Make Your New House a Stunner with the Right Landscaping
You’ve just built your new dream home from house plans. Everything is perfect about your new place – except the bare earth surrounding the foundation and the construction site. You need to do something to make the new house a home. You need landscaping.
Whether you will hire a landscape architect to design your landscaping or you’ll do it yourself – or hire a landscape contractor to do the installation work or do most if not all of it yourself – there are some landscaping concepts and guidelines that you should know. They will help you understand and follow what your hired companies are doing, or guide you to a successful project on your own.
One of the first things you must decide is what you want to emphasize in your new home plan’s landscaping. This involves choosing a focal point. It may be the house itself – say, the front porch or the walkway to the house – or some aspect in the landscaping – a beautiful tree, a particular eye-catching planting group, or an ornamentation. Whatever you choose to emphasize will be the anchor to your landscape plan.
The point of emphasis for the landscaping around this 1-story, 3 bedroom, 2 bath Craftsman Country home is clearly the lovely house itself. The landscaping is understated and low to the ground – except for the conifer in the corner between the house and garage – making the home the star of the show. The landscaped grouping in the lawn gives the eye a jumping-off point to appreciate the beauty of the building (Plan #108-1789).
When planting around the house – especially planting trees – you must keep in mind the relative size of the plants and the landscape-area surroundings. Planting a large tree in a small space or a small shrub in a wide-open area will look odd. Your goal is to beautify your newly built house, so don’t overpower – or underwhelm – it with the wrong plantings.
The palm trees in front of this 2-story, 7 bedroom Mediterranean house are just right to complement the home’s architecture and the landscaping. The tree in back would have been too big and overwhelmed the house (Plan #107-1182).
3. First Big, Then Small
Speaking of proportion, when planting a landscape design, plant large to small. That is:
• Plant larger trees first.
• Then shrubs.
• Then plants like perennials.
• Then low-growing plants like ground covers.
The reason for this is so that you can get a sense of exactly where plantings need to to be placed relative to each other. Once you see how much room a tree takes up, then you can visually place the shrubs. Once they are in place, you have a sense of where the smaller plants will fit. And once they are in, you can fill in with ground cover. There is nothing worse than planting a whole bed of plants and having to dig some up because the tree or shrub you need to plant doesn’t fit!
Balance in landscaping design can come from either symmetrical or asymmetrical design. An example of symmetrical design would be planting both sides of a central front door of a home plan with the same plantings – large shrub on each side, followed by a rectangular planting bed along each side of the foundation. An asymmetrical design might have one side of the house with a rectangular planting bed and the other side adorned with a bed that curves on its way to end of the house. Both sides may have similar plantings, but one is rectilinear while the other is curvy and rounded.
Balance can come from symmetry or asymmetry – or both! The foundation landscaping for this 1-story, 3 bedroom Craftsman-style home exhibits symmetry – note the mirror-image white-flowered shrubs, flowed by pink then white-flowered perennials on each side of the front steps. But it also demonstrates asymmetry in that the garage side of the planting bed is much longer than that of the other side (Plan #141-1035).
Color is a useful tool in landscape design, as it can provide depth depending on how you place the color. As in any form of design or art, bright, warm colors seem to advance; cooler greens and blues seem to recede; and neutral colors like whites and beiges are, well, neutral! Keep this in mind when designing a landscape for your newly built house plan. You want to maintain a dynamic that will keep the landscape planting interesting. Also, it you live in a colder climate, try to plant with an eye to retaining some amount of color in the dead of winter – say with evergreens like holly, boxwood, or conifers that stay green or trees that might have interesting colored bark or bright berries that remain for most of the season, such as serviceberry.
Note the color placement in the foundation planting for this 1.5-story, 3 bedroom Acadian-style house. The bright, advancing colors of the bulk of the planting are bordered by receding greens – the low border plants in font and the larger shrubs in the rear. This helps to pop the pinks and whites of the anchor shrubs. Note also how the two pink-blossom trees on each side of the house at the rear pop to frame the home plan (Plan #142-1058).
Maintaining interest in landscaping is important, and a good way to do that is to sequence your planting. By that, we mean planting large to small (grouping plants from large to medium to small) or setting plants ranging from coarse texture to fine (arranging a group from coarse to medium to fine texture). You can also sequence color: instead of mixing two colors half and half in a grouping, mix them two-thirds to one-third to add interest.
Here is a good example of size sequencing. The larger plants (two trees and a shrub) in the landscape of this 1-story, 3-bedroom Country-style home descend from large at right to small at left. The sequencing mirrors the slope of the lot and avoids blocking the view of (and from) the front porch (Plan #117-1001).
There is a good expression in design, especially when it comes to beginner and novice designers: keep it simple. Good advice. If you keep your landscape design and installation simple when you first build your dream house plan, you can add to it or expand it later, once you have lived with it for a while. That’s much easier than going back to rip out things that don’t work or that you just don’t like later!
