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The Tilly Guide To Landscape Design

By Axis Fuksman-Kumpa December 20, 2021

Backyard with Fire Pit and Pool

Welcome to The Tilly Guide To Landscape Design! As a national online landscape design service, Tilly partners with homeowners to help them simplify the often overwhelming process of outdoor design and yard renovation. As part of that promise, we’re here to walk you through the basics of landscape design and what to consider before embarking on your next outdoor renovation project…

What is Landscape Design?

Landscape design is the practice of creating outdoor spaces that serve a specific function or purpose. More specifically, residential landscape design focuses on the outdoor spaces surrounding the home.

A comprehensive landscape plan will include both hardscape elements (non-living features like a patio, pergola, fire pit, outdoor kitchen, pool, etc.) and softscape elements (trees, shrubs, annuals, perennials, lawn, soil, mulch, etc.). Landscape design is intended to present a new concept or yard layout, meaning it should not be mistaken for landscape architecture, civil engineering, or anything requiring detailed construction documents.

The process of landscape design, when done right, is entirely customized to the needs of the homeowner and the specific characteristics of their home. Traditionally, these professional services have been intimidating, time consuming and cost prohibitive to most homeowners. Tilly is changing all that!

backyard design with a pergola, lawn and fire pit chiminea
Tilly Client 3D Render, Massachusetts

Things to Consider As You Plan Your Landscape Remodel

Launching a new renovation project is not to be taken lightly. Aside from the obvious cost of installing even a simple landscape plan for a small yard, there are many other factors to consider, which could include items like:

  • When is the best time to plant a tree?
  • What is my garden style?
  • How can I create a pollinator garden?
  • Where should I put a plunge pool?
  • Who should I hire to install my landscape?

It may seem overwhelming to answer these questions on your own, so we recommend working with a professional to navigate the process. Here are some articles we’ve written on the topic, to help ensure your next home landscaping project is a success!

Once your design is in progress, it’s time to think about how you are going to build or install your new yard. You can DIY or hire a gardener or landscape contractor, depending on the complexity of your landscape plan.

DIY fire pit area in a large backyard
Tilly Client 3D Render, Ohio

Landscaping Ideas & Inspiration

Like any new home improvement project, we recommend doing some research and finding your own inspiration before working with a designer. Sharing landscape decor ideas and outdoor inspiration boards can point your designer in the right direction.

If you’re not sure where to start, we first recommend identifying your garden style by completing the Tilly Design Style Quiz. This is important information to share with your designer once you get started on a landscape plan. It will inform plant selection, plant placement, hardscape decisions and much more.

Each style has its own look and feel that can either match or compliment the architecture of your home - think farmhouse home meets modern landscaping. If you’re torn between two styles, try blending them together for an even more custom aesthetic. For more on style, we recommend the following articles and resources:

While much of your landscape plan will be informed by your personal style, the rest will depend on your functional needs, climate and the surrounding environment. These priorities can be determined and addressed by the flow of the space as well as placement of specific site features and landscape materials selection.

Tilly has worked on thousands of landscape design projects for thousands of unique homeowners throughout the U.S. and Canada. Each plan is different and so we invite you to find inspiration in our previous work. Here are some of our favorite Small Backyard Landscaping Ideas and backyard remodel ideas.

a stone patio with DIY pavers in grass to the garage in a small backyard
Tilly Client 3D Render, Michigan

Landscape Design Solutions to Common Homeowner Problems

A thoughtful landscape plan by a professional landscape designer is sure to add beauty and function to your outdoor spaces. But what about some of those pesky problems homeowners face? Here are a few problems that landscape design can help solve. Digging in a bit further, landscape design can solve many of the following problems we hear from clients every day:

Creating Seasonal Interest Through Plants & Outdoor Decor

For some homeowners, an uninspired landscape can be a real challenge they don’t quite have the tools to solve. Seasonal interest is a critical component to all landscape design. Even if it’s too cold to enjoy your winter landscape from the outdoors, you should still enjoy the view from the comfort of your home. Or if your spring landscape is bursting with color that all fades away by the summer, what’s left to enjoy from your fall landscape?

Fun Fact: Designing for seasonal interest can also support local ecosystems by providing year-round food sources for vital wildlife and pollinators.

Planting a container garden is a great way to ensure seasonal interest and you don’t even need a yard to do it. Container gardening is an easy landscape solution for anyone with a front porch, back patio, balcony or roof deck - almost any outdoor space will do!

Spring annual plants and flowers can provide a nice pop of color as soon as the weather warms. We also love planting bulbs in containers during the fall for a fun surprise two seasons later! Annuals can be switched out for a more tropical style container for summer, then transitioned to more hardy evergreens in time for festive holiday decor.

Working with a residential designer who has an expert understanding of landscape design is a great way to ensure there’s seasonality in your landscape design plans.

Outdoor Privacy Screen & Privacy Fence Design

Any homeowner knows the old adage “good fences make good neighbors.” With a focus on spending more time outdoors, privacy is a main concern with many backyard landscape designs. We recommend using a privacy screen or privacy fence to help address this need.

A privacy screen can refer to either a built structure like a trellis or vertical planter, or a grouping of privacy trees that are generally tall, narrow and evergreen. A privacy fence is a more solid structure and can often be paired with privacy trees for a more attractive and effective solution. Read our tips on landscaping ideas for privacy to learn more.

