Garden Design

Winter provides opportunities to redesign your landscaping

By Martha Swiss ©2014
Penn State Master Gardener

Your garden might be the furthest thing from your mind in winter, but itís the perfect time to think about it. Without foliage, a gardenís structure (or lack thereof) is visible. When youíre not worrying about watering, planting and weeding, you can focus on the components and overall design.

Like your homeís interior, gardens are spaces created to suit the tastes and needs of you and your loved ones. If your garden does not do that, itís time for a change. Take a long look: The first step is to grab a pad of paper and get ready to embark on some garden soul-searching. Over the coming weeks, take a good long look at your property. Look out your windows. What do you see? Does it please you?

variety of chrysanthemums
   Assortment of fall Mums

Go outside & tromp around

What do you see when you collect the mail, take out the trash, take your kids to the bus or walk the dog? With fresh eyes, envision what people see as they pass your house or walk to your front door. 

Do you like what you see, or is it lacking?  Why?

Take your time looking, and think about what you see. Be sure to jot down your thoughts.


Use it or lose it!

The next step is important: Assess how you use ó or want to use ó your outdoor spaces. If your garden suits your needs, you will be more inclined to use it. Again, that pad of paper comes in handy as you answer questions such as:

  • Do your children or pets need outdoor play space?

  • Do you want to entertain outdoors?

  • Do you enjoy cooking outdoors?

  • Do you want to grow edibles?

  • Do you intend to play lawn games like badminton, bocce or croquet, or is having a relaxing oasis more your speed?

raised bed vegetable garden

Get physical
Itís critical to note the physical attributes of the property in your notebook, too. How much sun do various parts receive? Are there any areas where water ponds after a rain? Are there other drainage problems? Making simple sketches helps record these important points, or you can draw on a copy of the survey you received when you bought your home. Show all structures ó house, garage, shed, playhouse, pool, driveway, vegetable beds, septic system, utility lines, etc.

Add motion
Take your survey copy and lay tracing paper over it. Using different colored pens or markers, draw lines that represent where you drive and park your car, where your pets and/or children play, the path you take to pick up your mail, how visitors travel to your front door, and other pathways that might occur on your property. This exercise can reveal faults, eyesores and difficult access paths in a landscape.

natural stone walk

Style matters
Note the style of your house and garden styles you like (cottage, formal, modern, etc.). This is the time to dream and have fun. Websites like Pinterest are great for helping you find the styles, colors and details you like. Magazines and books are great resources too, as well as real gardens you may have visited. Keep track of things you like to help guide your new garden space, either scrapbook-style or electronically.

Taken together, your notes and sketches synthesize the facts about your landscape as well as your thoughts, desires and needs for it. Use these materials to come up with a list of changes ó pathways that need to be added, removed or changed; eyesores that need to be screened; spaces that need to be created; or more pleasing views that need to be established.

landscape in spring

You can begin to work on these changes yourself or with the help of a professional. If you have drainage problems or need to move a large amount of earth, itís best to consult with a landscape architect or engineer. Most garden designers have a high level of horticulture expertise and are a good choice to help you choose plants. Sources: American Society of Landscape Architects, Association of Professional Landscape Designers.


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