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Psychology of Landscape Design for Outdoor Living

psychology of landscape design
psychology of landscape design

Knowing about the psychology of landscape design guides landscaping a successful outdoor living room? What makes patio  landscaping a rich and dynamic space that encourages us to go into the landscape and spend time outdoors? The qualities of the landscape design and the landscape construction will determine if you paver patio, flagstone patio, concrete patio or even gravel patio are inviting, warm and embracing spaces. Principles of the landscape design apply to any outdoor room and can be applied to landscape projects of all scales. Some elements of design are universal and others depend on individual preferences. The most primitive and universal principles are rooted in our psychological predispositions and survival instincts stemming from the long history of human evolution. These relate to the geographical and architectural structure of the space in relation to the surroundings. The more temporal and individual characteristics will manifest in the stylistic and material elements of the structure. These elements of style change often with cultural and individual trends while the structural principles landscape design are timeless.

The primary psychology of landscape design principle in the design of an outdoor living patio in called ‘defensible space’ in the western psychology paradigm. Eastern cultures incorporate the same principle into broader design paradigms such as Feng Shui.  Early in human evolution, survival required us to inhabit spaces that could be defended. The first garden courtyards were walled sanctums from a dangerous outdoor world. But we also need a way to see our surrounding, to know what danger may be coming or to have good vantage point for food resource potentials. Humans are comfortable when they feel like there is adequate ‘wall barrier’ around them and when the have good visual viewpoint vantages. These two elements work together in that the greater visibility of our surroundings allows for lesser dependence on barriers. If we are at the peak of a grassy hill and can see a long distance in every direction, we have less need for barrier protections since we can see any danger and flee. Contrarily, in an area dense with visual obstacles, we feel the need for more ‘walls’.

We are many years evolved from those early years of human history, but the principles are ingrained and pertinent to landscape design today. If we are creating an outdoor living space in a rural area, within a setting of beautiful nature, we may want our patio space to open wide to the surroundings. Conversely, in the city we tuck our patios tight to the home and create privacy barriers to the surroundings. So the first principle is that all other principles of landscape design start first with and understanding of the broader geographical and architectural surroundings.

The most common psychological preference, regardless of setting, is to inhabit a space where we can feel safe and private but also have good views of our surroundings when we want them. That is the primary principle to follow when designing a patio in the landscape. The key is how we feel or rather how the person who will inhabit the space will feel. This is where a designer has to be a psychologist. Though security seems to have some universal elements, people feel safe for a wide range of reasons. One person may feel most comfortable back against the wall tucked into a building corner, while another may need to be away from buildings with a good 360 degree view and the openness provided. These are questions that must be resolved to best design a patio for the specific resident.

When it comes down to the enclosure of an outdoor living space, psychology of landscape design can again guide decisions. Remember that it is how the resident feels in the space that determines their level of comfort. There is not a universal approach to how we create the feeling of security and comfort. Some people will only need to have simple distractions around their outdoor living space in order to keep their attention from outside ‘dangers’. This can be accomplished with landscape dynamic landscape plantings, perennials with season change, shrubs with texture and color, and trees with sculptural interest. Other people may need heavier structures using heavy planting barrier designs with dense evergreen foliage, stone walls, wood fences or a combination of all these landscape elements. Landscape design is a process of creating space that will impart a character of feeling, an emotion. Too often a landscape designer focuses on the aesthetics, the forms or the art and the materials from a self-based orientation and they neglect the emotions of those who will inhabit the space.

A successful outdoor living room patio will help create a safe, peaceful and joyous set of emotions for those who ‘own’ the space, those who most use it and for whom it was designed. It will provide ‘protection’ from surroundings where needed and good views of the larger environment where appropriate. It will also have clear delineation for the choreography of movement, the access and egress to surrounding spaces, and adaptability for uses that will likely change over time. But, those landscape design principles will be discussed in a future article.

Outdoor Fireplaces, Fire Pits & Fire Features – Options, Elements & Costs

Outdoor Fireplace_Lehigh Valley_Landscape Company

When colder weather settles in, adding a fire element to the landscape can extend your outside enjoyment throughout all four seasons. And an outdoor fire offers more than just heat to gather friends and family around. Fire is an experience of multiple senses. The deep warmth, the romantic smells, and the beautiful flames, create intriguing and memorable times. In our area of Allentown and the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania, outdoor fireplaces and fire pits can be enjoyed for several months in both the fall and the spring. The experience of lighting and managing the fire fascinates children or all ages, including those young of heart if not as young in years. Creating a wood burning fire feature in your home landscape involves some key choices relating to scale, type of fire, budget and the overall program of uses for the space.

