Landscape Architecture Terms

The Landscape Architecture industry has a language of its own, and many terms may be unfamiliar to you. Don’t worry! This is where I am here to help you. As your Landscape Architect, I will answer any questions, explain all the terminology, and take however much time we need so you fully understand the process. Contacting me is the first step.


The science and management of land, especially rural, agricultural land.

Air Rights

A type of easement granting permission to a constructor or developer to build over a street or structure.


Straight path in a garden, often lined with trees.

American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA)

A professional society that represents landscape architects in the United States and Canada and seeks to better the practice and understanding of landscape architecture through education, research, state registration and other programs.


The stylistic period of the late 16th and 17th centuries, theatrical, dense, energetic and often quite confused and confusing, which loves pomp, illusion and drama.

Base Plan

In landscape architecture, an essential sheet showing site boundaries and significant site features, used as a basis for subsequent plan development.


Small woody area or clump of trees, usually some distance, designed as an ornamental backdrop.

Building Codes

Regulations specifying the type of construction methods and materials that are allowable on a project.

Building Permit (construction)

An authorization issued by a government agency allowing construction of a project according to approved plans and specifications.

Built Environment

Just what it sounds like: the part of the world we live in that wasn’t given to us by nature. The man-made creation of or alterations to a specific area, including its natural resources. This is in contrast to the “natural environment.”

Bureau of Land Management (BLM)

A U.S. government agency charged with administering vast areas of public land.


Acronym for “Computer Aided (i.e., Assisted) Design and Drafting,” a digital design process in which landscape architects use computers to help produce precise drawings and details for the construction of a project.


A whimsical or grotesque ornament in the landscape, such as the giant sculptural faces in a Mannerist garden.

City Beautiful Movement

The belief, promulgated in the 1890s, that a beautiful and majestic urban environment would create a better society with an improved moral climate. It a popular social concern of the late nineteenth and early 20th centuries aimed at improving the appearance of urban areas through better planning and the addition of formal, romanticized public spaces and gardens.


The protection, improvement and use of natural resources according to principles that will assure the highest economic or social benefits for people and the environment now and in the future.

Conservation Plan

A plan for conserving or protecting various natural or manufactured resources. Such a plan is used as a management tool in making decisions regarding soil, water, vegetation, manufactured objects and other resources at a particular site.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

In landscape architecture, a study of the potential cost of site purchase, demolition and improvement in comparison to the income or other benefit to be derived from site development.

Conservation Plan

A plan for conserving or protecting various natural or manufactured resources. Such a plan is used as a management tool in making decisions regarding soil, water, vegetation, manufactured objects and other resources at a particular site.


Fancy name for a decorative greenhouse as an architectural feature in a garden.


The form of the land. Contour lines are map lines connecting points of the same ground elevation and are used to depict and measure slope and drainage. Spot elevations are points of a specific elevation.

Council of Landscape Architecture Registration Boards (CLARB)

A coordinating agency formed in 1961 for state boards that administer licensing exams and maintain records for landscape architects to practice.


The creative illustration, planning and specification of space for the greatest possible amount of harmony, utility, value and beauty.

Designed Landscape

A site that might appear to be natural but has elements and features that were planned and specified by a landscape architect. Designed landscapes include Central Park in New York to the siting of buildings.


One of the forgotten disciplines of landscape architecture that allows water to escape from where it’s not wanted or to be captured for reuse. The running off of water from a land surface or subsurface, such as through sewers or natural means.


The legal grant of right-of-use to an area of designated private property.


A branch of biology dealing with the relationship between living things and their environment.

English Garden

The landscape style, begun in England, that attempted to simulate the natural, untamed landscape, as opposed to the French Garden.

Environmental Design Professions

Landscape architecture, (civil) engineering, urban planning and architecture. Agronomy is also often included in this group.

Environmental Impact

The change to an area’s natural resources, including animal and plant life, resulting from use by man. Some projects may require conducting of an “environmental impact study” before development can proceed.

