Designing a garden layout can be one of the most interesting and most challenging parts of gardening. Every garden design will be different because it must take into consideration a variety of factors. These include, but are not limited to, personal taste, purpose of the garden, climate, soil type, surrounding environment, rainfall and seasonal changes. Even your personal skill as a gardener can be a factor in your overall planning.
Step One: Analyze your Location
Location might not be everything, but it is certainly a factor when planning a garden. As with many other sorts of planning, you might want to work from the big picture to the small. Big elements include latitude, general climate, rainfall and soil type. You are unlikely to be able to change the latitude (other than by moving) or the general climate. Too little rainfall can sometimes be dealt with through irrigation, but water scarcity must be taken into consideration. Too much rainfall could be far more difficult to adjust, especially for plants that prefer a dry climate. Soil type can be adjusted by importing soil, adding compost, and using other corrective measures.
Obtain a chart that shows your earliest and latest frost, highest and lowest temperatures. These can help guide the type of plants that you can grow in your garden. Send off some of your soil to be tested. Even if you have a good idea of the type of soil, such as clay, sand or loam, testing will help identify trace minerals that are present in the soil and can help guide you when fertilizing specific plants.
Be aware of the slope of your future garden location. Does it drain quickly? Does it have a boggy place that might work well for aquatic plants? How much sun does it get during the day? Is it likely to be overshadowed by large trees at certain seasons?
Step 2: Sketch the Layout of Your Beds
A good way to approach this step is to first make a rough sketch of the general area. This one need not be perfectly to scale, but simply give an idea of how things are placed in relationship to each other. Next, measure the beds. This does need to be done to scale. A good tape measure, such as a carpenter might use, and several sheets of graph paper will be handy. Note soil type, whether the location faces south or north on a slope, which side of a building it might be on, and drainage. Taking care with this step will save making expensive and time-consuming changes later on.
Step 3: Decide the purpose for each bed.
For example, you might plan a xeriscape garden for a south-facing, well-drained slope. For an area that is damp most of the year, you might create a water garden. You could even include a small pond with native aquatic life along with water loving plants for your region. You might want to dedicate one or two plots to growing herbs and vegetables as a kitchen garden.
Step 4: Plant your plantings by height, soil type, and water needs
Tall plants can serve as a focal point in a bed where they are surrounded by smaller plants. But care must be taken in this planning step because some tall growing plants not only cast a lot of shade, they leach the nutrients from the soil. Careful planning should include selecting plants that will complement each other naturally by helping provide the kind of environment preferred by all the plants in that bed. It also helps if all the plants in a single bed require the same sorts of irrigation or watering, as well as similar soil preferences.
Step 5: Paint your Landscape with Plants
This is where your personal preference comes into play. You might plan for your area to have a predominance of blue blossoms, or pink; or you might go for an evolving landscape where there is always something in bloom. Perhaps you prefer greenery or rock gardens supplemented with succulents and cacti. Consider color, texture, and height as you plan. It can be handy to create a model of what you hope to plant, but not necessarily essential. (Although it can be fun to play with during the winter months if your climate paints the landscape mostly white during the cold season.) Keep in mind that plants are living things and they don’t always grow exactly as planned.
Step 6: Prepare the soil, plan irrigation as needed, and plant
Planting season comes at different times of the year for different species and locations. But soil preparation is almost always your first task. Planning how to irrigate is also a good idea, especially if you live in a place where water needs to be carefully conserved. You might need to plant some things in the spring, some during the summer and some need to go into the ground in fall for growth in spring.
Step 7: Enjoy your plants, weed, feed and monitor growth
Gardening is an on-going process. It is rarely a matter of putting it all together at once. Plants need care. But above all enjoy your plants as they grow, bloom and change.