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Where to even begin?

Hello, all!  Since we've already had a little snow here in the northeastern US and the ground is frozen solid, I've been relegated to the indoors for the winter.  I have a large area that I want to fence and make into a back garden.  I'm a little overwhelmed with this giant blank canvas...does anyone have any tips for starting from scratch?  I've had many garden beds in the past, but for this area I want to create a real haven, and I just don't know how to get my ideas from my head and into the space.  I have plenty of plants, but I'm afraid to put them in the ground and then change my mind.  I really need a plan!  How do you design a space?  What is the first thing you do?
New England, USA
Metacomet soil with hints of Woodbridge and Pillsbury


  • How big is the area in width and length.
    What is currently there, weeds, grass. 
    What soil. 
    What about sun and wind direction. 
    Do you like sitting in the garden or should it be just planting. 
    Do you like straight or wiggly lines. 
    Do like plants with big or small leaves. 
    Flowers or just green. 
    Any wildlife. 

    Plenty of questions you can try to answer.  

    I my garden.

  • PlantmindedPlantminded Posts: 3,060
    Take time to think about what you want to use your garden for, how much time you have to maintain it and what kind of budget you have to achieve your aims.  Plan the hard landscaping first (patios, paths, fencing), then decide on your planting style and border positions and shapes.  A rough sketch on paper can help but don’t get too obsessed with measurements at this early stage.  Visits to botanic gardens, historic houses and the gardens of friends and family can provide inspiration.  Also visiting garden centres to see and feel different plants helps. There are lots of books available on garden design, plus websites and videos.  Subscribing to a quality gardening magazine can provide you with ideas, plus posting your thoughts and desires here will invite lots of advice and help!  This GW article is helpful, plus all the various links.

    Keep your plan simple to start, otherwise you’ll be overwhelmed and remember that making mistakes is part of the learning process and you will enjoy it more!
    Wirral. Sandy, free draining soil.

  • UffUff Posts: 3,199
    In a way you're starting at the right time @CrankyYankee. Winter is a time for planning, cogitating, drawing up lists of things to do, things to buy, changing your mind and starting all over again. One thing for sure though is that after Christmas you will be climbing the wall with frustration because you'll want to get out there and start but you won't be able to because the ground will be frozen solid. 

    Take your time and enjoy it because the planning is almost as good as the end result. 
    And of course you can chew things over with us, mistakes as well as successes. 
    SW SCOTLAND but born in Derbyshire
  • Oh and don't forget that if a plant turns out to be in the wrong place, you can usually move it. Some I get right straight away but some have moved half a dozen times before they have found their perfect spot. 
  • WoodgreenWoodgreen Posts: 1,273
    I'll second that point -- don't worry about moving plants, no-one gets it all right first time, and plants often grow bigger than expected.
    I'm surprised some of my plants haven't grown castors instead of roots, they've been moved so often!
  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 54,353
    Take photos, print them out, and make some sketches. Decide on what you like, but it's often easier to decide what you don't like - and eliminate those from your list  :)
    Male a list of what else you need the space for - eating/dining or just sitting, washing lines, storage, compost bins etc, and see what spots they'll go in. That's where scale is important though. I've seen it many times - people thinking they have room for a big table and six chairs, but the space is really only a few feet in diameter! Tracing paper is useful for making a copy once you have a basic/rough plan, and then you can make paper copies to add all your ideas while the weather isn't suitable for anything much outdoors. 
    For the plants you have, work out the best areas for them in terms of aspect - ie sun/shade/semi shade, and factor in any other buildings/fences/walls etc that will also impact that, just to give you a rough idea of where they'll go.  :)
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

    I live in west central Scotland - not where that photo is...
  • These are all great ideas, thank you!  I have plenty of space - my portion of the property is about five acres, much of which is pasture.  Maybe that's why it feels so overwhelming?  I need to balance it between a fenced yard and a fenced pasture.  
    My vision for my area is a cat safe environment, and areas that I can enjoy.  I've been working on the hard landscaping, actually.  That's the part that has always been easy.  The area I want to use is split between two levels; the upper level directly out the back door, and the lower level, which will be the main garden area. 
    The upper level has a narrow gravel patio, but most of it is made up of the leach field for the septic.  Since I have to be careful about how much I compact that area I've earmarked it for a wildflower meadow.  There is a gravel path leading through the meadow to the lower level, where  I've started another gravel patio and created a small water feature.  This is the space that has me stopped in my tracks.  I have no idea how I want this area to look as far as planting.  I'll try these suggestions and see what I can come up with.  :)

    New England, USA
    Metacomet soil with hints of Woodbridge and Pillsbury
  • PlantmindedPlantminded Posts: 3,060
    That sounds like a big project, but an exciting one!  If you'd like any further help on the space that has stopped you in your tracks, post some photos here so that the task can be easily visualised.  I'm not sure how similar your climate is to the UK's, but any recommendations will need to take that into account.  Also details of your soil type and condition will help.

    Just some further thoughts, see what grows well in your neighbourhood and use it if you like it.  Plan the woody elements of your garden first, ie trees and shrubs, to get the backbone of your garden in place, including evergreens to make sure your garden still looks alive in winter!  You can then place your choice of perennials, annuals and bulbs to create other layers, textures and colour for the other seasons. 

    You may also like to consider highlighting a focal point like a view, specimen tree or a feature such as a statue or garden sculpture.  The important thing is that these are all your own choices and that the garden reflects your personality - it will then be your own haven!
    Wirral. Sandy, free draining soil.

  • One thing I'm very, very lucky to have is my mother's excellent plant knowledge.  A few years ago I sold my home and purchased my childhood property.  I wanted to be closer to my mother as she ages as well as take some financial burden off of her, and I wanted to be back in a familiar area, so I 'bought the farm' and built an addition onto her house.  We now say her side/my side - Mom has her home and about 2 acres of land that contain some amazing gardens, and I have my home and about 5 acres of land.  Since I've spent nearly most of my life on this piece of ground, I'm fairly familiar with it.  It's rocky (you can barely dig a two-foot hole here, it's so incredibly stony), poor, sandy soil, so most of my gardens are raised.  We regularly experience temperatures to -20F (about -29C) during the winter, and generally have a few feet of snow on the ground.  Summers can be hot and humid.  Spring and autumn are absolutely heavenly!  My pasture is surrounded by trees that are fantastic colors in autumn.  I'm off to work now, but here's a photo of myself taking a break from spreading gravel and enjoying the view.  My goal is to be able to see that tree in the right foreground; a very old mulberry tree that attracts whitetail deer, eastern coyotes, porcupine, raccoon, and a number of bird species.

    The black post to the left is one of my markers for the cat fence, which is a strong netting, so it won't obscure the view.  I'll leave a gap to run my riding lawnmower through, and I plan to continue a track system I've begun for my mules alongside it.  They'll be able to walk over and say hi while I'm cooking on the grill. :D

    New England, USA
    Metacomet soil with hints of Woodbridge and Pillsbury
  • PlantmindedPlantminded Posts: 3,060
    The view from your resting position looks good to me @CrankyYankee!  How much time you have to devote to maintaining such a big space would be a major factor in your planning. It sounds like your mother is probably the best resource for your planting advice and knowledge of the terrain and climate.  I hope some of the thoughts already given here will help you and I am interested to see what you decide!
    Wirral. Sandy, free draining soil.

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