The Basics of Garden Design

Creating the perfect garden is really not that hard. Having the patience, the right tools, and the right budget can help you achieve a dream garden. When it comes to style, start with a basic theme. Playing with height and color can help create the look of a bigger space.
The Basics of Garden Design

Most homeowners spend a lot designing their interiors, but very few put the same effort in putting up a garden. Some are too absorbed in interior details to attend to the outdoors, while others just don’t have the budget. Others think it’s too much trouble to build and maintain. But whatever your reasons, you’re missing out on a lot if you don’t have a decent outdoor area. There’s nothing like the crisp evening breeze on your face after a long day at work. And when you want to sell your home, a nice garden really adds to your curb appeal.

So how do you design the perfect garden? The good news is that it’s not that hard—you can put one together on your own using only a few simple tools, and more importantly, without breaking the bank. It’ll take some work, but once your garden is in full bloom, you’ll see it’s well worth the effort. Here are some tips to help you get started.

Prepare your soil. The type of soil in your property determines which types of plants will thrive in it. For instance, very few plants can grow in loose sand or thick clay. If you have soft, moist loam soil, you’re in luck; you can plant pretty much anything you want. But regardless of your soil type, you need to fertilize it with compost—a mixture of decaying organic material such as leaves, coffee grounds, and animal manure. You can buy pre-mixed soil at gardening shops, or mix in your own homemade compost.

Choose a garden style. Before you start buying plants, you need to know what you want your garden to look like overall. Do you want it wild and blooming, simple and traditional, or sleek and minimal? You’ll be walking by this garden every day, so make sure you choose something you can live with for a while. Also consider your lifestyle, the amount of time you can commit to tending your garden. If you can’t spare more than 10 minutes of garden time a day, go for low-maintenance plants that can survive on weekly watering and treatment.

Start with trees. Even if your garden is just a few feet across, a tree or two will make it more homey and welcoming. Choose your trees carefully, as they will determine the shade level of the entire garden and therefore the types of plants it will support. If you have hot summers and long winters, a deciduous tree may be your best choice. These trees provide shade in the summer and shed their leaves in the winter to let in the sunlight through. Maple, elm, birch, and aspen are some of the most common deciduous trees.

Have a focal point. Building a garden is a lot like designing a room. For both areas, you need to find a focal point—an object that draws attention and sets the design theme for the room. Your garden’s focal point can be a large tree, an attractive flower-bed, or a nice shaded trellis. It must be the first thing a person sees when they walk into your garden. Everything else will be built around it, so it must be something attractive enough to hold up the rest of the garden.

Group your plants. Variety is good, but only if it’s presented creatively. For your smaller plants, try to get more than one of each type to make them visible. Putting in just one of each type makes your garden look spotty and disorganized. Arrange similar plants in clusters for a stronger visual impact, or distribute them evenly to create a unified look. Before planting, make a layout plan for your area and find a suitable arrangement for your plants.

Mix and match. Play around with colors and textures to make your garden more interesting. Get a variety of colors and arrange them so that there’s a little of every color in every spot. Avoid planting in straight lines, unless you’re designing a formal courtyard. Try clustering similar plants in groups of three or five—odd numbers have more balance and visual impact.

Create an illusion of space. If your garden is small, you can make it look larger by covering the boundaries with foliage. This makes it look as if it goes on beyond the boundary, giving your garden an airier and more open look. Also, choose small-leafed plants to play up the volume and make the space look more spacious. Kenilworth ivy, Japanese maple, and baby’s tears all make great additions to small gardens.