How to Approach Functional Landscape Design
functional landscape design

Table of Contents

Backyard Basics

It’s never too early to start planning your outdoor summer “staycation”. Regardless of the size or shape of your outdoor space, when it comes to creating a functional landscape design, the possibilities are endless. 

Generally speaking, the ideal outdoor living space should balance functionality, aesthetics, and horticulture. But, what is functional landscape design? Let’s start at the beginning. Functional landscape design is the practice of creating an outdoor space, in which all of its components work together as one cohesive unit, to meet your specific needs. Depending on your lifestyle and hobbies, you may choose to include a pool, gazebo, outdoor kitchen, or dining area in your home’s design. 

Keep in mind, a landscape renovation can be a big investment, in terms of time, money, and energy. It is important to have a good understanding of what you want to get out of your project, in order to plan accordingly and set yourself up for success. Throughout this article, we will break down the entire process from start to finish, to help you create the functional landscape design that is right for you. 

The Landscape Design Process

The first question you should ask yourself is, “What am I looking to accomplish through my design?” Are you looking for a simple backyard refresh or a full-blown makeover? Will you be working with your current space, or will you require digging or expanding? Next, you should take into account some general factors, such as your budget and timeline. It is extremely important to note that DIY yard renovations can be fun and rewarding, but, full disclosure: the process can be very daunting for anyone who does not have prior landscaping experience. That being said, it is always recommended to hire a professional with years of experience who will ensure the job gets done right the first time, saving you time, money, and hassle. Now that you are ready to move out of the preliminary phase and into the nitty-gritty details of your landscape design, let’s get into it. 

Landscape Site Survey

The initial step should be performing a site survey, in order to prepare for the design work. At the very least, land levels, boundaries, and the placement of existing features need to be analyzed to accomplish an accurate design. Other important considerations include the location of gas and electrical units, the condition of your soil, drainage, and existing vegetation, climate conditions, and surrounding neighbours that could be affected. These factors will help determine if it will be difficult or even possible to accomplish your yard’s vision. For example, the temperature and the areas of your yard that receive constant shade would affect the greenery you are able to plant in that spot. Similarly, underground wiring could affect your ability to dig. 

Design Planning & Considerations

Now that the logistics are out of the way, we can get started with the fun part - designing your landscape! You can get as creative as you like here, but remember to keep in mind your budget, timeline, and the goal of your project. Here are some prompts to get you started:

Purpose of a Functional Design

What is the main purpose of your design? Are you looking to transform your space into a relaxing paradise or an entertainment hub? On a hot summer day, do you envision yourself cannonballing into a swimming pool, lounging around with a book, or firing up the grill? 


Who will be utilizing the space? Perhaps you have children and/or pets. If this is the case, you may want to consider including a large open space as a play area and avoiding flooring materials that are slip-proof or bare-foot friendly. 

Design Wants & Needs

What is a must, versus what would be nice to have? Perhaps you envision your landscape to be low-maintenance, private, or maybe even the flashiest on the street (don’t worry, we won't judge). These considerations will all influence your decision-making. For example, if you are looking for a low-maintenance yard, you may choose to go with turf, as opposed to grass. 


Are you looking to make your new landscape design work with the look of your current space or do you want to let your imagination run wild with a new theme? Are you going to stick to a neutral and earthy theme or a modern and trendy theme? Determining the aesthetic at the beginning will guide the rest of your design choices.


What is your climate like? Does your yard receive a lot of rain, wind, shade, or sunshine? These conditions can all play into your material and structural selections. For example, if you are debating between a pergola and a gazebo, a pergola would be a better option for protecting you from the sun, due to the semi-open roof, while a gazebo’s closed roof would be your best bet to protect you from the rain. 

Functional Flow

For your landscape design to be highly functional, it needs to make sense. Your activity areas should be well thought out in terms of location, aesthetics, and flow. For example, if you are considering a pool, placing a cabana change room close by would allow for a smooth transition in and out of the pool. 

Incorporate Green Space in Your Landscape

Incorporating green space has several functional, aesthetic, and structural purposes. Plants have proven health benefits, including boosting your mood and decreasing stress levels. Additionally, they have a positive impact on the environment, participating in the protection of biodiversity and improving the quality of air. Not to mention, they can be used to create privacy and safety barriers, or simply add a beautiful, natural touch to your space. 

Design Inspiration

How do I get started? There is a whole array of resources available to you that may inspire your design. Scroll through Instagram or Pinterest to spark your creativity, research landscape design projects near you, or hire a landscape designer to collaborate with you on your project. 

Action Home Services (AHS) has extensive landscape design experience, led by award-winning landscape designers. If you would like to learn more about what they can do to transform your exterior, check out their website to learn more about their services and browse their gallery and previous projects.


While permit requirements and building codes vary from city to city, some general guidelines may help you determine the next steps for your project. Generally speaking, the projects that will require permits include: building a new structure (ie; building a gazebo or cabana), projects that include moving plumbing (ie; building an outdoor kitchen), pool enclosures (ie; fences), and deck building (ie; decks and porches attached to your home). 

Why Permits Are Needed

Permits are used to ensure you are adhering to guidelines that will create boundaries for your project, which could have an impact on your neighbours and surrounding areas. Your projects need to be held to a certain standard in order to be deemed safe and acceptable. This includes zoning, fire safety, and structural standards. It is worth mentioning that these permits will also help secure you when selling your home because they will provide documentation verifying that your job was completed safely and correctly. 

Failure to obtain permits may result in your projects being delayed or brought to a full stop. It cannot be stressed enough that it is important to look into building requirements prior to construction. Failure to do so could result in partially finished, or even complete jobs, being taken apart for a proper inspection. In these cases, the extra costs will be absorbed by the client. 

How To Go About Obtaining Permits

You may decide to obtain permits on your own. This will require thorough research on the requirements outlined by your area, followed by an in-depth permit application process, which can likely be found and completed through your official city website. 

The easier, recommended approach would be to go through a landscaping company. In most cases, landscaping experts will already be familiar with different building codes, as well as the correct steps to obtain permits. AHS  has a highly qualified team with decades of experience dealing with these procedures. If you are seeking professional assistance, they are always available to help. 


While many smaller-scale landscaping projects can be performed on your own, it is always recommended to hire a professional with the experience, tools and equipment, background knowledge, and troubleshooting skills to get the job done right the first time. In many cases, DIY projects may result in further damage, accumulating further expenses for reversing the damage and redoing the project. 

Final Touches

Make your space your own with personal touches that will transform your new yard into an oasis. Once again, there are plenty of resources that exist out there to inspire you. Some common decorative pieces include outdoor lighting (ie; spotlights, string lights), greenery (ie; hanging plants, built-in planters), decorative furniture (ie; benches, outdoor dining sets), and lattices. 


Though building a functional landscape can be a daunting process at first, there are a number of resources out there that can help you achieve your perfect dreamscape. Stepping out into your yard should be a breath of fresh air, and AHS wants to help you get there.

If you enjoyed this blog, Action Home Services offers a wide range of landscaping services, from the ideation to the implementation phase, and is more than happy to guide you through it.  With decades of experience transforming homes all across Toronto and the GTA, AHS is confident they can deliver a beautiful and functional dreamscape, catered to you. What are you waiting for? Give AHS a call, and get started today!