There is a pile of seed and plant catalogs next to my chair so garden planning for 2014 has begun. I already have existing gardens, the big fenced Potager, the blueberry patch, the Herb Bed, the little Front Garden for early vegetables, the Daylily Bank, the Rose Bank, the Shed Bed, the Rose Walk, the Peony Border, and the two Lawn Beds, north and south, which means my garden planning is in the nature of review and renew. Reviewing and renewing at my time of life should and shall mean it is time to consider whether I must think about reducing – but we’ll get back to that.
Some gardeners, and would-be gardeners may have a new garden space to plan. When considering a new garden the first task is to assess what kind of a gardener you are.
Are you a new gardener with little or no experience? Are you a passionate gardener with limited time due to the demands of family and work? Are you so obsessed with gardening that you will always make time to play in the dirt?
I think one of the most under-appreciated and under-calculated aspects of gardening is the amount of time a garden will take. Even those of us who love gardening, and happily spend hours planting, weeding and cultivating are often overwhelmed by weeds and undone chores come August, so I advise everyone to consider realistically how much time you can devote to playing in the dirt.
The advice for a new gardener to start small is advice that may very well be revisited at different times. I think I already mentioned that I should be thinking of reducing, and making my garden smaller.
The new gardener can start with small projects like a dooryard garden that will be welcoming. Even in a small space you can think about layering. Is there room for a small tree like a witch hazel (Hammamelis) that will give you the earliest of twirly flowers in spring, or a new small redbud (Cercis), or a dwarf crabapple. Beneath the tree you can have annuals or perennials, and beneath that a low, ground hugging plant like the spring blooming tiarella (foamflower).
A small utilitarian garden could be an herb garden planted near the door. An herb bed is pretty, useful and very easy to care for. There are annual herbs like parsley and basil, and many perennial herbs like sage, chives and mint, with self seeding herbs like dill and caraway.
I’ve always said that if I could only have the tiniest of vegetable gardens it would be a salad garden with tomatoes, lettuce and a bean tree for the green beans that I love. Someone else might have other favorite vegetables in a tiny vegetable garden.
Whether beginning a first garden, or in a new space where you will begin again, the question to answer is whether you begin with an edible garden, or an ornamental garden with flowers and shrubs?
After assessing what kind of gardener you might be, you have to assess your potential garden space. Do you have a lot of space? Or a small space? Is it sunny or shady?
The attributes of the space will provide both limitations and opportunities.
Is the space just a wide open expanse of sunny lawn? Does it make you feel hot and exposed? You may want to think about plants that will give you some shade but also some privacy.
Is the space dominated by large tree that throws dense shade, or is the house situated so that it throws long hours of shade in the best garden spaces? Sometimes it is hard to remember that there are many plants that tolerate shade and some demand shade. It is also true that there are many shades of shade, from high, dappled shade, shade produced by deciduous trees that changes over the course of the year, and dense shade produced by large evergreens.
Shade also moves across the landscape. Do you have shade for many hours, or only a few. Sun loving plants that bloom usually require 4-6 hours of sunlight, and it is preferable that those sunny hours be in the middle of the day. Sunlight from 7 am til noon is not as strong as the sunlight from noon til 5 pm on a summer day.
If you are a new gardener and look at your space with despair and terror there are different ways of beginning. You can join a garden club! Garden club members love to visit other gardens and they usually have experience to share, lots of advice, and even opinions that you don’t have to share. If you have a gardening friend you’ll have someone to question, and who will play with ideas before you get to serious work.
There are many books on landscape design like the wild and witty Kiss My Aster: A Graphic Guide to Creating a Fantastic Yard Totally Tailored to You by Amanda Thomson, or Home Outside: Creating the Landscape You Love by Julie Moir Messervy who has been designing beautiful domestic (and other) landscapes for over 30 years.
You can also spend some money on a consultation with a garden designer who will help start you off.
There are many ways to begin a garden plan, and it is wise to remember that a plan is always a plan writ in pencil, not stone. It can change.
This is the first of a four-part series on garden planning. Stay tuned.
Between the Rows January 4, 2014