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Do-It-Yourself Landscape Design

Windbreaks: attractive, functional. - David Beaulieu

Windbreaks can be attractive, as well as functional.  David Beaulieu

Of what does do-it-yourself landscape design work consist? To be sure, both “landscape” and “design” are common, everyday words — not terms that would send you scurrying to a dictionary. But asking ourselves exactly what this sort of work entails is a useful exercise: by exploring all of its ins and outs, we may discover an aspect of this diverse field that we’ve been overlooking all this time.

Let’s begin answering the question with a basic definition that considers both aesthetics and energy conservation. Further, let’s call this a definition specifically of do-it-yourself landscape design, so as to keep our discussion distinct from professional concerns:

Definition of Do-It-Yourself Landscape Design:


The art of arranging or modifying the features of the grounds around a home to improve the property from an aesthetic and/or practical standpoint.

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This definition, however, raises the questions, “Aesthetic for whom?” and “Practical for whom?” The issue of aesthetics, in particular, is fraught with subjectivity. Frankly, what I find to be attractive landscape designs might not excite you at all. But this does not mean that nothing needs to be said about landscape aesthetics for the do-it-yourselfer.

You may have your own distinct tastes, but there are still useful guidelines to discuss that will help you achieve maximum aesthetic impact on your landscape. If your property is destined for the real estate market, please consult my ideas on home landscaping to learn specifically about sellers’ guidelines; essentially, you will need to take into account the tastes of potential buyers. If, instead, you are landscaping simply to suit your own tastes, you’ll want to keep in mind the general design guidelines for landscape aesthetics discussed in the following pages.

Practical Do-It-Yourself Landscape Design: Energy Conservation With Trees, Land Use


How will your yard be used? Do you have children who are active outdoors? Will you be landscaping with dogs? Do you yourself plan on using your yard for exercise, sports, or entertaining? Answering these questions will help narrow down the possible landscape designs best suited to your needs. Extensive lawns are useful for homeowners interested in badminton, ball playing and hosting social barbecues. But if you are more interested in turning your yard into a retreat meant for serenity, solitude and contemplation, the role of turf grass may be reduced drastically in favor of trees.

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The various aspects of practical landscape design are too numerous and too complex to discuss at length here. Undoubtedly, however, one aspect that warrants inclusion in any introduction to landscape design is energy conservation. A well-planned incorporation of trees and shrubs in your yard, as in the following examples, is an effective means of energy conservation:

  • Deciduous trees can be planted to the south and west of a home to serve as shade trees, reducing summer air conditioning costs. Because such trees will drop their leaves in winter, they won’t deprive your home of sunlight when you need it.
  • Evergreen trees planted to the north and west of a home can serve as windbreaks. By breaking the wind, such trees will reduce your heating costs in winter.
  • Likewise, shrubs used as foundation plantings can reduce heating costs, creating an insulating dead air space around the home. Plant the shrubs a few feet away from your foundation.


But after such practical concerns have been addressed, you’ll still want to make your landscape design as aesthetically pleasing as possible. An introduction to aesthetics is as much a part of do-it-yourself landscape design study as is an introduction to its practical side.