Up to now we have discussed principles and techniques for evaluating your site, designing gardens, and selecting plants. In this module we take up the process of actually creating your garden. The following steps should get you started:

  1. Determine the conditions in your garden site by doing site analysis. Compile a list of your site constraints.
  2. Sit down and think about your wants and other constraints.
Think about your wants:

Do you want to enhance a view or terrain feature? Do you want a colorful garden or maybe a garden that is relatively free of maintenance? Do you want an in-ground watering system? What existing features do you want to incorporate into the design? Which existing features do you want to get rid of? (The list goes on.)

Think about your constraints:

What are your site conditions (your biggest and most important set of constraints)? What can you afford? How much time and effort can you afford to invest? Do you need to get e.g. a lawnmower to the site? (you’ll need access, storage) Can you reach the site with a garden hose? (plants need water) Can you maintain the site? (complex gardens need a lot of maintenance) Is there some future project that has to be incorporated into the design? (like a pool, deck, gazebo, etc.) These are just a few possible constraints.

3. Look at the existing conditions and determine what stays and what goes. You may just want to add a few perennials, or even totally change the site from the ground up. If you decide to remove a lot of existing features—especially trees—consider the effect such a removal will have on your site conditions.

Garden site

4. Now is a good time to make a simple sketch of the proposed garden. The first thing you should do before you start your sketch is to use your compass to determine True North so you can accurately mark and orient your garden. Your next step is to draw a rough sketch of your design and develop your theme. Do your best, you do not need to be an artist as our sample sketch illustrates. Once your rough sketch is complete, think of how you want to arrange things, and which plants you want to use.

Make a rough sketch of your proposed garden site

5. Initially, when you are planning a garden project, just do a rough sketch of the plan to begin to work out your ideas. For many gardeners a rough sketch is all they ever need, especially for simple projects. For new gardeners it may be helpful, once you have a solid concept plan in place, to make a formal garden design that is drawn to scale. A scale drawing will act as a guide to use as you install your garden and help you make solid estimates of the number of plants needed for your garden. The key to making a scale drawing is to convert real-world measurements from your garden to a much smaller format that you can put onto a piece of paper.

Scale drawing will act as a guide to use as you install your garden

To do this, your first step is to measure your actual garden site using the included Garden Tutor measuring tape. If your proposed garden site is large, then you may need to use a tape measure that is longer than your 5 foot measuring tape. Add these measurements on your rough sketch.

Measure your actual garden site using the included Garden Tutor measuring tape

While there are many scales you can use, one of the easiest is, 1/8 inch = 1 foot (1”: 8’). By using this scale each 1/8 of an inch segment on your Garden Tutor ruler is equal to one foot, so one inch on your ruler is equal to 8 feet. This is a perfect scale to use with your Garden Tutor drafting tools and measuring tape. In addition, we have developed custom garden design graph paper that is set up using a ⅛” scale. It is available in the “Toolbox” area of the Garden Tutor site under “Garden Design and Layout”. All you have to do is download and print a copy and you will be ready to create a scale drawing. If you have a smaller garden and want to increase the scale you can adjust your scale to something like 1/4” Scale whereby 1” = 4ft. So on the Garden Tutor Drafting paper 2 small squares = 1/4” which is equal to 1 foot.

After setting your scale and drawing your garden beds you can begin to add the plants. Design the garden with the plants mature sizes in mind (often found on plant labels or horticultural sites that detail individual plants) and make sure to follow the same scale you are using for the garden bed.

Garden Tutor ruler set to 1 to 8 scale
Garden Tutor drafting paper

In your Garden Tutor kit we provide a circle template that is designed to help you draw individual plants in your garden. Once you have found the right sized circle to use you can create various plant symbols. The circles you draw with the circle template can be stylized to further identify the plants by type such as evergreen or deciduous or to show if they are new or existing plants. The “Garden Design and Layout” area under the “Toolbox” menu provides a list of common symbols that you can use.

Garden Tutor circle template for drawing individual plant symbols

 

Another approach for groups or masses of plants is to draw the individual plants as simple overlapping circles and then outline the group or mass and stylize it as a whole. There are many ways to build and stylize your garden design and it is really up to you how detailed you want to make it. Some gardeners use color pencils, design beautiful landscape symbols, use tracing paper to create a final line free design, and turn the design itself into a work of art suitable for framing. Others just make a simple sketch with a series of freeform bubbles to represent various planting groups with a few individual plants highlighted as needed.

