Design Your Garden

General Advice
  • Plan your garden when you’re in it, not at the nursery.
  • Consider the purpose of what you plant. Is it to screen the sight or sounds of a neighbor’s house? Provide shade in summer but allow sun in winter? Grow food? Prevent erosion? Or simply to draw the eye to a particular plant or place?
  • Research each plant’s requirements including its ideal level of sun or shade, soil texture and chemistry, and water.
  • Keep in mind how you would like the garden to develop over time. Consider whether each plant will stay small, spread, or grow large.
  • Look at other gardens on similar sites in your neighborhood—their hardscaping, arrangement of plantings relative to the house, and particular plants. What do you like that could suit your site too? Also note what you don’t like.
  • If you live in an area with lots of ponderosa pines, see Firewise Landscaping for helpful suggestions to reduce your home’s vulnerability to wildfire.
Sketch Your Future Garden
  • On the map you made of your site or on a blank sheet of paper, outline the different microclimates in your garden with “bubbles”
  • Decide whether you’d like to design around existing features or design an entirely new landscape.
  • Consider how you’ll reach sheds, gates, play areas, etc. and add paths to your sketch. Note: curged paths add a graceful, natural flow to the landscape; they can border flowerbeds or separate different kinds of plantings or microclimates.
  • Consider how you will water your garden. Will you use a drip system? Where are the outdoor faucets?
  • Where would you like a tree for shade? Where would it be nice to plant shrubs to screen the neighbors?
  • Consider whether you need to make major changes such as altering a slope for drainage or adding a berm to provide shelter from the wind. Do you need retaining walls or terracing? If heavy equipment will be used, it’s best done before anything is planted.
  • Think about adding a water feature, pergola, and/or deck. These can be focal points around which to arrange plants.
  • Walk around your site to visualize how it will look. To help visualize the layout, outline it on the ground using stakes and string, paint, a rope, or a water hose. Make any changes on your drawing.
  • The next step is choosing plants you like that will thrive in your site’s microclimates. Try imagine how large they will be in the next ten years or more. See Choose Your Plants for advice.
  • Sketch these plants on your design.