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The ideal landscape design should be attractive without limiting its functionality. A well-balanced combination of plant life/greenery and floor space for walking, patio, or furniture is the key. Designs could be as simple as beautiful sloping lawns, or as complex as intricately laid out patterns of plants, shrubs, flowers, trees and hardscape. The extent will depend on your budget, function, existing features, and lot size/shape. A landscape doesn't have to be expensive, but it can be. First figure out how much you're willing to put into the initial investment, and monthly/annual upkeep. Existing features include shade, large trees, a well, swimming pool, or any other prominent aspects that will have to be worked around/with. The shape of your lot is the area bordered by your home, the property line and any sizeable structure (such as a garage) contained within your property.

The first step is defining function. What is the purpose of my landscape? Is it functional, aesthetic or both? How much walking space is needed? Are there separate areas or structures that I want to be connected by a walkway? Is a patio, gazebo, or amphitheater in the plans (if so, see patio design ideas)? Is privacy an issue or necessity? Will I be combating specific weather conditions? All these questions help define functionality.

Once you know why, you can look at the how/what. Various materials can create depth and texture. Alternate mulch, grass, bark, fieldstone, or brick to form patterns and unity between separate sections. Combine complementing materials for the best of each style. Various plants will also produce differing motif. For a light and free impression, use lush open space, small clusters of colorful flowers or feather reed grass. Plants with shady colors or trees with dark bark such as some bluish ferns, caladium, hosta or plumbago, give off a more private, cool foresty feeling. Ferns low down to the ground with extra large leaves exude a lush and tropical feeling into the environment. Go with what feels good to you.

Walkways are also an important element in landscape design. In order to keep a landscape functional, proper passage must be allowed. (It's very nice to have a beautiful landscape surrounding your gazebo, but if you have to trek through mud to get there, much of the appeal is lost.) Paths should connect areas of use, for example, the street, mailbox, sitting areas, pools, additional buildings or structures relevant to you, and, of course, the house itself. You can also use pathways to form definite borders between different sections, or to provide a natural space for grassy areas.

Here are some helpful tips:

- One of the most important elements of landscape design is knowing as much as you can about various plant life before you make your decisions. Often, all that separates an average landscape from one that's out of this world is the proper usage of plant life. Find out which plants are appropriate for your climate, which require more or less water, plants that shed fewer leaves for pool areas, learn about the different styles, and blossoming patterns, inquire into the full-growth size of plants, as well as what type of soil and how much sunlight is appropriate for them. Do as much research as you can. The more you know beforehand, the more educated and wise landscaping decisions you will make. Here is a great site that can help you learn more about various plant life.

- Balance and unity are the basic principles of landscape designing. Remember that unity can be achieved by using repetition and consistency. Create unity in separate areas by repeating plant or hard material themes. Follow a specific material to the next area as if undisturbed by a divider for splendid continuity.

- While consistency of plant life is often important, contrasting either greens or surface materials (color or texture) can produce fabulous results.

- Consider using one of the following or a variety of hardscapes to add an exotic, exciting, or unusual splash of character to your landscape: pergola, gazebo, lattice, arches, retaining wall, pond, fountain, rock pool, waterfall.

- A good landscape fabric or tarp is the simple key to keeping your baby weed free. This also keeps the grass out of areas it doesn't belong, and is well worth the initial investment.

- Sod is made up of matted grass roots, and it's a great way to create a beautiful lawn quickly and easily. Sod comes in sheets or squares of precut sizes, and is easily manipulated.

- Curves are a terrific way of making an area appear larger than it really is. Turns give the impression of depth and distinction, creating the illusion of more to see. Multiple levels can do this trick as well.

- A good watering system is also helpful for any successful landscape project. Whether built-in or exterior, watering systems will ensure that your plants get the appropriate amounts of water daily.

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