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26 Oct 2017

All You Need to Know About Soil for a Landscape Architect

Landscape architect tips: Understanding Exposure of Plants to The Sun

When making garden design plans, it is important to determine how much shade and sun your garden receives.

There are some plants that require partial sun while some require full sun. There are even some that will survive with full shade. A landscape architect usually uses a compass to determine the direction that borders or areas will face in a garden design plan. Those that face the north will be in the shade for most parts of the day while those facing the south will be in the sun for most of the day. Those that face the east will have morning sun and evening shade. Those that face the west will experience the opposite of those that face the east.

Plants that thrive in sun in landscape architect

The patterns of shade and sun will change during the day. A garden that is in full sun at midday will experience areas of shade in the late afternoon and the morning. A landscape architect needs to study the garden on a sunny day and understand the way shadows move around the garden. Sunlight movement is different for various seasons. An area that is in the shade during the summer could be in the sun in the summer. This could affect evergreen plants that require constant sunlight to survive.

Growing shade-lovers garden design

No matter the amount of sun that a garden receives, there are always various plants that will survive in such conditions. There are plants that will thrive in both sun and shade and a mixture of both.

Microclimates in a Garden Should be Examined

The varying conditions in different parts of a garden are known as microclimates. These could include sheltered hotspots by a warm wall, areas with frost at the bottom of a slope and areas with lots of wind and areas that are exposed. The proper study of microclimates will help landscape designers grow various plants. The various water levels, air, wind circulation and temperature should be studied.

Various Types of Soil

To grow healthy plants in a garden, a landscape architect must find out the soil type that is in a garden. It is best to select plants that will grow in a particular soil type rather than trying to grow plants that will not thrive in a soil type.

There are three major types of soil. They are clay, silt and sandy. They are identified by the size of their particles. The size of their particles will determine the amount of plant food and water that they can hold.  Most gardens have a combination of clay and sandy soil. One of the two is usually more abundant than the other. The perfect garden soil is loamy which is a combination of both sandy and clay soil in roughly equal amounts.

Sandy Soil

Sandy soil has particles that are relatively large and water drains easily through the large spaces between them. The soil drains water easily. The plant nutrients dissolve in the water so the soil is not fertile. Sandy soil is great for Mediterranean plants.

Clay Soil

Clay soil has particles that are very tiny. The particles can store moisture in the gap between them. Clay soil retains water easily due to its porous particles. It is very rich in nutrients. But when they are wet, clay soils could get waterlogged and they can form impenetrable crusts when they are dry. They are perfect for hungry plants like fruit trees.

Silt Soil

Silt soil is usually difficult to find. It can be found on river plains. They have a high nutrient content, and they can become waterlogged and compact like clay soil. Loam soil has roughly equal amounts of clay and sandy soil. They are the best of the lot. They retain enough water for the roots of plants to absorb and they allow any excess moisture to drain away, so they do not get waterlogged. They hold on to nutrients to well making them the perfect garden soil.

Types of soils for your garden design for a landscape architect

How to Improve Your Soil

You need to improve your soil regardless of your soil type. It doesn’t matter if you have a clay soil, sandy soil or dry soil, your plants will become better if you apply a lot of organic matter to the soil. You can apply garden compost, farmyard manure that has been left to rot and mushroom compost. The organic matter will open up clay soils and allow them to drain water easily. They will also coat sandy soil and help them to retain water. The organic matter can be dug into the soil when preparing for planting, or they can be laid as a thick layer of mulch. Microorganisms and worms will then work the organic matter into the soil.

If you add horticultural grit to clay soils, you can improve the drainage and structure of the soil. The grit can be dug into the soil over a large area. In tough cases, soils that are very heavy and waterlogged might need to be drained.

pH of a soil

The pH of a soil is a measure of the alkalinity or acidity of a soil. It affects the kind of plants that can be grown successfully in the soil. pH is measured on a scale of 1 to 14. Instead a pH of 7 means that the soil is neutral. A pH higher than 7 means that the soil is alkaline. A pH lower than 7 means that the soil is acidic. A soil test will measure the pH of a soil accurately.