Environmental Inventory

Record of an area’s natural and man-made resources, including vegetation, animal life, geological characteristics and mankind’s presence in such forms as housing, highways and even hazardous wastes.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

A U.S. government agency responsible for developing and enforcing regulations that guide the use of land and natural resources.


The sculptural training of a tree or vine, making artificial what was natural.


The category of oddments and structures in an English garden meant as punctuation in the general field of green, such as a pergola, fountain or a grotto.


An extravagant or outlandish construction, meant either only for garden decor or serving some function other than the one for which it appears to be made, such as a faux ruined castle that actually serves to hide the electrical machinery for the garden’s lighting.

Forest Service

An agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, primarily responsible for planning and overseeing the use of national forest lands by private, commercial and government users.

French Garden

The generic name for the highly stylized landscaping style of the French aristocracy in the 17th and 18th centuries, typified by the gardens at Versailles.


An outbuilding in a garden, such as a bandstand, usually round or octagonal.


The slope of a plot of land. Grading is the mechanical process of moving earth changing the degree of rise or descent of the land in order to establish good drainage and otherwise suit the intent of a landscape design.


An undeveloped natural area in an urban setting, especially one set aside through planning and design. A strip of unspoiled, often treed, agricultural or other outlying land used to separate or ring urban areas.


A man-made cavern, often a setting for religious or spiritual statuary.

Ground Water

Rain and snow water accumulated in the earth’s porous rock.


A ditch used as a wall or fence between tracts of land and, therefore, hidden from view.


All the non-organic, non-growing parts of a garden landscape, including pavement, buildings, walls, canals, etc. Elements added to a natural landscape, such as paving stones, gravel, walkways, irrigation systems, roads, retaining walls, sculpture, street amenities, fountains, and other mechanical features.

Historic Preservation

This landscape architecture specialization has evolved to encompass maintenance of a site in its present condition; conservation of a site as part of a larger area of historic importance; restoration of a site to a given date or quality; renovation of a site for ongoing use; and interpretation of a vanished landscape.

Hortus Conclusus

Latin for “enclosed garden,” one of two medieval styles of garden, used primarily as a place of meditation.

Hortus Deliciarum

Latin for “garden of delights,” the medieval term for a pleasure garden, often seen as a simulacrum of Eden.

Housing and Urban Development, Department of (HUD)

Federal agency responsible for producing and managing many federally-funded public service programs, especially those affecting housing and public spaces.

International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA)

A multinational organization of landscape architects whose purpose is the promotion of landscape design and planning.


A kind of broderie in which the manicured plants make a symbolic design, such as a monogram.


The large tract of land, usually extending to a horizon line, as seen from a specific point of view. Narrowly defined, the amount of countryside and/or city that can be taken in at a glance. Also, an area of land or water taken in the aggregate.

Landscape Architect

A professional who designs, plans, and manages outdoor spaces ranging from entire ecosystems to residential sites and whose media include natural and built elements; also referred to as a designer, planner, consultant. Not to be confused with landscapers, landscape contractors or nurserymen.

Landscape Architecture

The science and art of design, planning, management and stewardship of the land. Landscape architecture involves natural and built elements, cultural and scientific knowledge, and concern for resource conservation to the end that the resulting environment serves a useful and enjoyable purpose. Successful landscape architecture maximizes use of the land, adds value to a project and minimizes costs, all with minimum disruption to nature.

Landscape Architecture Registration

In the United States, a certification of individuals entitled to use the term “landscape architect” or to practice landscape architecture or both, by means of examination and required degree and experience criteria.

Landscape Contractor

A trained builder or installer of landscapes, retained to implement the plans of landscape architects.

Land Trust

A conservation group that maintains a revolving fund for quickly buying land that is in danger of being developed inappropriately or without regard to proper environmental considerations.

Land Use

Any designated use or activity on a piece of land.

