Fall for Garden Design

I love autumn. The rich, warm colors...the cool, crisp air. Cider presses and corn mazes. Hikes up Badger and Candy to expansive views of our Columbia Basin landscape preparing to hunker down for the winter.

It is the perfect time for garden design. The events of the growing season are fresh in your head, and you have ideas for change. But what can you do now before the freezing temps of winter set in?

Uh...a whole lot!!!

Now is the time to make a plan. That is the essence of design - planning BEFORE you make changes. Now is the time to dream on paper. First you need a base map. So assemble your tools! You will need:

  • graph paper (4 squares to an inch makes for an easy scale of 1" = 8')

  • pencil with eraser (gotta have an eraser)

  • a metal measuring tape that is around 30' long

  • optional items: 200' cloth measuring tape and a screwdriver (Super helpful for measuring to property corners, fence lines, and trees. The screwdriver holds the end of thee tape in place while you take your measurement.)

Your home is the first thing to go on your paper. Note the locations of windows, doors, vents, hose connections, etc. Everything else is measured in relation to your home. Pay special attention to what is underground (and call 811 before you dig)! You should end up with something like this:

This is a simplified version for illustration purposes, but you get the idea. This doesn't show the underground stuff. Anything that can soak you, electrocute you, or explode if you puncture it should be on your base map.

Next, you will want to analyze your space. Pay special attention to wind and sun patterns, microclimates, views you want to keep, views you want to screen, plants you want to keep as well as ones you want to yank out. When you are done "bleeding" on your base map, it might look something like this:

Now that you have analyzed your garden (to death!), the fun begins! Organize your new space around your key amenities. They might be that outdoor kitchen and dining area you've always wanted, a relaxing covered seating area, a sunken fire pit patio, or some other amenity that is most important to you. Draw your key amenities to the same scale as your base map, cut them out, and position them in different configurations until you have something that makes sense. Your new design might look something like this:

There are several design principles I keep in mind when designing for clients, but the most important one in my mind is the principle of enclosure. Think of your garden as an outdoor room. If you add elements that will provide enclosure vertically (e.g. fences and shrubs) and overhead (e.g. pergolas, tree canopies), you are on your way to creating an inviting garden plan.

Finally, as you work out your new design, consider these things:

Know your limitations. That includes budget and your own do-it-yourself abilities. We all have limitations, so just be real with yourself and you will already be ahead of the game. Decide to phase in your design by starting with the hardscape, then trees and shrubs, then other plantings.

Keep it simple. Often the best designs have only one or two key amenities, strategically placed, surrounded by thoughtful plantings.

Hardscape and plant materials can make or break a budget. Using locally available materials and native plants whenever possible. Once established, natives save on water and don't perish under the pressure of our Columbia Basin summers.

Maintenance. Trees and shrubs need pruning. Leaves need raking. Flowering plants need deadheading. Also, some hardscape materials (like wood) need regular care. Some materials may cost more upfront, but may require less maintenance or repair in the long run.

Don't be afraid to ask the professionals if you get stuck. DIY is fun, but sometimes the best option is to hire out. Their expertise can save you money too.

And enjoy the design process. It's just so darn fun!

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