Landscape Planning

Rachel Burrows

This is a great time to plan your new garden. It is still cold and snowy and yet the promise of spring is in the air.

There are several very important things to consider before you start to think about plant material. Establish how you and your family use the garden and if you plan to use it differently in the future. Ask yourself the following questions – Do you have a need for an extended living area i.e. a deck or a patio? Do you want a play area for children? Do you have pets? If so, do you need a secure, fenced area or a dog run? How about storage requirements – a garden shed, garbage bins. Do you need an area for compost bins, a greenhouse? Is your car parked in the garage or do you need to make sure that you have enough parking space? Do you know where your underground utilities are located?

Make a brief outline of what you want to achieve in your garden and any problems on the property. What are your priorities, what and where are the worst problems? Are you planning to do all the construction and planting yourself? How much time do you want to spend in the garden, both working and relaxing? How much money and over what period of time, do you have available for your garden?

What is the style of your house-what kind of landscape will suit it? It often works to match the front landscaping to the colour and style of the house, but match the backyard to the inside of the house looking out. Does the front of your house look inviting and attractive? Do you want to screen an ugly element in your backyard or take advantage of a marvelous view? By "borrowing" an extended view of a park or a neighbours garden, you can visually enlarge your own plot.

What about the prevailing winds? Do you need to plant trees and shrubs to provide shelter and protection? Keep a record of how much sun and shade each area in the garden receives. You will want to match up your plants to the area best suited to them. Do you have any wet or dry spots? How about drainage and the ground slope? Different levels can provide interest and focal points. Save yourself from making expensive mistakes by considering the different conditions.

Do you wish to attract birds and wildlife to your garden? They will require shelter in the form of trees and shrubs, food and water. Are you interested in establishing an edible garden? Will your garden be mainly perennials or annuals?

The hard landscaping is best done first. Are there natural paths that everyone uses? Main walkways should be a minimum of 4’ wide and 6’ is even better. Plan a focal point – this can be a wonderful tree, a dramatic plant, a statue or an arbour and ideally should have year round appeal. Lay out your garden with a foreground, middle and background to give a sense of scale.

It is very useful to obtain a copy of the survey or site plan. Enlarge it and make several copies. The scale won’t be exact but it will give you a good base plan to write dimensions on. If you want to get professional help, now is the time. Otherwise use 1 copy for rough dimensions i.e. permanent paths, structures, and utility locations. If in any doubt of the latter, call for locating, it is free. 1 copy should be used for wind direction, sun, drainage, slope etc. Don’t forget to think about weather conditions in both winter and summer.

1 copy can be used to draw in existing healthy or important plant material. Mark any items you wish to get rid of. Mark all the major views that you want left open and any that are to be blocked. The last copy will be your final concept underlay –use tracing paper over this to make multiple trial concepts.

Landscape plans must be functional and work for you and your life style. Your garden will be so much better if you give it considerable thought before you start to dig.