There are plants that require a specific type of soil to grow. There are other plants that can grow in any pH range. The pineapple broom (Cytisus battandieri) and lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) grow best in alkaline soil while Rhododendrons, azaleas, and heathers (Erica) grow best in acidic soil.

Silty and Sandy soil

Silty soil is silky to the fingers while sandy soil is gritty between the fingers. When rolled into a ball, both of them will fall apart. Sandy soil is easy to dig and it gets warm easily in spring. Borderline hardy plants survive better in these soils that are dry.

Clay Soil

Clay soil is dense, sticky and smooth. When rolled into a ball, it retains its shape. When it is even rolled into the shape of a horseshoe, it retains its shape. Clay soil is also called heavy because it is difficult to dig.

How to Use a pH test Kit

You can get a pH test kit from a garden center. You will place a sample of the soil in the tube and then you add the solution that comes with the kit. When the color of the solution changes, you can match it to the chart. You can take a few different readings from various areas of the garden since they could have various pH values.



19 Oct 2017


There are various classes of plants that can be used for various occasions for your garden design. They include shrubs, annuals, bulbs, trees and perennials. When making garden design plans with plants, you can focus on just 1 or 2 plant groups to get a contemporary look or you can select from all plant groups to ensure that there is interest all year long. To have a beautiful garden, you can select plants of various colors, textures and shapes. The plants must work well with others in the garden and landscape.

Definition of Plant Groups in a Garden Design 

Various plant groups have different functions in a garden design. Landscape designers need to understand how each group of plants can be combined in a garden design to create a pleasant effect. Large shrubs, climbers and trees are used as the structural background of a planting scheme by offering various height, color, depth, structure and depth. Midrange plants like grasses, bulbs, herbaceous perennials and small shrubs are good for defining garden design styles and providing seasonal attractions with their foliage and flowers. Groundcover plants create blooms at a low level and a low mat of leaves while focal plants provide attractive accents making borders and vistas attractive. Biennial and annual plants will put on an attractive show from spring to early fall and they fill up the gap between the other plants that are more permanent when they are placed in borders.

Garden Design | Creating structural features with plants

Structural Plants

Permanent structural plants are used to contribute to the form and shape of a garden. They include hedges, shrubs and trees. To get a good garden design plan, a landscape architect must know how to position and identify these plants.

Evergreen plants serve as interesting plants all year-round. Deciduous shrubs and trees provide colorful foliage in the fall and attractive displays of flowers in the spring. Hedges are good for shelter, privacy and defining boundaries. Deciduous hedges allow a lot of light in and they provide color while evergreen hedges make for colorful displays while providing great backdrops for other planting groups. Evergreen or deciduous hedges could be informal or formal by considering their flower types, leaf size and colors. Leafy shrubs also provide green foliage backdrops for groundcover and smaller midrange plants like hedges. Structural plants can be used to lead the eye around a garden or to block and frame views. Shrubs and trees can create a visual link between a landscape and a garden by extending the display. When plants are repeated, they create connections between various planting areas and various parts of a garden.

Structural plants have various shapes and forms. They could be loose like weeping pears, laburnums and garryas; textural and spiky like hollies, mahonias and yuccas; rounded and neat like photinias and choisyas. Various plants can be manipulated to create various artificial structural effects like climbers over arbors, arches, pergolas and walls. Yew, holly and boxwood can be clipped into topiary shapes, spirals and pyramids.

Focal Plants in Garden Design

The focal plants are used to catch the eye in a border or bed at the end of a pathway or in the center of a lawn. Focal plants have a particular foliage form or shape and they are evergreen. Some focal plants could be seasonal that perform for a short time of the year providing accents when they are needed.

Focal plants can be used as signboards to direct a guest around a garden or guide the eye to some focal points. White-stemmed birches, acers, cardoons, yuccas and phormiums will let the eye focus on a particular point away from unattractive features like dirt and others.

