To understand what landscaping is, we have to first define it. While the words ‘landscape’ and ‘landscaping’ are used frequently to describe similar features, they are actually quite different.
A landscape is the contours of the land, existing plant life, structures, and everything else the eye takes in when gazing out towards the horizon. Landscapes are commonly defined by characteristics such as agrarian, salt marshes, forests, fishing lagoons, and rivers.
Landscaping, on the other hand, is a verb. It’s the action of creating, enhancing, and changing the existing landscape. The Oxford dictionary defines landscaping as, “the process of making a yard or other piece of land more attractive by altering the existing design, adding ornamental features, and planting trees and shrubs.”
Landscaping Requires Action
The act of landscaping can be rudimentary or comprehensive. When maintaining or improving features of the yard, one is landscaping. There are countless acts that qualify, and a vast range of variations within each.
When a homeowner calls in a landscaping crew, one commonly-performed task is lawn care. This can start with the overall design of the lawn, from leveling the space to planting grass seed.
It might also include a design for underground sprinklers or other types of irrigation. When we think of landscaping, a lush lawn is often the first thing that comes to mind, however, it’s not easily earned.
In addition to preparing and planting a lawn space, there is nearly constant upkeep required. This takes shape as watering the seed while it matures into a lawn, followed by aerating, thatching, fertilizing, weed control, and reseeding as necessary.
Lawns also require frequent mowing and edging as part of any landscaping plan.
Next in the landscaping lineup is the development of flower beds. These can take many forms, each requiring a bit of planning and a lot of care. Nobody said landscaping was easy.
Perhaps the most basic flower beds are those that are simply separated from the lawn with a mow strip or even a thin trench to keep the two sections separate from one another.
A mow strip is often installed using a row of placed paver stones or bricks.
The stones lie at ground level so as to not interfere with the mower blade. Yet, they sit atop a protective layer of weed-blocking paper that suppresses weeds and helps keep the lawn from invading the flower bed.
The row of stone also creates a visual separation between the elements.
Another common divider takes shape as an elevated flower bed. Raised beds can be framed in with wood, such as sturdy railroad ties, or encased in stacked cement or stone blocks.
An elevated bed is further protected from grass infiltration.
Similar to elevated beds, a yard may also feature stacked stones in the form of a retaining wall.
These walls can be made from a variety of materials. Regardless of whether your landscaping requires stacking stones or attaching boards together, retaining walls help keep soil from moving unwantedly.
While building the initial landscaping beds is an exhaustive endeavor, it’s just the beginning of flower bed maintenance. Once the form is in place, you’ll need to fill it with the appropriate nutrient-rich soil and compost and may want to invest in mulch as well.
Flower bed landscaping also involves choosing plants for the space. Aim to attain a variety of heights in your tree, shrub, bulb, and plant selections.
A well thought out flower bed can provide ongoing color and texture throughout the seasons. To keep it looking its best, your landscaping tasks will also include frequent weeding, watering, mulching, feeding, and trimming of your plants.
The raised beds or otherwise cultivated areas in your landscape may also provide food for your family and local community.
Gardening is a form of landscaping that has been around for centuries. Consider the ancient Mayans methods of growing corn and other crops. Even in our young country, the United States has seen gardening since the first Pilgrim settlements in the east and the establishment of communities in the west.
Raised beds and tiered hillsides are two versions of what’s known as terrain. Grading the land to create flat surfaces or pouring fill dirt into recessed areas are further examples of landscaping that change the contour of the land.
This often requires the use of machinery to add or remove slopes, level large sections of the yard, or create mounds.
Landscaping property for a particular purpose is often the starting point of an overall design plan. Think of it as the foundation of a home. Once the mounds and level areas are designated, the raised beds and terracing can begin.
On top of that foundation you’ll find lawns, trees, shrubs, and flowers.
Types of Plants
There is so much to know about the world of plants it has its own branch of science known as botany. Fortunately, the modern homeowner has many tools at his or her disposal to find the perfect fit for any space.
Professional landscapers have a base knowledge of native and other successful plants for the region where they work. It’s important to incorporate plants that will adapt to the climate. After all, it doesn’t make sense to try to raise citrus in a cold-weather region.
The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is a great resource for a DIY landscaping enthusiast who doesn’t quite know what plants are likely to succeed in their yard. The map breaks down every region, assigning it a zone number.
Backyard landscapers can refer to that information when shopping online or in gardening centers, most of which label plants with their suggested planting zone.
There are dozens of considerations when selecting plants. This is a primary aspect of landscaping. The best matches are options that not only thrive but also meet the needs of the overall landscaping plan.