The simple planting in the landscape design of this 1-story, 3 bedroom Country Ranch home shows off the house and allows addition to or expansion of the planting beds as time goes by (Plan #109-1184).
It may not seem like a good guideline for a creative endeavor like landscape design, but repetition plays a part for all landscape architects. It actually results in more than the sum of its parts. The maxim is to plant masses of plants instead of just a few for maximum impact. If you are thinking of filling a spot in the design with four or five plants, a landscape designer may advise to to use four, five, or more times that amount to make a statement. And instead of looking boring, as you may think it would look, it actually brings a sense of harmony to the design.
Repeating a design element in a landscape planting, as in the repetition of the white and pink flowering plants in this design for a 1-story, 3 bedroom Country home with European influences, is a common tactic for landscape designers (Plan #141-1180).
Once you have a planting in the ground, it is important that you mulch the bed well, and renew it every year or every other year. The mulch keeps weeds down, which makes maintenance easier, and retains moisture to bridge those dry spells that are sure to occur during the summer. Although it may not eliminate the need for watering, it extends the time between watering sessions. Use cedar much, and you won’t have to worry about fungus and mushrooms invading the garden during moist periods, either.
Mulching your planting beds, as in this landscape for a 3-bedroom, 2 bath Ranch house with Acadian influences, keeps weeds down and makes the design look neat and tidy (Plan #142-1049).
10. Plant Well
Last but not least, make sure you take the time to set plants in well prepared holes. Digging planting holes that are too small or not amended with the right soil and fertilizer and planting plants without spreading roots and watering thoroughly will guarantee results you are not happy with. As Ralph Snodsmith, a well known landscape expert and radio personality, says, it is better to plant a 50-cent plant in a $5 hole than to plant a $5 plant in a 50-cent hole. Make the effort to plant well, and you'll be happy with your landscape for years to come.
11. Use Drought-Tolerant Concepts
More and more home builders are now using what they call “water wise techniques,” such as the process called xeriscaping, which can help homeowners save water. Just remember that an attractive garden can rely on native plants. Depending on where you live, landscaping your new home using drought-tolerant concepts just may be the right thing to do.
Once you have purchased your lot, take a look at the terrain, and where you get sun and shade. Do you have a rocky yard or a yard with a lot of shade? Sometimes it's best to just accept the terrain you inherit and consider a rock garden if the terrain is rocky, or add slopes to fight erosion. The key is to know what you're up against and determine your options based on native plants and location.
Mulch, as mentioned above, is an essential ingredient to helping plants conserve moisture. You should spread a couple of three inches of mulch in between widely-spaced plants to help reduce water loss. Remember that a raised flower bed with borders for plants can prevent water loss. You can also add soil amendments like natural compost or a new bio-nutrient like GrowSwitch.com, which helps save water and adds trace minerals to plants and vegetable gardens.
Here are some great tips:
• Install a drip-irrigation system. It wastes less water and delivers hydration directly to the plants
• Evergreens provide color and structure to your landscape.
• Consider a vegetable garden that serves two purposes. 1) It looks nice, and 2) it provides food for your family.
• Use what is called “hardscape elements” – sculptures can help you make your drought-tolerant gardens more interesting. Use a trellis or pavers with a series of circles as steps for interest. Other things like benches and birdbaths are nice too.
• The gaps between pavers provide spots for water to soak into the ground below.
• Dual-purpose herbs such as oregano are excellent drought-tolerant plants, and creeping thyme as a groundcover helps provide a method to catch the water on a gentle slope. Use groundcovers in key areas.
• Oversize boulders add a vocal point but also help fill in gaps.
• Use less grasses, and instead choose drought-tolerant plants, which prevent erosion.
• Many flowers supply showy blooms but require a lot of water; plant evergreens, such as arborvitae, which call for little water.
• Foliage plants work well in a drought-tolerant garden.
• Japanese forest grass offers a little drama to a landscaped yard while Japanese bloodgrass has lots of foliage.
• Water plants early in the morning or late in the day to prevent water evaporation.
• Eco-friendly rain barrels can offer a way to recycle rainfall when there is rain.
• Make pathways of gravel, instead of concrete, so soil can absorb some water before it runs off.
• Densely planted flowerbeds help keep weeds away.
As you plan the landscaping for your new home, take a look at the house plan that you have purchased and determine the best drought tolerant plants to add drama. If you are seeking water-hardy plants, consider these: catmint, goat's beard, lady's mantle, and lavender require minimal water to reach maximum growth.
With the warmer months upon us – and before summer arrives – it’s time to landscape your new dream house to make it look the best it can be!
Footnote: The lead image in this article is an attractive 2-story, 4-bedroom Southern Country home plan. For more information, click here. (Plan #117-1100)