Make a list of needs and wants. Do your kids need a play space? Do you want to grow vegetables? Would your family gather on a patio? Do some very rough sketches of the yard with thoughts of where you want to place things; it's a great organizing principle for landscape design for beginners. "These aren't master plans, just ideas," says Marianne Lipanovich, author of the Big Book of Garden Designs (Oxmoor House, 2008). "The one I did for our front-yard overhaul was literally a few lines and a couple of circles, but my husband understood the plan, and we went ahead with formal planning out on the site. You can easily play around with ideas without a lot of time and commitment."
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Study the sun and wind patterns. You might want to place a patio on the west side of the house, but it will get lots of afternoon sun, which means dinnertime in August won't be relaxing -- just hot. And wind whistling around a corner will quickly extinguish a fire pit. Those are common mistakes in landscape design for beginners. Your design should take into account what the sun and wind do at different times of the day and year. "You'll need solutions to temper the problem," Lipanovich says.
Live with it for a while. Coming to quick conclusions about your yard can lead to choices that don't work in the long term. "In our yard, there are certain areas where you want to go and sit that I wouldn't have thought of when we first bought it," Lipanovich says.
Start small. Home and garden television shows are masters at revealing complete outdoor makeovers in just three days -- but they have a crew of 60, which is not a situation enjoyed by landscape design for beginners. Part of creating a landscape is slowly developing a plan and enjoying the process. From your master plan, start with a small flowerbed. Go out and work on it for an hour or two when you have the time, and worry less about filing everything up right away. "Give yourself some time to see how things develop. Plants grow and things fill in, and people forget that. The point is to take time and do it in pieces so you are happy with the final results," Lipanovich says. "If you get into this thing and want to get it done, you'll take shortcuts and be too sloppy and tired to do it well."
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Work around a focal point. Any good garden design has a focal point or series of focal points, and it's an easy principle to put in place in landscape design for beginners. That may be a sculpture or a stunning plant, a tree, or a series of shrubs. "The point is to draw your eye and move it through the landscape," Lipanovich says.
Focus on scale and pacing. It's the…