Project Planning & Tips

Grow a dream: Imagining your best garden

In search of my mother’s garden, I found my own.

-Alice Walker

All great things begin with a spark. Imagining a garden that attracts and inspires, soothes and excites the soul is the first step to landscape planning. Endless day dreaming isn’t always the best path. A little bit of focus can help you take the right steps toward having a dream garden of your own.

Gather inspiration — for your hardiness zone

Glossy spreads of English countryside landscapes jump start the imagination. We see ourselves relaxing in it with a cup of tea in perfect spring weather. It’s a lovely image, but it isn’t helpful for landscape design if the plants pictured wouldn’t last a day in your climate. We’re all for dreaming about that perfect spot for (and of!) tea, but today we’re focusing on not just what is delightful. We also want “doable” to be an option.

Hardiness zones can be found on the USDA website. The UK’s hardiness is in zones 6-9. The US tends to experience harsher sunshine, but many of the same zone 6-9 plants can grace your garden. It may seem limiting, but opening up your mind to what is possible can be even more exciting.

Embrace the light — and the dark

Your landscape’s sun/shade areas hold a wealth of opportunities. Beautiful species can fill both the light and dark areas of the garden. Balance is beautiful. Look at the garden with an artist’s flair. The eye is pulled toward the objects in the foreground, i.e. the lighter, brighter things bathed in light, and tends to skip over the darker parts, sometimes missing them entirely. Just like in art, this “negative” space in your garden can be recruited to bring in intrigue. The shaded spots tend to become the favorites because of this added layer of mystery. Make sure to plan for a balance of light and dark in the garden.

Tour local gardens — armed with your phone

Ah, technology. It can suck our time away as we fly through page after page of perfect plants on Pinterest, but it can also help us to identify which plants are in our neighbor’s garden. There are many apps that help users name plants by scanning pictures of the leaves or blooms. Leafsnap is a good place to start, but there are quite a few to choose from. Snapping pics of neighborhood and curated private gardens (like those at an arboretum) is a great way to get the kids and teens involved in garden planning. The plants that are growing nearby can be yours, too. Advanced hint: take note of the plants that are growing side-by-side. Some species support each other well, and others do not make good garden bedfellows. When in doubt, ask. Take your photos to the local nursery for advice, or use an online search of “companion plants for [insert your dream flower here].”

Plant the seeds

Whether you decide to undertake the task yourself or hire a landscape designer, begin with a plan. Gather images online and from catalogs, visit and shoot your own photos in local gardens, walk through a local hardscape center. Make it a point to talk to your local nursery experts about what plants will work within your space. Designing your landscape all begins with a plan, and a plan begins with a dream.

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