Experienced gardeners know that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to gardening, and that some of the most beautiful gardens are the result of unexpected “happy accidents.” However, by integrating some basic guidelines into the planning process of your garden you will surely see more positive results.
Although every perennial bed, window box or deck planting I design is unique, there are strategies that I always employ, regardless of the size or nature of the job.
Garden style vs. maintenance needs — as a designer, I’m entrusted with creating gardens that are as lovely to look at as they are sympathetic to my client’s time constraints and desired level of maintenance. A garden that requires lots of staking, deadheading and pruning throughout the season is not suitable for someone who has a weekend home, works long hours or wants to enjoy her garden without getting hands dirty. If regular maintenance will not be provided (either by me or my client), I select plants that require minimal care. So if formal gardens are your thing, be prepared to spend time on the upkeep, or hire someone to do it for you. Typically, gardens with a more natural, “unplanned” look will require the least amount of attention.
Plan now for good soil and proper irrigation — a new garden presents the ideal opportunity for you to provide an optimum setting for your plants. Once your garden is up and running you will be much less inclined to start digging around to amend the soil or install an irrigation system. Even plants purchased from high-end nurseries will not thrive in soil that is sandy, “clay-ey” or filled with debris from recent construction. Soil testing kits are readily available in most garden centers and are a wise investment prior to establishing a new garden. Taking the time to amend your beds with good soil and rich organic matter will pay off immeasurably with strong and healthy plants.
A drip irrigation system is possibly the best investment you can make in your garden. It literally pays for itself by conserving water and delivering it exactly where needed — at the base of the plants. Overhead watering, whether with a sprinkler or hose, is extremely wasteful and is the least desirable method of irrigation. Most of the water evaporates before reaching the ground, and any moisture that remains on the foliage (especially during humid weather) can lead to a host of problems, such as powdery mildew and fungi. A drip system is used in conjunction with a timer, delivering water when needed, where needed and in the appropriate amounts depending on the time of year.
Plan big, plant small — in an ideal world you will be able to design and install your garden, in its entirety, right away. For most of us (myself included), the cost of doing so is prohibitive. Nevertheless, I strongly encourage you to design your whole garden now, and plant it over time. When the garden is ultimately completed the result will be unified and cohesive. Whenever a client expresses concerns about the cost of creating a garden I stress the importance of having a master plan, even if it has to be implemented in stages. The same holds true for the do-it-yourself gardener. And if you are new to gardening, “planting small” allows you to test your skills slowly and avoid costly mistakes.
Access — whether you are cutting flowers to bring indoors, staking plants or pruning shrubs, you need clear and safe access to all of the plants in your garden. Excessive stepping around in the garden is something to avoid — aside from the obvious risk of crushing plants, repeatedly stepping on the soil leads to compaction, rendering the soil unworkable. If you cannot easily reach all of the plants in your garden, lay stepping stones where needed — they will evenly distribute body weight (better for the soil) and provide a safe, clear path (better for you).
Once you’ve planned your garden and prepared your beds, you’re ready to plant.
Enjoy your garden!
Sheri Silver owns fiori garden design in Irvington. She can be reached at email@example.com or at www.fiorigarden.com.