Tools to Draw Your Landscape Plans

Each year I provide a suggested list of supplies to my students for our fall landscape graphics course. This list is often accompanied by questions of what some of these items look like, so they can find them in the store. I’ve been wanting to create a graphic to accompany this list for years, so finally took the time to do it. Below is the color version, but if you click on it you can download a .pdf in both color and black and white to use for your own reference or a class you teach.


Ames Lettering Guide: If you enjoy hand-lettering this handy tool draws the guidelines for you at the correct height.  This is a popular tool not only in the drafting professions, but also calligraphy and cartooning. Click here for a video I found on how to use it.

Architect's Scale: These are used to draw your plan to scale.  We mostly use architect's scales in my courses since we do residential-scale plans.  When I was in the landscape architecture department as a student we mostly used engineer scales, since the scale of our sites were often larger. Architect's scales are also used for construction detail drawings.

Color Pencils: I often limit my students to 3-5 colors, since they can blend these to create more colors. Click here for a post I wrote on rendering plant symbols with color pencil.

Circle Template: I use these to create plants in plan view. I have several sizes of templates to provide a wide range of circles.

Drafting Compass: This allows you to make larger circles (that may not be found on a template) and larger sweeping curves.  Though I don't list it in this post some people also enjoy using a flexible curve to create bedlines.

Drafting Tape: This tape is not overly sticky so it can hold your drawing in place, yet be pulled up easily so as not to rip your paper.  Drafting dots are fun to use too.

Fine Point Sharpie: A great pen to make thick lines. Fabulous for buildings, property lines and larger canopy trees.

Hard Lead Pencil: Hard lead draws a light line, which is wonderful when you are creating guidelines and creating initial sketches. When you go over these lines later with pen, you shouldn't have to erase the original pencil lines. Try a 3H to 6H pencil.

Ink Pens: I use a variety of thicknesses so I can achieve different line weights. You can start with a set, but you may find your final collection is a mix of different brands.  Click here for a post I wrote on the pens I use.

45 & 30/60 Degree Triangles: Triangles, when paired up with a t-square, allow you to draw angles with ease, plus you can use them as a simple straight edge too.

Markers: I often limit my students to around 5 colors, so their design is focused. Click here for a post I wrote on marker swatch sheets.

T-Square: A t-square lays on your table with the end lined up along the edge of it. A t-square allows you to create straight parallel lines easily. When you pair up a triangle with a t-square you can also create 90, 60, 45, and 30 degree angles easily on a plan.

Vellum Paper: This is a higher quality paper that you can see through.

White Eraser: I have found that white erasers work the best for me since they don't leave any color residue.

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Garden Stripes

As we approach the fourth of July here in the US with all the patriotic colors and symbols that accompany it I began thinking about how these are translated into gardens. Stars, stripes, plus the colors of red, white and blue can fill a garden with tons of celebration. As I researched these items I was drawn more and more to the idea of just stripes in the garden. Focusing on stripes allows us to celebrate a clean and simple pattern year-round.

Below are some of my favorite garden stripe images. You can find a larger collection on my Pinterest Board.  Has your garden earned it’s stripes?

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Plant & Ground Shadows

Having good contrast on a landscape plan makes it easier to read. One way to add contrast is to include shadows on plants (and objects).  Shadows not only make your drawing easier to read, but they also add depth.

There are two types of shadows:

  1. PLANT SHADOWS: Those on the plant itself
  2. GROUND SHADOWS: Those on the ground (being cast by the plant)

Some guidelines I follow for shadows:

  • Keep them all on the same side of the plant/object.
  • I typically keep them to the bottom right or bottom left. Some of you may prefer to have them go to the top right or top left depending on where you live in the world. Even though I'm in the northern hemisphere where the sun is typically to the south I was taught to place the shadows to the bottom right or bottom left otherwise the plants looked like they were falling off the page. I still do that out of habit. Whatever you choose, just be consistent.
  • When I'm creating a black and white drawing I only include the ground shadows, but when my plants are in color, I include shadows on both the plant and ground. 
  • On black and white drawings I typically use a gray chisel marker and swoop across once.
  • On color drawings (both marker and pencil) I use the same color for the shadows that I originally used to render it.  If it's marker, I allow the first application of color to dry, then reapply the same color for the shadow on the plant.  For pencil, I render it, then reapply the same color for the plant shadow by pressing slightly harder.
  • Don't forget to add shadows to your hardscape elements including fences, tables and chairs, walls, stairs, etc.

