Designing Your Landscape for Maine
Developed by Kirsten Reberg-Horton, landscape designer, in collaboration with Lois Berg Stack, Extension ornamental horticulture specialist, and Laura Wilson, Extension assistant scientist.
Your landscape is a place that is extremely personal to you. You may work, play, entertain, or simply relax in it. But your landscape is also a place that is “personal” to all the people, animals, and plants that live in Maine! It may seem hard to believe, but what you do, even on a tiny urban lot, has an effect — positive or negative — on the overall health of our Maine environment.
This bulletin provides easy steps to help you design a landscape that is beautiful, functional, and positive for our shared environment. As you follow each step, the layered information that your property holds will be revealed to you — like peeling an onion! This information will help you identify the best possible uses and choose the best possible plants for your particular corner of Maine.
Throughout your process, don’t get overwhelmed. Remember, Rome really wasn’t built in a day, and your landscape may take years to mature or develop into what you dream it can be. Your landscape truly can become a place that satisfies your desires for beauty or usefulness while also respecting and nurturing our natural resources.
Step 1: Plot Your Property
Look through your records. Did you receive a lot plan that shows your home in relation to the property boundaries? If you did, you can use that plan as the basis for your design.
If you were not so lucky, carefully measure and plot the portion of your property for which you are doing this design.
For your base map, you want to be sure to properly measure and place
Step 2: Analyze Your Property
The first part of property analysis is soil testing. Contact your county Extension office for a soil test kit and follow the directions carefully. The type of soils that you have will greatly affect the kinds of plants you will choose for your property. Be sure to test different kinds of places on your property independently. For example, if you have both a sunny, dry front lawn and moist woodland, don’t combine them! When you receive the results of your soil test, include them with the rest of your analysis.
Another part of your analysis will be finding out about local codes and covenants. It’s important to know what restrictions or requirements exist for the type of project you are planning.
Finally, tape a sheet of tracing paper over the top of your base map and go out into your landscape. (You may end up needing several sheets of paper.) With different colored pencils, note the following:
We will be using the to-scale plan or “base map” of your property many times. You will either want to obtain several photocopies of it, or you will need tracing paper that you can mark on over the top of your base map. Tracing paper is useful as it allows you to consider many different elements at the same time.
Step 3: Brainstorming
Sit down with the people who use your property the most (spouse, office mates, children, clients) and brainstorm current and future uses. Here are some questions you may wish to ask.
When you complete your brainstorming, condense it into a list of needs. Prioritize those needs by how important they are and how soon you will try to fill them.
Step 4: Bubble Design
Now that you have completed your list of needs, it’s time to take your base map back out and overlay it with the analysis and a fresh sheet of tracing paper. You are ready to begin your bubble design. Bubble designs are the first stage of landscape planning, and are a quick way to work with ideas before you start focusing on the details of the design. This is the time when you “bubble out” general areas of use. After analyzing your soils, sun, shade, water, etc., you should be ready to decide which areas will be best for different needs.
Many designers use a zone system when they are in this stage of design. By drawing concentric circles around the center of activity in your plan (e.g. home, office, school), you can place daily activities in zone one, less frequent activities in zone two and so on.
Another thing to think about in bubble designing is transitions. You need to plan (and allow space for) how you will move from one area to another.
A bubble design should be general, but should place each use or need on your plan, and give it an approximate location. It’s a great idea to be really creative at this stage of designing. Do three or four bubble designs. Try “wacky” ideas and then narrow down to the one that most closely matches your needs.
Step 5: Detailed Design
After completing your bubble designs, it’s time to get out your ruler and start thinking about the sizes and shapes of the different areas in your design. A detailed design will include the following:
The following common outdoor items take up space. Here is a general set of guidelines.*
When choosing a plant for any location in the landscape, the first thing to do is select the size. A common guideline is to put large plants in the back, middle-sized plants in the middle, and short plants in the front. This is called stacking. Stacking can be done in small flowerbeds and across broad landscapes. If you have a backyard that borders a forest, you may wish to stack down from the tall trees in the woods with smaller ornamental trees, then shrubs, then perennials, then lawn. As you do your detailed design, draw in plant sizes before you do plant selection.
Only after you have done that, should you begin considering the other factors in plant selection:
Once you have gone through this list for each plant specified in your design, you should know exactly what kind of plants to look for. You can make a detailed shopping list for your trip to the nursery!
Keep Your Plan Maine-Friendly
*John E. Collins and Marvin L. Adleman, Livable Landscape Design (Cornell Cooperative Extension, 1988), p. 29.
1For information on rain gardens, Landscapes for Maine: Adding a Rain Garden to Your Landscape, Bulletin #2702
Learn more about landscaping practices that are good for Maine:
Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.
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Image Description: woman in flower garden; photo by Edwin Remsberg, USDA
Image Description: Base map
Image Description: Property analysis
Image Description: bubble diagram
Image Description: detailed design
Image Description: detailed design elements
Image Description: plant size
Image Description: plant selection