Designing Gardens

Men laying new hardwood flooring

Please see Landscaping & Garden resources below.

Photo courtesy of Feildstone Center.

Designing a garden is accomplished either consciously or unconsciously. Even those gardens that seem to be all over the place are the result of a series of decisionsplanting a tree here, adding a border of flowers there, perhaps placing a water feature somewhere else.

But the most successful gardens usually begin with a consciously planned design. The resulting garden is usually much better aesthetically and practically, and the overall design more coherent, if you include the entire garden in your scheme. If you forgo planning, the results are often a haphazard collection of plants with too many variations in shape, color, size and texture, which often creates confusion. To begin the conscious effort of designing your garden, youll need to answer the following questions:

Why do you want a garden? What are your lifestyle needs?

How much time to you have for maintenance?

Whats your budget?

Analyze the site. Are there drainage issues? How much sun and shade does it receive? Is the yard flat or sloped? Whats the soil like?

What kind of plants do you want?

Once youve done your homework and come up with answers to these questions, its time to draw a blueprint of your yard and begin designing the garden. Dont worry, you dont need a degree in landscape architecture or have to be a skilled artist to put your ideas on paper. Follow these simple steps as a guide to draw a plan for your own landscape or garden.

Measure your yard.

Youll need an accurate measurement of the area in order to create an accurate plan. Find the longest measuring tape you can, use small stakes as markers, get out the clipboard and your pencil, and go out into the garden again. Draw a rough outline of the yard, and begin to measure.

Start from the house and measure the boundaries of the yard from corner to corner. Measure the position of windows and doors in the house so that, later, you have a precise idea of how house and garden relate. Measure and mark existing shrubs and trees, driveways, swimming pools, steps and stairs. Anything that is large or likely to stay put in your scheme needs to be in the plan. When measuring trees, measure the spread of the canopy as well as the trunk so youll have precise figures to work with later. For shrubs, measure the circumference of the entire plant.

Make a scale drawing of your present landscape.

Youll need graph paper, a ruler, a sharp pencil and a good eraser. Letter-sized graph paper with four squares to the inch is readily available and easy to use. Establish the scale that youll use for the plan (how many feet each inch on the paper will represent) and write that on the plan. If you are sketching a really large garden or prefer a larger scale, you may want to tape two or more sheets of graph paper together, or buy larger sized sheets.

Orient the plan by designating direction. The best way to show direction is to designate north with an N and an arrow pointing in that direction. Remember, youll probably be looking at the plan from the bottom of the page up, so your N symbol will not necessarily be pointing to the top of the page. Heres an example: If you draw a plan of your front yard as viewed from the street, and your house faces east, your north arrow should be pointing to the right of the page.

From your rough measurements, draw in the outline of the house and all hardscaping (driveways, sidewalks, patios, etc.). Service areas (such as storm drains, garages and carports, trash can collection and other storage areas) should be worked into the plan now to ensure that they dont throw your entire concept later. This is where scale is importantuse simple math to convert the previously measured elements to correct dimensions for your drawing.

Next, draw in the trees and shrubs that are already established in your yard. Use any system that you find easytrees can be drawn as circles, shrubs can be drawn as squares, or more elaborate shapes can be used for different types of plants. A very helpful professional landscapers template can be purchased at an office supply store for use in drafting your plan. The template includes different sized and shaped stencils, curved and straight lines, and other features that will assist you in completing a professional looking illustration. The most important thing is that you know what each shape represents. This is where a key is important. Once again, use the measurements that you previously took of the actual plants and convert them to the scale you are using for your plan.

Once you have this master plan, make several copies and keep the original in a safe place. That way, you can draw and erase to your hearts content until you get the final plan right.

Implement new ideas onto the plan. Heres where all of your research and planning pays off. First, define a focal point in the gardena naturally occurring or strategically placed feature or plantings that draw the eye. This gives the rest of the garden a more dramatic, orderly look. A small garden may only need one focal point, but a larger area may need several. Design around this focal point.

Draw in any new hardscape first, and include paths, sidewalks, childrens play areas, etc.

Next add planting beds and borders, trees and shrubs. Once again, this is where your key is important. Different shapes, letters and symbols can represent plants, but you have to know what those shapes and symbols represent. Add these symbols to your key.

