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Planning Your Garden

January 20, 2009



It’s winter, which means we can ignore our yards until April, right? No! This is a great time to plan, to weigh options, and to start lining up materials. As a landscape designer in northern and central Virginia, this is one of my favorite times to do site analysis. Problems that were previously hidden by the vigorous growth of summer have been laid bare, and are there for all to see. This post is a quick overview of what I look for in the planning stage when I tackle a new site:

  1. What are the main views from the house, and any outdoor spaces? Do we want to frame and emphasize the view- as we would with mountain views- or are we trying to screen or de-emphasize them, as we do with mechanical units or the neighbor’s shed?
  2. Where is the main entrance? You would be amazed how many times I arrive at a new client’s home and have no idea where to go. Here’s some homework for you: park your car where your guests would park, and look at your home. If this was your first time, where would you go? Do you go in the side door that everyone uses, or are you directed to the front door that no one but vacuum cleaner salespersons use?
  3. What does water do? This is a critical issue- I talk about it in a lot more depth here.
  4. Where are the sunny and shady parts of the yard? I’ll  admit, this one can be tricky this time of year. With no leaves on the shade trees, your yard can look a lot sunnier than it really is. On the other hand, if we’re having a spate of gray days, your whole property can look uniformly dark. Just pay attention to where the trees are, and think back to summer.
  5. What did you LIKE about your yard this past season? We get so focused on change, we often forget to see what we liked and want to keep. Thinking of this, do we want to keep this as is? Do we want to make it even better? Or is it something we can work the rest of the landscape to emphasize? For example, I like the strolling garden I started developing in my side yard. This year, I plan to expand on the concept. I’ll add some stepping stones, beef up the plantings with some ornamental evergreens, and maybe add some decorative boulders. I’ll also reshape my plant beds to draw the eye to it.
  6. What DIDN’T work this past season? Sometimes, what seemed like a good idea just doesn’t work out. Maybe your patio turned out a bit small for the number of guests you ended up having, or the plants you fell in love with at the garden center were a lot more work than you expected. Now’s the time to plan for those changes.
  7. How’s the soil? This is overlooked all too frequently. If you’re going to plant a few ornamentals and amend the planting holes, and let your grass do what it will, you can probably get by without a soil test. But if you really want to have vigorous plants and a healthy lawn, you need to know what’s going on. Every spring, I’m irked by the solicitations I get from the lawn fertilization services telling me that they saw my lawn needs a, b, and c. If they can tell that without a soil test, they are truly magical people. They should switch to alchemy instead- they’d make a lot more money.

This list is by no means comprehensive, but it’s a few of the things I think about while walking around a site. I hope it gives you a little more to think about as you plan your garden this year. As always, if you need a little help I’m a garden coach as well as a designer. I love meeting new people and new gardens!

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