Gardening

Creative Ways to Design Your Garden

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A garden journal shows plans for two raised bed gardens growing a mix of vegetables, herbs, and companion plants.

An extended forecast of cold, dark days makes winter the perfect time to plan your garden. Because what’s more fun than dreaming of lush, lovely crops when the weather outside is keeping you in? Designing a garden offers the perfect escape—and with tangible results!

Pick Your Personality

Where to begin? First, think (honestly!) about your personality: Are you more of a visual planner, flipping through magazines and Pinterest boards? Or do you keep lists of plants you love, categorizing and organizing them by height and growing needs? Maybe you prefer a detailed drawing of your garden space, with every plant labeled and in its proper place?

Whether you’re a first time gardener dreaming of homegrown meals or a master gardener looking to revamp your current layout, think about your creative style and pick a planning option that speaks most to you: mood board, bullet journal, or detailed design. Then, follow these steps to dive right in.

Mood Board: A Visual Garden Plan

Why should interior designers get to have all the fun? Mood boards can work beautifully when planning for the outdoors, too. As an assemblage of images, materials, and inspiring text—all displayed together—a mood board can visually communicate your garden ideas while evoking a strong sense of personal style. You’ll love watching your vision become reality once you’re ready to move from planning to planting.

There are 2 types of mood boards: physical and digital. Which one you use is up to you, it just depends if you prefer a tactile, hands-on foam board filled with photos, textures, and layers of color, or an app that keeps all your inspiration just a finger-tap away.

What You’ll Need:

  • A pushpin board, bulletin board, or foam board for a physical version OR an app or online platform to create a digital mood board
  • Photos and/or magazine clippings of garden designs you love
  • Words or quotes that convey the mood you imagine for your garden
  • Images of plants to include, both edibles and ornamentals
  • Hardscape ideas: Photos of raised beds, path materials, trellises, supports, fences, gates
  • Photos of garden art and decor to personalize your green space
  • A color palette, if you want to tie it all together

1. Collect, Curate, Pin

Collect and curate photos and phrases you love. These can be your own, or images pulled from magazines, websites, catalogs, social media, and any other place that stimulates your creative thinking. Don’t be afraid to experiment with what you collect—this will make the garden uniquely your own. Perhaps you spotted a great piece of garden art or a terrific trellis that would add structural interest to your design. Pin it to your mood board. Do you plan to grow your garden in raised beds? With so many options available—wood, metal, stone—find a material that makes you happy and tack it to the board!

2. Consider Form and Function

While your primary purpose in planting edibles is, of course, delicious food, you also want to make your garden a place of pleasure. A beautiful edible garden means you’re more likely to spend time among your veggies, making it easier to spot any problems before they get out of control. Add some plants that are a feast for your eyes and your stomach. Whether you’re inspired by a formal kitchen garden design or you like mixing edibles with ornamentals in the landscape, keep both form and function in mind when planning.

3. Imagine Yourself There

Also, during this planning phase, think about how you want to enjoy the space. Add things like a bistro table for garden-side cocktails or a bench for watching pollinators play. Imagine starting your morning with a stroll through the garden, watering thirsty plants, or gorgeous summer evenings when you can harvest garden-fresh ingredients for dinner. Add a watering can, baskets, or any tools that might make these activities easier.

Bullet Journal: A Comprehensive Garden Plan

Are you a habitual list-maker? A compulsive calendar-organizer? If the satisfaction of ticking off your to-dos has you buzzing, a bullet journal may be the perfect way for you to plan your garden. Bullet journals organize chaos into productivity; it’s a planner, diary, and calendar combination customized by you to make taking action even easier. You may have seen #BuJo posts of elaborate, colorful, artsy journals on Instagram, but don’t feel intimidated! The purpose here is to use the tool in a way that works best for you.

What You’ll Need:

  • A bullet journal. You can pick one up online or in a bookstore, but you can also DIY with a 3-ring binder, paper (graph, notebook, plain), cardstock for dividers, pockets or envelope inserts, and calendar inserts. If you make your own, a 3-hole punch is handy.
  • Pen, pencil, colorful markers or colored pencils, ruler
  • Stickers and labels (optional)

1. List Your Goals

Start your bullet journal off with a list of your garden design goals. What do you hope to accomplish? Do you want to grow enough food to feed a family, or will you start small, supplementing your grocery budget with homegrown treats? Do you see an elaborate garden with a dozen raised beds, or will you grow fresh greens and herbs in balcony containers? (Check out our small garden ideas if you’re limited on space.) By defining your goals early, you can proactively plan the next steps.

