This page was written for a friend who wanted me to help her plan a backyard re-do. I share it as food for fodder, if you are planning a garden. There are wonderful books written by people far more in the know than I, but here’s a start…..
To get the creative juices going for garden planning, and give direction to planning and shopping for a garden, these questions might be helpful.
Print this page, or, better yet, copy and paste to a word document so you can print it and jot down your answers to the questions.
I recommend keeping a garden journal, it can be very simple. I keep a small notebook in my seed storage basket so I can jot down what I plant when each season. Some folks like to keep more elaborate garden journals. At least start by writing your thoughts, making lists of plants you like, etc. in response to these questions. While in the planning process it helps to remember what you are looking for when plant shopping and where you want to plant it. If you see a picture of colors and flowers together you like, writing down the plants, colors, etc. will enable you to recreate it in your own garden.
1) Day Dreaming – pick one or two (or all!) of these ideas to help discover what you like in a garden.
a) As a child, what corner of the garden in your parents yard (if they had a yard, if not was there a garden or yard elsewhere you liked to be in?) did you hang out? Why? What feature drew you there? Was it the ‘wild’ areas or the flowerbeds? What flowers do you remember?
b) Look around, not just at other people’s yards and public gardens, but at Nature’s wild areas. What looks like a place you’d want to hang out? What are you drawn to? Color? Texture? Form?
c) Look at garden magazines, books, catalogs (White Flower Farm printed catalog is great for garden viewing). Don’t think about what you can or can’t do in your space, with your skills, time, etc. just look with wonder and find what you are drawn to. Write down flower varieties or garden features you like, tear out pictures, or copy pictures (even a snap shot with your smart phone). You can look at the individual flower pictures on my Garden Flowers page.
What ‘style’ garden do you like? The ‘cottage garden look’? Bold and dramatic flowers? A patch work quilt of favorites?
d) If you like to draw (or not) sketch out some basic form and color ideas for a garden. Don’t worry about details of flowers, just whether, and where, you want flowers, bushes, a bench, etc.
2) Use – What is the purpose of a garden in your life.
Who shares this garden with you? Who hangs out in your yard? Dogs? Cats? Kids? A spouse who likes to practice golf? Do you want to entertain in your yard? Do you want it to be a private place for you to escape?
All of the above?
Does gardening get you excited? Is it a hobby for you? Or is it a necessary item on the to-do list because you happen to have a yard? How much time do you have for gardening? Do you have 15 minutes a day? 30? Weekend time?
Do you want to garden as recreation/relaxation, or do you want a low maintenance garden that is pleasurable to look at but does demand a lot of you?
Do you want to involve kids in gardening? Do you want them to have an area that is ‘their’ garden?
3) What you have now – Make a list of what you are starting with.
Shade? Partial Shade? (This means part of the day as well as part of the season and is dependent on trees that may leaf out later in season as well as structures and where the sun moves through the day and the season).
Do you know your soil? Sandy? Rocky? Clay? Acidic?
What do you have now? Bare ground? Older plantings?
Do you want or need to have a low-water garden?
What have you grown in the past you want to keep, bring back? What do you have now you want to get rid of?
Do you have a patio? Porch? Is your garden seen by neighbors, from the street?
4) Content – What to put in your garden
Do you want annuals? Perennials? Both?
Do you want edibles such as veggies and/or herbs? Just flowers? Both? No flowers?
Lots of foliage (texture and form)?
Flowers you can cut to make bouquets?
Do you want native plantings like ferns, Oregon Grape, etc.?
Do you want mostly to plant plants? Start from seeds?
Do you want a progression of blooms through the seasons?
What colors do you like to have around you?
Do you want other features such as a bird bath, bench, sun-dial, garden art/sculpture? Paths? Planter boxes?
Do you have a gardening budget to stay within?
There are ‘budget’ plants and high-end plants, places to buy ‘cheaper’ plants, plants to be had from friends’ gardens, and the pleasure of just ‘going for it all’ in a few good quality nurseries.
Gardens can be what you want, but you do need to know what you have to work with. I cannot grow many things I love due to shade, clay soil, limited water in the summer, and a forest always ready to fill in every space. The plants that thrive I’ve enjoyed learning about and shopping for new varieties of; planter boxes create mini-gardens for flowers that aren’t so hardy in our environment. I’ve learned to appreciate a bountiful spring bloom, when water is abundant, and am more reserved in my summer plantings. The invading woods fills areas I’ve let go, the results are a back yard with wild bleeding hearts, Indian Plum trees creating a lovely, non-shading screen at the top of the driveway, a giant fern creating a wonderful feature and bird protection off our back deck.
I’ve been surprised by what I’ve fallen in love with, and learned (am still learning) to pull out what just isn’t working for me. I tend to be a plant rescuer and though I’ve had successful Pygmalion stories, I’ve also had to learn to take out of its misery a plant that just doesn’t like living here.
Gardening is a process, one that has not been easy for me with increased physical challenges, yet I keep working at it. Through the encouragement, and hard labor, of my husband, who was not ready to let me tear down fences and mow everything down this year, I’ve once again learned to enjoy the process and the wonder of new beds, new plants, appreciating the older ones, some of which I’ve had longer than I’ve been married! I hope you too find pleasure in the process, whether it’s nursery shopping, catalog browsing, digging in the dirt, picking the flowers.