Your perfect dream landscape doesn’t start with the patio or pool, or with the pond or even the flowers. It starts before a single shrub is purchased or a hole dug, with a documented Master Plan.
But what, exactly, does a master plan do and why is it so central to creating a landscape design?
From the mundane to the visionary, your master planning document will live and grow with you just as your garden does. Here are just some of the ways that a master plan works to help you get the space you truly desire.
A Master Plan Works With The Characteristics Of The Land
An entire blog – or maybe a book! – could be devoted to how the characteristics of the land affect everything from what can be planted and where, to how patios, ponds, pools and myriad other elements will be incorporated.
For the sake of sanity, here’s the busy person’s version!
Think about your yard right now. Is it flat? Does it slope dramatically? Is it uneven or somewhat hilly?
What about the soil? Is it rocky, sandy, uneven? Do you have spots where nothing will grow, or others that are havens for weeds?
What happens after a good rain? Do you have pockets of flooding, or areas that seem to remain muddy and damp no matter the weather? Does water run downhill, washing away the grass, or tend to pool in some areas while seemingly avoiding others?
All of these things matter when designing your landscape. Sloped land, for example, may require the strategic use of natural boulders, retaining walls or steps to create usable flat surfaces and prevent runoff. Flat areas must be checked for proper drainage *before* a patio is installed.
When it comes to plantings, it’s always best to work with the natural environment rather than against it. Dry spots, wet spots, sandy areas or mulch, should dictate what is panted there, or even whether anything is planted at all – and not the other way around.
Remember, when it comes to landscaping, there’s a lot more than flowers and shrubs. Areas with poor soil can become elevated container gardens, instead. Dry spots can be ideal for rock gardens.
Slope, drainage and soil composition will affect how the space can be used most effectively and whether any type of remediation work needs to be done – grading the land, for example, before building is begun.
A master plan documents your space down to the very last detail. It is the culmination of the analysis and evaluation done by your landscape designer as you work together to create a vision for your future dream space. Without it, it’s impossible to know what will work, what won’t, and what the land needs so it can best accommodate your desires.
A Master Plan Defines The Characteristics Of The Location
The land is one thing, and then there’s everything that happen *on* the land. Some of that is related to your home itself, for example, its orientation in the space. Whether it is perfectly squared to the street is not as important in naturalistic landscape design, but where and how it is situated will affect what is planned around it.
When you think of landscaping, you may tend to think of one yard or another, maybe even both, but there is likely a 360 degree space around your home. The entire space should be considered as part of a holistic design. Landscaping doesn’t end just because the “side” of your house begins!
For your outdoor space to become part of your living space, your home must be part of the equation. Which views would you enjoy from the kitchen window? Will certain plantings cast shade on areas of the house where you’d prefer sun?
Speaking of sun… how does it rise and set across the entire property? Does it make sense to put the patio where it is, or will it be scalding under daytime summer sun and too chilled during the evening to enjoy? Likewise, you don’t want your stunning custom pool to spend most of the day in the shade, nor do you want to be blinded by a setting sun as you prepare dinner in your outdoor kitchen.
Sun and shade affect plantings, too. No need to fight with varying sun patterns when you can work with them, planting strategically to take advantage of the natural ebb and flow.
Beyond sun, wind plays a role, too. We don’t mean the hurricane variety, but everyday breezes and how they flow across your property. Why waste tall, native grasses in a corner when they’d bring far more beauty and enjoyment to an area where they can sway in the breeze?
Prevailing wind direction around your property will affect the location of other elements, such as seating and cooking areas. You don’t want your outdoor kitchen, for example, to be situated so that the breeze that persists in one corner of your yard is constantly blowing smoke right back into the house.
With a master plan, you will be able to identify and document each of the conditions that affect how, what and where features are located.
A Master Plan Works With Existing Features – Good And Bad
Let’s face it. You probably have something in your yard that you absolutely hate but can’t do away with. The utility box. The septic cover. A satellite dish.
The good news is that with a master plan you can work with and around those things, planning them right into your landscape design. Most eyesores can be camouflaged with strategic plantings, screening, or other natural elements. That doesn’t happen by accident – and certainly not as an afterthought as you run to a home improvement store for a lattice and a couple of vines.
A master plan also takes into account the things you *love*. A favorite shrub or tree, an existing patio, a tree stump that would fit perfectly into your vision of a naturalistic seating area. These things can either be left in place and worked into the design, or strategically moved to a more ideal location. Either way, they become part of the documented plan instead of becoming a sticking point later.
A Master Plan Accounts For Budget And Timing
Not Bill Gates-level wealthy yet? Then chances are you’re working with a budget. But what if you don’t quite have the budget for the dream space you envision? That’s where a master plan saves the day.
It establishes the vision, then helps to break the project down into manageable components. A larger project may need to be phased in over several months, seasons or years.
Plenty of people have the vision but haven’t yet set a budget. The master plan shines here, too. It will help you gauge your investment and make strategic choices based on what works for you personally and financially.
As a living, breathing document it is designed to grow with you. And to avoid problems that can arise from a little too much growth! That shade tree that you want planted at the edge of your patio? What happens in two or five or ten years when its roots begin to spread and start buckling the patio stones?
How about the bamboo screening you love? Will it take over the neighborhood, or will it be properly contained so that it doesn’t become the center of the next argument?
These are the precise types of problems that can be avoided with master planning. Ultimately, your plan will help you work within a budget, on a known timescale, and prevent excess expenditures later as you repent of unplanned mistakes.
A Master Plan Plans For Maintenance
The absolutely wrong time to think about maintaining your landscape is after the project is completed. The best time? Before you invest a single cent in building it.
Do you enjoy gardening and working outdoors? Then a landscape that requires your TLC can provide you with beauty and an outlet for a favorite hobby. But if you’re not the green-thumb type then you will need to consider installing a lower maintenance landscape – or committing to hiring a professional.
There is no “right amount” of maintenance. Only what you are willing and able to absorb. A naturalistic landscape is more self-sustaining and lower maintenance than a traditional manicured lawn, but that doesn’t mean zero maintenance is needed. It’s up to you to decide what your threshold is and to build the master plan around it. After all, you want to enjoy your outdoor space, whether that means working in it, or simply appreciating it from a lounge chair.
A Master Plan Gets Specific About What You Want
Yet another book-worthy topic! All you have to do is sit down and daydream for a moment to understand how vast of a task this can be.
Do you have favorite colors, or those that you prefer to avoid? Favorite types of flowers? Others that make you sneeze?
What atmosphere do you want to create – rustic? Modern? Vibrant? Serene?
How important is lawn area, for you, for the kids, for your pets? Would you consider going grass-less?
How about entertaining? Do you wish your back yard was the hub of the neighborhood, with an outdoor kitchen, TV viewing, seating areas, nighttime lighting, or a place to cook a pizza? Or are you content to sit with your partner or family and count stars?
You may be drawn to certain types of natural stone, or prefer certain décor. You may want to indulge a hobby like vegetable gardening or experience a new one like koi-gazing.
The possibilities extend as far as your imagination. A master plan will corral those ideas and put them into a manageable plan that shows you exactly how your vision can be brought to life.
Master planning is essential to landscape design. And here’s a little secret: it’s even more important when it comes to naturalistic landscape design. That’s because creating a truly beautiful landscape that looks as if it has simply spring whole from the earth, is an art and science that doesn’t happen naturally! It requires careful planning, so that it appears not to be planned at all.
If you’d like to explore how a master plan can bring your vision into reality, contact us for a consultation and share your dreams with us. We look forward to sharing in your journey.