Why do I need a design?
If you think about your garden as a trip, your design itself is the map on how to get there. Without a map you are liable to end getting lost, or somewhere you didn’t want to be. The idea behind the design is to develop a structure to your concepts that you can work with before actually putting spade to ground. This helps to save money and problems.
What do I need to make a design?
The most important tools you need for creating a design are your imagination, some basic knowledge of plants, paper and a pencil. The quality or level of design you create will improve with knowledge and practice.
How do I create a design?
Start with knowing your area. What are the dimensions? What services are nearby? What is the soil like? What other plants are already in the area? Is it a sunny or shady area? What are your needs and wants?
If you are doing a complete design you should measure your entire property, plot the property lines, and any structures, including your house, garage, sheds, etc.. The house should include measurements of where the windows are and their sizes, as well as distance off the ground. Don’t forget where the taps are located, as well as other service entries, like air conditioners, electrical plugs, gas meter, and other items.
Call before you plant or dig. Know where your underground services are, this includes phone, electrical, gas, water and irrigation pipes, cable and any other foreseeable underground surprise.
The number to call before you dig in Ontario is 1-800-400-2255.
This knowledge helps you to determine what type of conditions you have and what plants will grow there. If you have an acidic soil you will need to either cater to that by planting acid loving plants, or change the soil by adding lime to raise the ph. A sandy soil has a lot of drainage, where a heavy clay soil does not. Plan to either plant within the soil base, or plan to change that soil base to what you want.
What are the light conditions? This is a REALLY important question that a lot of people don’t know. When does the area get sun? Is the area generally shady or not? This is important to know what will grow in the area. It is easy to change to soil conditions but not so easy to change the light conditions.
Needs and Wants
Needs and wants are difficult to differentiate between, but it is really important to do so, because you can have all of your wants, and not any of your needs, and you will be dissatisfied with your garden. Needs are things that you cannot do without. This might include a certain size of walkway or stepping stone for access to parts of your property. It may include steps or a ramp to go down a steep area of your garden. You might need a covered area to sit under, or a herb garden because you cook with fresh herbs all the time. Basically a need is the most important of all wants. Qualify the level of your wants so that your needs are fulfilled.
The Concept Plan.
The concept plan is a very simple sketch that just helps you to determine where things are going to go. Take your list of needs and make sure that you have them included, take special notes to include any services that may be needed to add, such as water, power, easements, or walkways. This sketch does not have to be exactly to scale, but it should reasonably represent everything that is going to be included in blocked out areas.
Use a piece of graph paper so that it is easy to have a scale drawing. The standard graph paper is ¼ x ¼ inch paper, so ¼” would normally represent 1’. Start by taking your measurements and plotting your property lines and your house. Include any tangibles that exist and are not being moved.
The next step is to draw in the bones of your design, which are the anchors. These will include things such as patios, walkways, ponds, new structures, and trees, large evergreens and large shrubs that are focal points. The plants are going to be seen year round so you want them spaced properly and in places where they will be seen from different vantage points.
The next step will be to add in the midsize shrubs and evergreens, and larger perennials. Remember to keep them grouped so that they flow. Ideally groupings should be in odd numbers, of threes or fives.
Add in the smaller shrubs and evergreens, smaller perennials and annuals at the end. Leave room for them to grow. When you draw them in the first time use circles first, then change them to symbols later. The plants should be drawn in at mature size. You do not want an overcrowded garden.
A focal point is something that creates interest and brings ones eye into the garden. It is an exploration point. Examples of focal points would include an ornamental tree, a statue or water feature, or another special something that brings your eye to it. You do not want too many focal points or the whole garden becomes too busy and people don’t know where to look.
Keep everything to scale. This means that everything should be appropriate to the property itself. A very large house with a tiny garden plot is out of scale. Or a tall house that doesn’t have any tall plants to accompany the stature of the house would also be out of scale. Try and keep away from dwarfing your house with overly large trees unless they fit the property and house themselves as well.
Structures are not a must in all gardens, however they do add a special something to your garden. They give you the opportunity to personalize your garden even further with objects that are uniquely yours. In addition to this they are great for focal points. Remember to keep them to scale with reference to the rest of your garden and property.
Texture is a very important part of the garden design. Think of a garden design that has all the same type of leaf in it. Pretty Boring. Mix it up with different leaf textures and flowers as well. Ideally you want the whole garden to be interesting. Hostas and ferns look great together, so do heucheras and geraniums. Grasses are a wonderful different texture and they can be used in different ways than just as a backdrop. The leaf texture is so important because while flowers fade and come and go, the leaves persist all year.
Colour is really important because it brings out qualities in plants grouped together. The choice of colours will reflect the mood of your garden. Cool colours such as blue and green will make the garden seem calm, while hot colours like red and orange will make the garden seem more lively. Stay away from keeping the same colour only throughout the entire garden. Repeat the same colour intermittently throughout the space and the garden will seem unified.
Keep in mind, your garden is not just a garden in the spring and summer, there is fall and winter interest as well. A pond in the middle of winter is really amazing to look at. The same with plants, pick them with the idea of having multiple seasonal interests. Some plants will give you flowering in the spring and berries in the summer and fall. Many plants are beautiful all growing season and turn red and orange in the fall. Many dogwoods have interesting bark for winter interest as well.
Common Mistakes to avoid
Zigzagging garden beds. Keep your garden beds curved and flowing. Avoid beds that are overly narrow. They are too small to plant anything and will not work well.
Planting Singles. Do not plant one of everything. This is going to be a hodgepodge of plants without unity. Repeat textures and colours and shapes. Group like plants in groups of threes or fives.
Hard To Maintain Plants. Pick plants that make sense with regards to maintenance. If you want an easy to maintain garden, stay with plants that do not have to be trimmed often.
Right Size for the Right Place. If you want a plant that grows only a certain size and you do not want to keep trimming it, buy the plant that fits that area. Hostas are a great example of plants that will grow to a certain size and stop. If you want a hosta that only grows 16” around, buy that hosta, don’t buy a hosta that grows 36” around and continually divide it every year.
Consider the area. While we might like our house to stand out and be appreciated, we don’t want to look too out of place. If your neighbours all have lawn, consider a swath in your area as well, even if you want it to have mostly garden. It helps to tie in the areas.