How to Design a Layered Landscape

how to design a layered landscape

Layered landscape designs are a fantastic way of taking your garden to the next level. After all, there’s just something so enchanting about walking through a head-high symphony of colorful flora and brush.

The large volume and complexity of layered garden beds may seem impossibly overwhelming at first, but rest assured, with the right know-how, anyone can create beautiful scenery wherever they please. If you’d like to start revamping your garden, keep reading for a full guide on layered landscape design.

What Is a Layered Landscape?

Landscape layering compiles plants of varying heights arranged close to one another to create a “layered” effect. This type of gardening is methodical. Most of the process is organizing the tall plants in the back and the short ones in the front. By staggering the plants, you’ll create a natural wave effect.

Creating layers can work wonders for your landscaping. First of all, it’s an extravagant measure to create multi-dimensional garden beds that are both organized and fun to view. They’re more than just simple beds of flowers; they capture a complexity brought forth by many-sided, multi-faceted designs and involve a lot of creative thinking.

It may seem daunting to put everything together, but it’s well worth it. With the proper diversity and synergy of flower types, you can develop beautiful creations that draw attention to all aspects of your garden.

They’re also perfect for compacting a lot of different flower types in smaller amounts of land. Some people have trouble choosing which plants they want to use. Well, landscape layering says, “Why not use all of them?”

Types of Landscape Layers

Refresh Your Outdoor Space with a Layered Landscape Design

There are three main layers and two secondary ones in a classic layered landscape design. These layers are the brunt of your layered garden beds, but it’s also crucial to consider your ornamental background plants and hardscapes. While they’re technically optional, they will add a unique twist to your layered landscape.

Here’s an in-depth explanation of each layer and the type of plants you could use to create landscape layering.

Ground Covers

Ground covers are low-growing plants and usually grow 2-12 inches in height. The primary purpose of this landscape layering is to cover spots of bare ground and compete with unsightly weeds.

While grass is the most common ground cover, it’s not suited for all terrain types and sometimes doesn’t work well with other plants. If you’re landscape layering with hardscaping, these plants are essential:

  • Wall germander
  • Basket of gold
  • Creeping Phlox
  • Creeping juniper
  • Sweet woodruff
  • Interrupted fern

These ground covers set the base for the landscape layering concept by covering spaces where grass doesn’t grow. They often add color and texture to a layered landscape design.

Medium-Sized Plants

A majority of your landscape layering will likely come from medium-sized plants. A good rule of thumb is to use plants that are between 2 feet tall to 3 feet tall. 

Many of the most common flowers and garden plants are suited for the medium layer, so you’ve got a lot of creative freedom in this department. The bulk of variations will primarily come from layering shrubs, grasses, perennial flowers, bulbs, and herbs together to create variety. 

Landscape layering involves choosing plants that work best with your soil composition and environmental conditions. For a better understanding of which plants work for your region, check out local plant nurseries and gardening stores. They’ll have plants that grow well where you live, and you can get many medium-sized plants and layering shrubs for your mid-layer.

Tall Plants

Larger layering shrubs, small trees, and other tall plants comprise the last layer of your design and can come anywhere between 4 – 10 feet. The mid-layer plants may be the stars of the show, but tall plants avert gazes upward and give layered garden beds that “full” look. 

The top layer of plants is usually one of these types of flora:

  • Tall perennial flowers
  • Small trees 
  • Other types of perennial plants

Like medium-sized plants, you’ll want to visit local plant shops to get a better idea of what will grow well in your garden.

Ornamental Backgrounders

Ornamental background plants are plants scattered throughout your layered garden beds. They’re primarily an aftereffect to fill in the landscape layering and don’t compose a substantial amount of your initial scenery. Most ornamental backgrounders are trees and shrubs, though they can be components of your hardscape as well. Layering shrubs and backyard trees are vital when you don’t have fences since they help mark the property your garden is confined within.

Hardscapes As Landscape Layers

Finally, you have your hardscapes. Hardscapes are components of layered landscapes created with hard materials such as concrete and bricks.

There are many ways to utilize hardscapes when landscape layering, so you can get pretty artistic in design. As previously mentioned, you can implement them as decorations in the background, such as walls, rocks, and fountains, but they can serve a more direct purpose. 

For example, you can use hardscapes to elevate land and make your layered landscape more structured. To do this, you’ll construct a descending stairway of plant beds. This could be part of an actual staircase or just the way your layered garden is built. 

You might also use hardscaping to create pathways through your layered plants. How you hardscape your land will play an essential role in aesthetics, so it never hurts to experiment with different styles to find the one that works best for your layered landscape.

Things to Consider While Landscape Layering

Once you’ve got an idea of how landscape layering works and what kinds of plants you want to use, you’re ready to get started on your perfect layered landscape. Of course, there are some things you might want to consider beforehand.

Here are a few key elements to remember when planning your layered landscape:

Balance: Variety, Patterns, and Repetition

Balance is extremely important in layered landscape design. If you have too much of one plant, it begins to become dull and repetitive. However, if you have too much variety, your layered garden can seem messy and chaotic.

The goal is to create a balance. Essentially, effective landscape layering requires a decent amount of diversification and patterns in your design.

Synergy: Colors and Transitions

Mixing and matching colors is an excellent way of creating a garden teeming with energy. Try to choose colors that complement each other and think about how each plant placement transitions into the next one. Sure, this requires a lot of planning on paper and experimentation, but that’s part of the fun. 


Stick with a theme. Using hardscapes and different plant types can alter the style of your layered garden. Think about whether you want to go with a cottage style, a modern style, a rustic style, or some other type of style you want to emulate.

Refresh Your Outdoor Space with a Layered Landscape Design

Layered landscapes are like artwork. Plants that change with each passing month can create varying seasonal displays, and the different levels of elevation can help highlight individual aspects of each layer.

Remember, there’s no limit to what layered landscaping can do for your garden except your imagination. 

Need help with landscape layering in the Minneapolis–Saint Paul area or want more tips on landscaping? ALD is a do-it-all landscaping design that services the Twin City area. Contact the expert landscapers at ALD today to get started on your project.