After a few years experience designing gardens, I found that there’s an important learning process behind every successful design. It should come as no surprise that the first learning curve in any garden design involves plants. Take a moment to consider the space you wish to garden. Is it sunny, or shady, or a little bit of both? Is your space wet or dry? Now take this simple checklist to the garden store and begin to open the doors to your imagination. Have your
friendly neighborhood garden store
clerk show you around to the plants that fit your site. Before buying anything make a checklist of what you find. Start with the plants that catch your eye. Mark their shapes, sizes, textures, bloom times, and leaf and bloom colors. Look for plants that contrast with each other in color and texture. Choose plants in a variety of height ranges. Have a look at trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. The more plants you consider for your landscape, the more informed you can feel about your choices.
Once you’ve made a complete checklist of all the plants that catch your eye, sit with your list for a while in the space to be gardened. Take in everything that surrounds the space. You’re going to want to choose plants that work well with their visual environment so determine what it is that defines the edges of the space. Is it up against a house or fence? You wouldn’t for instance want to place a large shrub in front of a window, as that may block the view, but you may want to use some plants for blocking the sight of utility meters or a compost pile. Consider whether you’ve got a canopy to tie into visually through the use of large shrubs.
Next imagine the plants on your list at their full size and start by placing these imaginary creatures in the new garden. I like to build from the back of a space toward the front starting in back with the tallest plants. At this point it may be helpful to get out some sticks or marking tools to poke into the ground wherever you think the plants could go.
Once you have found potential homes for the largest of your selections, begin to place markers for the mid-sized and smaller plants as well. With some smaller plants you may want to plan for groupings to be planted instead of individuals. I love for my gardens to draw my eye up and in, so I like to have very short plants in the front, and create a sort of asymmetrical stair step effect by building upward in height till my eyes find the tallest plants in back. For the health of your gardens it’s important to plan the space so that it’s covered in green. Too often I see gardens that are mostly wood mulch with plants scattered throughout.
Plan for ground covering plants in and around the larger plants. After you’ve found a place for all of your plant selections step back and imagine them all together. While imagining the new garden notice if there are any empty spots. Ask yourself if there is enough variation in height, and texture. Determine whether there is enough collaboration of textures as well, do some of the plants shapes or textures get repeated throughout the garden thus pulling the eye along? Make sure your list will create a garden in bloom from the time the ground thaws in the spring till the hard freezes of fall hit.
Consider the winter season. Ornamental grasses can be a beautiful accompaniment for the garden as their slim textures will still be present throughout winters as well. Many plants will act as snow catches through the cold months giving us gardeners a reminder of the glorious growing season past, while providing us hope for the warmth and growth to come.
It is now be time to fill in any weak spots on your plant list and then head back to the garden store to fill up your family truckster with all of your green selections. After you’ve prepared the soil with compost you’re going to be ready to place your plants in their potential homes. Remember the key word here is potential as building any garden is a sculpting process, and your plant placement may need adjusting once you see the plants in the spot that you’d imagined them. Move the plants around until your satisfied with their placement and…. You’re ready to plant!
If you thought that up until now you’ve been very patient with this process, you may be surprised at how much more patience is required to enjoy watching your garden fill in and become itself. Just like with our children, we may have hopes and desires for what they will become, we may even spend our lives guiding them along, but ultimately our children and our gardens are a reflection of so much more then our desires and hopes. The things we love have a life of their own, and the best any gardener can hope for is to be available to offer guidance throughout the growing process.