To revamp your landscape, know your obstacles, don’t rush the process and put the right plant in the right place.
The tools you’ll need are:
- a metal measuring tape
- a pencil with eraser
- a ruler
- a notepad
- graph paper
- a digital camera (helpful, not required), and
- a clear vision of what you want to end up with.
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Ask Yourself These Questions and Write the Answers Down
What works/doen’t work about the current landscape? In the new landscape what types of areas should there be, i.e. play area, flower bed, veggie garden, entertainment, shady area for relaxing, large lawn, etc.
Are there any problems that need to be addressed such as tree work or flooding? Is there major construction in the near future (new driveway, digging up the septic, putting on a new porch) that will affect the timeline of the new landscaping? (If so, do these first.)
While these answers are being developed, start saving pictures or clippings of gardens, plants and flowers that inspire you. This will help define likes/dislikes..
With That Done, It’s Time to Go Outside
Sketch the perimeter of the property and draw in the permanent key elements, like the house, driveway, shed, pool, fence and firepit. Next circle each area that will get a new design treatment. Each circle represents a separate page on which to draw an expanded view of that section.
Measure each section of the yard that is to receive a revamp. Put the measurements down on the graph paper in a scale drawing showing the shape of the physical space and permanent elements. On each sketch indicate North with a directional arrow.
Next, determine how the sun moves across each section of the garden. This is easiest done by standing in the garden at different times of day, and in different seasons. (If you’ve just moved in to a house and are unfamiliar with the light and plantings there, it is best to wait a full season before making major changes to the landscape.)
After noting the shape of the area, the permanent structures (including large trees and shrubs that are staying), and showing the direction of sunlight and shadow, note the areas that are empty. These are the spots to fill in with new plants to make the lanscape more appealing.
Determining the Right Plant for the Right Place
- How big with the plant get at maturity? If it’s going to grow to 15 feet high and there is only 5 feet of available height space, buy a different plant.
- How much sun is available for its use? If it requires part sun and the space is very shaded, don’t buy it. Get a plant that wants shade.
- What type of soil is present and how nutrient-rich is it? Lavender won’t grown in damp soil rich in organic matter. On the other hand it will thrive in full sun and poor soil.
- How much water does this plant need to thrive?
- Does the plant need to service a purpose, i.e. create privacy, have fragrance, be pink, have nice fall foliage?
On each section’s design sheet, write down the existing elements of space, light, sol and water. Pick only plants that meet these requirements. Use plant books and magazines to generate ideas and create a list of plants that will work in that space.
Before Your First Trip to the Plant Store
Get the soil tested. It is much easier to pick a plant that will grown in the available soil than to try to change the soil.
Many local university extension offices provide this service for a small fee. The University of Rhode Island soil testing center information has detailed information about how to proceed.
Keeping Track of Plant Selection to Ensure Long Season Show
Make a spreadsheet to keep track of the bloomtime for each plant. Down the left column is the plant name and across the top are the months of the year, or to simplify, the seasons. Put a check mark under the appropriate month/season when each plant is at it’s glory – either in bloom or in it’s fall color, or showing it’s winter berries.
The end result is a spreadsheet with check marks in various columns. Are all the marks in the summer column? Eliminate some plants that bloom in summer and select a few that are early spring or late winter bloomers instead. Bring this spreadsheet on all trips to garden centers and write on the back which plants have been purchased and where they are to be planted.
Back in the garden, place each plant in its spot and observe. Project the growth pattern based on the mature size on the plant tag. Are any of the plants crowding others? Is each going to fulfill its purpose? Review the original notes to make sure.
Repeat the process for each area that needs redesign to achieve a restyled landscape at a fraction of the cost of hiring a designer.