Landscape Design

Garden Plans

A Map to your Garden

Spring is here - it's time to get planting. This year, you're in the mood to change your whole backyard landscape, creating a paradise that you can live, work and entertain in. Before breaking out the shovels, pause a minute and plan it out - mistakes are easier to fix on paper than they are once you've dug a three-foot hole. If you create a plan that's clearly marked, you won't have a problem buying the plants and dropping them into place, making your garden easy to create and even easier to enjoy.

On this page you'll find garden planning information for:

Before you start planning your garden, take the following into consideration:

  • Choose a theme for your yard. Themed gardens are not only easier to choose plants for, they're also easier to keep up because there are structured flowerbeds and defined walkways.
  • What kind of beds do you want to build? Do you want borders or island beds? Borders are those flowerbeds that edge a fence or property line; island flower beds are those flowerbeds that sit in an open space and can be viewed from all angles.
  • Consider the seasons your flowerbeds will be in bloom. Do you want them to bloom all year or only in certain seasons? For example, if you know you're going to plan your Hawaii vacation during the spring and be away at that time of the year, you may want to appreciate your garden in the other seasons, when you are there.
  • Think about what size your beds should be and what kind of garden plants you want to put in them. Most new gardeners make their beds too narrow and then are upset when they can't fit the plants that they want in the flowerbeds when the next season arrives. Aim to make your beds wide enough for three layers - understory, middle layer and top layer. You can get away with using less space if your new flowerbed will be on a hill.
  • How much sun does your yard get? This will be a big consideration in determining what kind of plants you can put in.
Drawing the Plans

If you've considered all the questions above and have the answers that you need, then you're ready to start drawing your plans. You can choose to do this yourself or hire a professional landscape designer to do it for you. When drawing your plans, make sure that you accurately map out property lines and easements so that you won't plant over something important. If you're going to put a flowerbed over a shared property line, don't forget to let your neighbor in on your plans.

Consider the size of your yard when drawing your plan - you're not going to be able to fit a formal French garden in a small backyard. We've included some sections on small, medium and large garden plans to help you decide what will fit and look great in your landscape.

Draw your plan on graph paper, letting each square represent a unit of measurement in your yard (for example, one square is equal to 10 square feet). Make multiple copies of your plan in case one gets lost or modified - this is very important. Choose symbols that clearly mark what sizes of plants and landscape ideas you will map out on your plan - bigger circles will represent bigger plants; smaller circles will represent smaller plants. Sometimes, it helps to letter or number the symbols and have them correspond to the types of plants you've chosen so that you won't forget. Put in "desire lines" - markings that will show where the heaviest traffic is in your yard. If you can, draw the direction of the prevailing winds and indicate which parts of the yard are sunniest and / or shadiest. This will help you later with your planting.

Small Garden Plans

Planning a tiny paradise

If you've just moved into your first place or downsized from a bigger house, chances are your new house hasn't got a very big yard to work with. It can be hard to envision a perfect garden plan when your yard looks like a postage stamp. However, small gardens open up opportunities for innovative design and creative planting and décor. If you design your garden carefully, taking advantage of container gardens and hanging plants, you can make the most of your small space and be the envy of the neighborhood - even those with bigger yards!

Before starting to plan out your garden, survey it carefully. Is it oddly shaped? Do you have a deck? If you have pets or children, you will want to allot a portion of your yard for their exercise. If you have a shed or a fence, you'll have to plan around that. Unless you're planning to completely overhaul your yard, take every element of your property into account when you develop your landscape design.

Small Garden Design

Once you've mapped out how big your yard is, start thinking about the style of garden that you want to plant. You can follow an already-set style, such as an English or formal garden, or make up one of your own based on your own tastes. Remember, don't combine too many themes in a small backyard - you don't have the space to transition as in a larger yard, so they will clash and look awful. Container gardening allows you to create an attractive garden with little space. It works very well for smaller spaces.

Placement of paths and walkways is important in a small garden. If you place a path on the diagonal, you will maximize the space in your yard and create more room for gardens on either side. For a small garden, borders look the best if there's a fence, since there isn't much room to walk around. Many smaller houses include a deck or patio to sit on, so this can be a key element in your design.

