Even if you have some horticultural knowledge, you probably consider landscape design abstract. It's difficult to visualize an entire garden rather than a single element, such as a flower, tree or trellised vine. Hence, the big picture should be broken into smaller parts to better understand it.

Over 25 years ago, I developed a system called "lernscaping" to assist homeowners in creating a garden that reflects their personality. This approach will help you communicate with garden center personnel or a landscape professional before digging soil or purchasing any nursery stock. There's no way to include the entire lernscape questionnaire in this column. However, here's the essence of the checklist, which should give you some basic idea of what sort of landscape fits your desires, personality and budget: Reflect on your childhood. You probably identified a preference for certain landscape elements at a young age.

Maybe the sounds of a babbling brook remind you of fly-fishing with your dad or walking along a stream with a friend. Consider elements that stimulate your senses in the garden: sculptures, colors, rocks, fragrances, paths or textures of paving. What themes do you prefer? Formal fountains or water cascading over rocks? Get to know your outdoor space. Pay careful attention to dimensions of the property, compass aspects, drainage patterns and location of underground utilities. This will ensure that your garden is usable and that plants grow. Look to the horizon. Check views from every possible angle.

Keep in mind the aesthetically pleasing vistas. Often these views are lost when developers clear land, so you have to create your own beautiful vistas. Heat pumps, highways and smokestacks are features you might want to screen. Beware, however, that planting in or fencing off an ugly feature might call more attention to it. Your goal should be to distract viewers as much as to hide eyesores.

For example, in the case of a heat pump, you might use benches with ornamental qualities and face the viewer away from the objectionable apparatus. Plan for something colorful and interesting on the opposite side of the garden. If using shrubs or a trellis to screen the object, repeat this plant arrangement elsewhere in the yard. Highlight existing features. Develop designs that retain and enhance on-site native wildflowers, streams, rock outcroppings, native woodland plants, windblown junipers and existing trees.

You may look at natural features as liabilities and not want to keep them. For example, if you want a vegetable garden, rock outcroppings could be a nuisance. Pyracantha and hardy orange are desirable plants that provide food and shelter for birds, but they're too thorny to grow near a play area for children. These choices are yours to make. Sculptural elements, seating, fountains and water gardens are a welcome addition to most landscape designs. At least one of these elements in a private corner, tucked into some shrubs and surrounded by perennials, can add interest to your garden.

Ultimately, budget will determine the size and quantity of plants that are installed. However, cost shouldn't hold you back from creating your ideal design. What's more important at this point is establishing a preliminary budget. A rule of thumb to determine your budget if you're going to completely redo your outdoor space: about 10 percent of property value. There are always ways to cut costs.

The most grandiose design can be broken into its smallest parts - paving this year, planting trees next year, then shrubs, and so on until you've reached a point of satisfaction. Installing a garden is about the journey. There is never a finishing point.



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