Before a landscape design is drawn for your property, a complete survey of the property is essential. From this survey you can draw or sketch a plot plan. The plot plan will assist you in organizing the information from the site analysis. A thorough site analysis can save you time and money. Existing plants trees or other vegetation, natural factors and features, views, noise levels, utility placement, easements/setback lines and primary architectural features of the house should be considered and/or noted.
Existing Plants & Trees
Location of existing trees and other plants should be recorded on the plot plan. Trees on adjoining property that would affect shade patterns should also be surveyed. This information is essential to designers, especially since it is their responsibility to blend this home into the natural or existing setting, or to create a setting to be functional and to complement the structure. Note any existing trees or plants that will be removed, left where they are or relocated. Note their size and determine what size they ultimately mature to so you can draw them to scale in the plan.
Natural Factors and Features
The natural factors and features of a landscape include house orientation, land form, soil conditions, rainfall distribution, seasonal wind pattern and micro-climatic conditions. House orientation affects the exposure of various portions of the house to the sun. This knowledge is essential so the designer can provide shade in important spots and locate activity areas appropriately. For example, a southeastern exposure is generally the most comfortable spot year-round since it provides afternoon shade while a western exposure will be hot in the summer and cold in the winter.
Land form refers to slope or land elevation changes. It determines surface water drainage patterns and is essential knowledge in developing functional and aesthetically pleasing landscapes.
Soil characteristics will determine selection and placement of plants. Soil pH, nutrient and waterholding capacity and drainage should be considered.
Rainfall distribution can be determined on a regional basis. Periods of heavy rainfall can magnify the problems of shallow soils or a hardpan resulting in unwanted standing water. Sometimes these conditions may require the engineering of drainage modifications by some type of tiles, pipe or grading for correction. Often the conditions simply require careful plant selection. For instance an area that retains moisture could be turned from a liability to an asset quite inexpensively with plants that prefer moisture retentive soils such as the Yellow Flag Iris.
Exposure to Wind and Wind Directions
Predominate wind directions differ depending on location, the season and the time of day. Where the wind direction differs in summer and winter, plantings using screen plants can be arranged to block the cold winter winds from a patio and direct summer breezes into this same area. While conducting the site analysis, be sure to look for existing wind breaks provided by plants and structures on the property or on adjacent property.
Views should be identified that are to be preserved or accented. Likewise, less desirable views must be considered so screening can be planned. Views and activities 30 feet or so from the property line must be surveyed. During the site analysis, views should be observed from inside the house to outside and from outside to inside the house. Observe the neighbors' property from positions on the property, and view the property from the neighbors' lots if possible. The house should also be observed at multiple angles from the street. Pictures from an digital camera can be very helpful in reminding the designer of specific views when sitting back at the drawing table.