How to Plan a Garden Design


Garden designs vary in many ways. With thousands of plant species and varieties, gardens can be designed for any taste and budget. Learning to work within environmental and geographical limitations as well as personal preferences and your gardening ability can be a difficult task, but putting the effort in during the design stage will save a lot of hassle later.

Step 1

Assess the climate and growing conditions in the area and contact your local agricultural extension to find out what plants grow well in the area. Talking to local gardeners or driving around neighborhoods and taking note of plants that grow well can also help.

Step 2

Leaf through garden catalogs and magazines and mark or tear out gardens that are visually appealing to you for future reference. Study them to discover why you like them and what elements will be the most important in the garden that is being planned. Keep these in an idea file for fast reference.

Step 3

Determine the location of the garden and measure the space, noting the size, shape and direction it is facing on a piece of paper.

Step 4

Study the garden spot for a few days and record the sun's movement through the yard to determine how much sunlight the different areas of the garden receive during the day. This will be important when choosing plants.

Step 5

Take pictures of the garden area and buildings that will immediately surround the garden for reference when designing. If possible, lean a yardstick up against a wall to help judge the height of objects in the photos, or take measurements of different objects in the garden area and write them down.

Step 6

Look through seed catalogs and find plants that appeal to you, marking the ones that are on the list of locally grown plants or that the catalog indicates are right for your USDA hardiness zone. Check to be sure that the lighting conditions listed on the plants match those that exist in the garden area. Choose a variety of sizes of plants.

Step 7

Draw out a plan on graph paper using a scale system: one square indicates 6 inches or 1 foot, depending on the size of the graph paper and size of the garden. Outline the boundaries of the garden on your drawing and indicate any permanent fixtures such as lampposts or walkways.

Step 8

Use the photographs for reference and start plotting areas of the garden based on the tallest and largest plants first. Indicate each type of plant by a certain shape or color and mark this code on the bottom of the paper for later reference. Check the height of elements in the photos and try to use them to complement the design.

Step 9

Fill in blank areas of the design with smaller plants using different shapes and colors to indicate different types of plants. Add decorative objects if desired and indicate them on the design.

Things You'll Need

  • Graph paper
  • Pencil
  • Ruler
  • Seed catalogs or online plant references
  • Garden magazines


  • University of Illinois: Stepping Stones to Perennial Garden Design
  • Cornell University: Flower Garden Design
  • Texas A&M University: Designing the Country Cottage Garden
Keywords: designing a garden, garden design, create a garden

About this Author

Robin Lewis Montanye is a freelance artist, designer and writer. Her articles have appeared in newspapers, national magazines and on several self-help areas of the web. Montanye specializes in gardening articles with information from several universities. She has Internet articles published on, and