Landscape architecture symbols

Updated: May 20

A symbol is a graphic sign corresponding and representing a certain object, content, value. In architecture, a symbol is the graphic method through which the architect provides a legible and comprehensible drawing in all its parts.

When we draw a garden, there will be some neat and geometric lines that need to be the starting point because they give the boundaries, solid and built, within which we need to design and plan the space – we may think of the house, some existing walls, doors or a fence. If existing, we may need to note down the location of paths and paving areas that will also be made of solid and sharp lines in most cases.

Vegetation instead is often represented with softer and more sinuous lines. The symbols we use are usually based on a simple circle. If we take a tree symbol, we start from the basic circular shape describing the canopy with a smaller circle inside - the trunk. We can then trace sinuously and add more texture and details giving additional info about the particular type of tree, its mass and also its shade.

Drawing natural elements may seem very hard, in fact nature displays millions of intricate details, but with time hand-sketching because smoother and easier and anyone can find their own style even without going too much into detail, as said drawing a tree can be as simple as starting with a circle. Let’s go deeper in the subject and let’s see together a few easy tricks to be able to draw a garden in the right way or at least to be able to interpret a drawing correctly.

1. The first rule is to differentiate the symbol of an existing tree or plant – drawing the trunk with a small dot or circle – from a new, proposed tree – drawing the trunk as a +.

2. Another differentiation to be made is between deciduous trees – those that lose leaves in winter – from evergreen ones. The first ones are usually represented with a simple symbol within the circle and giving some hints of trunk and canopy- leaves. Evergreen trees and shrubs are instead given more emphasis on the tree crown or with lines converging to the centre.

3. Also the thickness of the pen or pencil is very important, it describes the vicinity of an object from the viewer or its size. For example in plan, a tall tree will need to be drawn with a thicker line than the groundcovers planted under it; the house’s walls will need to stand out and look solid elements, while the texture and finish of paving should be drawn very thinly in order to give the feeling of what materials have been used without overwhelming the drawing and catching the attention more than necessary. Every element, if drawn correctly and with the right weight, contributes to a balanced illustration.

4. A good trick I recommend is to start a drawing with the natural objects that often cover sharp and hard edges with their natural and soft forms. Once natural elements are sketched, it’s then time to mark harder lines with the help of a ruler.

5. When we have big groups of the same plant, the right way to sketch them is to unify the multiple circles and create a unified mass, giving the impression of a group. In the reality, shrubs grow one towards another forming masses, intricating branches and slightly overlapping one another.

6. Colour is another important element that come to aid when we want to present the drawing to the client too, it gives more detail, depth and texture helping communicating the design intention.

7. In landscape architecture then, we get to the latest phase in which the drawing needs to be more technical, the symbols should become simple again and we introduce alphanumeric codes that help identify materials and botanical species easily, while constructing the garden. Back to simple circle is a good option to draw technical drawings.