Overwhelmed with figuring out your landscaping from scratch? Here’s 7 steps to get your landscaping project on the right foot… even if you’re a beginner! In this post, I’ll guide you step-by-step through creating a landscape from scratch:
- Gather garden and landscaping inspiration photos
- Determine your garden style
- Create a scale plan (drawing) of your landscape
- Take a site inventory of your yard’s conditions and features
- Create a garden wish list
- Draw out some designs on your scale plan
- Research plants and features that fit your style
The 7 steps to landscaping your yard from scratch
At PrettyPurpleDoor, I help beginner gardeners create landscapes that are uniquely you. I have diploma in garden design and maintenance and I’m also a professional graphic designer and I teach garden design online through my four season garden design course.
Today I’m really excited to teach you how to landscape your yard from scratch — in 7 easy steps! Let’s do this!
1- Gather garden and landscaping inspiration photos
So the first thing that I would suggest if you really don’t know where to start, is to go on website where you can start to curate photos of landscapes that you like. Websites like Pinterest.com and Houzz.com are great options for this.
Just type in some keywords and start to collect photos that you are attracted to.
Then, review your saved photos and look for patterns and trends in the photos you chose. Do your photos have anything in common? Like…
- the colors of the plants or features
- the styles of the gardens you tend to like (modern, traditional, cottage or woodland are common garden styles)
- the types of plants used (maybe they all use roses, succulents, structural evergreen shrubs or beautiful flowering trees?)
- the types of features used (brick pathways, bird baths, water features, stone edging, etc.)
Using this simple trick will give you far better results than blindly posting into a public gardening group and asking for advice from strangers.
2- Determine your garden style
As you start to curate photos that you like, you’re going to start to see what type of style you like. When you start to collect your photos, you’re essentially curating your garden style. Whether it’s messy, really formal, modern, cottage or somewhere in between… collecting photos is the easiest way to figure this out.
The cool thing about determining your garden style is that there are certain plants, materials and features you can use to bring that style to the forefront. It takes a lot of the decision fatigue out of the process for you.
Quick Tip: If you’re having trouble with this step, head over to my Garden Styles post to determine which style is right for you.
3- Create a scale plan (drawing) of your landscape
The next thing that you want to do after you curate some photos and determine your garden style is to actually measure your yard and draw it out. It’s called drawing a scale plan.
And I know this is daunting. Most people don’t want to do this. And, that’s why they can’t have the garden they’ve always dreamed of. Believe me when I tell you that this step is a non-negotiable when creating a landscape from scratch.
To properly plan out your garden, you need to know the size of your garden and what else may play a part in the plants and materials you choose. A lot of times people think they have a rectangular square yard. But then if you look at the actual scale plan, you’ll realize that it’s longer on one side than the other… or there’s a corner of your lot that juts out a bit that you never noticed before doing this. Some of these things are not easy to see without the drawing.
Start your scale plan by measuring the perimeter of your property and marking the distances on a sheet of paper. You can use a fiber tape reel which is just a large, flexible tape measure that can measure long distances. Here’s the Amazon link for the one I use by Komelon. It comes in 100′, 200′ and 330′ lengths.
Using graph paper, you’ll be able to scale down that size based on the squares in the paper. For example, maybe one square on the paper is one foot in your garden. So if your yard is 40 feet long, you will draw a line that’s 40 squares of the grid paper in length.
Alternative options to create a scale plan
If this is sounding way too complex for you, another great option is to find your house on Google Maps. When you type in your address on Google Maps, you’ll get an overhead view of your property so you can see your whole property at one glance! Even better yet, switch to the “Satellite mode” so you can see a real photo of your house, trees and other elements of your property. Right-click on the map to print out the picture of your property and you’re off to the races.
You can watch this video for more information: How to use Google Maps to create a Landscape Base Map.
Lastly, you can also hire a site surveyor in order to do this work for you. Here’s some more information about boundary surveys and what you’ll need to know before you hire a professional.
Don’t forget to make a few copies of it so you can use them in the next few steps.
4 – Take a site inventory of your yard’s conditions and features
In this step, you’ll make notes about the conditions and features in your landscape and mark them in your scale plan.
