Designer's Challenge- How do I become competent?

Springfield, IL(Zone 6a)

Hi, all!

I'm a Master Gardener without a good foundation of the principles of landscape design. In your opinions, what are the best 3 books I can get or top 3 things I can do to learn the basic principles of landscape design? I don't want landscapes I can "copy" to make a pretty garden because I adore unusual plants. I do, however, want to learn the best way to incorporate these unusual plants with my more common ones so that I have an attractive garden with year-long interest. Thanks for your help, as always!

Susie :)

BTW- I also posted this in the landscaper's forum. Thanks!

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

This isn't a basic book--you'd probably want to get some design fundamentals elsewhere, but once you know the basics and want to make things work with your unusual plants, the book "Design in the Plant Collector's Garden" is a good one.

St. Louis County, MO(Zone 5a)

I love "Gardening with Conifers" by Adrian Bloom

It is very detailed about using conifers as the bones of the garden, and has pictures that can inspire you with ideas. I'm ripping out a whole bed at church and changing to a conifer/rock garden, all with direction from this book. I found it on Amazon used for a nice price.

Lynnwood, WA(Zone 7a)

1)The entry is the main focal point of any home. Even small properties can have grand entries. The main thing is that it should be inviting=2 people should be able to walk comfortably, side by side, up to the door. The porch should be wider yet and covered. Think comfortable for people. Lighting, is important. Plants near the door should not be overwhelming, which is a sort of subjective thing. 2) People get all kinds of subconcious feelings about their surroundings and an understanding and appreciation of those feelings are the most important thing for a designer. From there, there are as many ways to go as there are yards. You have to know if a person likes tidy and orderly or wild and unruly or somewhere in between.3) And everything that is visible, even in someone elses yard, is what you have to design around. 4) Scale, small property, small gardens, etc.

This message was edited Nov 4, 2010 6:47 AM

Port Moody, BC(Zone 8a)

HI Susie R

I found the following books helpful:

Landscape Graphics, Grant W. Reid FASLA, 2002

Well-designed Garden, John Brookes, 2002,2007

Residential Landscape Architecture, Norman K. Booth and James E. Hiss

There are many other great books out there. I have found that clients will treat you as a competent professional if you produce professional drawings.

good luck

springfield area, MO(Zone 5b)

you could probably spend an afternoon driving around and taking notes on what you like and what you don't when looking at other's yards. I know I don't like to see overgrown trees or thick shrubs over the front porch/door area that look closed in, dark or creepy. Also things that get too large for the space.
I don't like to use bushes that grow toward the light or the back side dies out due to lack of light, when you can see them from the house side of the porch or walk area.
Smaller things that don't look crowded or overwhelming for their space. Color and texture, height are important. Hardiness. Do the items bloom, set fruit, drop leaves, ect. Much of landscaping will be want the customer wants as well. I am sure some old ladies will want you to plant XYZ and you will think it looks ridiculous, but hey they are paying for it....
Don't forget to factor in things such as .... gazing balls, fountains, stairs, sidewalks, signs, pavers-paths, stones, birdbaths, windchimes, statuary, ponds, birdhouses, hanging pots, large planters, automatic watering, electrical access, lighting, shade/sun, and the amount of time the owners will need to maintain the area, or long term updates/maturity.

Lynnwood, WA(Zone 7a)

Landscape design is the only design that has four dimensions, the fourth being change over time. House design and interior design have only 3 dimensions, change over time not being a factor. It is challenging. One of the hardest things about it is to understand what your client likes. I like to show pictures of different kinds of yards and ask them to point out the ones they love and the ones they hate. It's really a quest for understanding their natures. I've asked them to jot down the addresses of landscapes they love and go look at them myself.


I too am a MG - and it has truly helped.
But I'm 75 now, and there are some things I applaud in my home garden design, and some things I wish I had not done.We have nearly an acre. Good things : I planned it to have something blooming all year long (zone 7) - also something fragrant (my nose knows)
I planned shrubs and trees to give me privacy - we sit on our porch 6 mos (screened for VA) and enjoy seeing what I have done.
I built a grhouse for $4000 w/ a little heater inconspicously in the rear to over winter some lovely exotics - I now have Brugmansias I've cut back to overwinter that grow to 16 ' in the summer, and supply rooted cuttings now to all my friends.
For the last 10 yrs I've layered and used cuttings and seedlings from my own plants to fill space - leaving some room for annuals.
What I wish I had NOT done: I have too much pruning to do - my house provided wisteria - and it is lovely when I moved in - it has popped up everywhere. DO NOT ever use it!
Don't use overwhelming amts of plantings that demand heavy pruning - viburnum, Photinia, Chinese Holly - etc.
You'll love the results someday of what you are planning now - my garden is paradise!

Thumbnail by Pollygardening
St. Louis County, MO(Zone 5a)



BTW, I've always seen the best designer folks w/ their copy of Michael Dirr's "Hardy Trees and Shrubs" clutched in their hands - it may be just a prop, but it instills confidence!
Here is a spring view today

Thumbnail by Pollygardening
Virginia Beach, VA

What a beautiful yard!!! Belle

Hesston, KS

Beautiful. Thanks for sharing your garden and experience Pollygarden.

Duxbury, MA(Zone 7a)

SusieR, don't know if you are still checking this thread, but my favorite design books are by Penelope Hobhouse, a British garden designer

Springfield, IL(Zone 6a)

Thanks all! Still checking and reading... The MO Botannical Garden in STL has a landscape design class I would like to attend as does the community college that is one mile from my house (a nice bike ride dodging crazy19 year olds!) I think I need to get some of the books you've all suggested from the library and read, read, read!!!

Thanks so much! :)

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