For example, to provide shade, you’ll need large, fast-growing trees. For a border, arborvitae will be a better option in many areas. On the other hand, your landscaping plan might include a fruit orchard or hazelnut trees or majestic oak trees.
Most landscapers start with trees as the focal point and work around them with the next layers of foliage. Shrubs are a nice addition to most yards, and there are endless options to choose from.
Evergreen shrubs offer greenery throughout the year, while variegated leaves bring variety and contrast. Shrubs can also flower during multiple seasons, adding another layer of color to the landscape.
An edible landscape is another popular choice with tiers of plants that produce berries or herbs. Many home cooks enjoy designating a space for common herbs like rosemary, basil, cilantro, parsley, oregano, thyme, and mint. Add to that some tomato and strawberry plants for more readily-available culinary options.
The Importance of Native Plants
While we’re on the discussion of plant selections, the best choices for both the environment and ease of maintenance are native plants.
These are the plants that have grown in the region for hundreds or thousands of years. There are many reasons to seek them out.
The first is they are simply the most well-adapted plants for the job. They require less water, establish easily, resist pests, often can withstand the ravaging effects of wildfires, and work in conjunction with one another, sharing resources.
Native plants are also better for the environment since they require fewer, if any, chemical applications such as toxic pesticides.
Landscaping can be much more than a functional endeavor. Atop the carefully sculpted groundwork and interwoven with the plant selections, the extra additions are what bring landscaping efforts into focus.
While you may not even realize it, landscaping often has a theme, or an overall feel it aims to represent. Think of a formal English garden with neatly trimmed hedges and a maze placed in front of a palatial manor.
Your space may not resemble that level of articulate landscaping design, but you can certainly mix in some iconic fixtures that will provide the same sense of English order. A few precisely placed, and meticulously-shaped hedges, combined with roses and other colorful flowers in a repeating pattern set the scene for your English garden.
Similarly, you can develop any number of themes across your landscape design. Put together an Asian bamboo sanctuary or construct a Japanese garden.
Turn your backyard into a tasting station with a Tuscan winery vibe or rely on hay bales and a rustic shed for a country feel.
Adding to the layers of landscaping design are the structures in your yard. They hold the power to create a focal point or serve as an accent to the rest of your blueprint.
Build your own arbor to act as an entry point to a meandering path. Blend it into the landscape with climbing vines and plants like English ivy, clematis, or wisteria.
Likewise, construct a gazebo to invite an afternoon rest. You can adorn it with climbing plants and create sitting areas with built-in benches or hammocks.
A pergola over the existing deck or patio brings filtered light and protection from the elements while adding architectural interest. Allow hops or grapes to climb up the structure for additional shading and an edible crop.
A pool and pool house may also be part of your backyard landscaping plan. Or, if your home is located on a lake or at the beach you might need a boathouse and dock. Even a suburban yard can feature a playhouse or tool shed that enhances the space.
Fencing is another type of structure that may be an essential component of your landscaping design. A fence built for privacy in a suburban yard will be very different from fencing used on the prairie.
Remember your property is a place for you to enjoy. Inasmuch, it should be a combination of function and appeal.
The landscaping requirements of a functional winery are going to be different from those of a working farm. However, whatever shape your space takes, remember to make it meet your needs. For a family space, that might mean a grilling area, a play structure, a tool shed, and flat land for croquet or soccer and a dog run for the family pet.
For an entertaining space, your focus might switch to a large deck, a swimming pool, an outdoor kitchen, walking paths, and sitting areas.
When creating flow through your space, think about the natural movements of the family. If you rarely use the door from the kitchen, center the outdoor seating near the door you do use.
Similarly, create paths from the doors and stairs you use most often. Those gravel walkways intended to keep mud from entering the home won’t do any good if the kids don’t use them as they run back and forth from the play structure.
While we mentioned fencing as a structure, it also plays an integral role as a functional unit. While you can play with the material selection, in the end it needs to do what it is intended for, whether that’s for restraining horses, housing livestock, creating privacy, or blocking unpleasant views.
Landscaping is more than just putting in a lawn or planting a few flowers, although that’s a respectable place to start. It’s an art form that pulls together elements of nature and combines them with the needs and wants of modern man.
Properly designed landscaping adds value to a home. It can be an expensive undertaking, but it’s one that potential buyers notice and appreciate.
Plus, it makes your space more inviting for guests and provides an oasis where you can meet functional needs. There is no single roadmap to landscaping. All avenues require carefully considering the resources available and the end goal.
However, remember Rome wasn’t built in a day. Start with the basics and create an ongoing plan for upgrades and changes in the future.
For more information, be sure to check out our related content on how to Beautify Your Backyard Landscape on a Budget and Lawn Landscaping Basics.