Get a Head Start on Your Garden

Lee ArmilleiField Notes

Winter is a time for rest and contemplation in the landscape. After the shifting and changing of colors in the fall, the leaves drop and expose views we only get to see at this one time of year.  To some, those “winter views” evoke the beauty within the shape and structure of tree branches; others call to mind the views deep within the woods; and still others just cringe when they picture their neighbor’s eyesore of a garage…..

Perhaps it is in the winter that we can best plan ways to manipulate the views in our landscapes. Whether you’re an avid gardener or you use a professional, winter can be the perfect time to get a head start on your garden with a few simple planning steps.

Grab your camera

A great way to get started is from within the comfort of your own home. You’re probably noticing now that when you’re relaxing in the living room you can see headlights as cars pull around the bend. Or at the kitchen window you can barely make out the sunset over the rolling hills. Whatever your situation, document it now! Grab your camera and take pictures through your windows, both at seated height and standing height, so you can easily reference those views as you begin your design.  Trust me, you can never have enough photos, so go nuts. Then venture outside and do the same thing from your favorite summer spots.

Frame or screen?

On a blank sheet of paper, start a rough diagram noting what desirable vistas you want to open up or frame, and what blemishes you want to hide. I like to start by eliminating the undesirable elements from the design, so I have a clean slate.  This includes all invasive plants, dead or diseased plants, old structures that are worn out, etc. Then I identify the areas that need screening. From there, I accent with height or texture. Of course, if you plan on adding hardscapes to your property, design that first, because likely that will change some of your views.

Get excited

If you’re passionate about plants, chances are you have plant books and catalogs floating around your house from March to November. Pull those back out and let yourself start dreaming. Maybe grab your iPad too to start researching which plants are going to work in the locations you determined. Look at key factors such as light requirements, preferred soil moisture, and mature height and width. Avoid invasive species at all costs and try to use native plants where possible. For more information on why to use native plants, read this previous blog article. Availability may still be scarce at this point, but it always helps to start with a well-thought plant list and substitute as necessary from there.


If you still need help

If you’re still committed to doing the design by yourself, but need someone to bounce ideas off of, most landscape designers will come out to your property and make recommendations for a reasonable consultation fee. The help you receive will create a longer lasting landscape with fewer maintenance headaches. If your head is still spinning after the previous exercises, hiring a landscape designer to do a full site analysis, plot plan, and planting plan might be the direction you want to take. Good landscape designers are educated in soil science, local environmental conditions, horticulture and plant biology, as well as design principles that make the project look cohesive and complete.

It’s important to remember that landscapes are dynamic- always growing, shifting, and changing- and though you may think you’ve got it all figured out this winter, you will inevitably need to tweak something soon or change something later.  For now, go ahead and start dreaming of the colors and textures you wish to see in the spring, or even just the best way to hide that eyesore of a garage!