Would you like to improve the landscape design of your yard and property? Where do you start?
I’m not much of a planner and this lack of forethought is reflected in my gardening style. My flower beds are in a constant state of change depending on what new plants I acquire each season. Many are planted and moved several times before they land in a suitable spot or die. To avoid making the same mistakes that I do, let’s see what the experts have to say.
It Starts With a Plan
If you were to hire a professional landscape designer, one of the first things he/she would do is draw up a plot survey of your property, including your backyard and front yard. This is something you can easily do yourself.
- Draw a birdseye view of your property noting the placement of all the manmade features—called hardscape—such as buildings, fences, driveways, stonewalls, etc. Boulders, trees, and large shrubs combine with your hardscape to form the “bones” of your landscape.
- Using graph paper helps but you don’t have to agonize over exact measurements, a sketch that is roughly in proportion will be fine.
- Make sure to include the location of your well, septic system, or any buried utility lines. Orient your lot on the compass and note where your sunny and shady spots are.
Making a Wish List
Once you know what you’ve got you can move on to making a list of what you’d like. How do you want your garden to look? Start with a few general goals. For example:
- Do you want privacy for a patio area?
- Do you want to screen an ugly view?
- Is your top priority curb appeal/resale or a more private (patio) display?
If you already have flower beds: Note the successful plants and fill in the blanks with the colors, heights, foliage, and bloom time you need to get the desired look. This will help guide you when you are plant shopping. If you know that your garden lacks color after July 4th, you can limit your choices to later blossoming plants instead of buying more spring bloomers.
Look around your neighborhood. What gardens do you like? Colors? Plant shapes and textures? Sizes?
Be sure to make the most of what you’ve got already. Don’t try to change a dry, rocky spot into a vegetable garden. Use it for a rock garden planted with alpines and sedums instead.
What is Your Style?
Your garden should complement your home’s architectural style. Gardening is just like decorating the inside of your house, but instead of fabrics, paint, and furniture you will be using color, texture, shape, size, and placement of plants to create a mood.
- Formal: straight lines, symmetry, elegant focal points like statues & fountains, manicured lawns, pruned hedges & shrubs, color is secondary to structure and the mood is refined & serene.
- Informal: lots of curves and colors, lush growth, asymmetry, natural-shaped trees & shrubs and the mood is comfortable & relaxing.
- Natural: imitates nature, low maintenance, no lawn, blends with the surroundings whether wildflower, woodland, meadow, prairie, or bog. The mood can reflect untamed chaos or just energetic abundance.
Assessing Your Needs
If you have young children or grandchildren you’ll need areas where they can play. Same for pets. Look to incorporate “bulletproof” plants that can take some abuse.
Do you need a welcoming entry garden that directs visitors to your door?
Do you have a tiny lot?
There are tricks you can use to make it seem larger such as lining up paths, gates, and trees to create sight lines that allow the view to flow from one area into another.
Would you like a getaway spot complete with a bench where you can sit and enjoy your yard from a different point of view?
Hardscape, Then Planting
It is tempting to start your design with the plants but it is best to tend to your hardscape first. Once that is in place you can start by planting any trees or shrubs you want to add. Begin from the house and work out. Remember to plan for the mature size of the trees and shrubs to avoid having to move them later when they outgrow their space. Deciduous shrubs planted in front of evergreens will change the look seasonally. Don’t forget to pick some plants for winter interest.
Layout potential flowerbeds with a hose or rope to get the shape you want. A few gentle sweeps look more natural than many sharp curves.
Borders are usually planted against a wall, fence, or hedge and are viewed from one side only.
Beds present more of a challenge since they can be seen from all sides. Wide beds and borders need a path or stepping stones to allow you to tend the plants without compacting the soil or trampling anything.
Define the edges where your flower garden meets the lawn. A physical barrier made from metal,vinyl, granite, or brick will help to keep grass from encroaching into the beds. Plants in the foreground can be left to spill over this edging, softening the look.
Layer plants according to height. Repeat drifts of similar plants throughout the garden to give it rhythm. Large blocks of one plant will make the most impact when viewed from a distance rather than the polka dot look of many different plants in one area. To combine plants effectively, take into consideration their size, shape, leaf color and texture, flower color, and visual weight. Loose and open or heavy and dense?
Bold leaved plants like hosta combine well with finely textured ones like astilbe. Blue-green, chartreuse, bronze, burgundy, and silver-leaved plants liven up the garden even when they are not in bloom.
Remember that hot colors appear to advance while cool colors recede into the background. White can separate clashing colors and will brighten up a shady spot.
Armed with a realistic master plan, you can spread out the work and expense over several years. Take one step at a time to keep your project from becoming overwhelming. Remember this is supposed to be fun! Small steady improvements over the years can transform your yard into the paradise you envision.