2. Create Your Categories

Bullet journals give you a place to keep track of the plants you want to grow. Whether you’ve read about the amazing flavor of an interesting heirloom tomato or discovered a totally new-to-you veggie at the farmers’ market, make a note in your bullet journal under “Varieties to Grow.” Consider the categories important to your garden planning, and devote portions of your bullet journal to those. These might include:

  • Garden goals
  • Budget and expenses (add an envelope for receipts)
  • Calendar—when to plant what? (Include first and last frost dates for your zone.)
  • Garden design/layout (graph paper is helpful)
  • Raised bed options
  • Container options
  • Varieties of veggies/herbs/flowers to grow
  • Best soil for growing in-ground/raised beds/containers
  • Hardscape options including supports, fencing, path materials
  • Companion plants
  • Fertilizing schedule
  • Harvest schedule and crop yield
  • Advice to remember
  • Pests, diseases, and treatment
  • Weather/temperature notes
  • Successes and challenges

3. Take Notes for Next Year

Remember, a bullet journal’s purpose is to make life easier—and in this case, to make your garden planning and planting more productive. Use yours as a living document, adding notes for things to do differently next season. What were the temperatures like? What weeds popped up? Celebrate successes with stars by your best performers, color-code categories or add your own symbol system. It doesn’t need to be an artistic masterpiece, unless you want it to be! It’s simply a great way to keep your planning organized as well as documented for growing seasons to come.

Detailed Design: A Perfectly Proportioned Garden Plan

Graph paper isn’t just for geometry class. Use its built-in guides to help draw your garden to scale. This orderly approach combines both visual thinking and detailed list-building, letting you prepare a perfect plan before you install one raised bed or turn the first trowel of soil. If you’ve ever aspired to become a landscape architect, this is your chance to practice.

What You’ll Need:

  • Graph paper or plain white paper
  • Pencil, eraser
  • Thin black marker
  • Ruler
  • Measuring tape

1. Measure and Plan

Measure your garden space, taking notes of anything that might block sunlight, like large trees or storage sheds. By identifying those elements early, you can better plan your garden layout. Once you’ve measured, you can begin planning how you want to use it. Will you build raised beds or plant in-ground? Would you like a fence around the garden to help deter deer? How will you divide the space for beds and pathways?

Even if you plan to grow in a collection of containers, graphing the space—and the size of each container—can help in the planning phase. Also, make notes about water access. Is there a spigot nearby so you can add drip irrigation to an in-ground bed? The more elements you can include in your garden layout, the better.

2. Sketch the Space

Now, the fun begins! With your handy graph paper and a pencil, start sketching the garden space. Focus on the big picture first, outlining the entire space. Use the lines to create a scalable design, with one graph box equal to one square foot. Next, subdivide your large space into your desired garden layout, whether that’s of multiple raised beds, in-ground beds, or a collection of containers. And don’t forget, you want easy access. A width of 4 feet means you can comfortably reach into the center of a bed. You also need pathways between the beds so you don’t walk on and compact any garden soil. Make sure any paths are wide enough a wheelbarrow can fit to make adding soil or compost easier—as well as garden clean-up.

3. Chart Your Plants

Once you’ve sketched your garden design, it’s time to get even more granular. (Go over your pencil design with a marker before you start this phase, so you don’t accidentally erase anything.) Subdivide each bed and decide what you want to grow. Some plants, like indeterminate tomatoes, will need plenty of space to grow with a cage or trellis for support. Make sure tall plants, like corn, won’t block sunlight from shorter plants, like peppers. Consider interplanting herbs among veggies—many fragrant herbs, like basil, help repel pests. Add a border of flowers, such as marigolds, along the perimeter of the beds to help attract bees and butterflies, which pollinate your crops.

Use a key to make your garden plan easier to read, with symbols representing the different veggies, fruit, herbs, and flowers. If you want to place each specific variety, use a detailed key with “T” for “tomato,” followed by a number for the variety. For example, “T1”=Cherokee Purple Tomato; “T2”=Big Boy Tomato; “P1”=Green Bell Pepper—whatever coding system works well for you. By creating a complete list and diagram of your varieties, you’ll know which ones performed well during the growing season so you can evaluate what to grow the following year.

 

No matter your planning style—visual, list-focused, or detailed—have fun with the garden planning process. Let it reflect your personality and goals. Once you’ve laid out your plans, get growing with vigorous Bonnie plants. You’ll be on your way to harvesting fresh veggies and herbs faster than seeds, and you can rest easy after all your hard work knowing you’re getting top quality plants.

You want your garden to be your happy place, where you can enjoy growing and tending your plants—and relish in the harvest!