Space Planning for Your Landscape

Visualize your outdoor areas as rooms with floor, walls and ceiling.
Large Courtyard with Dual Seating

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.

Spatial Composition in Landscaping

See All Photos

Choose Your Floors

Depending on your needs, the "floors" of your outdoor spaces can range from soft surfaces like grass or mulch to hard surfaces like decking or concrete. In this yard designed by Robert Hursthouse, brick pavers define the seating area, while a large expanse of grass creates a kid-friendly play area.

Find Your Style

Like you would for your home's interior, consider color, texture and pattern when choosing floors for your outdoor spaces. A unique swirl of small rocks within a pattern of larger stones creates an interesting focal point for this patio.

Plant Your Walls

Plants in various textures, shapes and sizes can create the "walls" of your outdoor space. An assortment of plants paired with a retaining wall of railroad ties makes this space feel intimate yet still open. Pea gravel acts as a comfortable carpet. Design by Jane Ellison

From: Jane Ellison

Photo By: Stuart Lirette

Define the Space

Walls of hedges or evergreen trees add more structure and privacy to an outdoor space. Columnar trees surround the backyard of HGTV Green Home 2009, creating a private spot for al fresco entertaining. Design by Linda Woodrum

Build It Up

Built structures, such as fences, walls or arbors, can also act as the walls of your outdoor spaces. In this landscape, designer Pamela Berstler paired slatted wood walls with a composite deck, creating a private and well-defined dining area.

Work With Existing Structures

Like built structures, the side of a house or building can double as a wall for an outdoor room. The adobe exterior of a historic house helps delineate this inviting patio, designed by Chad Robert.

From: Chad Robert

Provide Shelter

The "ceiling" of your outdoor space should offer shade and a feeling of protection. In this space, a trellised ceiling provides a sense of enclosure while maintaining an open and airy feel. A pergola, shade sail or tree can accomplish a similar effect.

Think Beyond the Yard

Incorporate viewing portals in your landscape to extend site lines and orient you. This garden's gate provides a glimpse of what's beyond, creating a sense of flow and movement within the space.

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.

Keep Reading

Next Up

How to Plan a Landscape Design

Learn the four steps to creating a scale plan for your landscaping project.

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.