Makeover Step 5 – Design the Features

You’ve come a long way!  At this point you’ve set your design goal, set your style, made your features list and created a basic layout of your new yard.  That’s a lot of work!

Now the real fun begins.  You’re ready to start putting some serious detail to your plan.  In this step, you’ll design each of your hardscape features and your plantings.  You’re ready to put a lot of detail into the hardscapes, but for plantings, you’ll just create an outline for now.

This will also be the time to start checking your project against a budget.

Let’s jump in and start designing your landscape features!

Start with your Feature List

Take your feature list along with your goal statement and style descriptors.  These will be your guide from here forward in the design process.  We’ll work down your feature list from top to bottom and try different designs for each one. All of the designs will meet the requirements of your goal statements and style.  Always checking your design with your goal and style will keep your overall design in harmony.  This is another point where most homeowners and landscapers go astray.  They start designing features that do not adhere to a common goal or style.

We’ll break the feature design process into steps to make it easier.   You’ll have to repeat this process for each of your features.  We’ll bring them all together later on.

Hardscapes First

This is where you can get creative.  Starting with the first hardscape feature on your list, you’re going to start designing the completed feature.   The first step will be to go to our Landscape Features section and read the information on the feature type you’re designing.  We’ll explain the challenges of designing that specific feature and offer suggestions.

If you still don’t have a good idea of what you want your design to look like, go ahead and search the internet and magazines, etc. for something that sparks your interest.  Just be careful to always stay true to your goal and style. Remember, it’s OK to dream big when looking for design suggestions.  You can always tone down expensive designs to fit your budget.

This is a major difference between professional designers and homeowners.   As a homeowner, you will not likely have the same design skills as a professional.  Don’t let this stop you.  You will just have to rely more heavily on other sources for ideas (like our site for example!).   Don’t be afraid to search far and wide and incorporate ideas from as many sites as you feel necessary until you capture the design that best serves your goal and style.

Draw it!

Once you’ve got an idea of what your design will look like,  go ahead and start making some rough drawings of the finished feature.

If you’re going to hire a professional to install this feature, then you’ll need a drawing or picture to convey your idea.  If you find an existing design that you like, then a picture from the internet or a magazine might be sufficient to use.  However, if you’re creating a truly original design, you may need to create a more detailed drawing to give to your installer.  This doesn’t mean it needs to be elaborate, just enough to convey the details of your design.  This can be done with paper and pencil or using some basic programs on your computer.  I’ve used programs like Microsoft Word and PowerPoint to make design drawings many times. If you want to get more elaborate , you can use a drafting program like Google SketchUp.  Google SketchUp is free and really easy to use.  It’s a great tool for creating 3D drawings of your landscape.  Click here to download it and start drawing.

Sure, drawings made on the computer can look very professional, but they also offer another advantage.  You can easily modify your drawings to see how different things work in the design.  For example, if you are designing a patio, it’s very difficult to visualize the difference between say stones and pavers for your patio surface.  On a good drafting program (like SketchUp), you’d be able to change the material with the click of a mouse to see which looks better.  I find that this is what makes using the computer a great option.  It gets tedious to make endless changes to a pencil drawing, but with software it’s much easier to try different things.

If you’re going to install the feature yourself, then you may not need such a detailed drawing.   However, you will need at least the basic dimensions of your feature, to go to the next step.

Price it out

Now that you have at least the basic dimensions of your feature, you can go ahead and make a rough estimate of the price of materials.  First, make a list of the materials and services you’ll need to buy or contract to get the job done.  if you’re hiring a professional to install, then you’ll just get a quote on the entire feature.  However, even if you’re doing the installation yourself, you may need the help of a professional (think excavator, stone mason, etc.) for some part of the job.  To get a better idea of the materials you might need for your feature, you can refer again to the Landscape Features section.  You’ll find all the info you need to make a materials list.  To get materials prices, just contact your local landscape supply companies.

Check the price against your budget

If you are shocked by the high prices of materials and services, you’re not alone!  Some materials cost more than you might think. This is the time to sanity check your feature design against your budget.  If you simply can’t afford the material prices you’ve found, you’ll need to either scale down or look for alternatives.  But remember, you MUST stick to your goal and style!  Do not stray away from your style or goal to stay in budget.  You’ll need to get creative and find different ways to create your feature with cheaper materials.  Once again, our Landscape Features section offers suggestions on budget-friendly alternatives for several different features. Don’t give up simply because your initial materials prices were out of your reach.  There is almost always an acceptable affordable version of a landscape feature that will meet your needs.

Repeat this process for all of your hardscape features.

And finally…the plants!

Let’s break our plantings into two different types.  There are plantings that are a landscape feature (like a flower garden or privacy hedge).  Then there are plantings that simply act as filler to tie the different features of your design together.

For your planted landscape features, you should go ahead and make a rough outline drawing.  Just enough to get an idea of the square footage.  You won’t need to make a detailed drawing of specific plants for your layout unless you want some very prominent plant specimens or trees in your design. If that’s the case, go ahead and price out the specimens and locate them in your rough layout.

Your “filler” plantings will be added in a later section.

Once you’ve worked through your entire features list, you’ll be ready to put your plan together.

Next: Bring it Together