The main purpose of a garden-use plan is to put your abstract ideas on paper so that they can be shared with others.

Gardening: Designing, assessing your garden

Sometimes it is best to completely renovate an unsatisfactory landscape than it is to tinker with it over the years.

February is a great time to sit down and assess what you did or didn’t like about your garden.

The reason being that there are few flowering distractions about to taint your reason and you have to rely strictly on memory.

Sometimes it is best to completely renovate an unsatisfactory landscape than it is to tinker with it over the years, trying to get the look you want.

So if you think you might be one of those gardeners ready to take that big step, here’s a little advice to guide you in the right direction.

• Assess your needs: the biggest mistake most people make is to assume that a landscape is all about wants and not about needs. Nothing could be further from the truth.

To avoid this pitfall, you need to list everything that you use your property for. When doing this, you need to consider such things as vehicle parking, RV or boat storage, children’s play areas, entertaining outdoors, privacy issues, vegetable or fruit growing, night lighting and security concerns.

This will help you uncover some of the hidden aspects of landscaping (bylaws, storage needs, proper access), which are important factors to consider at the outset of the design process.

Once your needs are assessed, you are ready to detail them on a garden-use plan.

• Creating a garden-use plan: a garden-use plan is simply a rough top-view sketch detailing the property borders, buildings, existing trees/hedges and garden features.

Once these particulars are penciled in, label the empty areas with suggested uses such as patio, lawn, perennial bed, pedestrian access.

The main purpose of a garden-use plan is to put your abstract ideas on paper so that they can be shared with others (contractor or designer) who may be involved in the garden transformation.

• Make a practical wish list: unless you live on acreage, you are not likely to be able to fit every plant you want into the average urban city lot – so start picking favourites.

When it comes to trees, try to limit your numbers as these shade-out the garden below and compete for light and nutrients, which will limit your palette and the potential for sun-loving species or vegetable gardens.

You will also want to have plant groupings (both heather and blue fescue grass look odd as solitary specimens) and some repetition as far as foliage colour is concerned.

At the very least, try not to design a ‘botanical garden style’ landscape with one of each species because even places like VanDusen use a lot of  repetition and mass planting to tie the overall design together.

• Plan for four seasons: we live in one of the few places in Canada where we can actually have year-round colour. Right now, witch hazels (hamamelis) are in full fragrant bloom and even though they mature into large arching shrubs with rather boring summer foliage (although they all have beautiful autumn tones), you can take advantage of this by underplanting them with a low evergreen shrub such as leucothoe ‘scarletta,’ which is a brilliant burgundy-red for most of the season.

• Make it personal: far too often designers or those friends who volunteer to help us, impose their own tastes on the landscapes they are helping to create. A designer is there to listen to your needs and wants, and help you create a garden that is both practical and aesthetically pleasing to you – because, after all, you have to look at it every day.


Mike Lascelle is a local nursery manager and gardening author (

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