When I thought about starting new gardens, I made a list of everything I wanted: a grape arbor, woodland garden, herbs, vegetables, a dry garden, fragrance garden, trial beds, a blue/coral/yellow garden and a perennial bed with all of my favorite varieties. This is to name just a few… it was a pretty long list. In addition to the types of gardens I kept lists of plants that I had to include as well.
And when the opportunity to have a new landscape came along, it was time to match this list of “must haves” to the land itself. You can’t have a woodland garden without the woodland, after all, and that herb garden needs full sun. Beyond the areas of sun and shade there is the lay of the land itself and this is what really dictates what a gardener can do.
Good garden design works with the land so that the plantings look like they belong from the moment they are installed. And this is why I hate those artificial looking mounds of soil called “berms” that look more like burial mounds than anything else because they ignore the natural lay-of-the-land. Ditto for tiny island beds afloat in a sea of lawn.
So part of designing my new gardens is seeing if the gardens and plants on my list are a good match with the property itself. Some parts of the yard really design themselves – the perfect layout of gardens suggests itself quickly. Others evolve over time.
Because as much as I plan ahead and think I know which plant will go where, gardening is a very organic process. When working creatively with plants, the design begins to change the day after I’m finished with the installation. Hopefully that change is growth, not sudden death.
The perennial bed with all of my favorites is as finished as a garden ever is and the blue/coral/yellow garden is about half planted. The grape arbor is up but the grape vines have yet to go into the ground, and the dry garden is coming along, but in need of some variegated yucca. Some plants have been carefully placed but there are others that were just stuck into the best available place. Not to worry – they can be moved.
Every gardener knows that at the root of it all, the process itself is enjoyable. The planning and list making, the preparation and placement of plants, moving from one step to another so that an area that was just a stretch of lawn becomes a flower bed in full bloom. It is just as well that it takes time for the plants to fill in and the garden to become mature…if we could have an instantly finished landscape we’d miss out on the joy of watching a small plant flourish and grow.
Tips for Success With New Gardens
- Make sure that your beds fit naturally into the lay of the land and look like they could have been there for years. Be sure that the size of these beds is in balance with the house and the property as a whole. For example, tiny beds set in the middle of a vast lawn will look silly.
- Although it’s tempting to place flower and shrub borders on the perimeters of the property, this can make small properties seem smaller. Perimeter plants will get lost on larger properties as well, so large and small landscapes benefit from dividing the lot in a natural manner. Creating distinct garden “rooms” that flow from one area to the next will make small yards seem larger and larger yards more intimate.
- Loosen the soil in a wide area before placing any plant in the ground. This helps the roots to get established quickly and that growth underground will be mirrored above.
- Plant shrubs and perennials so that they have the space to mature to their full size. Fill in with annuals for the first few years if necessary.