Garden Planning & Design


Plan your garden ahead of time to get the most out of your space. Good design means fewer unpleasant surprises in the future, and it encourages you to use your resources more productively. Use basic design principles to create a space that pleases you. Create a design, and implement it all at once or in stages. Planning will take time and effort, but it will save you from wasting time, effort and money.


Prepare the soil properly. Locate your plants in the proper positions to get the most out of garden planning and design. Cornell University’s Home Gardening team cautions that ignoring soil and plant location will lead to disappointing results. On the plus side, they note that personal preference is a large part of garden design. Gardeners who follow the Cornell guide to garden planning think through the benefits and consequences of their choices rather than following hard and fast rules.


Sketch your landscape plans by hand, or generate a design with computer software. Most homeowners fare better with a paper and pencil sketch, as recommended by Cornell’s gardening resource team. Computer programs include a plant database designed to make it easier to visualize specific plants in the landscape. Stick with a sketch on paper if you anticipate that learning a new program will take a long time, if the program costs a lot of money or if you expect to use the software only once.


Plan to show off the best features of your landscape by taking advantage of distinct vistas, planting around natural boulder outcroppings or capitalizing on an abundance of morning sunlight. Create your garden design to minimize negative aspects of the space. Replace problematic grass with a more suitable ground cover, such as moss or sedum. Plant shade trees to reduce temperatures under their branches, indoors and outdoors. Add a water feature for a soothing sound to replace noise from a roadway. Disguise unsightly walls or fences with vines and tall plants.


Softscapes are the living parts of the landscape, including flowers, plants, trees and grasses. Begin plant design layouts by heeding soil and sun conditions. Consider the sun’s location at various parts of the year, and choose plants that make the most of the sunlight. Learn what type of soil exists in each area where you want to add plants. Amend the soil to compensate for specific problems. Hardscapes are the hard surfaces, such as pathways, walls, pergolas, patios and structured planting beds. Choose hardscapes based on how you use your outdoor space. Add a flagstone patio or cedar deck to accommodate large gatherings of people. Use stone retaining walls to add support and structure to a sloped hillside. Construct a birdbath to attract birds and butterflies to your garden. Lay down a river rock pathway to lead visitors to specific sections of the garden.

Expert Insight

The gardeners of the University of Illinois Extension Program note that it is hard for some homeowners to recognize the pros and cons of their landscape. "Familiarity causes us to see what we want to see and block out what we don't like," they advise. Work through a plan to give yourself some objectivity. Objectivity will help you identify the reason some features add value to your property while others subtract value.

Keywords: garden planning design, garden design essentials, garden planning basics

About this Author

Lee Roberts has written professionally in different capacities throughout her career. She has written for not-for-profit and commercial entities since she received her B.A in sociology from the University of Michigan in 1986. She has been published on She is currently writing an extensive work of fiction.