Fire features can be created in a wide range of scales from the small fire pit to the large fireplace. When deciding what scale will work best, homeowners need to consider the scale of the existing spaces and determine how significant a role the fire will play in the family’s outdoor living. Homeowners with plenty of space and a strong history of gathering around fires could thoroughly enjoy a custom stone fireplace, so long as it is in the budget. A more cost conscious and flexible option for fire in a smaller landscape would be a portable fire pit. There are a number of other ways to incorporate fire features in the landscape, but this article will stick to wood burning fireplaces and fire pits.

A full custom outdoor fireplace is a significant architectural feature at a home. Careful design and planning is required to make sure it fits with the style of the other architectural elements including the home. If done right, it will be a gorgeous addition. The fireplace and chimney need to be grounded into the landscape with additional architectural features such as walls to define an entire space and/or plantings to nestle the fireplace into the landscape. Custom outdoor fireplaces are also a significant investment so a family needs to evaluate the cost compared to the amount of use and value the fireplace will provide. Wood burning fireplaces require very specific engineering of the firebox and chimney size to ensure proper draw and prevent smoke from constantly billowing out the front. It is a time consuming construction process for the masons. A full custom outdoor fireplace can cost between $25,000.00 and $40,000.00 or even much more depending on the homeowners desires. But, if the budget and the program work with a custom fireplace, it can be a beautiful and functional area that builds memories for years.

A pre-fabricated outdoor fireplace is usually a smaller and less expensive option for the homeowner who wants a wood burning fireplace without the size and price of a custom version. A number of companies make such units. Some of the segmented concrete block companies make versions that can match their pavers and seating walls for a unified design palette. Unilock is one such company and their fireplaces start at around $12,000.00 fully installed. There are also companies that make modular fireplace shells that can be quickly installed. These shells can then be adapted to a specific design style with a little extra masonry, and the exterior can be finished in a variety of materials from stucco to stone. Depending on the finishes and amount of style customizing, these fireplaces can cost between $16,000.00 and $24,000.00.

Fire pits are a good option when the space, the program of use, or the budget prohibits a full outdoor fireplace. Fire pits can be made or bought in many forms from the campout style with a basic stone ring to the portable type sold by various retailers. The portable fire pit has become popular enough that certain boutique retailers are producing some very unique and higher end models (see ORE containers for example). A portable fire pit is a great option when flexibility is important. It can be moved around to various areas in the landscape as preferences and moods evolve, and it can be put away if more space is needed for a special event.

If you are attracted to adding a wood burning fire feature in your landscape, the options discussed fit a full range of budgets and lifestyles. If you live in the Allentown, Bethlehem or Lehigh Valley regions of Pennsylvania, call Garden Design Inc. and speak with Frederick Learey about your project. He has designed and built many outdoor fireplaces and fire pits in all the styles and budgets discussed above.

Outdoor Kitchens – Overview of Elements & Costs

An outdoor kitchen is a well used addition to any outdoor living spaces. After all, families spend most of their time in the kitchen, so why not get that gathering outside. The outdoor kitchen design can range from a simple grill station to a complex design with all the elements of an indoor kitchen. The biggest factor in the design is the budget so let’s look at the basic elements and costs.

The first element of an outdoor kitchen is the base which will hold the appliances and countertop. The most economical kitchen bases are built on concrete slabs with steel or wood frames and exterior grade sheathing. A higher quality base is built with concrete block on a concrete frost footer. The exterior of either structure can be covered with wood, stucco, tile or stone with natural stone being the most expensive. Expect to spend anywhere from five thousand to fifteen thousand or more on your outdoor kitchen base.


Outdoor Kitchne_Allentown Pa
Outdoor Kitchen with grill, sink, side burner, trash drawer and refrigerator.

