Garden Design Phase 2: The Planting Plan

Now that you have tested your soil, you have a much better idea of which types of plants and soil amendment to purchase. But, where in the yard do you plant them? This is where a planting plan comes in handy.

First, you need to get to know your yard. This is especially true if you’re a new homeowner. Spend time in your yard — as much time as you’re able to — and pay attention to the following: Which areas receive full sunlight, which areas receive partial shade (morning sun and afternoon shade and vice versa), which areas are mostly shady, and the areas that are exposed to wind.

Do you have a concrete driveway or an existing garden bed directly underneath a window? Or do you plan on building a garden bed in either of those areas? If so, keep in mind that windows reflect light and concrete absorbs heat which explains why areas closest to windows and concrete driveways are the warmest, especially during the summer months. For these areas, you will want to plant hardy perennials that are both heat and drought tolerant. Conversely, frost tends to settle in shady areas sooner than in sunny areas and lingers longer in those areas.

Once you have spent enough time in your yard, you will have an even better idea of which plants to purchase. When it comes to planting, group plants according to their species, hardiness, light, and soil requirements. For example, plant lavender with sage, stone crop sedum, and yarrow in areas of your yard that receive direct sunlight for more than six hours a day. Choose native plants as they are already well adapted to your region and hardiness zone, so they will thrive in almost any type of soil conditions. This is a perfect choice for a low-maintenance garden!

To maximize colour in your yard, plant plants that flower at different times of the year. For variety, include early spring blooming hyacinths and tulips with late spring and summer blooming hydrangeas, peonies, dahlias, and fall blooming stone crop sedums and chrysanthemums. If you live within hardiness zones 5 – 9, you can also include winter heather (Ericaceae) to add colour in the bleak, winter months.

Combine bright colors with cool colors (ie; blue, purple, white, and pastels) to create balance and harmony in your yard. You can also opt for greens and white if the contemporary look is what you’re after. When it comes to choosing a design theme and corresponding plants, make sure it complements the architecture of your home.

If you are planting trees or shrubs that require a depth of more than two feet, make sure to locate property lines, utility lines, and septic drain field (if you have one) before you begin digging. The last thing you need is a ruptured utility line or angry neighbour. The cost spent on hiring a local land surveyor will be well worth it as it could save you potential thousands of dollars in damage or fines for digging in the wrong location.

Mindful Garden Design

One of the things to keep in mind when designing a client’s garden is their budget. A client may want an elaborate outdoor living space that exceeds his or her budget. The more elaborate the design, the more money the client has to fork over for labour and materials.

With the right planning, though, it is possible to exceed your client’s lavish desires if you focus on the design and re-landscaping of one area of their yard first before you start work on another area of the yard. That way, you stretch out work and your client pays you in installments or per project, thus making it much easier on their pocketbook. You also bide your client time to revisit and revise his or her vision for their landscape as work progresses. It’s a win-win situation for everyone. This is what I refer to as mindful garden design.

Then again, sometimes less is more.

Even the simplest gardens can make an outdoor living space beautiful and enjoyable to spend time in throughout the spring and summer months.

Getting to Know Your Soil

Designing a garden may look easy, but there is so much more to it than meets the eye. Not to mention, the choices in the garden center are overwhelming, especially if you’re a plant lover like me and want to buy every plant you see.

A large and very important part of garden design is plant planning. While the idea of having your front and/or back yard full of plants makes you tingle all over with joy and excitement, knowing the ins and outs of your own landscape helps immensely when it comes to knowing where in your yard to plant flowers, shrubs, and ornamental trees.

The first step in your planting plan is to get to know the soil conditions in your yard. This is tricky because soil tests can be quite complicated, however there are simple tests you can take to determine which plants to plant and how much soil amendment you will need when you decide to build your new garden bed.

The Ribbon Test

Take a handful of soil and moisten it until it is putty-like consistency. Then, gently knead the soil between your fingers or your palms. If the soil crumbles before it forms a ribbon, it is sand or mostly sand. If the soil forms a ribbon up to 2 inches long before it breaks, it is loamy, or composed of equal parts of sand, silt, and clay (the ideal planting medium). If the soil forms a ribbon longer than 2 inches, it is clay or mostly clay. This information will determine which plants will thrive in your yard and how much amendment you will need.

The Soil Drainage Test

Another test that is simple, yet important, is a soil drainage test. Dig a hole to about 12 inches deep and then slowly pour a bucket (between 1 and 2 liters) of water into the hole. If the soil drains quickly while you are pouring the water, your soil is sand, or composted mostly of sand. If the soil drains not too quickly, but at a steady pace (it drains within approximately 10 minutes), it is likely loam or a combination of clay, sand, and silt. If the soil takes longer than an hour to drain, it is clay.

