Creating a Practical Pleasing Outdoor Space

A practical and pleasing outdoor space is one that satisfies user needs, is aesthetically pleasing, and is relatively easy to maintain.  The space can be a small, quiet, private space, or one that provides expansive views.

1. Satisfies user needs 

Once site inventory, analysis, and family needs are identified, the types, shapes, and sizes of spaces needed can be determined.  Remember to create spaces. Avoid placing objects in space. This is a common mistake of beginning designers.

Fleshingout the space(s)

Create a functional or bubble diagram to begin fleshing out the size and relationships (what areas should or should not be next to each other) of the areas or spaces that you need. The functional diagram is not to scale and only roughly approximates the size and position of the space. Keep these diagrams simple. Decide which spaces should be next to each other. For instance, in the diagram to the right, the main terrace will need to connect with the back of the house and with the evening terrace. This is indicated by the white arrow lines. The black arrows indicate a less important or critical connection.

Once the basic spaces have been determined, decide what shape and size they should be. Should they be geometric or curvilinear? Formal or informal?

Example of a bubble (functional) diagram showing relationships and rough sizes of the spaces. Image credit: rumbold ayers landscape designers

2.  It is aesthetically pleasing  

How to get the desired effect?

  • Employ sight lines – where are the views into and out of the space?
  • Use appropriate scale and proportion of spaces
  • Don’t waste any space
  • Make sure things line up
  • Put the right plant in the right place

3. Low Maintenance

Keep the design simple and avoid using too many different plant species. Group plants with similar water needs together and use turf only where needed.

Additional Resources:


Florida – Twenty-two Ideas for a Low-care, Low-cost Landscape
Florida – Plant Personalities
Mississippi – Creative Courtyard Spaces


Missouri – Low-Maintenance Landscaping

Iowa – 12 Steps to a Functional Design