Manipulation of Space

In landscape architecture, the organization of areas of land for specific aesthetic or functional purposes. This can range from creating small backyard patios to huge urban plazas.


The sliver of time between the Renaissance and the Baroque when artists couldn’t quite make up their minds what to do and got a little silly.

Master Plan

A preliminary plan showing proposed ultimate site development. Master plans often comprise site work that must be executed in phases over a long time and are thus subject to drastic modification.


In landscape, a form of hedge trimmed to form a labyrinth for visitors to get lost in or hide in.

Multiple Use

Harmonious use of the land for more than one purpose; not necessarily the combination of uses that will yield the highest economic return, e.g., a mix of residential and commercial developments in the same area.

National Park

A large, public park, often highly scenic and isolated belonging to and operated by the federal government.

National Park Service (NPS)

An agency of the U.S. Department of the Interior charged with the planning and administration of all parks and monuments in the federal park system. The NPS is often referred to as the largest single employer of landscape architects in the United States.

Natural Resources

The elements of supply inherent to an area that can be used to satisfy human needs, including air, soil, water, native vegetation, minerals and wildlife.


The style era between the Rococo and the Romantic. It values order and rationality and a respect for all things of the Roman and Greek classical past.

New Town

A 19th- and 20th-century planned community traditionally featuring careful mixes of housing, open space, commercial activity and recreation. Examples include Reston, Va., and Columbia, Md., in the United States, and Harlow and Stevenage in Great Britain.

Open Space

A relatively clear or forested area left untouched in or near a city. It may be active open space, such as a baseball field, or passive open space, such as an area of natural woodland.


A large greenhouse building originally meant to house orange trees in a cold climate.


A road laid through a garden or park-like landscape, usually with median and roadside plantings.


A planting bed in a formal garden, usually square or rectangular, containing an ornamental design made with low, closely clipped hedges, colored gravel and sometimes flowers.

Patte de oie

Three or five paths or allees that spread outward from a single point.


A foliage-covered walkway.


A term common in the late 18th century to describe a rustic view, usually containing some antique ruins, meant to spur thoughts of mutability.

Planned Unit Development (PUD)
In zoning, a housing or commercial development composed of individual units that are regulated as a whole.


The illustration and description of problem-statements and large-scale design solutions that affect extensive areas of land; the anticipation of problems that will be encountered as human use and development of land continues.


Any attempt to restore to beneficial use land that has lost its fertility and stability; most often applies to mining reclamation, such as the restoration of strip mines and quarries.


Baroque gone soft. The final stage of Baroque, when its forms have become merely decorative.


The predominant cultural movement of the early 19th century, valuing emotion, exoticism, color and extravagance.

Scenic Easement

A legal means of protecting beautiful views and associated aesthetic quality along a site by restricting change in existing features without government approval.

Site Plan

A dimensioned drawing indicating the form of an existing area and the physical objects existing in it and those to be built or installed upon it.


The greener parts of landscape design, the part requiring watering, weeding and mowing. The natural elements with which landscape architects work, such as plant materials and the soil itself.


A modern word describing any process that does not use up more of something than it is possible to gain in return.


Trees or bushes trimmed into ornamental shapes. In French gardens, they were usually trimmed into geometric shapes; in modern gardens, often cut into cute bunnies or puppy dogs.


The lay of the land, particularly its slope and drainage patterns; the science of drawing maps and charts or otherwise representing the surface features of a region or site, including its natural and man-made features.


Narrowly defined, an extended view or prospect from a site which, many times, is as important as or more important than the site itself.


A distant view or prospect, especially one seen through some opening.


The use of gravel in place of grass to obviate constant watering.

Zen Garden

A particular Japanese garden style, usually found in Zen Buddhist temples, often made from only raked white sand and boulders, creating a “mindscape” meant to aid meditation.


A legal form of land-use control and building regulations usually exercised by a municipal authority; usually involves setting aside of distinct land areas for specific purposes, such as commercial, educational or residential development.

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