New Year, New Yard

Last August we moved into a new home and I had grand hopes that we would get at least some of the yard put in before winter. It was not to be. But that has given me extra time to keep dreaming, I guess. In any case, this is the first in a series of posts about the process of creating a landscape first on paper, and then implementing it in real life.


“A garden is half-made when it is well planned. The best gardener is the one who does the most gardening by the winter fire.” – Liberty Hyde Bailey

I saw this quote floating around social media earlier this month and I thought “All right! I’m halfway there!” And then I started tweaking my plan. Again. And I’m sure I’ll be tweaking some more, because I’m under the opinion that a garden is never really finished.

a hand sketch of a home landscape plan

The main ideas of my landscape plan have stayed basically the same. But as you can see, I’m continuing to tweak things here and there.

But the part in the quote about “gardening by the winter fire” is actually really good advice. You may not be able to get out in the dirt right now – though as I type this I’m looking out to my mostly bare of snow landscape with plenty of visible dirt – but you sure can do some gardening on paper. Sketching and doodling and reading seed catalogs and making plant lists are all activities you can do now that really will put you ahead once you can get out in the garden again.

So even though things may change some more between now and when I start to do the actual installation, there are some things that I do know for sure:

  • There will be fruit trees along the back fence
  • There will be garden boxes along the east side of the property
  • All trees and shrubs will be planted within beds because I really hate mowing around trees in the lawn
  • The park strip will have drought tolerant plants along a rock “stream”
  • There will be some sort of patio for a fire-pit in the southwest corner

The parts of my design that are still up for debate:

  • There may eventually be espaliered fruit trees along the west property line
  • The tree out front may or may not be a magnolia
  • Though I’m 99% certain of the species of the rest of the shrubs and trees, most herbaceous perennial plants have not been completely decided yet

I’ll say right now that although I’ve taken a residential landscape design class as part of my formal studies, and I’ve read countless articles and publications about designing a landscape, I am by no means a professional. But here’s the thing – I know the plants I like and I want, I don’t have any retaining walls that need to be made (because you should definitely get a professional to help you with that), and I don’t mind getting my hands dirty or the process of trial and error. If you find yourself in similar circumstances, grab a piece of paper, a pencil, and start sketching.

Here are my tips to help you get started:

  • If you know the dimensions of your lot and the dimensions and placement of your house on the lot, sketching things out on graph paper, like I’ve done here, is helpful to give you a sense of scale. If you don’t know the exact dimensions, another option is to look up your house on GoogleEarth or something similar and sketch it out on there.
a google earth image of a neighborhood

My own house doesn’t show up on any Google Earth imagery yet, but I’ve been sketching out some ideas for my parents yard using this method.

  • If you’d like to get an idea of what it would look like from a street-view rather than a bird’s-eye view, either check and see if there are any street view images on GoogleEarth, or go out and take some quick pictures of the area of interest, print ‘em out on regular paper, and sketch away.
a picture of a house with plants sketched in

I’ve drawn in a couple trees to get an idea of what my sketch might look like in real life.

  • If you have an excess of rocks, like we do, you can do what I did and arrange them into the borders of your planting beds to get an idea of whether you like the size or not. Or, if you have an excess of snow (lucky you), you can do like Kathy of Cold Climate Gardening did, and trace out your design in the snow.

If you’re dealing with a completely blank slate, like I am, it is really helpful to trace out with rocks or footprints in the snow where you imagine your planting beds to be. Otherwise it can be hard to really see how it will all come together.

Will you be creating or adding to your home landscape this year? Do you have any other tips on getting started?


  1. Great tips. I will soon most likely have a yard for the very first time in my life (excluding the many years I lived under my parents’ roof, of course), so I plan to pay closer attention to your blog in the next little while. And I may be asking you specific questions here and there!

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