Garden design Creating focal plants

Midrange plants

Midrange plants are medium in height and they rely on texture and shape of leaves for interest more than their flowers. Their seasonal flowers could also be a very useful feature and could make an interesting statement a lot of them are used in a border. When midrange plants are grouped together, the ones with strong foliage forms like hostas, rodgersias, acanthus and ligularias can be used to create bold paintings. They can also be used to separate plants with foliage forms or looser flowers.

Midrange plants are good contributors to the structure of a garden.  A lot of them are perennials that die in late fall and appear again in spring. They can’t serve the same purposes as permanent woody plants.

Using midrange plants Garden design

Groundcover plants

Groundcover plants are highly ornamental plants that provide a tapestry of form, color and texture. They help to suppress weeds by creating a blanket over the soil. It is not only low-growing groundcover plants that exist. They are of various sizes and shapes. The most important thing is that they provide a dense canopy.

Cool shady areas are good for groundcover plants like hellebores, bergenias, Geranium macrorrhizum, epimediums and ferns near a wall with moist soil. Dry, sunny areas are good for plants that can tolerate droughts like sedums, dwarf genistas and helianthemums. Leafy groundcover plants include catmint (Nepeta), thyme, Santolina chamaecyparissus and Hebe pinguifolia.

Seasonal Interest

Various plant groups can be combined and those with seasonal highlights can be selected to create a garden design plan that is attractive all year long.

In the winter, berries of hawthorns, stems of dogwoods (Cornus), hollies, willow (Salix) and viburniums provide color while sarcococcas and witch hazels (Hamamelis) provide lovely flowers. Instead in the summer, bulbs, flowering perennials and annuals provide a range of heights, colors and flower shapes. In the fall, acers, cotinus, trees, shrubs and cotinus all provide foliage color. They can be used with asters and other late-flowering perennials. In the spring, bulbs like crocus, hyacinths, daffodils, muscari and tulips provide color while flowering trees like magnolias, plums, crab apples and cherries bloom.  

Also read: All You Need to Know About Soil for a Landscape Architect.

11 Oct 2017


Plants shouldn’t just be categorized as mere shrubs, trees or groundcovers. They need to be categorized in a way that will showcase the visual forms they take, their manner of growth and their uses. This will help landscape designers become more skilled and experienced in the art of landscape design.

Landscape architects can improve their skills in planting design by learning more about plants and appreciating their potential as a material for landscape design. Landscape architects should be willing to sacrifice their time and energy to learn more about unique ways of using plants to accomplish astonishing garden designs.

Every landscape architect is well trained in basic general and theoretical knowledge of plants. But they do not know how to make effective designs using plants. Landscape designers must learn a lot about plants. It takes a lot of time to learn about plants. To get a good knowledge of plants, landscape designers must do a lot of research and have a lot of hands-on experience. Landscape designers must be good observers of nature and they must work in gardens a lot to gain the necessary experience needed. Horticulturists are experts on plants and what they need for growing but they may not be good designers.


To become a good landscape architect, one must have a good knowledge of plants along with efficient design skills. When a he has the two things listed above, the designer becomes creative and comes up with a lot of unique designs.

Research has shown that landscape architects must engage with plants before they can become good landscape designers. There is need for more landscape designers more than ever. As of now, there are very few good books on landscape design.

Landscape designers are usually restricted to the use of a few plants largely due to their environment and regional weather conditions. Thus, they ignore thousands of plants that might have given their designs a unique touch. Amateur landscape designers often use the same plants over and over again in a bid to play safe. But when landscape architects learn a lot about various plants along with their uses and their growth in various environments, they can come up with better designs. There is a need for plants to be categorized in more effective ways that will highlight how they can be used better. This way, landscape architect can select the best plants for any given design case.

Landscape designers often think of plants in just three categories which are shrubs, trees and groundcovers. Plants should be thought of in groups in relation to how useful they are for designs as well as the way they grow and their visual looks.

