your Landscape

Live with it for a while. Coming to quick conclusions about your yard can lead to choices that don’t work in the long term. After spending more time outdoors, you’ll start to see areas where you want to go and sit that you wouldn’t have thought of at first, Lipanovich says.

4. Start Small

Home and garden television shows are masters at revealing complete outdoor makeovers in just three days, but they have a crew of 60, which is not a situation enjoyed by most beginner gardeners. Part of creating a landscape is slowly developing a plan and enjoying the process. From your master plan, start with a small flower bed. Go out and work on it for an hour or two when you have the time, and worry less about filling everything up right away. Lipanovich advises that you take your time, so you don’t take shortcuts or get too sloppy with your DIY landscape design.

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5. Find a Focal Point

Any good garden design has a focal point or series of focal points, and it’s an easy principle to put in place. That may be a sculpture or a stunning tree or a series of shrubs. Let the design draw your eyes around the landscape, Lipanovich says.

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home exterior porch flower landscaping

Credit: Tria Giovan Photography, Inc.

6. Focus on Scale and Pacing

It’s the trickiest principle in landscape design for beginners, but scale and pacing give your yard a pulled-together look. There will be variations in size, shape, and color, with tall plants against a building or in the back of a flowerbed, and paths that lead people through the space. Lipanovich emphasizes the importance of finding a good balance between repetition and new elements. Repetition gives a sense of cohesion, but you also don’t want it to be monotonous. An occasional new element is better than having all different elements throughout.

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7. Be Open to Change

Unless you’re strongly devoted to something, be honest about what’s working for you and what’s not in your design. Even Lipanovich has found herself discovering elements she once liked that no longer reflect her style. It’s okay to experiment and edit as you go.

Remember: Patience is key to landscape design for beginners. If all of that bare space is too much to look at, and the kids and dogs are tracking in mud, rely on temporary solutions, for example, plunking down some annuals, mulch, and fast-growing groundcovers, to cover an area while you’re figuring out what you want. Lipanovich also recommends using annuals and small perennials around larger plants that need time to grow and fill in. You can always move them if you realize they’re in the wrong spot later on. [external_footer]