The range of potential outdoor kitchen appliances is vast, so we will stick to the basics. The outdoor kitchen starts with the grill. If you are going through the expense of building a kitchen, you are going to want a professional quality grill, built with high quality stainless steel, very high cooking heat potential and excellent long term durability.  A medium size high quality grill will cost around three to four thousand dollars. The next requirements are stainless steel cabinetry for utility drawers, trash drawers, and storage space which will add another thousand or so to the project. Beyond those basics, you can add refrigerators, sinks, beverage centers, side burners, griddles, smokers and more spending upwards of fifteen thousand or more on outdoor kitchen appliances.

The last elements of the outdoor kitchen are the countertop and the utilities. Granite countertops are by far the most popular and will cost anywhere from twenty five hundred to sixty five hundred or more depending on the kitchen size. When you add the costs for a licensed electrician and plumber, an outdoor kitchen will cost anywhere from fifteen to forty thousand or more depending on the size and the elements included.

Winter is TIme for Landscape Design

With the recent snow storms, the Garden Design offices are a winter wonderland. It is hard to imagine that spring is less than a month away. Winter a great time to start planning your spring landscape projects. Visions of outdoor living can warm the freezing days of winter. Start the process by contacting a qualified landscape design professional. During this slow season, landscape designers will have more time and energy to devote to your project since most people aren’t planning that far in advance. You may also save money in design costs since designers aren’t as busy. Planning garden designs early can allow your projects to be constructed in spring and you can start enjoying your outdoor living spaces.

People aren’t commonly considering landscape design in the winter. Therefore, landscape designers aren’t as busy and they may be anxious for new projects. This is the time to get the most value for your design costs. Landscape designers will have more time to devote to your project during the slower winter season. That can result in a more personal attention to your design and a more expeditious process.

If you wait until spring to start thinking about your landscape designs, it could be the end of summer before you see those visions get built. Complete the designs in the winter and get the project under contract. Then your project construction can start early and you can be enjoying your new outdoor living spaces once the weather is inviting. You may also save some money on construction. Some companies will provide a winter contract discount if you sign and provide a deposit early enough.

Start thinking about landscape designs now. Hire a qualified professional landscape designer such as the design team at Garden Design. The design process will warm your spirit as you dream of your future outdoor living spaces.


From Bulbs to Spring Flowers

In the fall, (pictured below) we planted hundreds of bulbs that were incorporated into the landscape around this outdoor living room. The bulbs were mixed in the wheelbarrow and tossed around the garden. There are different varieties, fritillaria, a variety of allium, lilies, and crocus. The pictures are taken today, April 30. As the garden grows and the later bulbs are blooming, it will have an entirely different look.




Things To Do For Spring Cleanup

Spring cleanup, landscape design, Lehigh Valley, PA, Allentown, PA, Bethlehem, PA, Outdoor living rooms
Ready for a spring cleanup!
It’s time to start thinking about cleaning up your property for spring. This post is about the things you should do in the spring. My next post will be about things your shouldn’t do!

Do cut all perennials back to just above ground level, including the evergreen ones, because the foliage that has been through the winter will soon look very tattered. Exceptions would be Iberis (Candytuft), which gets cut back after its spring bloom along with Helleborus (Lenten Rose) and Euphorbia Robbie. Some plants, such as Hemerocallis (daylilies), Hosta, and plants without much branch structure, just need to be cleaned up if not removed in the fall. Never cut Lavendula (lavender) the whole way back; just reshape it in the spring.

Do cut fall blooming Clematis paniculata (Sweet Autumn Clematis) back to at least one third of its growth.
Do cut all ornamental grass back in the spring so it can regrow again. Some grass that heavily seeds should be cut back in the fall, such as Chasmanthium (Sea oats), so you don’t have the plant everywhere you don’t want it.

Do check for scale on any plants from last season. If detected, use a dormant oil spray while it is still cool and before the leaf break to control the spread of the scale.

Do try the new Hyddrangea macrophylla “Endless Summer” which blooms on new and old wood if you don’t already have them. It is definitely worth digging up all those purple and blue ball hjydrangeas that are old in order to get the continuous full-flooming ones on the market today. They are wonderful!

Do fertilize your acid-loving plants with an acid-loving fertilizer such as Hollytone because we do not have acid soil in the Lehigh Valley. This will help them have dark green foliage. If the foliage is still yellowish in color, an acidifier such as sulphur or aluminum sullphate scratched into the soil is better. This slowly helps the plant as the water takes it down into the soil over a year or so.

Do keep mulch on your beds to prevent weeds from germinating freely and to keep moisture in during dry periods.

