As you narrow down your list of needs and wants, take a reality check to make sure your desires are compatible with the givens of your property's location and attributes, as well as with your lifestyle and budget.
"The main thing is finding out what the homeowner likes in general," says Pete Marsh, a landscape designer with Buck & Sons in Columbus, Ohio. "You may have to take their initial vision and give some advice to make things fit in better with the setting."
Your landscape design should complement the architectural style of your home and relate to the house's orientation on the property.
"Sometimes the architecture of the home really calls out for a specific way of designing and other times it's not so obvious," Marsh says. "If a house is very orthogonal, it can make sense to do rectangles, squares and diagonals that play off the angles of the house." On the other hand, you might prefer to soften those angles with serpentine paths and amoeba-shaped beds for a less formal feel or to accommodate topographical challenges.
Is your yard big enough to all the things you want to do there? If you set aside a portion for a play structure for young children, what is your plan for that spot when they outgrow it? Can you keep your dog from trampling your flower beds?
How many people do you typically have over at a time? "The size of the family is very important" in determining the size of your patio and proportions," says Joe Densieski, president of NU Green, a landscape design firm in Riverhead, N.Y. "Knowing whether you're cooking for six or 15 is critical so you can decide the size of the barbecue area, the width of the walkways, the patio, the fire pit."
"You'll get clients who have taken a vacation in Florida and want to create that look back home," Marsh says. "They might not understand that you can have thin-set concrete only in places where they don't have severe freeze-thaw patterns or that stuff would be flaking off all over in a year and the place would look worse than before you started."
If you live in a four-season landscape, you can plant for year-round interest, so there's always something blooming or changing color in the garden. Says Massachusetts-based Risa Edelstein, president of the Ecological Landscaping Association: "You can start in February with early bulbs, witch hazel and pussy willows, followed by tons of flowers in spring. You get foliage color in fall, and then seed heads in winter along with red berries for birds. Trees like birch that have interesting bark look interesting even without leaves."
In desert climates, some plants and grasses go dormant in hot weather, so create visual interest by using silhouettes of trees and large plants, colorful pots, dynamic sculptures, and built structures like pergolas.
Here's how to create a plan, choose plants, set a budget and hire contractors.
Projects by Professionals(at Pro Galleries)
Projects by People Like You (at Rate My Remodel)