Checking For Earthworms

This is not an actual soil test; rather it is a test of soil fertility. In spring after the first frost, dig a hole up to 12 inches deep and place the dug-up soil onto a piece of cardboard. Break apart the soil and examine it for earthworms. If you see 10 or more earthworms, your soil is fertile because the presence of worms indicates microbial activity. Microbial activity within the topsoil is beneficial to plant health and vitality because of the sufficient amounts of nutrients worms excrete. These nutrients, particularly nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, and calcium, then become readily available to plant roots.

Amendment For Different Soil Types

This is as recommended by the editors of The Old Farmers Almanac.

Sandy soils: Add in humus (or topsoil from your local garden center will do), a handful or two of peat moss, aged manure and/or sawdust to improve the soil’s fertility and water-holding capacity.

Silty soils: Add course sand (not beach sand) or crushed gravel, compost, well-rotted horse manure, and straw; that is if you have access to the latter two. If not, then the course sand, crushed gravel, and compost should be well enough if mixed into the soil in equal amounts.

Clay soils: Add in peat moss, compost, and a pinch of course sand or crushed gravel (not beach sand). For heavy clay soils, or soils that are compacted, you can do either of the following:

· Build a raised garden bed

· Place an arrangement of potted plants, patio lanterns or LED garden lights, and garden ornaments to prettify the space and give it a warm, welcoming look.

· Build a patio with a seating area

Sources Used

‘3 Simple DIY Soil Tests’ by the editors of The Old Farmers Market. March 27th, 2019 Accessed October 25th, 2021.

Garden Design Ideas for a Small Yard

If you happen to own or rent a house that has a small yard, there are ways you can transform that small outdoor space into your own oasis; your at-home getaway to relax, recharge, and enjoy all the beauty nature has to offer.

It takes imagination, creativity, and hard work to transform your small yard, especially if you’re doing all the work yourself. But it will be well worth it in the long run.

Before you pick up a shovel, study your yard. Take the time to get to know it well as that will get those design ideas flowing. It will also help you to determine the right design for your yard according to its natural environment, your needs, and desires.

First off, here are a few things that don’t work well in a small yard.

A Lawn

If you want a garden and an area for outdoor entertainment, a lawn most definitely won’t be the right thing for your yard. In any case, lawns and small, enclosed urban yards don’t go well together. That is owing to poor soil conditions and, in some cases, erosion. This is what makes lawns in small yards impractical.

Opt instead for a combination of washed pea gravel and stone for a patio, or just plain stone for your entire yard if your budget allows.

Trees and Shrubs

Trees and flowering shrubs accentuate landscapes and are often focal points in a garden. Trees are also used for shade, particularly during the hot summer months. But in a small yard, they only crowd the space. Another thing to keep in mind: Trees should not be planted too close to a house.

Ponds and Other Landscape Features

Ponds, fountains, arbors, and gazebos are aesthetically appealing and are also used as focal points in a garden, but they are far more practical in larger yards. That said, a small water fountain could work well as a focal point in a small yard if that is part of the design for your yard.

Now, here are some ideas that do work well in a small yard.


Container gardens are ideal for small yards because they maximize space and are easy to maintain. You also don’t have to restrict yourself to annuals either. You can plant herbs, vegetables, and perennials as well. If you want more than a few potted plants, consider installing or building a couple of raised beds.

Make the Fence Disappear

A 6-to-8-foot fence enclosing your yard can feel imposing, thus making your yard look smaller than it actually is. William Morrow, an American garden designer, came up with the idea of a “disappearing boundary” by painting an enclosing 7-foot-high wooden fence high-gloss black (Joanna Fortnam,

This is a nifty idea, but you can also plant the following climbing vines along your fence in order to make it disappear: Clematis, jasmine, trumpet vine, honeysuckle, or even a climbing hydrangea. Flowering vines add beauty and depth to a small yard, they also fill the air with a delightful fragrance and attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees.

Decorate Your Outdoor Space

Add style and charm to your newly landscaped yard by adding a bird bath and small statues or pieces of driftwood – if the beach theme is what you’re after – in between potted plants. String up lights around the perimeter of your yard and, if the space permits, add a small garden bench or water fountain. When it comes to creativity, the sky is the limit, even for small yards.

Outdoor Furniture for Small Yards

Even though your yard is small, you can still transform it into an outdoor living space that is inviting, enchanting, and inspiring to guests.

Morrow suggests, “Iron furniture is a good choice for small gardens because visually it is light and airy,” he explains (Joanna Fortnam). You can also include a small enclosed fire pit if you want your summer gatherings to involve socializing around a campfire.

The Takeaway

You can turn a small yard into your own outdoor oasis and maximize your downtime spent in it throughout the warm months. The only limitations are the constraints you put on your creativity.

Sources Used:

Fortnam, Joanna. Transforming A Small Garden: 7 Simple Steps. Garden Design Accessed 19 April 2022.

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