One more barbecue in the neighbor's charming yard seals the deal--it's time to make some intelligent landscaping decisions. Lots of nice green grass and a dogwood tree just don't cut it anymore, but neither do the disconnected ideas floating around in your mind. What you need is a plan, and that means you need to know how to put your landscaping ideas on paper. You don't need to be an artist, but it will help to know some of the ways landscapers make the plans that can turn your yard into a showplace.
Things You'll Need
- Paper, preferably gridded, several sheets
- Long measuring tape
- Gardening books or magazines for ideas
Measure your yard, or the part of it you plan to landscape, and draw a to-scale yard on your paper. Gridded paper is particularly useful for this--you can let a grid-square stand for a standard measurement. If your yard measures 50 x 35 feet, for example, mark it out on your paper as 50 squares by 35 squares--that's to scale.
Choose a code for recording what you already have in place--a big circle for trees, smaller circles for perennial shrubs, and xxx for annuals. You can put D for dogwood, A for azalea, Z for zinnias--whatever helps you record what your yard looks like. If you have a driveway, a pond, a deck, steps into the yard, a wall, figure out codes for those, too. Whatever your code is, just be consistent. Pretend you are looking at your yard from an airplane or a satellite--if possible, get a new view by climbing to the second floor of your house. If you have a big tree that's shading a shrub, draw them both--a big circle with a little circle inside. Just keep recording, and you'll learn a lot. This is your plan.
Walk all over your yard and notice the ups and downs. On a second piece of paper, mark off the wider measurement of your yard (if 50 x 35 feet, mark off the 50) and draw a straight line from 0 to 50. You may need to do a little more measuring, because this paper will be your elevation. First, record the highs and lows of your current yard, above the straight line. Add code drawings of how high and how wide your shrubs are. You may just have to guess the height of your trees, but you can sketch in how far their branches reach over your yard--your circle has just become a blob, but you know what it means. You can do most of this work standing in the yard, although you may want to go back upstairs a couple of times just to make sure you understand how things fit together.
Now that you have a plan and an elevation for your present yard, set up two new sheets, one for each drawing. Now that you know what you have, you're ready to start drawing what you want. Perhaps you will discover that all your shrubs are the same height (that happens a lot), and you want a more varied skyline. Draw it in on your new elevation. You've lusted after do-it-yourself fishponds in catalogs for years; your plan will actually let you experiment with where to put one and answer the question of whether you have room.
Use your books and magazines to solve problems and add ideas. If you've always wanted a cutting garden, look at a variety of them and see how one fits into your plan. You'll use your eraser a lot at this point, and maybe more paper, but that's part of the planning process. And once you have a plan and an elevation that show what you want, you can start the more exciting process of bringing your plan into reality.
Tips & Warnings
- Remember that plants grow. If you are making changes that involve trees or major shrubs, you should prepare for at least a couple of transitional years while newcomers grow in. Plan to fill in with annuals until your new plan takes over.
- Resist the impulse to accelerate your plan by buying fully mature trees and shrubs. These big woody plants adjust slowly to transplanting and sometimes do not adjust. Because of their size and structure, you will not see signs of distress until it is too late to remedy them. If you notice a tall hedge with every fourth or fifth shrub brown, you are likely to be looking at someone's poor choice of instant results.
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