Landscape Planning 101

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Have you ever walked into someone??s home for the first time and thought to yourself ??what were they thinking??? While an eclectic style of interior decorating can be striking to some, too many different styles, colors and textures thrown together without any order can create a sense of uneasiness.

That??s how I feel when I look at my first (and largest) perennial bed. It??s a mixture of great plants??flowers, herbs and shrubs that bloom every season, in different shapes and sizes, textures and colors. Many of the plants are ??pass-along?? plants that I received from friends and neighbors. While I love every single thing planted in this garden, there??s something missing. I look at the gardens of my neighbors, Ginger and Kay, who have many of the same plants that I have??and there??s a visually pleasing flow to their plantings, a sense of continuity and grace that my plot just doesn??t have. Like a room that is merely a collection of the owner??s favorite things, what my garden needs is a plan.

No matter what size garden or landscape you are considering, planning is a very important first step. A plan or design can be as simple or complicated as you would like it to be. One of the many benefits of a design plan is that you can easily change things on paper before you begin planting. If you have a very large area to landscape, a design plan can make the job less overwhelming, since you can break the entire yard down into smaller, more manageable areas that can be planted over time.

Whether you hire a landscape designer to draw up a plan or decide to tackle the job yourself, there are many things for you to consider in your planning:

  • Why do you want a garden? Are you interested in creating a habitat for wildlife? Do you have an erosion problem, such as a sloping front yard that needs controlling? Are you attempting to cover an eyesore? Do you only care about flowers for a cutting garden?

  • How much time do you have for maintenance? Are you the caretaker, or will you hire someone to maintain the garden? Are you gone for long periods of time? Do you want a garden that requires you spend many hours each week maintaining it?

  • What??s your budget? Can you afford to install all the plants in the design at once or will you need to plant the landscape in stages?

  • Take a critical look at your site. What are the pros and cons of your yard? Do you have full sun all day in the front yard, and morning shade/afternoon sun in the backyard? Is it flat or hilly??do you need to fill in areas or add berms for interest? What about the soil? Is it clay or sand, wet or dry? All of these elements make a difference in planning your garden.

  • What kind of plants do you want? What do you like? Do you long for an old-fashioned garden, like grandma??s? Would you like a woodland garden, filled with shade-loving plants, or do you prefer a garden with a theme, such as a scented garden, a moon garden or one reminiscent of Monet??s gardens? Much depends on the amount of sun and shade that you already have, but the key is to choose plants that perform well in metro Atlanta??s climate.

  • Get out the graph paper and draw. Now??s the time to make a scale drawing of your landscape. Make sure to use pencil and draw in the house, driveway and service areas (such as garage, trash collection area, etc.). Consider scale, form, size and texture when placing plants??and make sure you have a good eraser!

Now is the best time to come up with a plan for your spring garden.

If you decide to hire a landscape designer to help you with your plan, don??t be afraid to state your likes and dislikes. ??Because of things like HGTV, homeowners are much better informed than ever in regards to trends and techniques in gardening,?? says Doug Davis of White Oak Landscape.

Davis says input from his clients is of the utmost importance. Theresa Schrum and Shannon Pable of Eco-Terra Landscape Consultants agree. ??Designing a landscape that suits our clients?? wants and needs that is also aesthetically pleasing is important,?? Pable says. ??But we need to remind them about the functional part, such as keeping a path wide enough for a lawnmower.??

Both White Oak??s and Eco-Terra??s professionals stress that before you can even begin to think about plant installation, issues such as erosion and drainage problems must be solved. Just as in painting a house, the prep work is 90 percent of the job??without good, solid preparation, you??re throwing money away.
Davis, Schrum and Pable also emphasize that one role of a landscape designer is to educate their clients. Davis steers his clients to plants that fit their lots, including smaller trees such as Trident maple, Kousa dogwood and ??Little Gem?? magnolia. Eco-Terra??s specialty is using native plants that perform magnificently n Atlanta??s climate.

They also remind clients that a landscape evolves over time. While larger, more mature specimens will give immediate impact (and cost more), they will rapidly overtake the garden. It??s a much better idea to put in correctly sized, properly spaced plants that will grow ??into?? the landscape.

The bottom line is this??have a plan for your space before you dig that first hole. As for me, maybe this will be the winter that I dig out that perennial bed and start over??with a good plan!


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