Select plants based on how they will be used. For shade, choose medium or large deciduous trees. For screening purposes, choose plants with dense foliage to block views. If screening is needed year round, use evergreens. Planting trees and shrubs in groups can also divide and define different areas.

Photo courtesy of Long Cane Group.

In order to achieve proper groupings and create a pleasing array, it is important to follow a few guidelines. Plants of a kind should be grouped somewhat closely in order to grow together. Spacing between dissimilar groups should be greater so plants of different kinds dont overpower each other. On the same note, plant shrubs far enough from trees to prevent the trees from overcrowding the shrubs. Make sure to consider mature plant size when putting your plan on paper.

As a general rule, group several of the same kinds of plants together. Group three or five plants of a kind together because odd numbers generally offer a more interesting appearance.

When selecting plants, consider the textures of different varieties. Leaf sizes, shapes and colors add interest as do various plant heights and widths, different branch configurations and needle lengths. Be sure to consider rhythm, balance and repetition as well.

To round out the landscape, plan for year-round color. Bulbs, ornamental trees and flowering shrubs provide spring color. Summers are highlighted with annuals, perennials and summer flowering bulbs. Fall brings foliage color and the beauty of perennials such as asters and chrysanthemums. Color during the winter can be achieved with the rich bark color of evergreens, plus berries, winter-blooming perennials, annuals, shrubs and trees.

Now that you have your finished plan in hand, its time to get to work. Solve any drainage and soil problems first, install hardscape and irrigation if required, and start buying plants. Fall and winter are the best times for planting, so youd better move fast. Follow these steps and you will have a professional and personal landscape you can enjoy for many years to come.

Photo courtesy of P.O.P.S Landscaping.

For more information about garden design:

Residential Landscape Architecture: Design Process for the Private Residence, Norman K. Booth and James E. Hiss, Prentice Hall, 2002.
Easy Garden Design: 12 Simple Steps to Creating Successful Gardens and Landscapes, Janet Macunovich, Storey Communications Inc., 1992.
Basic Principles of Landscape Design, Dewayne. L. Ingram Florida Cooperative Extension Service, 1991.
Complete Land Designer 3-D, CD ROM. Bellevue, WA: Sierra Home 2001.

Landscaping and Gardening Resources:

Allin Landscaping

368 Grove Hill Drive, Stockbridge, 770-506-8208

Angel Gardens by DeAnna

1166 N. Carter Road, Decatur, 404-289-6806

Callahan Landscape Services


Curvature Landscapes

1936 Wellona Place, Atlanta, 404-633-9777

Decks and More

1060 Medlin St., Smyrna, 770-235-6929


5168 Waterford Drive, Dunwoody, 770-673-0072

Earth Products

515 Cobb Parkway, NE, Marietta, 770-424-1479

Fieldstone Center

990 Green St., Conyers, 770-483-6770

HJR Environments, LLC.

1050 Concord Road, Smyrna, 770-444-3663

Krigman Landscaping Group

3080 A Creek Drive, Duluth, 770-638-7000

Marcia Weber/ Gardens to Love

739 Trabert Ave., Atlanta, 404-603-9705

Oasis Irrigation Systems, Inc.

4958 Winter Chapel Road, Doraville, 770-913-9033

Olde World Gardens and Stoneworks

507 Roswell St., Marietta, 770-427-0200

Piedmont Landscape

Tucker, GA, 770-723-1889

Pike Family Nurseries

4020 Steve Reynolds Blvd., Norcross, 404-255-PLAN (7526)

P.O.P.S. Landscaping

1023 Shallowford Road, Marietta, 770-928-5658

Riverside Metal Products

1800 Industrial Park Circle, Lawrenceville, 678-377-8211

Sensory Solutions

2140 New Market Parkway, Ste. 122, Marietta, 770-952-2400

Scottsdale Farms

15639 Birmingham Highway, Alpharetta, 770-777-5875

Southeastern Masonry, LLC.


The Keystone Group


Turf Soakers

3439 Macland Road, Powder Springs, 770-714-8594

Your Backyard Plus, Inc.

661 South Cobb Drive, Marietta, 770-423-7433

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