So You Want to Design a Garden…

So you wanna design a garden. Go you! I know from experience how hard it is to muster up motivation for something outside of our daily obligations, especially when it’s new and a little overwhelming. So give yourself a pat on the back and let’s get started.

First, let’s set your expectations. This garden will (I assume) be the only garden you’ve ever designed with intention. First efforts are rarely perfect. There will be missteps. This is because you’ve literally never done this before. Try keeping this in mind as we proceed.

That said, we can still design a fantastic novice’s garden. The amount of time and effort put in will make all the difference. Putting work in at the beginning of a project goes a long way towards success. So what do we need? Research. I know my love of research is not shared by most of you, but I promise it will pay off in the long run. Make it fun for yourself! Start by browsing gardens on Pinterest or even around your neighborhood. What do you like and dislike about these gardens?

Next, let Google be your guide. Assuming you’re designing a perennial garden, Google plants you enjoy and see if they’ll grow in your hardiness zone.  Check out the plant’s mature size; will it get too big for the space? When does it bloom? Is it low maintenance?  How much sun does it need? If you find something you like, try using Google to find plants that pair well with it. Also, try dropping by or Both of these nurseries supply a number of greenhouses and stores in WV and have great searchable databases. Remember, the more you know, the better your chances of designing a garden you’re happy with.

Did you find a few plants that you’re kind of in love with? Excellent, time to measure the space you’ll be planting.  Measure the area and note where any existing plants, walls or other features are. The more precise you are in this step, the better. Once you have your measurements, you’ll draw them out. I recommend scaling the drawing down by using a 1/2” or 1/4″ for every foot. And don’t worry, artistic skill isn’t necessary. A ruler and a drawing compass will do most of the work.

Now, it’s time to add some plants! This is the fun part. You’ll want to decide what look you’re going for. Do you like your plants spaced out, or do you like a cozy garden? Are you going for a certain style like a prairie, cottage or mediterranean garden? You’ll want to consider this as you draw everything in. If you’re feeling adventurous, remember that you can change the shape of your bed as well. Don’t like all those right angles? Add some curves!

Finally, here are a few rules of thumb to consider as you design. Remember to draw your plants in fully grown. Just because a rose bush is only a foot tall and wide when you buy it doesn’t mean it will stay that way. So design with their mature size in mind. Also, think about which direction your garden will be viewed from. Is it seen from the driveway, or perhaps a screened porch? You don’t want to put a bunch of tiny plants in a garden that will only be seen from a distance. Or, will smaller plants get hidden behind tall plants you’ve put front and center? Likewise, consider what the plant looks like year round. Does it bloom for a few weeks in spring and then stop? If so, make sure you like the look of its foliage. Is it deciduous? Will it be a mass of bare brambles in winter? Does that bother you?

If you keep these things in mind, do lots of research beforehand and don’t rush yourself, you’ll wind up with a lovely garden that you can build on over time. Garden design isn’t necessarily difficult, it just takes practice, trial and error and a lot of plant knowledge. (Or access to the internet.) So go on and get creative! You’re garden is waiting.


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