When you begin to plant, choose plants that are in scale with the size of your yard. You don't want your choices to outgrow your yard, leading you to pull them up and replant. Talk with professionals at your local garden center to plan out what sorts of plants will fit with your theme and with your garden vision. If you have a patchy lawn or a damp, muddy place, you might consider looking at ground cover options. Conversely, if you have an unsightly wall, climbing plants can provide a lovely floral mask and actually make your yard feel bigger.

Remember, with any garden plan, don't forget to make multiple copies so that you have a few plans to work with if you need to modify your design.

Medium Garden Plans

Gardens that are more than run-of-the-mill

Many people who have gardens don't live on a sprawling estate in the country or in a condo or townhouse in a busy downtown area - they're the people who live out in suburbia, with a medium-sized lot that has plenty of opportunity for landscape development. If you're one of these people, then this section is for you. It's easy to plant a sprawling lawn and a few border plants, but a medium-sized garden can be transformed into a paradise of plants, accessories and beautiful hardscaping. All it takes is some careful garden planning and some creativity to make a yard into something beautiful.

To start, draw a plan of your yard. Make a list of things that must feature in your design (sheds, clotheslines, fences, children's play areas, pets' exercise areas, swing sets, pools, etc.) and things that you want to add to your design (flowerbeds, ponds, any new outdoor appliances, pergolas, etc.). This will help you with your landscape design. When you have a bigger yard, you have more room to experiment with design elements and new plants. Plus, you might have a few different light conditions due to tree placement, which will give you more variety when planting.

Medium Garden Design

Plan your yard to include both border plants and island flowerbeds. Islands will allow you to showcase plants that can be viewed from all angles of your yard. Because you have more room, your focal point can be a tree or large shrub. You won't have to worry so much about buying plants that will grow at a slower pace, which will give you better choice. If you want to, follow a garden theme to attract wildlife or create a mood.

Remember, put taller plants at the back in a border bed and in the center for an island bed - this will give your design proportion and order, something that's needed in a bigger yard. Too many times, plants and other elements can look scattered and unrelated so that the viewer's eye doesn't know what to look at first, causing confusion. When you're designing a medium-sized yard, especially if it's open to other neighbors' spaces, you need to remember to follow gardening design principles in order for your plan to look organized and beautiful.

Because you have more room, you can arrange your yard into different zones. For example, you can have a pond at the far end of a backyard, a climbing rose garden on the fence and an outdoor room that incorporates the deck. If you want to really simulate the feeling of a house outdoors, using paths and walkways will work to your advantage. Be creative with your paths' design - use a herringbone or other geometric pattern to create a transitional feel as you go from one garden zone to another.

Large Garden Plans

Designing on a big scale

For those lucky enough to have a huge backyard that spans at least an acre, the sky is the limit when it comes to landscape design. A large garden is a consistently mutable canvas, able to maintain core elements while still following design trends. Those who don't have to worry about space or inconveniently placed utilities and property lines often have the most spectacular gardens, and their creative ventures give smaller-property owners excellent garden ideas for their own spaces.

If you've just moved into a home with a big backyard, you might feel a little overwhelmed by the sheer amount of space you have to work with. Don't worry, however; your landscape design plan will follow all the rules of any other garden plan - you just have more room to put in those elements that you've always dreamed of. In fact, you're really only limited by your budget when it comes to designing a huge yard!

Large Garden Design

As with all design plans, you should start by listing essential design elements - such as a shed, fence or pool - and then start another list of wanted design elements - such as an outdoor kitchen, a pergola or a water garden. Take into account the lines of your property and, if applicable, the sun and wind patterns in your yard. Because your space is so big, you can have a combination of hardscaping and different garden themes, which can make your yard a storybook garden for every visitor. Make sure if you're going to draw up plans that you also make a few copies for last-minute changes and accidental misplacement. It's easier to erase a shrub from a piece of graph paper than it is to dig it up in your yard.

Many people with large backyards have a central deck or outdoor patio close to the house that includes at least two outdoor rooms. You can also have an area strictly for a water course with a number of different water plants and another zone for a woodland paradise. Add shelters over parts of your garden or arrange different pavers into a mosaic for an artistic effect. One of the great things about having a large yard is that you can hide certain unsightly items like the compost heap or the unattractive potting shed behind trees and tall grasses (but still make them easy to get to).

Large gardens can sometimes require a lot of upkeep, but if you're prepared for the challenge, you can create an absolutely stunning landscape that you can enjoy for years to come - and not only that, you can keep adding to it as trends change.