Garden Design: Things to Think About

Creating a garden is truly a work of art. Placing one’s hopes within tiny seeds and leaving their fate in the hands of Mother Nature is a beautiful act of faith. And a great way to practice taking responsibility for one’s own health. The process of garden building is fun and can be as creative as the gardener allows it to be.

The design and organizational structure of your garden is completely up to you. Once you’ve chosen what type of plants you’d like to grow 
you are ready to plan the garden of your dreams! This is one of my favorite parts because I can see my ideas coming together. Proper planning will allow you to be the most efficient when it comes time to getting in the dirt. The following considerations aren’t the only ways to go about designing a garden. However, they have been beneficial for me in creating some very aesthetically pleasing and deliciously productive garden plots in years past.

Starting a garden is much like beginning a jigsaw puzzle. The major difference is that you don’t have an image to go off of when putting the pieces together. You get to create that image and you’ll want to start with the border. Being as precise as possible (maybe to the half-foot or so) will help you determining how many plants can fit within your given space later down the road. Take out a tape measure and figure out how long and wide your planting space will be. This is also a good time to determine what kind of border you will have around your garden. Will it be fenced? Will you have a natural edge, or will it simply end and grass begin?

Now that you have a border you can really have some fun arranging and rearranging the plants you’ve picked to grow in your space. There remains a great deal to consider when determining where to place your plants. The sun, the surface of your growing space, and your plant’s needs all play a role in the positioning of your plants in the garden. Despite all of this, infinite possibilities remain!

My next step is thinking about the sun. In the past, the gardens I’ve designed had zero shade. This is great for cherry tomatoes and cucumbers, but not so good for leafy vegetables that need a break from the hot summer sun. This year my garden is surrounded by tall cedars on every side except to the south. I’m having to consider the pattern of the sun a great deal more to ensure I don’t block any low growing plants (like sweet potatoes) with taller bushier plants (tomatoes and peppers). Making a chart of your plants with the categories: full-sun, partial-sun, and full-shade is helpful to have handy when planning out your garden.

Next, you’ll have to think about the earth. You may want to consider the following questions. What is the surface of your plot like? Is it flat or sloped? Is the soil rocky, sandy, or clay-bogged? In my second year of gardening I made the mistake of switching the direction of my garden rows so they flowed down the slight slope of the land. Several of my plants were washed away as the rain ran down the hill. Thinking about the natural characteristics of the land and how you can work with it is a valuable lesson. It’s safe to say that my rows followed suit going against the rain in the years to come.

My favorite consideration is companion planting. Knowing who is a friend of who can change the flavor and the amount produced of such allies. It can even lessen the amount of time you spend ridding pests from the garden. A general guide for this is to think about what foods pair well together on your dinner plate. Those will often pair well together in the garden, too. Tomatoes and basil, for example. There’s a ton of information out there on what works well together and what to avoid. It is definitely worth looking into when planning your garden.

Next to actually being out in the garden, this is my favorite step. I do it every year because it’s fun to imagine new possibilities. So pull out some graph paper, grab a ruler and a big eraser and get to work. The best teacher I’ve had is experience. There’s always something to learn, and the very best part is that what doesn’t work out or needs to be modified can easily be changed the following year. The only way to really fail when it comes to gardening is to stop trying. There isn’t any fun to be found in that approach anyway.