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How to create a landscape that's ideal for you

Ask yourself these questions to help decide the type of yard that fits your personality and works best for you.

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For an unpleasant distant view, plant large pines, spruces, cedars or hollies in masses of three or more. When planted strategically, these evergreens, which grow full all the way to the base, will serve as year-round cover and focus the eye inward toward the garden.

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Highlight existing features. Develop designs that retain and enhance on-site native wildflowers, streams, rock outcroppings, native woodland plants, windblown junipers, and existing trees. Decide whether a tree trunk that was never cut down is worth keeping. It could become a support for a vine or a hammock. The extra thought is worth it.

You may look at natural features as liabilities and not want to keep them. For example, if you want a vegetable garden, rock outcroppings could be a nuisance. A windblown eastern red cedar or pine would be in the way if you preferred a formal garden. Pyracantha and hardy orange are desirable plants that provide food and shelter for birds, but they're too thorny to grow near a play area for children. These choices are yours to make.

Sculptural elements, seating, fountains, and water gardens are a welcome addition to most landscape designs. At least one of these elements in a private corner of the yard, tucked into some background shrubs and surrounded by perennials, can add interest to your garden.

Ultimately, budget will determine the size and quantity of plants that are installed. However, cost shouldn't hold you back from creating your ideal design. What's more important at this point is establishing a preliminary budget. A rule of thumb to determine your budget if you're going to completely redo your outdoor space: about 10 percent of property value.

There are always ways to cut costs. The most grandiose design can be broken into its smallest parts — paving this year, planting trees next year, then shrubs, and so on until you've reached a point of satisfaction. Installing a garden is about the journey. There is never a finishing point.

The most notable gardens are the longest in the making. The gardens in the Japanese city of Kyoto, for example, have taken centuries. One of my favorites in North America is the 83-year-old Les Jardins de Metis on the Peninsula in Mont-Joli, Quebec. Elsie Reford started it in 1926; the garden continues under the direction of great-grandson Alexander Reford.

Understand that installing a garden is an ongoing process that takes at least a decade. At that point, your garden begins to become a work of art.

Joel Lerner is president of Environmental Design in Capitol View Park, Md., and author of "Anyone Can Landscape." Contact him through his Web site,

Editor’s note: For more on gardening, see the Monitor’s main gardening page. Our blog archive. Our RSS feed.

You may also want to visit Gardening With the Monitor on Flickr. If you join the group (it’s free), you can upload your garden photos — and possibly win a prize. Deadline is Aug. 11. Join the discussions and get answers to your gardening questions.