Walk through your yard and around your house or business. Photograph everything from at least two sight lines. This will help you decide where accents are needed to draw the eye to architectural features or to conceal utility meters, lines and other equipment.
Decide whether to use a formal or informal garden plan. Formal gardens make use of small spaces. They have crisp, geometric lines and often use plants and shrubs that require regular pruning. Informal gardens use non-linear geometric shapes with gradual, smooth curves. Plants are intended to startle the eye in a riot of colors.
Use a garden-planning program or a notepad and colored pencils to make a garden plan. Map your yard, marking areas that need flower beds. Create a letter-, color- and shape-coded key to denote type of plant, height needed and color of plant. Stick with native plants as much as possible, to decrease the need to water later. According to gardener Nikki Phipps of Gardening Know How, "Before you plant a flower bed, you should make a sketch. This is important, as it allows you to play around with ideas, like the size and shape of the flower bed. It will also make it easier when choosing plants, as these should always be compatible to the area."
Use rope or landscape tubing to outline the locations and general shape of your intended flower bed. Dig down a full shovel-length or use a tiller to aerate the soil.
Cover the soil with a layer of newspapers, burlap bags or old cotton bath towels as a weed barrier. Cover with three to six inches of compost or topsoil, and a second three- to four-inch layer of mulch.
Choose the type of flower bed you want. Garden types include bird and butterfly, natural fence, all annual, all perennial, naturalized, mixed annual and perennial, and meditation gardens with and without water features. Gardener Yvonne Cunnington of Flower Gardening Made Easy recommends the mixed annual and perennial bed. She states, "With this kind of planting scheme, small flowering trees and shrubs join flowers, making for a pleasing arrangement that looks good all season long."
Toss a handful of the same type of perennial bulbs on the ground to plant a naturalized flower bed. Dig holes where each bulb lands and cover lightly with soil. This can also be done with potted plants and seedlings, except you will toss stones or aquarium gems instead, and replace them with your plants.
Scatter seed at random in bird, butterfly, bee and wildlife gardens. Choose local wildflowers to attract the largest variety of pollinators.
Thin your annual flowers when seedlings are six to eight inches tall. Transplant to other flower beds or give them away to friends and neighbors. Divide perennials every fall. Donate extra plants to local schools, childcare centers, nursing homes or adult day programs.