Build Your Own Garden

Garden Planning and Design

A beautiful garden takes time, effort, money and maintenance. Starting with a good garden plan can help cut down on all of those things.

A beautiful garden takes time, effort, money and maintenance. Starting with a good garden plan can help cut down on all of those things. Thinking about your yard or garden before getting to work can create a unified area that accents your home and provides years of enjoyment.

Consider the factors that will affect how your garden will grow — sunlight, shade, wind, drainage, access to water, foot traffic patterns — and the balance between lawn, shrubs, flowers and vegetables. A landscape analysis that considers these and other factors is an important first step in garden planning.


Start With A Map

Before you know what you want, you need to figure out what you have. Start by drawing a map of your yard with existing trees, shrubs, slopes, patios and whatever else is out there. The map can be as formal (a scale version on graph paper) or casual as your need for detail dictates, but the more accurate it is, the more thorough your garden plan will be.

Make note of the factors noted above that influence the kind of plantings that will follow. Locate areas with full sun and partial shade. Indicate places that are sheltered from the wind and where the best soil is. Also note the paths people take to get from one place to another. These might be actual paths of brick or stone, or just the routes that commonly get used. Are there places the kids like to play or the dogs use? And consider the viewing angles when placing plant groups and gardens. Where will people be when they are admiring your work?

Water sources are another important detail to add to the map, whether that means underground sprinklers or simply a spigot. Elevations are also important. Does the land slope towards its borders or rise in the center? Generally, you’ll want drainage to move away from your home, not toward it.


Consider What You Want

After you’ve mapped out the yard and have a thorough understanding of what’s out there, it’s time to figure out what you want. There are a lot of ways to start thinking about your garden plans. One way is to walk around your neighborhood and take note of what you like and don’t like. Or peruse gardening books, magazines or apps. Take a field trip to your local garden store and ask a lot of questions, particularly about what plants are best suited to your area.

Design your garden around a theme. Do you want a Japanese tea garden, a butterfly garden, an organic vegetable garden, or simply a landscape to sit and relax in? Will your family want a lawn to play catch on? An outdoor room to host dinner parties in? Something low maintenance, or a place to spend a lot of time playing with plants?


Put the Map And Your Dreams Together

Now that you have a map of what’s already in the yard and an idea of what you want, it’s time to put the two together. Reevaluate your garden dreams based on your budget and the types of plants that can grow in your region. A total revamp of the yard might be prohibitively expensive; perhaps some perennial flower borders might be more practical. Likewise planning for ferns and redwoods in Arizona just doesn’t make sense. Surf the web, ask question or check with the Cooperative Extension Service in your area about what plants grow best and require the least amount of water and maintenance.

Using your original map, draw where you’d like to see new features. A veggie garden instead of lawn? Flowerbeds along the edges of a walkway? Maybe even a water feature, say a fountain or reflecting pool, in the shade of a large tree. Think about what each new feature needs (for example, a vegetable garden requires lots of sun, good soil and frequent watering) and decide whether it will work in your place of choice.

Consider the placement of paths. Frequently traveled areas may need a wide, direct path. Less traveled routes can be no wider than a foot-path and can comfortably meander from destination to destination. Choose a surface — pavers, gravel or bark– that matches your home and yard and is affordable.

If there is a nook out of view — from both you and the neighbors — it might be the perfect spot to tuck away a compost pile or in which to nestle a small shed.

Use shrubs to screen for privacy or block off unsightly parts of the yard (like the compost). Or plan for a privacy fence.


Choosing Plants

There are several things to consider when picking out plants. Budget, ease of care, compatibility with neighboring plants, aesthetics and size all come into play in garden design.

When choosing trees and shrubs, consider their height and width at maturity. A sapling takes up a lot less room than a full-grown tree. Not only do trees need adequate space and resources, they can be damaging to houses and sidewalks if planted too close. Large trees and shrubs can shade out other plants, so carefully decide the size and location suitable to your plan.

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