A map will help you plan out the design of your garden before you've turned over a single shovelful of soil. It is important, however, to use a scale drawing, so that you can get precise measurements for each garden feature. Here's how any amateur gardener can become a skillful draftsman.
Measure the yard using a measuring tape (50-foot lengths work well), and sketch the perimeter on graph paper. Draw in existing trees, shrubs, fences, and other features you intend to keep, using an overhead, bird's-eye view. Trees and shrubs appear to be circular blobs, and fences look rather linear. Draw in the existing lawn. Make some copies so you can experiment with designs. Then pencil in possible bed outlines and imagine how they will look. Once you've decided on the location of the beds, draw in the plants you want to add (at the proper spacing) and get an accurate count of how many plants you'll need. There are computer programs available for home landscapers who want to test various designs from natural as well as overhead views.
You have a scale drawing of your existing landscape and have made multiple copies for worksheets. Now draw a simple sketch showing the general location of the elements needed in relation to the house and to one another. For instance, if an outdoor eating area is needed, sketch it near the kitchen or dining room for a good transition between indoors and outdoors. The relationship diagram will help you in the beginning steps of putting a plan together. Your considerations should include the amount of maintenance time you plan to spend in the yard.
The next step in planning your garden is about garden placement. You will need to think about the physical and geological conditions you'll be gardening under, as well as the all-important question of grass. How do you decide? Read our advice on the next page.