Boxhill was founded to inspire you to live life outside. Entertaining in the open air, dining with the sky as your ceiling, relaxing in your own backyard oasis—we are devoted to the experience and sensation of living outdoors and want to help you create the space that will bring you joy.
After over 20 years designing landscapes from backyards to commercial spaces, we know that starting a landscape design project can be daunting, and sometimes you just don’t know what you don’t know. So, we answered some common questions and defined some basic landscape design terms to help you feel more confident when you are starting your project. Knowing some of the basics will help you communicate your wants and needs much better, no matter what region of the world you live in.
1. What are the soft materials you need for your landscape design?
Soft material is a term used by landscape architects and designers to describe the components of a design that do not involve construction. Soft material, softscape or soft landscape elements include plant life, such as trees, flowers, succulents, cacti, hedges and shrubs, as well as other landscaping elements like decorative rock and turf. The soft materials you choose for your outdoor space depend a lot on personal preferences, but also your geographic location and the level of maintenance you’re willing to take on.
2. How do I choose plants for my outdoor space?
When it comes to making decisions about adding plants to your outdoor space, knowing what works in your region and what doesn’t is first and foremost. Wondering what plant zone you’re in? The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is a super helpful tool so you can see for yourself what qualifies as a fit in your area.
Another important point to consider is the overall goal of your plants. Is your goal to provide shade? Block a view? Create a view? To have cut flowers? Eat from your yard? When you understand the goal and objectives of what you want your plants to do, then you can put the right plants in the right place.
Once the goals have been identified, you’ll want to take into account other essential details such as geographic region and the level of maintenance you’re willing to take on. If your knowledge of plants and plant care is minimal you may really want to consider consulting an expert for this part of your project to ensure that your vision aligns with what is actually possible. Plants that bloom, for example, require more maintenance than those that don’t, so if you’re looking for a low-maintenance landscape you’ll want to focus on getting color from foliage rather than flowers.
A landscape designer can guide you through everything from selecting the right plants for your region and lifestyle to planning the aesthetics of the design, like texture, layers, symmetry, and color.
3. What is Mass Planting?
Mass Planting is an incredibly effective technique landscape designers implement to create a more dramatic look by grouping the same type of plant in one concentrated area. Picture expansive areas of bright red blooms or rows of tall waving grass, you create more visual impact by grouping plants together. Not only that, mass planting simplifies installation: pick a plant that is bullet-proof in your region and repeat it throughout the design. It also makes maintenance a lot easier. For example, we use this method frequently in our desert designs, when the client is interested in adding color in a low-maintenance way. A line of Blue Glow Agave, with its stunning evergreen rosettes tipped with golden and red tones, makes quite a visual statement.
4. What the heck is hardscape?
Hardscape is essential to your landscape design, but the degree to which you implement it varies greatly depending on your project. Firstly, what is hardscape? Hardscape is a term used to describe anything that involves construction and becomes permanent structure. From concrete paths and retaining walls to outdoor kitchens and in-ground pools, hardscapes provide structural integrity and create definition in your outdoor spaces.
When embarking on a landscape design project, there are essentially two types of hardscape scenarios: you either have a property with existing hardscapes or you have a new build where you’re starting from scratch. Sometimes the existing hardscape can be really fun to incorporate into the new design, like a historic tumbled brick pathway. But generally, people tend to make a lot of mistakes with hardscape design, and inheriting those can complicate your design project and bring up costs for you. Bringing on a landscape designer to assist with the hardscape design aspects of your project is always a good choice.
There is enormous opportunity in the hardscape components of your landscape design. An effective hardscape both creates parameters for your space and informs how you use it, drawing you to a view, for example, or guiding you to your fire pit. Whether for personal preference or geographic location, some landscape designs rely heavily on hardscape while others put more emphasis on plants. We find, for example, that hardscapes tend to bring heat to a space, so when we’re designing spaces in the Southwest, where it’s already quite warm year-round, we make sure to have more plant-focused designs.
Regardless of your project site, preferences, or constraints, the one thing you don’t want to do with hardscapes is make a mistake. Make sure to contact a designer for this phase of your project, if only for a consultation.
5. Ambient Lighting: The final step in designing your landscape
Smart exterior lighting choices enable you to increase the functionality of your outdoor spaces while enhancing your desired design aesthetic. Lighting can have a significant impact on your overall design and it’s not something you want to leave out of the planning process. Ambient lighting is the icing on the cake, the final touch that can really set the tone for the enjoyment of your outdoor space, and it’s really not that complicated. The only mistake you can really make with ambient lighting is when you try to use it for tasks.
Think about it this way: Task lighting is what gets you to the location, and ambient lighting is what keeps you there. Task lighting is absolutely essential to your outdoor space. This can be anything from illuminating your house number so your guests can find you, to adequately lighting your walkways so they can safely navigate your yard after dark. A well-lit exterior can make your home a less likely target for potential crimes like burglary or vandalism and alert people to potential dangers like stairs or ledges.
Essentially, you’ll want to incorporate task lighting into your landscape design anywhere you can’t do the task without light. Your outdoor kitchen, for example, should have adequate task lighting so you don’t overcook the steak on the grill. Your pathway lights should be placed in a staggered zigzag pattern which offers enough light to walk in the most aesthetically pleasing way. And don’t forget to light your stairs–triple the lighting if your stairs are made of irregularly shaped stones like flagstone since the irregularities affect depth perception.
When all your task lighting needs have been met, it’s time to add ambient light. Ambient lighting is mood lighting, the light that makes you want to stay in a space. It can come from a variety of different sources like landscape lighting, a fire pit, tiki torches, string lights, and glow spheres. Ambient lighting tends to be more of a warm glow that offers enough light to dance under but not enough to feel like you’re in a school cafeteria. One of our favorite ways to add ambient light to a space is by placing a trio of floating glow balls in the pool. Even in an old, grungy pool, adding a few of these lights is an instant glow-up. Another one of our favorite ambient light tricks is to use frosted plates on the landscaping lighting for a more sophisticated tone. Shop Boxhill’s curated outdoor lighting collection now.
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We’ve got a couple of free resources you might be interested in:
- The Ultimate Checklist for Designing Your Dream Outdoor Kitchen
- Outdoor Kitchen Budget Planner
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