How To Grade Landscaping Performance

How To Grade Your Landscaping

Arranging the pieces of any landscape project is both a science and art. You have to consider horticulture, architecture, and personal style to get it right. 

The truth is trial and error is part of the process. Plans are made and landscapes are built from them. However, it’s you, the property owner, who must ultimately bless the work and live with it. 

It is possible to grade the performance of your landscaping so that you can affect the right changes. This will give you a roadmap that you can use work from, but more importantly, you will have greater and peace of mind knowing that you have touched all the bases. 

Landscapes and Gardens Are For People

More than a half-century ago, Landscape architect Thomas Church revealed an innovative design process in his renowned book, Gardens Are For People. One of its key principles is the integration of indoor and outdoor spaces. Church is credited with what we know today as outdoor rooms, areas for outdoor living as distinct spaces within the whole landscape. 

The value of outdoor rooms for connecting with natural environments is backed by science. Health and behavioral benefits accrue to people that spend time outdoors. Thus, the return one receives from his or her landscaping investment is multi-faceted. 

If the creation of functional and appropriate landscaping is personal, then so must be the process of evaluating or grading their performance. That grade will inform decisions for making it live up to its expectations.  

Trust Your Intuition 

Thomas Church realized there are complex interrelationships involved with making landscapes work. There are relationships between spaces and the elements that occupy them. This includes people and physical elements and features, such as plantings, terraces, and swimming pools. 

Of course, the activities planned for those spaces greatly affect how they will be designed and experienced.

You are encouraged to grade each of the following landscaping categories as follows: 

  • More +
  • Less – 
  • Different +/-

Most important is to make these grades in terms of how you want to feel, for yourself and your family and friend that you spend your time with. The rational decisions come later, but your feelings give you the most honest and accurate assessment.

More often than not, you either love it or you do not. For this reason, try to give each of the following categories a + or -, but if you are unsure, split the difference with a +/- and circle back to it later.

#1. Spaces and Their Relationships

As you consider your use of your outdoor spaces, ask what you want to be seeing, thinking, feeling, and doing — in that space and from within interior spaces that connect with it. 

Spaces change over time, from dawn to dusk, season-to-season, activity-to-activity, and year-to-year. This will give you ideas for outdoor furniture, lighting, and security, and protection from the elements, to name a few. 

This is also a time to make rough drawings. You don’t have to be an artist to draw a shape that represents a patio or an arrow that suggests prevailing winds or sunshine that needs buffering. 

Landscape designers sometimes call these bubble drawings. The specific shapes and dimensions do not matter as much as the spatial relationships. 

These relationships will help you solve problems and take advantage of previously unforeseen opportunities. Sometimes an obstacle becomes an opportunity. For example, removing a wall or structural element to make a space larger may present an opportunity to frame an exceptional view.

All of this will be helpful for the design professional you hire creating finished construction drawings.  

Grade your outdoor spaces, their relationship with each other, and yours with them.

#2. People, Activities and Experiences

If gardens are for people, and they are, then their relationships with them are vitally important. 

One of the measures of relationship it that they make you a better person. Nobody wants to be in a relationship with someone that had a negative effect on his or her well-being. The same is true about your relationship with your outdoor environment. 

Does your outdoor environment enhance your well-being?

Consider the activities and experiences that make this possible and how you can elevate them. If your greatest joy is relaxing in your outdoor space after a day’s work, then installing a screened porch may be a consideration for buggy summer nights.

Grade your outdoor environment activities and experiences for you and your guests.

#3. Plantings, Elements and Features

Many of us have an affinity for specific plants because they remind us of our youth or a special vacation. In fact, some people will go to great lengths to incorporate those plantings in their landscaping, even though they may not be well-suited to its climate or soils. 

Once again, consider the outdoor experience. Plantings, elements and features can solve specific problems. A pergola can define the vertical space to make it feel less overwhelming. Shade trees can screen views and provide welcome shade. 

Maybe you want to completely redefine your outdoor experience with a stand-alone home office, studio, or recreation room. If you are fortunate to have the space for this, you can dramatically enhance the space and increase the resale value of your home. 

Grade your landscape plantings, elements, and features for your current lifestyle.

#4. Colors, Fragrances and Textures

Most homeowners have an affinity for one particular aspect of their natural environment. This may be color, fragrance, or the variety of textures that change with the seasons.

For many, this is a lush, green lawn and the smell of freshly cut grass. They simply will not feel at home without a healthy stand of grass that brings them joy. 

The trick with plantings is finding the right balance. Color and texture are wonderful, and often even more so when they are balanced by a clean open space, whether that is a green lawn, bluestone patio, or compacted, crushed granite clearing that crunches with every footstep. 

Grade the colors, fragrances and textures of your outdoor spaces. Do they bring you joy?

#5. Maintenance, Care and Upkeep

Every landscape requires maintenance, care and upkeep. Even if you hire a professional service, there is work involved in communicating your preferences and managing expectations. This is why the ultra-wealthy hire property managers to manage the necessary home care and maintenance services. 

Then there is upkeep. Stone patios and walls require periodic cleaning, and from time to time, minor repairs. Of course, they require far less maintenance than wood decks and ornamental planting beds. 

What are the highest maintenance landscape items? One is a lawn that requires weekly mowing, trimming, and seasonal fertilization and weed control. Water features may require more or less, depending on the moving parts, such as pumps and filters, as well as other environmental factors. 

Grade the maintenance needs of your landscaping with a plus indicating it is acceptable.

We Can Level Up Your Landscaping

We hope you now have a fresh perspective for what’s working and why.

Did your landscaping score a perfect 5 or is it time make some changes to level it up?

No worries. We can help. 

Contact us to request a free, no-risk consultation. In addition to being one of Minnesota’s landscape design-build experts, we’re also a woman-owned company and a family business serving the Minneapolis area since 2003.