Finding Your Aesthetic in Landscape Design

Foundation planting.
David Beaulieu

What is an Aesthetic Landscape?

An aesthetic landscape is pleasing to the eye and evokes feelings of joy when viewing the scenery.

Landscape design is concerned both with aesthetic and functional elements of landscaping. When planning your landscape design, it is important to choose a theme that you consider pleasing to look at. The theme will help inform you of your planting and material choices, resulting in an aesthetically pleasing landscape. The theme you choose for your yard is ultimately based on what you appreciate and perceive to be beautiful. To help you along, here are basic rules that you can use to help you create an aesthetically pleasing yard, but one that's practical and functional, as well.

Applying Aesthetics to Your Yard

When choosing from the many landscape design themes, think about if the aesthetic fits with the architecture of your home or the region where you live. For example, a desert-themed landscape may fit your yard better than a woodland-themed yard if you live in a state that's hot or dry and arid. Here are examples of themes and some of their elements that you can consider when designing your landscape.

  • Butterfly and hummingbird gardens: A sun-soaked property, flat stones, a water source, and appropriate native plants invite pollinators.
  • Cottage: An informal cottage garden can be marked by a wild riot of color with distinctive plants arranged to make you feel relaxed and comfortable.
  • Cutting garden: Includes annuals and perennials that bloom at different times, including wildflowers, lilies, and roses.
  • Desert: This beautiful, native theme relies on warm sage colors of sculptural cacti, succulents, and flowering plants in blues, reds, golds, and oranges.
  • Dog-friendly: Consider a clover lawn as an alternative groundcover for a dog's paradise.
  • Edible: Plant herbs in pots, squash, beans, pumpkins, and edible flowers to add beauty to front and back yards.
  • Formal: A classic, formal design is based on symmetry and precision, including neatly manicured hedges of English boxwood used to set off topiary plants, and there are various types of formal landscapes, such as French gardens.
  • Kid- and family-friendly: Includes plenty of space for play and entertaining with low-maintenance plants plus a lush lawn.
  • Mediterranean: This old-world landscape theme replicates European gardens with features such as a ground of stone versus lawn, classic statues as focal points, and water features.
  • Moon garden: An array of glittering, white, and aromatic nighttime blooms, such as moonflowers and evening primrose, invite relaxing nights outdoors.
  • Tropical: Tropical landscaping features hot, bright colors, plants with large leaves, such as banana trees and ferns, can do surprisingly well even in cooler zones.
  • Wildlife: This theme includes longer grass, water features, and birdhouses to create a nature reserve to attract animals and insects.
  • Woodland: Perfect for properties with lots of dappled light, shade, and moisture, the woodland theme uses lots of ground covers, native plantings, and shade-loving flowers.
  • Xeriscape: Conserve water and enjoy less maintenance with native, drought-tolerant plants in a xeriscape garden.
  • Zen: This landscape design invites serenity with stone elements, winding paths, flowering cherry trees, and bamboo plants.

Be Practical and Functional

When choosing a theme, think about how practical and functional it will be for your needs. Think about the following points and practical considerations when planning your aesthetic landscape:

  • Maintenance: Choose plants that you can easily care for and water unless you are a gardener who prefers more challenging gardens.
  • Toxicity: Select flowers and plants that are non-toxic if young children and pets will use the yard.
  • Safety: You may love the look of roses and other ornamental shrubs but many plants have thorns that can tear into the hands of young children.
  • Lawn: Consider the practicality of a large, well-manicured lawn if your family spends time playing sports in the yard.
  • Privacy: Think about how much privacy you want and if the theme, plantings, and materials you choose can fulfill your needs in an aesthetically pleasing way. For example, a landscaping berm alone may offer privacy, but it can be enhanced with pretty shrubs.

Finding Plants to Fit Your Aesthetic

Choosing your plants and flowers to fit your theme is half the fun of creating your new landscape design. For best results, select appropriate plantings for your landscape's growing conditions and planting zone. Your property's growing conditions are based on the following:

  • Lighting: Map out where on your property you have shady, partial shade, or full sun exposure so you can choose the right plants for the location.
  • Soil: Contact your local extension program or consult a garden center for soil testing so you can know what plants will thrive in the dirt or if it needs amending.
  • Rainfall and moisture: Do you live in an area that receives loads of rain or do you need drought-tolerant plants? Also map out low areas of your property that stay soggy after a soaking rain or any high spots that dry out considerably fast.

Consult the USDA map to find your planting zone, and always check if your chosen plant will do well in your region. For example, you may love the look of a plant or flower which grows easily in the tropical temperatures found in some southern states but fails to thrive in colder regions of the northeast. The planting zone is less critical for selecting annuals but most important for choosing perennials, vines, shrubs, and trees.

How to Create a Cohesive Landscape

Creating cohesion in a garden takes some planning. Even informal gardens can look cohesive. There are a few points to consider when choosing plants within your theme and growing conditions, including the size, height, color, and texture of plant groupings and the need to create focal points in the landscape.

  • Groupings: Repeat larger groupings of plants for a restful, lush look rather than sporadic or anemic groups of one or two plants that can tend to look chaotic.
  • Plant heights: Choose plants that have a variety of heights and put the tallest plants in the back of a bed and shorter plants in the front.
  • Color: For perpetual blooms and color, choose flowers that bloom in early spring, late spring, summer, and fall. Look for plants with foliage that has color for winter landscapes.
  • Texture: Choose a variety of flowers, ground covers, ornamental grasses, shrubs, and evergreen plants for textural interest during every season.
  • Focal points: Focal points can include fences, fountains, or an ornamental plant or tree, and use outdoor lighting to further enhance your landscape design.