Planning Your Garden

January 4, 2023

'If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need"- Cicero


Good gardens begin with design, and great plants! Basic design and planning are the framework upon which everything else depends. Starting a plan on paper is the best motivator to work towards your goal. It can ensure that your site is utilized to its fullest potential, and a place where inspiration is jotted down. Winter is a good time to start gardening with native plants by reading and planning.

A beginning gardener may feel a bit overwhelmed by so many details, plant names, and what have you but learning what makes a good garden is done through practice, making mistakes and trying again. Pick the plants that fit your site and are most appealing to you!  With each plant you try out, you will learn more about what you like and how plants behave in your landscape. Each experience will give valuable information to adjust your overall plan.

If reworking a native garden, it is useful to use the winter months to plan improvements in the design; do you want to change widths of the beds, make new arrangements of plants, and add new species?  The design and plan of native gardens should be updated periodically. Notes and photographs are helpful to understand the changes as a garden goes through the seasons. This never-ending change is one of the things that make gardening particularly interesting and challenging.

Now that you’ve decided you want to plan out your native garden here are a handful of tips to guide you through this process:

  • What existing plants and natural features do you currently have? Are they native? If not, are they invasive? You may already have native flora or other desirable plants in your backyard without your assistance. Instead of removing all plants and starting whole cloth, you may be able to utilize these plants and build off of them. (It is important to be able to identify invasive plants and to remove when possible. Invasives are quite often allelopathic and can spread quite easily if not dealt with)
  • Now that you have taken stock of your existing plants, think about the conditions of your site, to help you narrow what species to highlight. Features to take into account include: light exposure (sunny or shady?), soil conditions (wet, dry or in-between), soil type (sandy, clay, loam, etc), topography and proximity to urban environment (is it near a road or sidewalk, for example). Sorting this out at the beginning will give you a deeper insight on the species your site may require. And when in doubt, taking note of light exposure and general moisture levels of your site will give you the simplest jumping off point for selecting species. See our plant finder to filter out these characteristics to your site’s needs.
  • Make a list of the native plants that you like to include your garden. Consider the mature size and growing habits of each plant. Think about the color texture and form of the plants and think about generally grouping them together based on these characteristics. 
  • Next, you’ll want to think about the design of your planting site. If up against a structure or in the back of your yard, you may want to consider planting taller perennials and shrubs near the back of your site, or if you want 360 visibility you may want to have your tallest plants in the middle and going (relatively) tallest to shortest. In addition determine the layout and materials you may want to use. This is the time to consider whether you would like a walking path or place for a bench, if desired.
  • Measure out your bed, how big of an area do you need to fill? Draw your basic bed out on on a sheet of paper, it doesn’t have to be too in depth, a little planning goes a long way. In addition to the site specifications this may also be the time to think about what colors you may want to have in your garden, what type of pollinators do you want to bring in? Jot these down so you can reference when building your plant list.
  • Spacing in a native garden is key. It’s better to start smaller and build on what you initially planted. You want to allow room for ultimate growth of your plants. Do not over-plant to achieve a fuller bed right away. It’s better to start slowly with some of your favorite species and fill in the gaps in later years. In addition, you may later on realize you want to add different seasonal blooms to your garden, including summer and fall bloomers. Check back for a more detailed post on spacing in the future!
  • Think about clustering speices together. Groupings of 3 or more individual plants of the same species can be more successful in attracting pollinators. Lay out your plants before planting to give yourself a clearer sense of spacing and to make sure you’re happy with the overall look and feel of your bed.

So there you have it, with a little bit of research and planning, anyone can create a beautiful, sustainable, and thriving native garden! If you need assistance with planning out your new or existing native spaces feel free to drop us a line here, and we'd be happy to assist you!