Many homeowners are actually glad when winter arrives and they can basically forget about yard work for several months. This does not mean that they are not aware of the shape their garden is in. Particularly when those garden catalogs arrive in the mail, or when they open a Sunset Magazine, the urge to remodel their yard comes over many.
While everything is covered with snow and the ground is frozen it is actually a great time to start planning. Landscaping takes some doing and homeowners who first identify their goals usually achieve better results.
Define how much work and money you want to spend on your project. Look what you have already, what you want to keep and what you want to change. Be clear what is important to you. Is it beautification, privacy, ease of maintenance? Does outdoor entertaining play a big role in your life or is food production you major goal? Another vital factor in landscape planning is safety and convenience. It is important that your paths and steps are lighted and lead where you want them. If you consider all these points before you start, you’ll surely end up with the garden you want.
Whether your garden encompasses an acre or is just a tiny plot, certain considerations are the same. With small children or dogs, sturdy plants may have to be planted. If sports are a popular activity, decide how to allot space. Maybe you want to run the tracks for your model railroad through a corner of the yard. If you have a problem area in your yard, how will upgrading it affect the rest of the garden. Will adding a patio cut down on the lawn area? Will trellises block your view? Will planting trees produce too much shade where sun is wanted?
Learn what kind of materials are available and what you can do with them. Wood, vinyl, brick, concrete and others all have advantages and disadvantages. A wooden arbor blends in more naturally with the surrounding plants, but a vinyl arbor is practically maintenance free. Concrete is relatively inexpensive and strong but also can easily crack on shifting land.
Other guiding principles to consider are proportion, balance, unity and variety.
Proportion. Choose plants and garden structures that are in scale with the architectural lines of your house. Always think ahead to the size the mature plant will have. An 8-foot poplar today could overpower a one-story house once it reaches 80 feet while a lonely 6-foot bush would look lost at the corner of a two-story structure.
Balance. We are talking of the balanced, not symmetric, distribution of landscaping elements, which create the same visual weight on either side of a center of interest. A large tree on the right of the entryway, balanced by two smaller trees on the left draws the eye to the focal point, the front door, where a single tree would draw it away. The ‘visual weight’ does not have to be mass. It can also be form, color or point of interest.
Unity. An indiscriminate assembly of unrelated plants and structures creates a chaotic overall picture. Unifying the various landscaping materials is essential for creating a pleasing landscape. By repeating common garden elements, a sense that everything belongs together will be achieved. Grouping a certain plant together next to the patio edge and planting a few more along the path, followed by another group at the end, ties one area of the garden with another. Avoid planting too many distinctive areas; it makes it harder to achieve unity.
Variety. This is a welcome element in landscaping, it provides surprise. If you plan to have predominately conventional plants, add something exotic, or plant a purple leafed tree in a predominantly green color planting scheme.
Apart from these principals you have to consider what style of garden you want. Formal, rustic, native, oriental, shade, dry. Your decision about a garden style determines many things. The kind of plants to buy, what structures to add, gates, fences, walk, etc. etc.
Climate is one of the most significant factors to weigh. How does the path of the sun throughout the year affect where you will plant what. Where will heat be trapped, where will the wind need to be controlled. Don’t forget the seasons. With careful planning it is possible to increase the number of days you can enjoy outdoors.
So many things to consider, so much to learn. That’s why I say start early, while you have no yard work. Get those books about landscaping. Study what you need to know. Check out what materials are available. Go talk to a landscape specialist while he is not yet busy. When those first fine spring days come you will be ready to start your project and have it done to enjoy all summer.