Why do I need to do this, you may ask? It’s because a lot of the decisions you’ll make in your landscape may be determined by the notes you make! You’ll need to use different types of plants for different conditions. The conditions can also dictate where you’ll put a patio, plant a feature tree or even need a screening wall or fence. Below are some of the things you should mark down on your plan.
Make a note of north, south, east and west on your plan. This will inform you as to where on your property the sun rises (east) and sets (west). Marking the directional position of your home and garden will also help you to determine the amount of sun that your landscape will get and at what time. Typically, a south-facing home gets sun for most of the day and is usually brighter and warmer (especially at the front of the house). A north-facing home gets sun at the back of the house and is typically darker and naturally cooler than a south-facing one. But, if you are planning a backyard landscape in a north-facing home, that means your backyard is south facing and receives the sun for most of the day. Make note of this on your plan.
Mark off all areas of your landscape that are in full sun and/or full shade. We already did a bit of this work but there may be other areas of your yard that are blocked by tall shade trees, or are shaded by a neighbors house or even a shed or other structure. So make note of these areas, too.
Mark places where electrical wires cross over your property. That way, you’ll be able to avoid planting a tall tree right underneath the power lines.
Mark any permanent fixtures or access points on your house, such as air conditioning units, water spickets, electrical outlets, meters, etc.
Mark the direction the wind commonly blows. If you have observed your landscape and have noticed the common direction of wind you can mark that. If you aren’t sure, prevailing winds in the United States typically blow from west to east so you can make a note of that.
Make note of any changes in grade or slope on your property. This is also really helpful so you know where you may need to terrace your property. At the very least, it will help you to determine where water may pool or settle in your area. This can affect where you place certain plants and features.
Mark the views you want to highlight or disguise. If there’s a beautiful view of an old oak tree across the way, make note of that on your plan so you make sure that you incorporate that view into your design. Similarly, if your neighbor has a garbage heap along the side of the house that you really hate looking at, make a note of it so you can block that view with your new landscaping.
5 – Create a garden wish list
And after you have an idea the overall shape of your yard and have marked any conditions or features that may affect your landscape plan, you’re ready to start the fun stuff! Yay! Start creating an inventory list of what you want in your garden. Your wish list can include anything and everything you want in your yard. Here are some ideas to get your started:
- seating areas / patios
- play areas / relaxing areas (fire pit, etc)
- BBQ area / dining area
- privacy/screening from bad views
- vegetable patch or areas for your hobbies
- water features, sculptures, focal points, etc.
Make a complete wish list and dream up all that you can dream. Anything goes here. And while you probably won’t be able to include everything on your list… knowing what you really want from your landscape before you start will give you the best chance of actually being able to incorporate more of the wish list items you want. Planning is everything, as you are probably learning by now :).
6 – Draw out some designs on your scale plan
Now that you have all of your measurements, your site inventory and your wish list figured out, you can start to draw out your ideas onto paper. I like to make multiple copies of my scale plan and draw the designs right onto that. This way, I know that the drawings are “to scale” and I’m able to draw a lot of different ideas and keep my creativity flowing!
Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a fancy professional artist or designer to do this. You can create a drawing using simple shapes like circles, squares or bubbles. It doesn’t need to be a masterpiece.
My ninja tip for this is to start with two interlocking shapes. So maybe a big circle in the middle and then connect a square to that. See where your mind takes you. What shapes make the most sense to fit into the shape of your yard?
If this isn’t coming easy to you, you can try creating a bubble drawing. This is basically drawing loose shapes to incorporate different elements you want in your landscape. So, take a look at the site inventory and start to put your items in. If you want a vegetable patch, find the area on your site inventory that gets loads of sun, and draw a little square in there. Keep drawing your bubbles to see how many of the features from your wishlist you can incorporate into your landscape. Don’t forget to leave spaces for your plants!
I like to do lots of different versions of these bubble drawings to see what kind of configurations I can come up with. It’s kind of like playing tetris with your landscape. After a few tries, you’ll probably realize that you can’t fit EVERYTHING into the size of your yard. So, you’ll have to start narrowing things down and really decide what’s most important to you. Then, keep on drawing!
Usually after a few tries you’ll be on your way to a great design concept. Honestly, if you’ve made it this far you are lightyears ahead of most home owners!!
