Home & Design July 28, 2008

Winter Dreams, Summer Blossoms

Planning Ahead for your Garden

Winter is a great time for planning a garden. Satisfy all those winter yearnings for color by plunging into gardening books, nursery catalogs and magazines to imagine a creative new vision for your garden. Search the Internet and print out ideas.

Save your ideas on a garden planning board—a bulletin board near your home work area. Tack up magazine photos of gardens you like, catalog clippings of specific plants and flowers and swatches of color that attract you.

While collecting ideas, first decide the purpose of your garden, advises professional landscaper Jon Wilkes of Bellevue’s Branching Out. Do you want a quiet place to meditate, a dramatic show of beautiful color, a place to socialize or a combination of all three in different areas? Do you want a yard planted with evergreens for year-round privacy or open areas to enhance a view of the mountains?

Notice which style of garden feels right to you. Are you attracted to a formal English garden or a wild garden full of native plants that attract and nurture the local bird population? An Oriental garden with pools and smooth sculptural rocks or a modern garden with clean lines and oversized pots?

After deciding the purpose and style of the garden, walk around inside your house noticing which colors you like and imagining the views from each window—perhaps quiet muted colors and shapes outside the bedroom window or an herb garden outside the kitchen.

Once you have an idea of what you like, Kelley Weston of Hailey’s Native Landscapes suggests taking a photo of your yard, laying tracing paper over it, and using pencils to sketch out as many versions as you like. Weston draws shapes first, beginning with the main structural elements—what landscapers call the “bones of the garden,” such as large trees.

“Balance the shapes,” notes Weston. Try a spiky-shaped plant for a dramatic effect (like irises or grasses) and balance it with a low mounded shape for a more serene feeling (mosses). “Certain shapes look better with other shapes. I try to contrast them, balance them, so I don’t have too much of one thing.” Once you figure out the shapes you like, look on your planning board or in books for plants that fit those shapes.  >>>


Texture and color are also important to Weston. “Basically, I’m looking for contrasts—different colors, kinds of textures—soft, hard or ferny. For softer textures, if I want something quieter, I use Wooly Thyme, Wooly Lambs Ear, Artemisia. For dark striking textures, it could be something like evergreens.” It depends on what the site recommends. “I want it to be harmonious enough to feel like one piece, but I want elements that contrast enough with the other textures that they stand out. When you have something that stands out, it makes the other things stand out as well.”

For color, begin by sketching the backbone of the garden—the plants that remain the same color for most of the year. “For example,” says Weston, “if I have a Gold Mound Spirea, it has beautiful yellow leaves that will be the same color from May through September.”

Next add flowers that bloom in different months by using a different piece of tracing paper for each month. Balance the placement of colors within each month. “I want to have the garden blooming all year with some plants blooming in May, some in June, July, August. I don’t want all the May blooming plants to be blooming in the right-hand corner of the garden. I want plants blooming in the front and also in the back. I want some of those May blooming plants that are six inches tall, some two feet tall and some 18 inches tall. I’m playing with and balancing all these flowery colors and sizes.”

In a perennial garden, find a color combination that feels good to you, that flows across the garden. It’s all a matter of personal taste, according to Weston. “There is no hard and fast rule of what colors work with other colors.” Figure out the palette you like, then choose flowers that come in those colors.

Another way to draw out a garden plan, suggested by landscaper Wilkes, is to use the site plan available from your home architect, contractor or from the county. Pin the site plan to a board, and use tracing paper and soft lead pencils so you can erase. A good scale is one inch equals 10 feet. Wilkes suggests getting a landscape template (available at stationery or art supply stores) which has symbols of different trees and plants scaled to size so that you can draw using the template, starting with the major structural elements and ending with the perennials.

“You want to go for unity and flow so that there are repeating elements throughout the garden that create a rhythm.”

As Weston says, “Look at pictures, study, figure out what it is that you like. Everyone knows what they like, if they’re willing to study it. Then take that information and apply it. That’s all I ever did.”

This article appears in the Winter 2007 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.