How to draw the base map of your garden?
Updated: Jul 4
“Always design a thing by considering its next larger context - a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment.” Eliel Saarinen
The very first step in designing enviable landscapes and gorgeous gardens is planning. Always planning. An organised approach can make all the difference between a successful and sustainable landscape and one that ends up looking like a grazing lot over the years.
A great place to start would be to make a base plan- a simple drawing of your existing landscape. The subsequent drawings, such as the site analysis and the conceptual, preliminary, and final design drawings, all use the base map as a starting point. The accuracy of the base map makes it a dependable tool, which in turn helps ensure the success of any project, large or small. Often, this step is perceived to be quite tedious. Yet, it goes a long way in laying the foundation of your landscape plan. It is worth spending adequate time and effort on this step. You can find what you need to make a base plan here.
If you own a home, you probably have a plot plan that shows your house in relation to the property boundaries. If you do not have such a plan to work with, you will need to determine accurately – with a tape measure – where the house is located on the site.
It is best to begin with a rough sketch of your site. Mark any property lines, neighbouring buildings, large trees and shrubs, fences, utility lines, paved areas, water features, and other permanent features. Do not worry about accuracy yet. Using a compass, find the direction of the north and mark it on the map.
If you live on a large parcel of land, limit your base map to the area you plan to landscape. In addition, determine:
Outer house dimensions
Window and door locations
Height from ground to the bottom of windows
Locations of water faucets, air conditioner, downspouts, electric, and gas meters and lines.
Any other important exterior house features
Add these measurements to the rough sketch. Then, determine the accurate location of the house in relation to the site. Measure the distance from the boundary (compound wall or the street) to the nearest corners of the house, trees, and other objects on your map. Measure from other visible boundaries too to confirm the accuracy of location of permanent objects.
Next, draw the site boundaries and mark locations of objects to scale. It is easier to transfer the noted measurements accurately to scale using a graph paper. Usually, a scale of 1/8 or 1/10 inch per foot (where 1/8 inch or 1/10 inch on the paper equals 1 foot on the ground) is convenient to use. Mark the location and outline of your house using the same scale. Indicate windows, doors, overhang, and other exterior features. You will require this information later to develop a successful planting scheme.
Using the same scale, mark the other existing features of the plot, including:
Car Parking, if not in stilts
Other buildings in the area to be landscaped (such as a storage shed)
Driveways and sidewalks
Underground and overhead utility lines: electric, telephone, water, and gas
Septic tank (or drywell), drain field and vent or sanitary sewer lines
Trees, shrubs, and other plants to be preserved (skip noting ones you plan to remove)
In one corner of the paper, indicate which direction is north and the scale of your drawing. This is going to be the blueprint of your base map.
It is often a good idea to also sketch the interior layout of the rooms, such as furniture placement and window-side seating. This part of the drawing may be useful at a later stage in the design. It will help you consider views from inside the house to plan your outdoor spaces– perhaps you would like a view of your garden from the bay window in your living room. Visual analysis can help evolve the quality of both indoor and outdoor spaces, as we will see later on.
Once the base map is prepared, take your base map and walk around your plot, envisioning where the elements you want will be located. Making several copies of the base map can be useful in preparing the final plan.
Any landscape design plans can be drawn on these copies or drawn on tracing paper laid on top. Different spatial arrangements or new ideas can be explored on the copies. Place your garden/landscape elements in different locations until you have a good idea of where everything should go. Your garden style can help influence the placement of your elements too.
Next time, we discuss some important points of analysis to consider before designing your garden. Remember, planning your landscape on paper is much easier and cheaper than having to adjust it once you start construction!
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About the Writer
Reva Saksena is an undergraduate architecture student at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Bhopal. She has experience working at SiteLens Cultural Research Division of India Lost and Found (ILF) by Amit Pasricha. She is the winner of the "2021 Berkeley Prize Essay Competition.”
About the Editor
Srishti Mehta is the author of "From the Land of Mist and Snow: Haikus from Antarctica". She is a creative writer, editor and publisher. She is the Editor-in-Chief at Zeyka. She is a graduate of the St. Xavier College, Ahmedabad, and the H.R. College of Commerce and Economics, University of Mumbai (MU). She has been the India Ambassador of the International Antarctica Expedition (2018) with 2041 Foundation. She has diverse volunteer experience in natural field studies, explorations, and journalism with numerous organisations including the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), Mumbai.
About the Illustrator
Ipsita Choudhury is an undergraduate architecture student at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Bhopal. She is a writer, artist, illustrator and graphic designer. She is an Observation and Action Network (OAN) Fellow 2020 for The Centre for The Living City, UDC and NASA. She was a semi-finalist in the “2019 Berkeley Prize Essay Competition.”