Horticulturists and botanists should write references that will focus on data that will describe plants accurately and talk about how they grow and means of identifying them. They also need to place more emphasis on the lifespan of plants. A lot of landscape designers do not even know the lifespan of common plants. They do not know how plants can be used in different scenarios for various effects. There are several ways of using plants and they can be classified into the following seven groups:

  • Plants that are used for their visual effects
  • Plants that are used for fuel, food or sustenance
  • Plants that are used for defining a space
  • Plants that are used for modifying a microclimate
  • Plants that are used for the heart, soul or mind.
  • Plants that are used to solve technical problems
  • Plants that are used for satisfying other senses of the body.

Amateur landscape designers will have a lot to gain from a clear definition of the uses of various plants. They also need to know how the plants look like. Veteran landscape designers know all these and they need to spread this information to amateur landscape designers.

There need to be a clear description of the habits, uses and visual forms of the plants. There are a lot of planting books that use icons to describe the size and forms of plants. They use some common lingo like fastigiated, weeping, rounded and others. Then they use the common headings of shrubs, trees and groundcovers. These categories don’t make things easy for landscape designers. For example, subtropical landscape designers can’t locate plants like Strelitzia nicolai (bird of paradise), Ravenala madagascariensis (traveller’s palm) and others. There are some landscape designers that do not allow the use of traditional visual elements like pattern, texture, line, color, form etc. They also do not encourage the use of design principles like rhythm, contrast, emphasis, variety, balance, movement, proportion etc. Plants should be seen as much more than their traditional uses. Plants should have spiritual, philosophical and religious importance. Plants serve to show the health of an environment. They should be given much more than their usual respect and they should be given the reverence that they deserve. Plants are great. A landscape architect enjoys plant design the most of all the various aspects of his work.

Also read: Creating a landscape design plans.

09 Oct 2017

What to Expect as a Landscape Architect

The work of landscape architects involves managing and designing open spaces including built and natural environments and creating landscapes and landscape plans. They work on designing creative, visually appealing environments that everyone love. They also ensure that everything they create is sustainable, appropriate and considerate.

They work with other professionals to create various landscape architectural projects in rural and urban areas. They work on motorways, housing estates, parks, gardens, sporting sites, city centers etc.

What to Expect as a Landscape Architect

Landscape architects work across the five major areas of:

  • Urban design
  • Landscape planning
  • Landscape management
  • Landscape science
  • Landscape design

Responsibilities of a Landscape Architect

Landscape architects have the following responsibilities:

  • Present proposals and respond to all enquiries and modify designs as needed.
  • Coordinate suppliers and manufacturers.
  • Create landscape requirements with clients.
  • Assess environmental impacts of projects.
  • Supervise the design of various landscape architectural projects like road schemes, retail schemes, pedestrian schemes, urban regeneration schemes and the maintenance of the character sites with natural beauty.
  • Create landscape requirements with clients.
  • Visit sites
  • Ensure deadlines are adhered to
  • Create new business opportunities
  • Supervise and monitor work on sites (this work might be done by landscape managers for big projects)
  • Authorize payments on successful completion of projects  
  • Match the wishes of clients with the knowledge of what will function best
  • Conduct preliminary studies of sites and check out details like ecology, contours, heritage, buildings, roads and soil.
  • Seek the opinion of parties, potential users and residents associated with a project. Take into account their opinions.
  • Satisfy clients’ desires while taking into consideration the best thing to do.
  • Work with other professionals on various landscape architectural projects.
  • Attend public enquiries if necessary
  • Select contractors and managers for large projects, put work out to tender and lead cross-functional teams.
  • Prepare and present accurate and well-detailed working drawings and plans of the designs of new sites, containing construction details, applications and specifications using computer-aided design (CAD) packages and other landscape architectural software.
  • Examine the potential of a site to meet up with the specification of a client.

