How to Read a Landscape Design

Having a professional landscape design is one of the smartest investments you can make before starting construction on your outdoor space. But what good is a plan if you can’t interpret it?

If you aren’t used to reading landscape plans, they can seem foreign at first glance. However, they are actually quite simple and easy to understand once you know the basics.

Let’s look at what a landscape design consists of…

Site layout

The site layout (circled in red) is a diagram showing the placement of the various landscape elements.

The site layout is the main image on the landscape design that shows an overhead view of what the landscape will look like once it has been installed. It is a layout of all the plants, walkways, patios, retaining walls, and any other landscape elements that are included in the plan. The site layout also includes the house or any other structures on the property.

The site layout is useful for seeing how the size, shape, and location of different landscape elements and for showing how they will be placed in relation to each other. For this reason, the overhead view, as opposed to 3-D or other types of perspective views, is a very effective tool to use for actually building the new landscape. Using an overhead view design gives the installer a much more accurate depiction of the designer’s intent, and thus results in a landscape that is true to the combined vision of the landscape designer and client.

The downside is that it can be hard for some people to visualize how the overhead view will translate in real life. We suggest taking the time to look closely at each area of the site layout. Examine the plant and hardscape placement, and use the other sections of the landscape design (plant key, notes, etc.) to help build a full picture in your mind of how it will look in real life.

Plant Key

The plant key (circled in red) shows what plants will be used.

The plant key tells you what plants are being used and where they will be placed. Each type of plant in the site layout section of the plan has a symbol with a line going to it. That symbol corresponds with an identical symbol on the plant key. At Wild Bloom, we use a 2 or 3 letter code as the symbol. You can match the codes for the plants on the site layout with the codes on the plant key to find out what each plant is called.

Besides seeing the names of each plant, the plant key also tells you the number and size of each plant. This is critical information that is needed for ordering the plants, but can also help you imagine how the landscape will look when it is newly installed. For example, if the plans call for mostly 1 gallon plants, then the new landscape will initially look less grown in than if the plans called for mostly 5 gallon plants. Of course, this difference in plant size also corresponds to the overall cost of the landscape since larger plants cost more money. It’s important to consider plant sizes that balance your needs and budget.

The plant key and site layout are closely linked and your eyes will often dart back and forth from each section as you study your landscape design.

Plant Images

The plant images (circled in red) show you what the plants or other landscape materials will look like.

While it’s certainly important to know the names of your new plants, it’s just as important to know what they look like. To make it easier, we include sample plant images on your landscape plan.

As you look at which plants go where in your design, you can also reference the image for each plant to see whether you like it and to give you a better visual of how the landscape will look.

When looking at the plants, consider the texture, color, size, and shape of each. It’s helpful to consult with your designer on the different plants to learn more about them and discover why the designer chose them. A good designer will carefully select each plant for a specific reason, whether it’s how that plant looks in relation to the other plants, the way the plant’s color affects the viewer, the growth habits of the plant, or a variety of other reasons. A lot of thought and planning goes into planting design, so asking questions and understanding the strategy behind the design will help you fully interpret it.


The sidebar (circled in red) provides design details, construction specs, and more.

The sidebar contains a few different sections. At the top of the sidebar is the notes section. Here you will find installation instructions and specifications. This can include things such as the type of boulders to be used, walkway materials and sizes, the type of mulch, the type of irrigation, sizes and materials for patios, retaining wall specs, and any other pertinent information needed to allow the reader to fully understand the landscape design.

Moving down the sidebar is a section with information on any revisions that have been done, a compass arrow to help orient you, and details about the property. There is also a scale that designates how the dimensions on the landscape plan translate to the dimensions in the real landscape. The scale can be used to find out the size of the different landscape elements by converting inches into feet.

Putting it all together…

By understanding what each section of the design is for, you can see how they all play a role in helping you interpret the design. Studying each part independently while looking at the design as a whole will give you an overall picture of what your landscape will look like and show you how it will meet your needs for the space.

When looking at the design, it can also be beneficial to try to picture yourself walking through it. Zoom in and imagine yourself there, looking at the plants, seeing the patio or walkway under your feet, noticing the placement of all the different aspects of the landscape. Can you imagine the textures and colors of the plantings? What does the landscape look like from inside the house? Can you picture yourself using the raised veggie beds, firepit, or outdoor kitchen? Are the plants attracting butterflies and hummingbirds? Walking through the landscape in your mind is a powerful tool for helping you understand how it will enhance your life.

In addition to the different sections of your landscape design, your designer will often have supplemental information for you such as photos of similar landscapes after they have been installed, photos of different materials, catalogs for stone, pavers, lighting, or blocks, or websites to reference for more details.

Remember that your design will also serve as the foundation for the landscape installation. The materials and specs will be taken straight from the design to make it come to life. So having a good understanding of the plan will help ensure you get the results you want. If you are ever unsure about or need further explanation on any aspect of your design, or need help creating one from scratch, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We’d be glad to help!