Developing a comprehensive landscape design. Every great plan begins with just an idea: An idea of that outdoor entertainment space, complete with fireplace and bar top, or just how to arrange landscape plantings to complement the style of your home. It’s the next steps which are so important in transforming this idea into a reality. Site evaluations, conceptual drawings and final site plans/3D imagery all compose the path leading your ultimate “staycation.” Before jumping into this process, the undoubtedly most important aspect is determining a budget. This mystical number will help guide the direction of the plans and how they are composed.

Site Evaluation. This initial step is to highlight any limiting factors which may be present on your property and considered in the plan. Drainage (water flow) should be paid close attention as not to introduce any landscape/hardscape features which could impede flow or redirect water in an unapproved fashion. Sun exposure will dictate if a roof or pergola structure may be a nice addition to beat the heat, or simply the variety of plants which will thrive. Town building/zoning codes need to be researched in order to be aware what is allowable within your municipality. Most towns have lot coverage and setback codes which may limit the extent of your project. A soil analysis should be conducted to determine if there is a high clay or sand content present. The soil will directly affect how certain hardscape features are constructed (footing depth, base material, etc.) and the type of plant material utilized.

Conceptual Designs. Exterior landscape/hardscape design is a very fluid, ever evolving process which should not be rushed. Take your time and allow the spaces to be sketched out to allow for all “wish list” elements to be accounted for and located. This will help spatially in deciding what can be incorporated and what can’t. This step is not to produce that museum quality site plan, but more to examine the possibilities. An old fashion #2 pencil with a fat eraser, in conjunction with trace paper, is a great way to create overlays and optional features which may be included as well. This is the time to be creative, so if one idea doesn’t work, erase it or sketch over and try again.

Final Site Plan/3D Imagery. This last step is typically reserved for certified/degreed landscape architects and accredited landscape designers, however there are computer programs available if you are feeling up to the task. A home survey is a very helpful document, which you most likely already have, to develop the base map of existing structures. The survey is a scaled drawing which is either enlarged by hand drafting or importing into a computer program. The conceptual images are now drawn in at the exact dimensions of the proposed project. This is the plan which will be used for construction, so precision is key. All structures, hard surfaces, bedlines, plant material, etc. should be included on these plans. For those who have trouble envisioning these overhead site plans, 3D imagery is available to create a realistic representation of what the project will look like before a shovel is even put into the ground. Specific vantage points can be manipulated and viewed through these images.

The comprehensive landscape/hardscape design process is the necessary starting point to elaborate on that “million dollar” (or maybe just a few thousand) idea and provide peace of mind in your investment. So when you see those accreditations and abbreviations listed next to a designers name, now they come with value and the ability to help in a professional manner. Now that your design is complete, it’s time to start planning the best of all. … How you’re going to relax and enjoy your new-found outdoor space once construction is complete!

Michael Pasquarello is a degreed landscape architect with Elite Landscaping. Email him at or call (856) 753-1944. Visit for more information.