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.

10 Plant Ideas for Gardens in Dry, Sunny Places

If you have an existing garden bed, or you would like to start one, in a dry and sunny area of your yard, you can still create a garden that is lush and colorful. There are many flowering perennials and shrubs that are drought tolerant and will thrive in dry soils.

Below is a list of 10 drought tolerant plants that you can plant in your garden right now.

1. Spanish Broom

Photo Credit: Rosangela Palmieri, Wiki Commons

Flowering time: Early spring to early autumn

Spanish Broom, other known as rush broom or weaver’s broom, is a slightly tender, hardy shrub that has become so common on the Sunshine Coast of southwestern British Columbia, some people there regard it as an invasive plant. But this vigorous growing plant adds brilliance and charm to any desert or windswept, seaside garden. And, if given proper care, Spanish Broom will thrive year after year without taking over your garden.

Spanish Broom does well in shallow chalky soil that is fast-draining and in full sun. Once established, it requires only a little watering and a light, annual prune. It grows 7 to 10 feet, making it ideal for large garden beds.

2. Giant Feather Grass

Photo Credit: Richie Steffen on

Flowering time: Early to late summer

With its impressive size, this hardy perennial grows up to 6 to 8 feet, making it ideal for the following: To be used as a ground cover, a natural focal point in a garden, or even as a hedge. Its erect-stemmed inflorescences are attractive year-long and can be used for indoor decoration.

Giant Feather Grass prefers moderately fertile soil that is well-draining and it can tolerate periods of drought, making it an optimal plant for temperate climates.

To control its size, remove the old foliage in early spring.

3. California Lilac

Photo Credit: Kevin Rothwell, Wiki Commons

Flowering time: midsummer to mid-autumn

California Lilac is best used as a border along a wall in a sunny location, or as a hedge. A California lilac, if planted in a sheltered area that receives full sunlight for more than 6 hours a day, will grow up to 12 feet high. Their succession of powder blue flowers emits a soft fragrance which is highly attractive to bees.

California lilacs don’t do well in shallow, chalky soils. They do best in light, well-draining soil so long as young plants are watered regularly throughout their first season. If the soil in your garden is mostly clay, add in horticultural grit and organic matter to a depth of 12 -18 inches deep. This will help improve drainage in your soil.

4. Yucca

Photo Credit: William Avery, Wiki Commons

Flowering time: mid-to late summer

If the desert look is what you’re going for in your garden, or you do live in a desert, then a Yucca will be a perfect fit. This hardy, drought and heat tolerant perennial prefers full sun and fast-draining soil and does best in areas that are protected from strong winds.

5. Feather Grass

Photo Credit: Veethika, Wiki Commons

Flowering time: midsummer to early autumn

Other known as needle grass or spear grass, this ornamental grass prefers light, well-draining soil in full sun. Its small size makes it a great option for container gardens, or as a border in a garden bed. Its cream-colored plumes add a subtle beauty and sophistication to any garden.

6. Silver Sage (Salvia argentea)

Photo Credit: Krzystof Ziarnek, Wiki Commons

Flowering time: mid-late summer

Silver Sage or Salvia argentea, a hardy biennial, is prized for its gray-blue or silver broad leaves with their wooly texture. It’s categorized as a biennial because it usually dies off once it’s finished flowering. Though, the life of a Silver Sage can be prolonged by pinching off the flowering shoots before they start.

Silver Sage prefers quick-draining soil in direct sunlight. It will also thrive in shallow chalky soils.

This plant adds a sense of calm and serenity to a garden. It can be planted as a border in a garden bed or in a container.

7. Lavender

Photo Credit: Me

Flowering time: midsummer

Lavender adds an element of peace, calm, and serenity to any garden and its fragrant flowers are quite attractive to bees. Pesky animals, like deer hate lavender because of the acrid sap in its flowers. This is one reason why lavender is a popular choice for gardeners. It can even be used as a small hedge which makes for a gorgeous sight in a garden.

Lavender does best in well-draining soil in full sun, and it prefers hot, dry climates which makes it an ideal desert plant.

8. Dianthus

Photo Credit: Andy Morffew, Wiki Commons

Flowering time: early to late summer

Dianthus, other known as carnation, adds beauty, splendor, and an element of romance to any garden. While it doesn’t have a long flowering season, deadheading these plants after their first bloom can promote a second bloom later on in the summer.

This plant can be planted in a container, as a border in a garden bed, or in between paving stones, so long as it is planted in well-draining, alkaline soil in full sun. Dianthus also does well in shallow chalky soils. Although this plant is drought tolerant, it does not like the extreme heat of summer, which makes it a better suited plant for temperate climates.

9. Geranium (Cinereum Group)

Photo Credit: Andy Morffew, Wiki Commons

Flowering time: late spring to late summer

This hardy member of the geranium family is prized for its long flowering period that can even be extended further with regular deadheading. Geraniums, the cinereum group can be grown in either a garden bed or a container. Most fast-draining soils are suited for cinereum group geraniums and they do best in warm, sunny areas. The warmth and sunshine encourage the production of many flowers throughout the season.

10. Stonecrop Sedum

Photo Credit: David J. Stang, Wiki Commons

Flowering time: summer and autumn

Stonecrop Sedums, a type of succulent, are low-maintenance plants that are easy to care for. Their large flower heads and deep-green waxy foliage adds color to your garden in the late summer and autumn months when other flowering shrubs have finished blooming.

These plants will thrive in any soil that is fast draining and they do well in full to part sun. Tall hybrids of Stonecrop Sedums flower their best in full sun, while creeping stonecrop varieties can flower well in either full or part sun.

These 10 plants listed are only a few out of many drought tolerant plants available on the market. While this list is intended to give you ideas about what to plant in your dry, sunny garden, the vast availability of such plants gives you more options to choose from.

Keep in mind that not all drought tolerant plants do well in heat. Also, all plants will need to be watered regularly throughout their first season until their root systems are established enough to find moisture within the soil.

If your garden is located in an area near a window or paved driveway, it will receive more heat than other areas of your yard throughout the summer months. So, you will need to choose drought tolerant plants that are also heat tolerant for those areas.

Sources Used

Ferguson, Nicola. Right Plant, Right Place: Over 1,400 Plants for Every Situation in the Garden. Simon & Schuster; New York, London, Toronto, Sydney, 2005.

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