Space Planning for Your Landscape

Visualize your outdoor areas as rooms with floor, walls and ceiling.

Large Courtyard with Dual Seating

By: Laura Fisher Kaiser

After you decide the form composition of the yard, it's time to focus on the spatial composition. Spatial composition is how trees, shrubs, low-growing plants, hardscapes, built structures, and turf combine to form the walls, floors and ceilings of an outdoor room and influence how a landscape looks and feels.

In some ways, designing a functional outdoor room is similar to designing an indoor one, where you choose the ceiling height, architectural elements, the floor and wall coverings, and the texture and color of the finishes. In this case, however, you're using the shape and structure of plants to create intimacy and definition in relation to hardscapes and built structure.

The floor can be softly carpeted with grass, groundcover plantings or mulch. Or it can be a hard surface that's covered with paving, decking or concrete. Color, texture and pattern are important details to consider.

The walls of an outdoor room are another opportunity to mix textures and shapes. Create green walls based on the shape of mature plants—upright, oval, columnar, climbing, weeping, spreading—either singly or massed. A hedge, vine-covered trellis or row of shrubs are examples of vertical vegetation that provide privacy yet allow a space to breathe. Other walls might consist of the side of a house or building, a masonry wall, fence or arbor.

With a ceiling, the goal is not shelter as much as the feeling of shelter. A spreading tree canopy provides shade and a sense of enclosure. Again, keep in mind the tree's size at maturity as well as its leaf-shedding capacity. A pergola or shade sail accomplish similar effects while feeling airy and open.

Spatial composition is also important for transitional spaces, particularly paths, stairs and landings. Finally, don't forget viewing portals to extend site lines and orient you. Arbors and gates provide a glimpse of what's beyond, creating a sense of flow and movement within the space.

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