There are many schools of thought concerning garden design and although it’s good to consider them, the best result comes from addressing your own needs and preferences. Visit gardens and peruse books and magazines to see what appeals to you. Then play with the photographs and images to see which combinations you like the most.
Here are some general points to consider during your planning and planting process:
- Determine the purpose(s) for your outdoor space and plan accordingly. For instance, do you wish to grow vegetables, screen the sights or sounds of what lies beyond your garden, entertain family and friends with a sitting area or barbeque or have places for young children to play in the sand, on an activity set or simply kick the ball? Other ideas include a garden that beckons with winding pathways and lush vegetation or maybe a combination of these and more!
- Honour your own sense of style. An all-white garden can be harmonious but it's not for everyone. Ask yourself if you feel better walking among sweeping curves or looking at clearly defined angles? Do you like big dramatic plants, small compact ones or a combination of both?
- Analyze your site carefully before starting your design to see where you might need large or small plants, evergreen or deciduous trees and whatever else comes to mind.
- Start with a site map (see our Mapping section).
- Choose plants that will thrive in the conditions that your garden offers (light, soil, moisture, and climate). You can determine your garden's lighting and moisture by observing it at different times of the day and year, as one area may be well lit up in the morning and shadey in the afternoon or wet in the spring but dry in the summer. To figure out what type of soil you have, look, feel or conduct a soil test. For your climate, check out our zone maps before you visit the nursery, if you aren't sure what zone you live in.
- Avoid alien invasive plants that are known to displace regionally native species which can have serious impacts on wildlife.
- Look to neighbouring natural areas. If you include features of that habitat on your property, wildlife will see your garden as an extension of their existing habitat and you will be able to attract species that would otherwise see your property as too small. Consider using regionally native plants.
- Give preference to larger groupings (three, five or more, depending on both the size of the plant and the area where you hope to plant them) of each perennial rather than individual plants.
- Combine plants that have similar environmental needs.
- Consider all angles from which the garden will be viewed: entrances, windows, gates, etc.
- Identify problem areas such as steep slopes, lack of privacy, and ugly structures and make the solution part of your design.
- Consider the points mentioned in the other pages of this section and visit our Gardening for Wildlife pages to tailor your greenspace to specific wildlife and their needs.
- When it comes time to plant, play with plant placement while they are still in their pots before making the final decisions.
- Place the largest plants first.
Remember that design is a continuing process. Don’t expect to get it all right the first time. And have fun with it.