Quick Tip: Learn more about arranging plants in your garden in this easy-to-follow post.
7 – Research plants and features that fit your style
So after you are settled (or almost settled) on a drawing, you will have a pretty good idea of where you’ll place things in your landscape. That means you’re ready to start choosing your hardscape materials and plants.
Hardscape materials are the materials you’ll use for hard surfaces in the garden like patios, walkways and other structures. I wrote an article on different Garden Styles that gives some material examples for each style. This is really helpful in deciding what types of hardscape materials you should use in your landscape. For example, materials that are very lumpy and bumpy lean towards cottage style and the more smooth and sleek they get, the more modern the landscape becomes. From my experience, most people will fall somewhere in between the two.
Your plant choices will “soften the edges” of the hardscape materials, so it’s important to leave enough space to put your plants in. First, take a look at your inspiration photos all the way from step 1. See if you can pinpoint any plants or flowers that you really like. You may also find it helpful to choose a single color to base your landscape around. My article about using color in the garden is really helpful if you want to learn more about doing this.
Did you know that you can have the exact same garden design and using different hardscape materials and plants you can make the garden look completely different? It’s true! These are the two biggest indicators of what your landscape will feel like when it’s all done.
So… I think we need to talk about choosing the right plants now!
I’d recommend you take a look at my article on researching plants. It’s filled with all sorts of information on narrowing down your plant choices so you can select the right plants for your conditions. And, since you already did a site inventory, you are a step ahead! Now you just need to narrow down the plant choices to fit in those areas. The good news is there’s lots of different tricks and even websites and apps in the article that will make this easy to do.
Lastly, I’m really passionate about not asking for landscape advice in public forums and Facebook groups. And I only bring this up because it’s where I see most beginner gardeners looking for advice on how to landscape their yard from scratch. So… if you’re interested in hearing more about this you can head over to this post where I give lots of tips and advice for navigating these public forums as a beginner gardener.
The reason that crowd-sourcing your landscaping advice doesn’t work is simple. Your landscape is personal. It’s unique to you and what you want and what you need. Your yard is quirky and it’s not something that just any old random person in a Facebook group can solve for you.
I hope that you now realize that you have a clear path for doing all of the research that will lead you to your perfect dream garden. Before you know it, you’ll be sitting outside enjoying a landscape that is UNIQUELY YOU. And that’s what I’m all about here!
In this article, we went from starting a landscape from scratch, feeling completely overwhelmed with how to get started, all the way through a simple step by step process for making your dream landscape a reality!
Now, I know some of these steps are time consuming and it’s not something you can do overnight… but you CAN do it. Just start with step one and keep on going.
If you’re just starting your landscape from scratch and you’re expecting to find a landscape designer to give you advice and draw you free plans in a Facebook group, you’re going to be disappointed. In my opinion, you either need to hire a professional and pay them for their work. Or, you need to take a DIY approach to landscaping your yard from scratch. That means you’ll have to take the time to understand all the pieces that go into your landscape and how to make it unique, creative and show off your personality.
I really believe that any home gardener CAN do this yourself and have a lot of success with landscaping your yard from scratch. If you want to take the next steps with me, I invite you to take my free video masterclass training that covers the 3 biggest mistakes that home gardeners make that prevent them from getting their dream garden. It’s completely free and will really energize you to start this process off on the right foot!
So remember: you either need to be willing to take the DIY approach, or you need to be willing to pay a professional to help you (at the very least) create a plan and work with you on all the planning and research. But that in between place… where you don’t want to do it yourself OR hire someone to help you… can be a really bad place to be. But, all you need to do get started… all the way at the top of this page… with step one!
More garden design posts you’ll love
- Narrow garden layouts + design tips to make them work for youDesign layouts for long, narrow gardens that you can try at home. Tips and tricks for designing a narrow garden like a landscaping pro.
- How to arrange plants in containers – 7 design tipsIt’s really fun to arrange plants in containers once you learn these design tips. You’ll be able to create unique and creative planters that cost a lot less money and are filled with personality.
- 4 Tips for a Peaceful Garden Sanctuary at HomeSuper simple tips you can do today to create a harmonious and peaceful garden sanctuary that you can enjoy for years to come!