Plan Your New Garden Off-Season: How to Design A Garden

Dear Casual Gardener,

I want to build a garden this Spring, but have absolutely no design sense. Can you help a non-designer learn how to put a garden together?

I'm not sure where to get started.


Ditzy in Decatur

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Dear Ditzy,

There are hundreds of gardening and design books out there which are totally free if you go to the library and do a bit of research. This is how I got my start learning garden lay-out and design. Before long I was experimenting with many different ideas and plant combinations, like the Heuchera and Hosta combination above.

Of course, many books say you have to stick to "design rules" in your garden. For example, "tall plants in back, medium height plants in the middle, short in the front."  I shun rules and feel the garden is a place to build artistic expression. In other words, having fun in the garden is an important part of the gardening experience. "Rules" equal no creativity, no experimentation, and no fun!Pre-Planned BorderOne of the easiest ways to get your feet wet with a garden design is to purchase a pre-planned garden. Yes, these pre-planned gardens do follow the "rules." What they offer, however, is an easy start for the non-designer into the world of basic design.

Pre-Planned Butterfly Garden For example, Bluestone Perennials ( offers several perennial border pre-planned designs. above you see a couple plans from Bluestone that represents different styles of garden. Order their plants online and receive the coordinating border design. It's an awesome idea. Experience says that online plants can be small, but they grow quickly. Better yet, Bluestone Perennials guarantees its plants -  you get a replacement for any untimely deaths through the season.

Once you build your first "pre-planned" design and see how easy perennial gardening is, you will soon move on to doing your own design work. Perhaps you like a different lay-out or more color or more flowers. After your initial Siberian Iris and Allium CloseUpdive into garden building, I encourage you to throw out the rules and try new, exciting, different combinations to brighten up your lawn and gardens.

Life is too short to live it boring and follow every design rule. Plant different colored hostas together. Plant large plants next to your walk-ways. Do things that make you smile in the garden, like place a bowling ball in an empty corner, or plant something unusual.

Before you know it, garden design will be a snap for you and rewarding for everyone who shares it with you in your community.

Shawna Coronado says Get Healthy! Get Green! Get Community!, The Green Blog -, or The Garden Blog -


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