Tag Archives: landscape design

Summer is for Watching

The heat just turned on here in Chico with the temperature hitting 90 degrees for the first time this year.   We are closing in on the end of our optimum planting period.  Once the full-time heat is upon us, I prefer to put a hold on planting, especially in sunny gardens.  What to do instead?  The hot part of the year is the perfect time to observe, think, and plan.  The more you know about your garden before you start digging, the happier your plants will be.

Because our sun is so intense here in the Sacramento Valley, knowing when and where the sun and shade land on your yard is critical to plant success.  A spot that is in shade most of the day, but receives an hour of full sun at 3 pm, will be a death trap for shade loving plants.  Charting the patterns of shade and sun is a great way to prepare yourself for successful gardening.

Start with a simple plan of your yard that shows your property or fence line, the buildings, big trees, paving, and other landmarks.  Your goal will be to show how shade moves through your garden over the course of a single day.  Starting in the morning, walk your property and sketch in an outline of the shady areas on your plan.  Note the time of day along the outline.  You can also note the source of the shade if you like.  Repeat this every 2 hours until evening.  It helps to use different line types (short dashes, long dashes, dot/dash patterns) for each successive outline.  Be sure to note the date of your diagram.  When you are done, you’ll have an accurate sun/shade diagram to guide your planning decisions.   If you have fun doing this, make a diagram for each season!

The Beauty of a Master Plan

A page of planning is worth a book of re-doing.  Or something like that.  A garden is a long term investment that takes years to realize it’s potential.  Taking the time to create a master plan before planting the first tree will save time, labor, and money and result in a more cohesive, beautiful, functional, and easily maintained garden.  A master plan does not lock you into a rigid design but rather helps keep the big picture clear.

A master plan can be as simple a diagram, drawn to scale, that shows the location, size, and relationship between the various elements that you want in your garden.  Kind of like the floor plan for a home design.  It may indicate the overall concept of the garden and indicate material selections such as stone, fencing, and plant types to create the desired look.

To create a master plan, first consider how the space will be used.  Who and how many will use it on a regular basis?  For special events?  What will they be doing?  When?  What are the most pleasant parts of the existing garden?  The least?  This information will help you understand the types of amenities that may be useful, how big different areas should be, and whether protection from the elements may be needed.  ‘Hardscape’ elements like decks, patios, pools, shade structures are the bones of the plan.  All other elements attach and relate to them, and embellish them.  They cost more effort and money to install so it’s critical to make sure they are built to meet long term needs.

Once you understand how the garden is to be used, think about how you would like it to look and feel.  Beauty is a judgment call and a garden is very personal.   Take photos of garden elements that you like and peruse garden books and magazines to help clarify your tastes.

And then, there is reality.  What is your budget?  Who will be doing the construction?  What is the time line for construction?  Who will be doing the maintenance and how much time do they want to spent doing it?  Nuts and bolts questions like these will help you select appropriate materials and amenities.

With this thought process and information, you are ready to start drawing up a master plan that will guide you from start to completion of your personal garden.  Have fun!