We can help! If you find that you would like to have experts do some or all of these kinds of tasks using our knowledge on your property, please call us.

Bulbs Mixed in Wheelbarrow and Tossed in Garden

For this rather unique look in bulbs, we mixed various varieties of tulips, allium, and lilies and threw them about around the perennials in this outdoor living room. In spring it will look very naturalistic with green mounds of perennials around them. Check back in spring to see what it all looks like!

Bulb planting in the fall for early spring and summer bloom from bulbs
This bulb mixing method makes for a very naturalistic looking garden and lots of early spring color. As the bulb foliage dies back, the perennials will take over.
Spring Bulbs, tulips, allium, lilies, planting spring bulbs, naturalistic look in bulbs
Notice that there are tulips and allium of different varieties and sizes thrown here and there. I hand moved the ones on the edge and in the middle of the perennials after tossing so as not to waste them.
Fall bulb planting for spring bloom, naturalistic bulb planting
This area has various varieties of lilies included with the tulips and allium. The lilies are not in all of the tossed areas because of the design of the perennials in each area. In some cases, the lilies would compete too much with the perennials.

A Mini Retreat on Your Own Property

Landscape, Landscape Architect, Lehigh Vallely, PA, Allentown, Bethlehem, PA, garden design, outdoor room
The completed landscape ready to enjoy!

When you look out  your windows, do you see a place that invites you to come out and relax or do you look at your property line with a shrub or two, perhaps a tree.  We took this border and made it a destination, a place to view all season.  Some place to enjoy without leaving your property.

Landscape, Landscape design, landscape architecture, Allentown, PA, Bethlehem, PA., Lehigh Valley, plants, outdoor living,
We took this ordinary border of the property and made it a place to unwind, relax, and enjoy one’s own property. The irregular flagstone path leads you to a special spot with nature wrapped around you. Ornamental grass, perennials, shrubs are all a part of this landscape when completed.

A Lush and Full Outdoor Living Room with Continuous Bloom

House on a bank, cut and fill to create the patio, concrete pavers, lush plants, landsacpe for living, Allentown, PA, Lehigh Valley, PA
A lush outdoor living room with shrubs, trees, and perennials and grasses to relax and enjoy the beauty of nature.


This ordinary back yard was on a bank so it was not very usable.  We cut the soil 4′ from the foundation of the house to give a sitting wall and a planter.  This gave us more level space to create the patio.  A landing was created with stairs to get to the concrete paver patio.  Perennials, shrubs, and a tree was planted to give privacy for the outdoor living room and to be able to observe continuous bloom throughout the season as you relaxed on the patio.  Notice that this is not an expensive house but the outdoor living room makes the house!!!  See the before below!

Bethlehem, Pa, Easton, PA, Outdoor living room, landscaping, back of house landscape, before the landscape
Notice this rather ordinary, inexpensive house. A well designed landscape can transform a property, it did this one!

Texture and Shape as Design Elements in the Landscape

There are so many subtle elements that make a landscape beautiful.  Two of the ones that I pay particular attention to is texture and shape.  What do I mean by that?  Some leaves are fuzzy, some are shiny, some are dull, some are delicate looking, some are evergreen and very thick and look like they could withstand the winter.  There are many elements of design that create a beautiful landscape but if you pay attention to how you put the textures and shapes together, it will make the difference between a landscape that doesn’t quite measure up to your critique eye but yet you can’t quite put your finger on why.  It could very well be that!  When I am designing, I am thinking of the texture of the leaf as well as its shape.  You also need to pay attention to the shape and the texture of the flower.  If you put different varieties of plants with shiny leaves together, it doesn’t look right.  You want to put something delicate next to something heavy, something shiny like a holly next to something dull like a taxus.  A round leaf next to a grasses leaf or a needle, an evergreen next to a deciduous shrub or perennial.  If the leaves are large, they need to be balanced with needles, grasses, or smaller

Joanne Kostecky Garden Design, Inc., Allentown, PA, Lehigh County, Landscape with texture and form, how to create a beautiful landscape, design elemenets used to create a landscape
Two very important elements of design are texture and form. Landscapes that are beautiful were designed by someone who paid attention to texture and form.

different shaped leaves around them.

Those are some of the subtle differences in designing that create beautiful spaces.  Go out into your landscape and look at it with a critical eye and see if the suggestions I made could help you landscape be all that it can be.