Designing a good garden depends on many variables

Very few of us get to design a garden from scratch. Just those lucky ones building their dream home or someone moving into a property that is so neglected they have to bulldoze everything and start over.

But we all can design new spaces as time goes by, finding a better use for a spot that is not truly pleasing or changing the face of a highly visible spot for better curb appeal.

Last summer, I worked on the strip of ground that borders my vegetable garden and the street. There are some shrubs there that serve to hide my vegetables from public view when they are not at their best; a forsythia, a Rose of Sharon and a very old lilac, and I filled the space in front of them with hostas, daylilies, a container of caladiums and a few coleus.

I also arranged salvaged bricks from the county courthouse around the lilac, and that was my foray into design for the year.

The principles of design remain the same, whether you are creating a garden for an estate or a small patch of ground, and the first step must be planning.

A bed or border where things are just thrown together as they happen to arrive will always look that way, and will need to be redone in the future. It is better to do it right the first time.

You need to decide how you want to use the space, and then put it on paper.

Look at the light conditions, exposure, soil, size and shape, as well as anything that is there already, and all those things will determine the outcome.

When building a flower bed, look at the background. Do you need to hide it with tall plants or structures, enhance it with something to catch the eye, like a tree or shrubs, or is it fine the way it is?

Establishing the edge is important, both in shape and desired plant material. Then comes the fun part of selecting what is to fill the area.

Consider colors, shape and texture, suitability for the space and climate conditions, and how many to buy.

During this planning time, consider whether you want garden art included, although sometimes it is better to wait until you see the absolutely perfect item for the space.

Just be aware you are looking for a bench, a container or a statue to complete the picture.

Hardscape needs to be carefully planned with exact measurements calculated to save wasted money. Paths, steps, walls, fences and a possible pergola or arbor are important in your design and are not easy to change if a mistake has been made.

I had my swing installed in a convenient area by the back wall of the garage with some paving stones in front, not stopping to think it faces south, so it gets full summer sun. This is much too hot for most of the summer to sit there daily and eat my lunch as I had planned. And it is cemented in, so it is difficult to move.

Color is crucial, with light-colored plants included to brighten shady areas, including white-flowered plants that glow in evening twilight and bright-colored blossoms that provide a warm welcome at the entrance way. Blue, pink or lavender have a calming effect, with reds and yellows bringing a sense of excitement to a space. Green is the calmest color of all, perfect for a site for meditation and relaxation.

With some thought given to design, you can attract or repel wildlife as you wish, create a welcoming entrance, ensure privacy or throw your spaces open to all, screen or open views, and live among the evidence of your love for gardening.

Janet Del Turco is a local gardener and a graduate of the Ohio State University Master Gardener program. Contact her at