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What is the Site Analysis Phase of Landscape Design?

November 16, 2011 Dave Marciniak 0 Comments

I hate it when people throw around industry jargon like we should all know what it means and I’m as guilty as anyone. When discussing the beginning of a landscape design I’ll talk about site analysis. If you’ve ever wondered what all is involved, here’s a brief overview of my process. I’ve gotten it down to a super efficient flow:

  1. Create a base sheet for the property. If I already have the survey plat, I’ll put it into AutoCAD and start with that. Otherwise I hand draw it there on site, showing a plan (overhead) view of the house, driveway, and property lines.
  2. Locate features on the house itself. I go around the house with a tape measure and locate windows, doors, downspouts, outlets, hosebibs, and anything else that I’ll want to know about when doing the design. It’s the best way to avoid planting tall shrubs in front of low windows, or vicious thorny shrubs in front of the electric meter.
  3. Locate existing structures outside the house. At this point I locate the hardscape elements like walks, patios, sheds, and detached garages.
  4. Locate existing trees. That stately sixty foot tall oak is going to be a dominant feature of the plant bed. We should know where it is.
  5. Inventory existing plants. The level of detail I go to here depends on the project, but typically I sketch rough locations and make a list with names and quantities. Some will stay where they are, some will be transplanted, and some are just no longer appropriate.
  6. Determine grades. I usually won’t do this if it’s a simple planting plan, but I do when there is hardscape or structure involved. It’s hard to know how tall a wall needs to be, or how many steps it takes to get from the deck to the ground, without first knowing our starting and ending points.
  7. Take lots of pictures. This part of the process makes me love digital cameras. I did a landscape redesign of the main house and guest house for an 800-acre equestrian estate in northern Fauquier County, and I have in excess of 250 photos of the property. This way I can often avoid having to run back to a site just to confirm a tree variety, or some other small but important detail.
  8. Final walkaround and notes. Before I leave I’ll stroll around the property and make more general notes about views (good and bad), spots where water might sit, and anything else that occurs to me.

How long this takes depends on the scope of the design project, the size of the property, and how much is already there. I can fly through measuring a new subdivision home on a flat lot with minimal landscaping in place; I spent over five hours measuring an estate landscape design that had been neglected for a decade. Just like the design portion of the project, the site analysis is appropriate for the job at hand.

Site analysis is also a useful tool for maintaining your property and prioritizing improvements. I have done complete site analysis and base drawings for residential and commercial clients who just want to know what they have, what needs fixed, and what is just fine the way it is. Regardless of where you want to start, if you care about your property – we should talk.


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