When contemplating a garden design, I ask myself: What do I really want in my yard? What features are permanent, and what am I willing to change? How do I want to use my outdoor space? What feelings do I want to experience when I step out my door?
While we all want to gain maximum use from our yards, it’s very helpful to prioritize. Perhaps you entertain a lot, and your garden wish list includes a deck or patio, a fire pit, and a lawn for playing games. Or perhaps you are the introspective sort, and you want a garden bench under an arbor, a reflecting pool, and paths wandering through your plantings. My priorities include food and water for the birds, a secluded place from which to watch them, and a vegetable garden. Limiting yourself to three main features brings a sense of unity to your landscape.
When it comes to creating a garden plan, I prefer to use a drawing program on my computer, but any old piece of graph paper will work just as well. Years ago, my husband and I measured our property and created a garden template. If you don’t have such an item, maybe it’s time to make one. If you own your property, your closing papers might have a site plan that you can use. Otherwise, you’ll have to remember the geometry you took in high school and construct something with a tape measure and pencil.
Once you have a more-or-less scale drawing, I suggest making lots of copies; it’s easier than erasing. Now you can start drawing. Don’t worry about details… we’re looking at the big picture. Sketch in the approximate placement of your garden features. If you want a deck, should it be near the house, or across the lawn? Where do the vegetables go-hidden in back, or near the kitchen door? Do you want to see the children’s play area from the house? This stage is called making a bubble drawing, because your various desires are drawn in as an assortment of bubbles on your plan.
The next question on the list is, are you formal or informal? Do you prefer straight lines, symmetry, repetitive plantings, and classic features such as a fountain? Or do you want to emulate nature, with curves, native plants, and a tumbling waterfall? This information will determine how you form concrete plans from your bubble drawing.
If you are aiming for a natural-looking landscape, take your clues from nature. It will look less contrived if the garden mirrors the surrounding habitat. Do you live in a forest? If so, are the trees conifers, such as pine and fir, or broad-leafed oaks and maples? Perhaps you live on the plains, where the native vegetation consists of grasses and wildflowers. While you don’t need to copy every detail, your garden will feel more at home if you repeat some of the local elements in it. Perhaps that is why lawns seem so out of place in Phoenix, but totally appropriate in Kansas.
Referring to your generalized sketch, start over with the basic site plan, but this time be a bit more definite. What shape is the lawn… the planting beds… the deck? It often helps to pick a familiar form and stick with it: if the lawn is a circle, why not make the patio another circle? Continue by using arcs to define paths and fence lines. Other basic shapes include squares and rectangles, triangles, and kidney-shaped curves. Keep in mind that different shapes go best with different themes. Squares and rectangles are more formal, while triangles give a sense of energy to a yard intended for parties.
Having an underlying plan such as this will ensure that your landscape has a basic structure, even during winter when the plants are dormant. There will be a sense of purpose to your placement of plants and other garden features. Plus, I’ve found that it’s actually easier to be creative when solid boundaries are in place.