Garden Planning - Intro

    Very few houses are built without an in-depth plan, and this is to make sure that the design is well thought out, and most of all, works with all the laws (legal and physics related) for safety. Yet it amazes me how few people bother to plan their garden. If you go outside, and wonder... "hmm what should I do today?" or "where did that blueberry go?" then you might significantly benefit from a garden plan.

    The first thing anyone should do, is draw a basic map of your garden. If you can, get some accurate dimensions of the garden, as the amount of materials, bed sizes, soil volumes can be calculated pretty accurately if you do. This will save you time and money in the future.

    If you live in town somewhere, your garden will probably be your front and back yards. Usually these are bordered by fences and buildings, so it usually helps to mark and measure these out. If you live in a rural location, and have a huge paddock, I'd strongly recommend that you mark out an area to start with and work from there. A better alternative is to fence it to stop critters from invading and consuming your plants.

    Now, I start with a very crude drawing and take notes for the dimensions when I'm doing my yard... and once done, I'll make a slightly more detailed map, I'll make a list of the features I'd like, and the dimensions they'd take and try to arrange it as best I can. It's completely ok to just mark out rough shapes for you veggie patch, flower bed, washing line, swimming pool or whatever. The point is to include what you need, and make sure you exclude what doesn't work.

    At this stage, drawing at the level of most primary school children is actually a benefit.  Just draw it to scale. Remember, this early stage is mostly for throwing ideas around and to get a general feel of the basic design (or three). Then I work on increasingly more detailed drawings until I'm down to plant selection.

    Planning happens in stages... or more to the point, cycles, where each cycle brings some sort of refinement.


    Many people will then just draw a "prettier" version on a large sheet of paper (perhaps on transparencies so multiple layers can be depicted at once) and that's what they do to make their plans. Now, because I am a tech head, I choose to use a garden design program called "garden planner", mostly because it was at the cheaper end of the spectrum ($38 US dollars), it works for both PC and Mac, (although I haven't tried the Mac version yet) and even with its flaws, Garden Planner 3 is wildly better than most of the web-based garden planners out there.

    If you're interested, here's the link to the software's site:

    Some garden planner software bundles are more like full-blown architect packages that will render a complete photo-realistic 3D image of the house AND garden.. but they cost a lot. Not to mention the sheer amount of learning curve associated with all those completely overkill features. If you design gardens for a living, fine. But if you're doing only one or two plans a year for the same place.. forget it.

    When I did my garden design short course through my local TAFE, most of my class... by most, I mean everyone but me, chose to hand draw their plans for their final project. There's nothing wrong with that at all. However, having a photo printer with a full blown garden design program made my glossy plans, one layer on top of another really shine in the pile of completed assignments.

    Why am I obsessed with layered maps?

    A good map has layers. Most maps are two dimensional, and this kinda struggles to depict things in the third dimension. Especially when you might have pipes running underground, a concrete path at ground level, a archway covered in grapes above that, and a huge fig tree on top of this. If you just had one layer, you'll probably be struggling to see anything under the fig tree.

    So having a sheet of paper/transparent plastic for each layer (stacked in order) is a big help.

    Start with ground level, and try to make the distances as accurate as possible. I like having a layer dedicated to soil types in each bed, and their pH readings. Another layer I'll do (particularly for underground) is one dedicated to underground electrical wiring . Similarly, I also like a separate layer for the irrigation system, as most components for irrigation systems add up very quickly, so a detailed plan helps to avoid waste. Having an idea of how many metres of pipe, how many drippers, and attachments, filters, solenoisd, control cables, etc you'll need will save you a ton. I have literally spent my entire Christmas eve building irrigation lines, only to find out that I am 3 drippers short. This meant that I couldn't turn the zone on, and of course, that was just after Bunnings closed for Christmas. So I brought out the hose to water on Christmas day, and Boxing Day morning to keep my seedlings alive.

    Topography is another useful layer to have, because it will tell you where frost will pool on wintery mornings, or where water will flow when your gutters block up...etc... but since my home is a mere 2 feet higher at the highest point compared to the lowest, I don't worry about that. There are a bunch of web sites and government agencies that will provide accurate maps for a fee. Or if you look into home-grown topography equipment and do it yourself.

    My home has a top soil that is charitably described as "builders fill, with an excess of clay". So I've built a number of raised garden beds to get around that issue. But as crops finish and new seasons begin, it's nice to see where my harvest-ready crops are, and how many beds I have for the next crop.

    Have a look at one of my plans generated with the software. It's only a single layer depiction, but it gives you and idea of the layout, the plants, and the garden beds currently fallowing, and preparing for the next crop.


    Remember: A plan can be as detailed as you make it, but there are a few things you should know:

    • When planning a tree, plot out the fully grown size. If you're not sure you have to space, try dwarf varieties.
    • Espalier fruit trees, trellised fruit/veg vines like kiwi, grape, some berries, cucumbers, even pumpkins can be grown up walls as long as the fruit is adequately supported. This makes growing things that would normally take a lot of space possible, and can be literally grown in a large-ish pot... as long as the nutrients and water are maintained diligently.
    • It's always best to run your electrical and irrigation services along pathways, roads, and tracks so you can work on them without removing well-established trees.
    • Raised garden beds can extend the sun provided to plants in a normally shaded area due to the extra elevation.
    • Invest in a soil pH tester kit, and routinely check the soil in each bed. Different plants will leave the soil in varying degrees of acidity.
    • Maintain access to ALL plants. It's tempting to clump your plants up, to fit more in and this just never works very well.
    • Don't forget to consider the family. If the dog needs some lawn to run on, leave some room for that! Also, you don't want to be planting veggies which might be toxic to them.
    • Put the stuff you use the most (i.e. herbs) near the home. Put things you only harvest once a year further away.
    • A weather station can be a huge help in monitoring local microclimates, as well as help you to time your plantings with better weather.
    • Stagger the planting of your annual crops, so they aren't all ready at once. Set aside space to do that each week.
    • Have a calendar on your phone, which outlines when things should be harvested, when they were planted, and what needs to be done in the next few weeks. Break them down into small tasks, and do them when you get a chance. This saves so much time, and keeps gardening efforts to a manageable level.
    • Grow things you want, not things people tell you to grow. There's no point in growing Jerusalem Artichokes if you hate them. However, we find that growing raspberries and blueberries near the washing line increases the odds that we will peg out the washing during fruiting. (What a shock).
    • Utilise companion planting, and guild planting as much as possible to increase yields while decreasing pests and diseases.
    • Start small, so you don't burn yourself out. Gardens need constant maintenance, and it can take years for certain plants to become established.
    • Note what works, as well as what didn't, so you don't repeat the same mistakes.
    • Don't grow the same crops in the same beds every year. Rotate the crops through your garden beds.


    I hope this inspires you to get yourself a little more organised. Stay safe and happy gardening!



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