Working Hours for Landscape Architects

Working hours for landscape architects are not fixed. The normal standard is a 40-hour work week but sometimes, landscape architects work in the evening and on weekends. With tight deadlines, work hours become more irregular. Shifts are also rare.

What Landscape Architect Should Expect

There are lots of opportunities for landscape architects to work in the Middle East, Europe and other places overseas.

There are good opportunities for creative, talented, business savvy landscape architects with established clients and contacts to be self-employed. It is also good for them to have a lot of experience from an established environment before starting off on their own.

Most landscape architecture jobs are in private establishments. A few landscape architects work with local authorities.

Landscape architecture is a profession that has a good balance of men and women.

Landscape architects spend time between site visits and the office. Protective clothing might be needed for site visits. One might also need to work in varying weather conditions for site visits.

Qualifications for Landscape Architects

There are chartered landscape architects. To become a chartered landscape architect, you need to acquire a Masters level degree in an accredited course by the LI.

The following areas have courses:

  • Landscape planning
  • Landscape architecture
  • Landscape ecology and design
  • Landscape restoration and/or management
  • Garden design
  • Environmental conservation

Undergraduate degrees in landscape management last for 4 years with an option of taking a year out for paid work experience. Those that have undergraduate degrees that are not accredited by the LI can still become landscape architects by completing LI accredited postgraduate conversion courses. The postgraduate conversion courses last for 1 and a half years to 2 years full time but there are part time options available. Those applying for the postgraduate conversion courses do not need to study a related undergraduate course. They just need to have an interest in design and the environment.

The postgraduate and undergraduate courses lead to Licentiate membership of the LI which is a necessary step towards becoming chartered landscape architects. Landscape practices support graduates that undertake their path to partnership.

Skills Needed for Landscape Architect

To become a landscape architect, you need the following skills:

  • A practical outlook
  • Creative enthusiasm, imagination and ability
  • Good drawing and design skills including CAD
  • An eye for detail with an ability to observe things well 
  • Good negotiation and communication skills
  • An understanding of conservation skills and a love for the environment
  • Work Experience Needed for Landscape Architect

Relevant pre-entry experience is good as it shows that one is interested and committed to the landscape architecture profession.  Some of the courses have undergraduate placements. For the ones that do not have undergraduate placements, you can find part-time work or vacation.

Any work that involves creative skills and design especially in a landscape based area is useful. Volunteering projects in the environment are also useful.

Employers of landscape architects are:

  • Public bodies
  • Local authorities
  • The construction industry
  • Water companies
  • Private practices

In the private sector, landscape architects are employed by landscape architect companies and architects or by companies involved in landscape engineering.

In the public sector, landscape architects work for government agencies, local authorities and environmental agencies. They can also work for voluntary organizations.

Career Prospects for Landscape Architects

To progress in your career as a landscape architect, you need to take charge of projects, become a specialist in a certain area, manage a team and take on greater responsibilities. How fast you progress in your career depends on your level of ambition and how well you acquire more skills and knowledge.

Landscape architects with strong commercial awareness could become great consultants.

As you become experienced, you could become a partner in a private practice or you could set up your own business. To become successful in a private practice you must have good experience, skills, knowledge, communication skills and a large contact and client base.

Landscape architects can also lecture at tertiary institutions on a full time or part time basis.

Also read: Hiring a landscape architect for your new garden.

05 Oct 2017

Creating landscape design plans

When creating a landscape design plan, your priority is finding solutions. You might find it a difficult task at first but when you start with a good idea of what you want your garden to look like, you have taken away a chunk of the work away.

A simple scrapbook or notebook will go a long way in helping you create your landscape design plans. You could jot down landscapes, furniture, artwork, plants, lighting plans and other things you would like to have in your garden. You can also use bubble diagrams to simplify things and identify various areas of the garden for activities like playing, dining and relaxing.

Also you must also design structural shapes, spaces between the garden elements and the different routes or plants in the garden. You must consider all these in your landscape design plans.