For a handout of the image above, just click here for a .pdf. 

Here are some additional resources:



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Marker Swatch Sheets

In the last few weeks I've received several questions about how to choose colors when rendering a landscape plan in marker. In response to your excellent inquiries I've shared my own guidelines and steps below, plus created three marker color combinations that I've seen my students use or I've tried myself. You can click here to download the entire marker swatch set from this post, plus a longer list of suggested marker colors.

The examples I've given are using Prismacolor markers, but there are many options. Some of my students use Copic (which they love) and I've also used Chartpack when I don't want streaks (Chartpack does have a strong chemical smell though, so use these sparingly when in an enclosed space).  I've included a suggested list of colors for both Prismacolor and Copic in the downloadable .pdf mentioned above (Big thanks to one of my students, Heather, for sharing her Copic list).

When using marker you can get very detailed (by using a large selection of colors) or keep it simple (by limiting color choices).  I tend to stick to the simple side. I am a pen and ink artist, so use marker to simply give color to my ink drawings. I like to pick 5-7 colors that look great together, then only use those on the entire plan. 

Here are some overriding guidelines I follow regarding markers:

  • Use the lightest markers possible. The darker ones don't allow you to add detail or shadows.They are also less forgiving.
  • Don't buy sets of markers. Only buy individual ones. Sets will have many markers that you won't be able to use because they are too dark.Though individual markers cost more than buying a set, you will actually spend less hand picking ones that work best for you.  If you purchase a set, then realize you can't use most of them, you'll end up buying the individual ones anyway.
  • Limit yourself to 5-7 colors on a plan.  If you pick more than 10 colors your rendering will look cluttered and unfocused. Hopefully your original design is also focused, which will translate into cohesive color marker choices.
  • Make a swatch sheet to test your markers to make sure they look good as a group.
  • Once you have a color group you like, figure out what colors will be used for which parts on the plan (I explain my process for choosing colors below). 
  • I typically don't render tree canopies if they overlap a planting below it.  
  • You can add shadows on the plant with the same color you already used. For instance, I will render a shrub in green, let it dry, then add the exact same color on one side for the shadow.
  • For ground shadows you can use a  warm or cool gray at 20-30%.  Test this to see what works best with your color group.
  • Some markers leave streaks, so to keep your plan uniform, keep these streaks all in the same direction. I typically use a 45 degree angle. It's amazing what an impact this makes.The examples I've given in this post are not necessarily the neatest renderings, but because I keep the strokes consistent, they seem to work.  Newer markers will leave less streaks.  Also, if you work quickly, there will be less streaks.
  • Did I say to stick with lighter colors?!

Here are some steps I go through to pick colors:

1. Choose a lawn color first. I choose the lightest green possible. With Prismacolor markers these tend to be: chartreuse, lime peel, spring green or mint cream.

2. Choose 2-3 greens for shrubs. These should look nice with the lawn color you've already picked. Make a swatch sheet (I've included one in the swatch set you can download) and test them on the type of paper you'll be using. I tend to put warm greens together or cool greens together.  I might use one green for the evergreens and another for the deciduous plants, plus another for perennials (unless you prefer a brighter color for this, see #3). I never choose a different color for each cultivar.  It gets too cluttered.  As I mentioned above, I typically don't render tree canopies if they overlap plantings below.

3. Choose an accent color to use for the main flower colors you've chosen in your design. These are typically non-greens: blue, purple, pink, orange, yellow, red. You can use these accent colors on shrubs or perennials to show what colors you've included in your design.  Again, limit these to 1-3 additional colors. Your original planting design should also be focused to reflect this.  Make sure these accent colors work with the original set of greens you've chosen. If your accent color is white, you can leave that plant uncolored with a gray shadow or simply render it green.

