March 2010: How to Get Started Designing Your Yard or Garden Makeover

It creeps up on you and niggles into your thoughts as you gaze across your yard with a steaming mug of coffee in hand in the morning light.  You say to yourself, “I think it is time to do something different with the yard.”

Maybe it isn’t immediately apparent what to do.  You may think, “The kids have grown and left and I don’t need as much lawn, but then what?”

Maybe the change is obvious such as removing a tree that is dying or grew too large for the space.  You have the tree removed but then what?  Removing the tree changes everything.  It allows more sun in so your shade plants aren’t happy any more.  At the same time it opens up a view to the mountains.

So how do you get started to makeover your yard or garden?  Where’s the inspiration?  This is the topic for this article.  Future articles will delve into how to actually create your dream garden.

Collect Ideas and Information

First, look around at other yards, the arboretum, and local demonstration gardens.  Note what you like how you feel in those spaces.  Take photos if you can.  Look at garden magazines for colors, textures, and the look of different spaces.

Next, take measurements of your yard or garden and draw it out on blue line grid paper to scale.  Include relevant information such as the house with its doors, windows, sidewalks, stairs, outbuildings, power lines, sprinkler system, fences, and gates.  Note where trees are located in your yard and in the neighbor’s yard across the fence.  If the plan is for a smaller garden space then you need to only note the size, other shrubs or trees nearby.

Decide How You Use the Space

Once that is done, take tracing paper and lay it over your drawing.  Now you will be noting areas that are important to keep in mind as you plan.  Sketch circles around the front and side entryways.  Circle the areas that you are setting aside for the vegetable garden, play area, or patio area.  Draw arrows along travel lanes such as to the tool shed from the house.  Indicate primary and secondary travel.  Note where snow is piled in the winter.  Note the direction of the sun and where the sun and shade are.  Indicate which views you want to screen and which views you want to stay open.

Bring it All Together

Now comes the fun part.  Lay out all the magazine photos and the photos you took of flowers, plants, gardens and yards that you liked.  See what strikes you as a theme.  What colors, textures, and style do you like?  Do you like closely spaced plants so they blend or more widely spaced so you can see individual plants?  What features do you want to add to the yard—water fountain, yard art, or trellises.  What materials attracts you—stone, metal, or wood?

With another piece of tracing paper over your drawing, start to play with how all of these elements come together.  One technique is to visualize your yard as a stain glass window that you will be designing and piecing together.   Visually, the lines between the glass pieces tie the design together and the pieces of glass fill it in.  Likewise, in the landscape or garden, each space in the design will be a garden, pathway, or other element such as the patio or lawn.  Each space will also have a color and texture made up of plants, mulches, and hard surfaces.  Trees and large shrubs can be the frame or incorporated within the design space.

Include Yourself

As you image yourself walking, sitting, or working in the landscape you are designing, be aware how you feel and what you observe.  Do you feel  joyful?  Peaceful?  Inspired? What do you see?  Flowers?  Art?  Are the plants short or tall?  Are you in the warm sun or cool shade?  Do you hear birds or the sound of water?  What is it like in winter?  Play with ideas. Use more sheets of tracing paper to explore different possibilities without going into too much detail.

This is a great start for your makeover.   As the ideas solidify into a design,  other tasks are identified, plants are selected, and work begins!

Final Note

For those who have worked with me, this will sound familiar.  This process is how I start with my clients that want to makeover their yard or garden space.  I find that when the homeowner does their own makeover they can set your own pace and budget.  When they are involved with the creative process, they have an opportunity to really get to know their land and the plants.  That knowledge helps takes out the mystery when it comes time to maintaining their creation.

As mentioned above, future articles will be about continuing the makeover process and more.  I will share insights and helpful hints to help your creativity and to actually accomplish your goal.

In the meanwhile…go outside, putter in the garden, take a walk, bring the dog, breathe in the spring, celebrate the emerging flowers and the music of the birds, and enjoy your day.