Basic Garden Design

Basic Garden Design image by *susie*/, nosha/


What comes to mind when you think about a beautiful garden? Do you like wild growth with plenty of color or a formal design with clean lines? Designing a garden in your landscape that fits your personality and goals takes time and effort, but the process can be an enjoyable learning experience by following a few simple garden design rules.

Identify Goals

The first thing to do when designing your garden is to identify goals. Do you want plenty of color or lots of evergreen plants? Do you want low maintenance perennials and native plants or plants that will provide seasonal color and be replaced each spring or fall? Maybe you want to attract butterflies and hummingbirds or grow vegetables. Also, consider the location of your garden. How much sun will it get during a typical day? Will it get more sun during the winter than summer? How far away is it from a water source? Do you want to create a privacy screen or a focal point? These are questions to address in order to design your garden effectively.

Choose Plants

Research and identify different plants that will help meet your goals. Be sure they will grow in your designated USDA horticultural zone. You can find your zone on the widely used USDA horticultural zone map (see Resource below) that designates geographical areas where the climate is warm enough for a certain plant to thrive. Take note of the eventual size of desired plants and any toxicity or thorny growth if children will be present.

Draw Garden Plan

Use graph or plain paper and draw your garden plan from an aerial point of view, sketching in all permanent structures and plants such as trees or large shrubs that will be part of the design. Flower beds with soft flowing lines are more pleasing to the eye and easier to mow around than those with sharp angles. Use a water hose or rope to lay out a potential flower bed so you can get an idea of how it will look. Beds wider than two feet will require you to enter the bed for maintenance, although wider beds have more impact in the landscape. Leave room for lawnmowers and wheelbarrows, and leave room for kids and pets to play. Tall plants go in the back of the garden and shorter plants up front. A garden people will view from all sides has taller plants in the middle.


When adding color to the garden, most experts agree that colors on the opposite side of the color wheel look best together, such as orange and blue. Masses of one color or the same shades of color have more impact than a variety of color in one place. Warm colors such as red and yellow make a bold statement and blues and greens are more subdued and relaxing. Repeat the same colors here and there around the garden to create cohesion.

Texture and Transition

Different plants create different textures. For example, a cactus has quite a different texture than a bed of snapdragons. Vary the texture within the garden to create interest. Choose plants and designs that create a smooth transition between flowerbeds or points of interest. For example, add plants of medium height between short and tall plants or tall structures.

Scale and Balance

Planting something that will grow big and overwhelm everything will upset the scale and balance of your garden design. Choose plants that work together with other plants without overwhelming them. Also, when thinking about balance, split the design in half to see if the two sides cover about the same space and will create balance when the garden design is mature.

Keywords: basic garden design, garden design, garden design ideas, garden design principles

About this Author

Based in Rockdale Texas, Jim Gober has been writing garden-related articles for 25 years. His articles appear in several Texas newspapers including The Rockdale Reporter, The Lexington Leader, The Cameron Herald and The Hearne Democrat. He is a Master Gardener and Certified Texas Nursery and Landscape Professional. He holds bachelor degrees in English Writing from St. Edward's University and Finance from Lamar University.

Photo by: *susie*/, nosha/