4. Choose your hardscape color(s).  Are you using a warm brick or cool limestone?  Choose your color accordingly and again, make sure it works with the other colors you've already chosen.  You can add more tones to your hardscape color by letting it dry, then reapplying the same color over it to create a pattern or accentuate a texture (I did this with the square patio pattern in my examples). 

As previously mentioned, I've included the examples above, a suggested marker list, plus the swatch sheet below in a downloadable .pdf that you can access by clicking here.  An additional resource is a past post I wrote on rendering a plant symbol in markerIf you have other marker brands or colors you enjoy using, please share in the comments. I hope you enjoy experimenting with marker!

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Our Irish Wanderings

Ireland truly is a magical place. We've been back in the states about a week now, but our hearts still long for the rolling hills, enchanting woodlands, historic gardens and gracious people.  I was fortunate to have spent eleven days there with twenty amazing students and a fellow instructor who inspired us with her previous island visits.  

A highlight was a service project we did for Belvedere House and Gardens in Mullingar.  We had the opportunity to install a perennial border in an established Victorian garden...a memory that we will cherish forever.  We are so thankful to the staff for supporting us.

The images above show me at the upper lake in Glendalough, then our entire group after installing the perennial border, and finally the beautiful summer home at Belvedere.  Below are additional photos I took of our wanderings in Ireland.  Oh, and for additional photos please visit my Instagram page here.


1, 2, 3, 4 & 6 | Belvedere House and Gardens, Co. Westmeath

5 | A sketch I created on the long flight across the Atlantic

7 & 8 | Bloomfield House, Co. Westmeath

9 & 10 | Powerscourt Estate, Co. Wicklow

11 | Irish National Stud, Co. Kildare

12 | Primula we saw blooming everywhere

13, 14 & 15 | Malahide Castle and Gardens, Co. Dublin

16, 17 & 18 | National Botanic Gardens, Co. Dublin

I want to thank those of you who live in Ireland and wrote me kind notes while we traveled. I wish we could have visited all that you suggested, but maybe that means we need to plan another trip! 

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And Off to Ireland We Go

In just a couple of days I'm heading to Ireland with a fellow instructor and twenty excited students. This will be my first trip there and I'm over-the-top thrilled for this opportunity. We've been preparing all semester in a pre-trip Ireland course learning about their gardens, food, history, flora, fauna plus a multitude of Irish topics. Because of this you may not hear from me for a couple of weeks, but I will be posting daily on Instagram and periodically on Facebook and TwitterFeel free to visit me in those locations.

Some of the gardens we'll be exploring include:

Belvedere House Gardens & Park

Irish National Stud's Japanese Gardens

Powerscourt Estate

National Botanic Gardens of Ireland

I look forward to sharing photos and stories with you when I return.  Happy spring!

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Draw Your Plants: Worksheet

A great way to learn plants is to actually draw them. Taking the time to put pencil to paper allows you to closely study the shape of leaves, the detail of flowers and the overall structure of a plant. What a great way to be creative and learn in the process.

You can start a sketchbook for your collection of plant drawings or keep a binder of the worksheets below. Click on the image to download a .pdf, then start drawing and enjoy the process of learning your plants! The .pdf includes three sheets: one in color, one in black and white, plus an example like the one below.

To learn more about drawing your plants I've included two links to past posts on this subject. The first includes some examples of plant illustrations and the second is a video of me drawing one. Happy drawing!



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Garden Triangles

I enjoy connecting patterns seen in fashion to garden design, so when my daughter purchased a pair of socks covered in triangles I began my search for the same shape in gardens. Below is a sprinkling of images that have beautifully incorporated the triangle into the landscape. Can you find all the triangles below? If you'd like to see more examples, please visit my Pinterest board

Images via: 1. Pinterest (original source unknown) | 2. Planters Garden | 3. DIY Crafts You | 4. In the Family Lawn Care | 5. Back Bay Pottery | 6. Landezine | 7. Chiot's Run | 8. Cowparsley

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