How To Increase Home Value Through Landscaping

Adding value to your home is always a good decision and research shows that professional landscape design can increase the value by 10-20%. Good landscape design can also help a home sell faster. In today’s home buying environment, where almost every search starts online, the immediate first impression of a stunning curb appeal can make or break a sale.

At Tilly, we think about the concept of “exterior staging” where the seller can make a few small tweaks to clean up their outdoors in preparation for a sale. Here are some tips from Tilly designers on how to increase home value through landscaping.

There are also longer-term and more costly renovations with an even higher return on investment. Not all home improvements are created equal, so if adding monetary value is a top priority, then we have some advice on how to evaluate your next outdoor project. You can also check out this article with helpful tips.

Side Yard Ideas & Other Awkward or Narrow Space Design

Designing for an awkward nook or narrow side yard brings on its own set of challenges and considerations:

First, it’s important to consider the intended function of this space. You could be trying to squeeze in a seating area, kids play structure or privacy screen. Or you might just want it to look pretty.

Second, be sure to think about the future growth of your plants and how much space they will need in 3, 5, 10 years. That Japanese maple sapling may be a perfect fit now, but in several years it could quickly outgrow the space.

Finally, we urge homeowners to remain open-minded when it comes to finding creative solutions for awkward and narrow outdoor spaces. A professional designer may be able to help you come up with the perfect idea, like building a stone walkway to help transition from one space to the next.

Optimizing Your Small Yard Landscaping

When it comes to small yard landscaping, the same basic rules apply. Understand your garden style. Prioritize your needs. Hire a professional. Designing small backyards and small front yards can sometimes be an even greater challenge than a property without those space constraints - every square foot matters and every landscape design decision has outsized impact.

Prioritizing space and the use of that space will require a clear understanding of your goals and clear communication with your landscape designer. If you’re looking for your own small yard landscaping ideas, visit our pages on landscaping for a small front yard and small backyard landscaping.

A Space For Outdoor Entertaining

There’s no better way to show off your summer landscape than by hosting a party. But what happens when your yard is underwhelming or downright embarrassing? When the condition of your backyard landscape starts to impede on your social life, it’s time to call in the professional landscape designers. Professional backyard landscaping can lead to many years of fond memories at birthday parties, backyard barbecues and even a casual backyard wedding.

Tilly clients love outdoor entertainment and so we have compiled our design project examples and backyard entertainment ideas for your own inspiration.

pavers set over gravel with a fire pit area and adirondeck chairs
Tilly, Hot Tub Privacy Screening Example

Front Yard Landscape Design vs. Backyard Design

While both front yard design and backyard design are critically important to bringing your home to its full potential, there is one key difference that generally drives the design process.

Front yard landscaping is, for the most part, focused on form. This often means a more simple landscape design with goals to increase curb appeal, compliment the home’s architecture and create seasonal interest. For this reason, there is an emphasis on front foundation plantings and softscape. Front yard hardscape is often limited to a walkway leading to the entrance and occasionally a front yard patio for a more social front yard.

In contrast, backyard landscaping is more focused on function and efficient use of outdoor space. Backyard design often means designing outdoor rooms which include more site features like a swimming pool, fire pit, outdoor kitchen, kids play structure or water feature. Backyards also tend to incorporate more hardscape elements like pavers and patios, as well as shade solutions like pergolas, gazebos, awnings and pavilions. Backyards are meant for the whole family to enjoy - design accordingly!

Tilly, Curb Appeal

When To Hire A Professional Landscape Designer

Landscape renovation projects can be intimidating and knowing when to hire a professional is often half the battle. Homeowners waste hours of time and thousands of dollars experimenting on their yards, not knowing which plants or site features to put where.

We have deep respect for the DIY die-hards who can install their plants and build their deck. While they are incredibly handy, even they need a holistic landscape plan created by a professional landscape designer. Here are three considerations when deciding who to hire and for what:

Landscape Project Scope

We recommend hiring a professional landscape designer if you’re looking to make major improvements and changes to your outdoor space. Accommodating a new life event, refreshing your landscape style or adding a new site feature are all great reasons to partner with a professional to layout your new yard.

If you don't have much knowledge of plants and plant materials then it's also a good idea to partner with a professional who knows more about sun and shade requirements, native plants, water requirements, and much more.

DIY Comfort Level

While we absolutely recommend professional landscape designers to help develop a concept, the execution and installation will depend on your own personal comfort level and time constraints.

If you’re a master gardener but don’t know a thing about hardscape, you’ll want to hire a stone mason for that custom built fire pit. If you love carpentry and can’t wait to build your own deck, you might still hire a gardener to install your plant material. If you are installing turf, it's best to have an experienced professional.

There are certain materials that will be easier to work with than others. For example, gravel is a very popular material that is also easy to work with!

Landscaping Cost vs. Your Budget

The final consideration is cost. We never recommend cutting corners on the quality of people you hire. Instead, be sure to hire the right type of person for the right job. You don’t need a civil engineer to lay a flat brick walkway. The simplest ways to manage cost are to reduce or find alternate materials and phase your project over time.

Tilly Client 3D Render

Read more about: Landscape Design Tips, Gardening Tips