Sample Landscape Symbols
Detailed garden design layout

6. Once you have a rough sketch or a formal design, you will want to create a key so that you can label the different symbols and other features of the garden. Often it is easiest just to use numbers on the design and then create a key on a separate piece of paper that lists the plant names that correspond to each number on the plan. Using a separate plant list is also helpful if you want to make changes to the plants you select.

Scale drawing with a plant key

7. At this point you will need to calculate the number of plants you need. You can do this by referring to your scale drawing and adding up all the plants listed. If you did not make a scale drawing you can measure the actual planting locations in your site based on the plant spacing requirements and mature size calculations. Put stakes where each plant should go and count the stakes.

If you are an experienced gardener, you can walk through the garden site and estimate the number of plants you’ll need by visualizing them in mature form.

Using stakes to estimate number of plants needed in a garden bed

8. Finalize your plan and make sure you’ve satisfied all of your wants and constraints. Double check placements and make any last-minute changes in your design.

9. Prepare the site (next module) and buy your plants.

Final installed garden design

Module Content

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Module 4: Design – From concept to plan

How to design your garden using the principles you learned in modules one through three and how to determine your wants, needs, and constraints.

Additional Modules

01

Module 1: Site – What is a garden site and site analysis?

What is a site? Your site is the place where plants go: a garden, flower pot, window box, yard. While most people think of a site as just a plot of dirt, it really is more than that: the site includes all of the ingredients that make it unique, such as its soil and climate. …

Module 1: Site – What is a garden site and site analysis? Read More »

02

Module 2: Style – The elements of garden style

What is Style? Style can be many things to many people. For you it will be the unique way you arrange the materials that will make up your garden. Usually, creating garden designs with style is a compromise between your wants and your constraints. Wants will vary from person to person. A family with six …

Module 2: Style – The elements of garden style Read More »

03

Module 3: Selection – Plants that fit your site and style

You will probably get plants and seeds from retail garden centers (nurseries) or from mail order retailers. Large nurseries usually have a wide range of plants; smaller garden centers usually have a smaller stock of plants to choose from, but you can often find a more relaxed and helpful sales staff. Mail order suppliers may …

Module 3: Selection – Plants that fit your site and style Read More »

04

Module 4: Design – From concept to plan

Up to now we have discussed principles and techniques for evaluating your site, designing gardens, and selecting plants. In this module we take up the process of actually creating your garden. The following steps should get you started: Determine the conditions in your garden site by doing site analysis. Compile a list of your site …

Module 4: Design – From concept to plan Read More »

05

Module 5: Prepare – How to get your planting site ready

Unless you are already endowed with good soil and a ready site, you will need to prepare your soil for planting. Preparation involves laying out your site, removing anything that has to go, making beds, and amending and grading your soil. Depending on your design and your site, this could be very easy work or …

Module 5: Prepare – How to get your planting site ready Read More »

06

Module 6: Preview – Make sure your garden looks right and has room to grow

Place your plants (still in their containers) in the bed and space them as the label indicates using the enclosed tape measure. When measuring the distance between plants, measure from the center of one plant to the center of the next plant. Step back and take a good look at your arrangement; if you want …

Module 6: Preview – Make sure your garden looks right and has room to grow Read More »

07

Module 7: Plant – Install plants of all types and sizes

You should be ready to plant now. Follow the directions on the plant label, if provided. Use a shovel or hand trowel to dig holes. Clean-up, mulch, and water when done. The following are general instructions for different types of plants: Balled and burlapped plants You should remove the burlap and wire basket (if the …

Module 7: Plant – Install plants of all types and sizes Read More »

08

Module 8: Maintain – watering to winterizing and everything in between

A clean garden is not like a clean room. A mulch will fade, weeds will crop up, and your sharp edges will blur. Your goal is not to fight a battle with nature but to work with it. Your maintenance and devotion can help your garden evolve into a complex, beautiful growth, but it should …

Module 8: Maintain – watering to winterizing and everything in between Read More »

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