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House with native plants and animalsGoing Native: Urban Landscaping for Wildlife with Native Plants
Home > How to Go Native > Step Three - Design a Native Plant Landscape > Design to Meet Human Needs

Design to Meet Human Needs

While your ultimate goal may be a wildlife-friendly garden, your landscape should meet the needs of the people who use it.  It must satisfy your functional needs (for example, provide a place to sit and read or to entertain) as well as your aesthetic sensibilities (for example, make your front entry more inviting, perhaps providing more color and fragrance).  Fortunately, your human needs can be addressed within the context of wildlife-friendly plantings, if you inventory and analyze your property thoroughly, determine your own wishes and desires, and then design with wildlife needs in mind. To do this well, you need to take the base map you developed earlier and now analyze your site conditions.  You also should clarify the needs and desires of all family members who will use the landscape.  Finally, with all this information organized and prioritized, you can begin to design a habitat-friendly area of your yard, or plan out your entire habitat-friendly landscape.

Sample Base Map Site Analysis
Sample Base Map with Completed Site Analysis. Larger version.

Site Analysis

With copies of your completed base map and plant inventory in hand, you are ready to conduct a thorough analysis of your property.  This will be an evaluation of how conditions you found might influence your design decisions.  Walk the property with your base map on a clipboard and make notations that document things you both like about your current landscape (assets, things you may keep) and things that are problematic (liabilities, things that may need to be changed or removed).  For example, you might note that your backyard feels too open and exposed and more shade is needed.  Or that there is an outward view, standing on your deck, of a beautiful stand of trees behind your property that you would like to keep open.  You would note areas of poor drainage, etc.

Forms to assist with your site analysis can be found in the Create Your Own Native Landscape section of this website.

Exposure – Know the direction your house faces, as this will affect plant species selected but also will help you decide on where to create more comfortable outdoor garden spaces.  North-facing areas tend to be cooler and shadier, and south facing hotter and sunnier.

Sun and Shade – Know the amount of sun your site receives both at different times of the day and year.  Some plants thrive in full sun, and others need partial sun or complete shade.

Prevailing Winds – Note the direction and season that excessive wind is a factor, as you may wish to screen or re-direct the wind with planting or structures.

Slope and Drainage – Use arrows to give you a sense of how your property slopes.  Changes in topography can add interest and also provide higher areas for better views.  Note areas of erosion and drainage problems. Check after a rainfall event for areas of standing water.  Determine your soil type – is it heavy clay or more sandy?

Views – Note both good and bad views.  Identify any attractive views you would like to keep, perhaps even opening it up more by selectively removing some plants.  Also, identify any unsightly views that need to be screened.  Address views from your windows and door thresholds, too.

Noise, Odors, Lights – The urban environment is full of sounds, smells, and artificial light.  Be sure to note where these elements are undesirable (traffic noise, your neighbor's security light) and need to be screened or masked or are desirable and should be incorporated into the design.

Existing Plantings – Note the attractiveness, size, health, and function of all your plantings.

Interesting Natural Features – Water, rocks, hills, etc. should be marked so they can be incorporated.


Sample Base Map with Family Needs. Larger version.

Family Needs Analysis

To this point, you have observed and studied your site in great detail, generating a lot of information and conclusions about its potential.  Already, you are hopefully beginning to have initial ideas about how your landscape should look and function to better meet your needs.  You now need to come up with key themes that will guide your design.  These are statements or a list of objectives the design must fulfill.  Forms to assist with your family needs analysis can also be found in the Create Your Own Native Landscape section of this website. After you answer these questions (with your family if applicable), list all the activities and elements your landscape must accommodate.  For example, suppose you list the following activities:

  • Open area for play
  • Pet area for dog
  • Vegetable garden
  • Entertainment area
  • Composting

On the copy of your base map, decide where to locate these different activities using bubbles or circles.  This step helps divide your landscape into a series of separate but linked rooms, each with a separate purpose.  Try to provide enough space for each activity, but do not detail the shapes or materials that will be used.  Keep your mind open to possibilities at this point by staying focused on the activity.  Explore how you will move through and between these “rooms” and use arrows to designate circulation or passages through the space. You can try out different layouts by generating a series of bubble diagrams that explore a variety of options.

Now you know what you have in your landscape and how it will affect your design choices.  You have also organized your ideas in terms of your wishes and needs for the new garden.  The next step will be to consider the needs of the wildlife you hope to attract.

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