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Planning and designing a home garden

by Judy Leiser

Perhaps you've just moved into a new house, and you want to totally redesign your yard. Or maybe you've lived in your home awhile, but you're ready for a new gardening and landscaping look. Whichever the case may be, here are a few simple tips for planning your home garden...

First, size up your yard. Considerations will include the slope of the land; amount of sun; natural water drainage; activities, including play areas, parking and walking; the climate you live in and the existing structures, including the house.

A great resource is this gardening book, which will help you design your garden like a professional landscaper. Take a look at Planning Your Garden.

Walk around your yard with a clipboard or notebook, making notes as you go. Mark any slopes, areas that are shaded, bare areas, etc. Then draw up a rough plan of your yard, trying to make the house and other structures as close to scale as possible.

Remember that your house is still the center of attention. Your garden is there to complement it. So choose plants that help create balance, add interest, and go well with your home's design. The colors of your house, for example, can help you choose the colors of your flowering plants.

Work with what you have now. Incorporate current characteristics into your plan as much as possible. A natural slope, for example, may be the perfect place to put a waterfall and pond, or perhaps some stone steps.

Consider the final size. When considering plants or trees for a given area, be aware of the size they will grow to. This will keep you from placing large trees too close to the house, for example, or overshadowing your house with a huge, showy bush.

Look into plants that are natural to the area you live in. They will be healthier, and you will have less work to do. Drive around, and note what plants do well in your area. Get general ideas, but don't copy any one yard too closely.

Plan labor saving tips into your design for low-maintenance gardening. Your primary work will be weeding, watering and cutting. The design elements below can save you time and effort later.

No mow: Cut down on lawn mowing time by avoiding sharp corners. Edge objects with mulch, rock, brick, sand or fabric so the lawnmower can take care of it, rather than an edger.

Cover it: Mulch planting beds to cut down on weeding and watering. Look into other products as well, such as the fibrous membrane material used to cover beds. You lay it down, then cut holes as you plant. Weeds have trouble breaking through the barrier.

Learn your plants: Research before buying plants. Match the amount of shade or sun they need to the area you place them in. Choose plants that are easier to care for.

Get dirty: One of the most important gardening factors is your soil. Learn about the soil your plants desire. A mixture of top soil, peat moss and vermiculite is often a good start. Fertilize on a regular basis, with the concentration your plants require. Consider keeping a compost pile if you have a large yard.

Don't tool around: Use the best tool for the job. If you only need the tool for a day, consider renting it. Power tools for some jobs, like tilling, can save a lot of time and money. When you do buy tools, take care of them. Store them in a convenient spot, well organized and away from moisture, which could cause them to rust.

Juice it up: If you don't have a hose spicket where you need one, consider having one installed. The same goes for electrical outlets. A little effort and expense now could have years of payoff.

Give yourself a lift: Consider raised beds. They will require a little construction, but raised beds have several advantages. They are much easier on the back and knees when working your garden, they aren't as subject to abuse from visiting animals and they attract less weeds. They can also be quite beautiful. The same goes for container gardening.

When planning an area, group plants that have similar needs for shade, water, drainage and soil composition. Look for complementary colors. Go for informal groupings, rather than rows.

Don't shy away from a little construction or accessories to complement your new garden. An arbor, fence, statue, patio or pond may be just the element you need to complete your design.

Build some type of lighting into your yard. Like everything else, it should complement the overall design, and highlight your focal points. Make sure walkways, driveways and entryways are all lit.

Don't allow yourself to get overwhelmed. Consider doing one area at a time. And remember, each new item requires maintenance. If you can't see yourself regularly cleaning a pond, for example, leave it out of the design.

Look for good deals on things you are comfortable with or plants you know. But when tackling something completely foreign to you, consider going to a garden supply store, and asking lots of questions. You might pay more, but you may get a lot of good advice in addition to the product.

A little preplanning can go a long way toward giving your garden a terrific, low maintenance design that you will enjoy for years to come. Visit our garden store at the home garden mall, .

Judy Leiser is a writer for .>

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