24 tips for planning the perfect garden
Die-hard gardeners will tell you that a garden is a work in progress. Even established gardens require a little tweaking from season to season. But if you thoughtfully plan before you plant, your landscape will beautifully endure for years to come without costly and time-consuming alterations or additions.
With some trees and shrubs showing only bare bones, winter is a fine time for spotting ho-hum holes in your landscape. Check for areas that could use a punch of winter interest – consider adding evergreens, berry-bearing shrubs and trees with interesting forms or bark to boost year-round appeal.
Spend a day or two checking how many hours of sun your gardens receive each day to ensure you incorporate light-appropriate plants into your design. Keep in mind that full-sun plants require at least six hours of sun, partial-shade plants need between three and six hours and shade-tolerant plants benefit from two or three hours of direct light or from receiving indirect or filtered light all day.
Sketch out an overall picture of your yard, including entertainment areas, your house and other buildings. Enlarge the sketch and mark off existing landscape features like trees, shrubs and gardens. Pencil in proposed plantings to see how they fit within the existing landscape. Only got a small space to work with? Head here to find out how to design a small garden.
Design extra-deep borders large enough to house an array of low, medium and tall plants and that allow you extra space to add more plants as the mood strikes.
Before you sketch, estimate the amount of space you wish to dedicate to a planting bed. Use the measurements to draw a blueprint to scale on graph paper. Keeping in mind plants’ mature sizes, pencil in desired plants to get a realistic idea of how many you can fit into the space.
On your plan, use markers, watercolours or coloured pencils to colour in existing plantings. Then colour in your planned additions to make certain that the old and new hues complement each other. Find out how to create a garden retreat in your backyard or courtyard.
Design gardens that carry the eye from earth to sky. Anchor borders and beds with structural plants, such as trees or tall shrubs, and then layer in climbing vines, smaller shrubs, varying-height perennials and sprawling ground covers.
Determine whether you’re going for a clipped formal look, casual cottage appeal, a native garden or a combination of styles.
Are you partial to pastels? Do red-hot hues get your creative juices flowing? Working within a colour scheme will help you set a cohesive scene and prevent you from buying unsuitable plants in weaker moments.
When planning your design, include pathways, arbours, ponds, large containers, fountains, statuary and garden benches that draw both foot traffic and attention through the garden. Head here to find out how to create a tropical garden retreat.
Designate a sunny corner for growing perennials from seed. Sow the seeds in early spring, and by mid- to late summer, you’ll have loads of plants to fill out your borders.
Growing your own produce and easy-care annual flowers for summer arrangements saves money. Plus, raised beds take less time to weed. Head here to find out how to build a raised vegetable garden bed.
Determine how much you want to spend for this year’s plantings, mulch and soil amendments. Plan on putting in paths and buying the larger, structural plants first. When budgets are tight, think about filling in your design over the course of several years. Check out our essential guide to mulchers here.
Plan on replicating plant forms, colours and textures to easily fashion flow, a sense of movement and a harmonious whole garden.
Opt to include native plants or ones that are hardy and reliable in your planting zone – you won’t have to replace them down the road.
Incorporate plants – such as kangaroo paws, lomandras, bearded iris and clivia – that you can divide in a few years for more (free!) plants. Check out how to divide clivias and propagate them from seed.
Sketch in plants with silver, grey, chartreuse, variegated and bright-coloured foliage for gardens that remain colourful as flowers fade.
Slot in plants with different bloom times to ensure a succession of blossoms throughout the year. Check out our guide on planting winter blooming flowers.
Pencil in trellises, hedges and plant groupings to camouflage unattractive views, define garden rooms and buffer traffic noise. Find out how to plant a vertical garden here.
You’ll fill a lot of space without spending big bucks if you include large, quick-growing plants, such as Russian sage, fountain grasses, Autumn Joy sedum, hydrangea and shrub roses.
Peruse garden books, plant catalogues and search online for garden images that showcase appealing plant combinations that you can duplicate in your design.
Group those with similar light, water and soil requirements together – if you plant water-thirsty cultivars with drought-tolerant plants, you’re sure to lose one or both to either too-dry conditions or root rot. Check out our guide to companion planting here.
Add one or two plant groupings or shrubs that are sure to stop passersby in their tracks.