The mood and atmosphere of your garden will be influenced by the colors, textures and patterns that you select. Some colors will make an area look bigger while some could make it look otherwise. The use of yellows and warm red colors will make a garden area livelier.

White and other pale colors will reflect lights into dark areas. You can also use textures for better effects in a garden. Surfaces could be matte, glossy or shiny. There is no specific template for a landscape design plan. Feel free to experiment and come up with creative designs.

Understanding landscape design plans

A landscape design plan is a 2D representation of a 3D garden and it allows one to visualize a garden well and come up with great ideas. Your ideas can be shared with others and easily and it can be easy to identify where different elements in the design should be placed. You can use a scale plan or a rather simple sketch to showcase your garden design plans. Various kind of landscape design plans will be shown here along with how they can be used.

Working landscape design plans

It is not necessary that working plans are accurate or built to scale. They are used to showcase ideas, the relationship between horizontal surfaces and the location of screens, walls, trees and other elements. Pathways and views can also be included in the working plan.

Overlaid Photos

It is hard to master perspective drawings. You can place a tracing paper over the photo of your garden and draw ideas on top of the tracing paper to give a 3D view of any change you want to implement.

Bubble Diagrams

Bubble diagrams will help you experiment relationships among areas in a garden. It is a good way of exploring before drawing a plan that is more detailed.

BUBBLE DIAGRAM, garden design, landscape architect



Finished Landscape Design Plans

Finished landscape design plans are plans that are drawn to scale and show exact locations, dimensions and accurate arrangements of features and elements. These plans are majorly for construction purposes and they are read by contractors and builders who use them to measure lengths and other areas that are used to estimate expenses and locate exact areas on the ground. Cross-sections are used to indicate changing ground levels. Changing ground levels can also be annotated on the overhead plan.

landscape design plans

Overhead Plans

Overhead plans show the exact locations and sizes of elements like areas of planting, alignments and locations of linear elements like screens, walls, fences and hedges and singular components like pools, trees, lights, steps, specimen shrubs, drainage points etc.

Planting Landscape Design Plan

Planting landscape design plans show the location of plants in a garden and their exact number. It also shows the position of large specimens and drifts and groups of the same species. Planting plans are the most useful of all plans. They must be very precise as the planting might be done by an independent contractor without the presence of the designer. A planting plan can help one calculate the total number of plants needed and their exact arrangement before they are planted.

Landscape plans planting plan

How to Draw up a Planting Plan

A planting plan can be drawn using special design software or by hand. Those that have little experience in reading planting plans might reproduce the symbols in color.

Cross-section or Elevation Plans

Cross-section plans are used to show the impact of changes on a garden. If you have a sloping garden, you can employ the services of a land surveyor to draw an elevation or cross-section plan. This plan will show the important levels before and after alterations are made. Slopes that are highly intricate or complex will need extra plans to be drawn up.

CROSS-SECTION, garden design, landscape architect

The Use of Scale for Drawing Complex Landscape Design Plans

A scale plan is a proportional visual representation of a garden. It can be drawn by converting actual measurements from a garden to a scale measurement. It is advisable you buy a scale rule that will help you make draw up the scale plan. The scale rules are marked with measurements like 1:50, 1:20 and 1:10. With scale rules, you won’t need to make calculations. When your scale plan is complete, you can use it for your planting and design ideas.

There are several scales to be used for a scale plan. It could be 1:100, 1:20, 1:10, 1:50 etc. A 1:1 scale means that 1 cm on paper is 1 cm on the ground. So, it shows the exact size of an object. A 1:50 scale means that 1 cm on paper represents 50 cm on the ground. For small gardens, you can use scales of 1:50 or 1:20. If you have a large garden, you can use scales like 1:200 and 1:100. A lot of times, designers draw various plans and use different scales for the plans to highlight different details. A planting plan can use a 1:50 scale while a structural plan can use scales of 1:20 and 1:10.

Also read: Creating a garden.