Designing your outdoor space from scratch can be intimidating, even for seasoned gardeners, and even more so for those new to gardening.
However, here’s the good news: this is your opportunity to create the garden of your dreams, and it’s a chance worth seizing, regardless of your budget and climate. Even better news: if you’re in the early stages of planning your new landscape, winter is an excellent time to begin.
The best part? We’re here to assist you every step of the way. Here are some of the steps that will help you kickstart your journey:
Step 1: Establish Your Goals
Creating an attractive and functional landscape involves more than just selecting the right plants. Your garden should also serve your practical needs and lifestyle. Here are some important considerations to keep in mind when planning your garden:
Think about how you’ll use your outdoor space and how that will influence your garden plan. If you entertain frequently, ensure you have a spacious patio or deck that can accommodate the size of your table and chairs for gatherings.
For those seeking a peaceful retreat, focus on creating shade and privacy through well-placed plants or structures.
If you plan to grow fruits and vegetables, allocate a sunny area for your garden as most edibles require full sun. Having easy access to irrigation is also important for successful food gardening.
If you’re a plant enthusiast, consider deep beds that are easily accessible for maintenance to showcase your plant collection.
Evaluate your storage needs for tools, equipment, and other items. If you anticipate needing a storage shed, plan for it early to avoid obstacles like hedges, perennial borders, or arbors later on.
Pets and Children
If you have pets, consider space for a dog run. For young children, design play areas near seating areas and windows for easy supervision. Installing a fence with gates is a priority to ensure safety and prevent wandering.
While sunlight accelerates composting, you may not want to dedicate prime garden space to compost bins.
Find a compromise by selecting an area that receives partial sun and isn’t directly visible. You can landscape around it with shrubs or trellis panels for a more pleasing appearance.
Observe how water drains on your property and ensure it doesn’t collect near the house foundation after rain. Correct any grading issues before adding perimeter beds and foundation plantings.
Be cautious about altering the property’s topography to avoid significant changes in drainage patterns that may require additional accommodations for runoff.
Step 2: Decide on Which Style You Prefer
Creating a cohesive garden design involves harmonizing hardscaping elements, which are the built components of your landscape. For that, you want to consider the following:
Consistency with House Style
Your garden should complement your home’s style, which is the main focal point of your landscape. For example:
Traditional homes with wooden siding and shutters pair well with curvy borders, picket fences, and arbors.
Contemporary houses with sleek stucco benefit from square-cut flagstone, clipped hedges, and straight beds with right angles.
Limit the variety of building materials to maintain visual harmony. Mixing too many materials, such as black wrought iron, white picket fencing, and split-rail fencing in a small area, can appear disjointed.
The same applies to using multiple paving materials like concrete pavers, random flagstone, and pea gravel within the same garden section.
Scale and Proportions
Integrate your house and landscape by considering scale and proportions when selecting trees and shrubs for foundation plantings. Tailor your choices to:
- Broad, horizontally branched trees for bungalows.
- Tall, vertical plants, especially at corners, complement two-story homes.
Step 3: Think of Your Budget
Landscaping your new garden can vary in cost depending on your desires. Here are some rough budget guidelines:
Consider allocating approximately $1,000 worth of development for each year you plan to stay in your house. For example, if you expect to reside there for 10 years, budgeting around $10,000 can provide a reasonable return on your investment.
A more comprehensive budget typically falls within the range of five to ten percent of your house’s value. This budget should cover both labor and materials for your landscaping projects.
Time and Maintenance
Factor in your time availability and maintenance preferences. For instance, if you spend holidays and summer weekends at a cottage, it might be more practical to opt for low-maintenance landscaping options like shrub borders with groundcovers instead of a large perennial garden.
Once you’ve determined your budget, prioritize your landscaping goals and create one-, three-, and five-year plans. Here are some additional tips:
- Focus on hardscaping (paths, structures, grading, fencing, etc.) in the first year or two to take advantage of easy access, which can help reduce labor costs.
- If you plan to plant new trees, aim to do so within the first year or two to allow them to establish themselves.
Step 4: Come Up with a Rough Plan
Designing your garden effectively involves careful planning and experimentation. Here’s how you can approach it:
- Take several sheets of tracing paper and place one over your sketch. Begin experimenting with the placement of key features like patios, decks, vegetable gardens, foundation plantings, and paths. Visualize how you’ll move around in the space.
- Create multiple plans, trying different approaches on each sheet of tracing paper. Experimenting on paper is more efficient than making changes on-site with materials and plants.
- Ensure paths are at least three feet (90 cm) wide to allow for comfortable movement. Consider how you’ll move from entrances to other garden areas.
- Plan turf areas with mower accessibility in mind, ensuring that turns aren’t too tight for your specific mower.
- Roughly plot out seating areas, play areas, compost bins, storage, and other unique features. Ensure each element serves a purpose.
- Every path should lead to a destination. Flower beds and other design elements should be visible and accessible for maintenance. Outdoor dining areas should be conveniently located, possibly near the kitchen, and shaded as needed.
- Consider the views from your windows to ensure they are interesting and aesthetically pleasing.
- Don’t hesitate to use the center of your garden for flower beds or other features. Not every design element needs to be anchored to your house or property line.
Step 5: Choose What to Plant
Lastly, we have selecting the right plants for your garden as a crucial step, though it should only come after you’ve thoroughly planned your garden layout. You want to take into account the following considerations when it comes to choosing plants:
- Strive for a balance between evergreen and deciduous plants to maintain an attractive winter landscape. Many designers aim for a 60:40 ratio, but personal preference plays a significant role.
- Take inspiration from Mother Nature’s way of populating gardens—canopy trees, shorter trees and shrubs beneath, herbaceous plants spreading out, and low-growing plants covering bare soil. Emulate this pattern in your cultivated spaces.
- Incorporate a variety of plant shapes and sizes in your garden, such as tall and narrow, wide and spreading, dense and loose. Contrasting shapes add visual interest year-round.
- Always keep a plant’s mature size in mind. Overgrown shrubs pruned excessively can be unsightly, and trees can quickly outgrow their allotted space, causing issues with roofs and utility wires.
Once you’ve considered these points and have a clear vision for your garden, you can embark on the enjoyable task of researching and selecting the specific plants that will bring your garden to life.
Planning ahead ensures that your plant choices align with the overall design and maintenance expectations of your garden.