Garden Blueprint: Unlock the Secrets of a Perfect Garden Layout

If you’ve been researching garden layouts, you may have noticed that the word “balance” comes up quite a bit.

There’s a good reason for that. For one thing, creating balance — a sense of symmetry and harmony — is a basic design principle. But beyond that, mapping out a garden is often an exercise in achieving balance. You’re creating a place that’s both beautiful and practical, one that meets your needs and those of your plants.

We realize the idea of developing a layout for your garden, balanced or not, can be daunting. But creating an effective plan is very doable, even if you’re new to gardening. 

And you have so much to gain. A well-planned garden layout helps you make good use of the space available to you: You can make sure that each area serves a purpose. Planning contributes to healthy plants, as well. And when you plan your garden, you have an opportunity to create a space that reflects your personality. 

“The key is to find a balance that supports your way of life in the garden,” Vego Garden Horticulturist Sydney Fiene said. “You want to create a space where you feel happy, you feel focused, and you have something that’s functional.”

Your garden space

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Before you start mapping out your garden, you’ll need to do some pre-planning. This starts with a close look at the space you plan to use. Take time to get a feel for the conditions - factors that could impact your plants and overall design.

  • Are there areas that receive direct sunlight for most of the day? Does the location have spots with full or partial shade? 
  • How’s the drainage? Some plants prefer well-draining soil, while others may thrive in moisture-retentive soil.  
  • How much space do you have to work with? Take measurements.
  • Do you have room to add seating, fountains, or other features?

You’ll probably need to do extra research if your dream garden calls for a major project like adding pathways or a large fountain. Check with your municipality, and if applicable, your homeowners’ association (HOA) to see if they have any restrictions.

Plant considerations

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Once you understand the space you’ll be working with, give some thought to the types of plants that would do best there. The colorful tropical bloom that caught your eye on Instagram may be gorgeous, but would it thrive in your geographical area — and in the conditions that will exist in your garden? Do some research before committing to it.

That said, while you should select plants suited for your garden’s conditions, your preferences matter, too. And choosing colors that you love is a great way to infuse your personality into your garden design.

“If you want a purple flower, look up the purple flowers best for your area and go from there,” Fiene said. “Remember, your garden is an expression of you. Make it how you want it.”

Grab colored pencils

Armed with information about your garden space and what you want to plant, you’ll be ready to create some rough sketches.

Fiene finds this step extremely helpful. It’s a chance to show the ideas she’s been considering, how it would look, and then adjust as needed. 

“I always like to do a small sketch,” Fiene said. “If you start buying all of these plants before there's a plan, you will be wasting a lot of money, time and effort. You might as well sketch it, see how you like it first, and then go from there.”

Remember as you plan that some of the things you hope to include in your garden will most likely be bigger a few years down the road.

“If you buy a small tree, in 20 years it's going to be a really large tree,” Fiene said. “And if you put it in a spot where a large tree isn't going to fit, then it can become an issue later.”

The beauty of a focal point

Maybe you’ve narrowed down your flower selections, but you can’t decide what to put where. One of the easiest and most effective strategies is to establish a focal point in your garden — one key element — and build around it. 

“Having a focal point provides a lot of inspiration for how you would like to design the rest of your layout,” Fiene said. “This could be finding the perfect spot for a bench and then deciding what would look best around it. If you’re sitting in your favorite chair in your garden, for example, and you’re looking straight ahead, you don't want the beautiful plants that you love the most behind you. You're going to want them in front of you.”

And remember, sketching lets you play around with possibilities until you come up with a design that truly resonates with you.

Design with purpose

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As you plan, you also should ask yourself what you hope to be doing in the space you’re creating.

Say you’re planning a vegetable garden layout for your backyard.

“If you eat lettuce every week, you want that closer to your back door,” Fiene said. “You don’t want to walk to the back of your garden to get it. 

“If you have slow-growing plants that don't need a lot of maintenance, you can put those farther out,” she added. “You're not going to see them as much, but they're going to do OK out there. In the middle, I would put, for example, your collard greens, your herbs, your tomatoes, and peppers because they need more maintenance.”

The same ideas apply to flowers, she said.

“I would put your perennials, your big trees, and your shrubs out farther (from your home), because they're going to be more low maintenance. Your design will depend on how you enter your garden, what you want to look at, and what needs care every day. Then drawing that up in your sketch gives you a rough feel for how it would look and feel walking through there.”

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