Find out how to give your landscape your personal stamp while respecting what is there and not exceeding your budget.
You’ve moved to a new place, and you’re already imagining what you’re going to do to improve the outdoor space. Maybe it’s a new development, offering a blank canvas, or perhaps it’s already been landscaped. Here are ideas to help you bring your gardening aesthetic to the new space in a way that works with the site, its existing design and any established plantings, and won’t cost an arm and a leg.
You can work through some or all of these steps on your own, but you may want to work with a landscape professional, someone who can help you identify what you need for your ideas to come to life and can pull your ideas together into a coherent plan.
1. Observe. Put down that spade and rototiller. Before you do anything major, take the time to see what you’ve got to work with. Live with the place through at least a growing season if you can, giving yourself enough time to discover what’s already there. The daffodils in this photo, for instance, appeared as a surprise in an untended bed the spring after I moved to my current house in northern Wyoming, with a yard that had basically been abandoned for a decade or two.
Fortunately I am not someone who tidies or improves first and asks questions later. If I had turned the bed and planted before their leaves appeared, I might have spaded up the daffodils and missed their cheerful yellow blooms. I also would not have been able to incorporate them into the new garden design.
2. Identify and inventory. Take photos and make notes. Identify and label everything you can, either using plant tags and stakes or drawing a yard plan and noting what grows where.
If you can’t identify something using the abundant resources available online, go the old-fashioned route and talk to neighbors or take photos to a local nursery or garden club. That’s how I learned the variety of the heritage peony that grew in my former home. It had popped up as a bonus after I planted a rhubarb clump I dug up from a friend’s garden; the peony tuber had come with it.
I love peonies, especially the old, richly scented varieties, so I was delighted by the unexpected addition. My friend’s neighbor identified the peony as a circa-1907 ‘Frances Willard’ from her mother’s garden in Illinois, a long way from our Colorado neighborhood.
3. Understand your site. Whether experienced gardeners or novices, we all make this mistake: We plunge in before taking the time to really know our site, from the small details of the soil and microsite to the big picture of the bioregion. Later we’re sorry we didn’t do our homework, when we find the soggy spot where nothing grows or the hot spot we didn’t notice — or our prized shrubs we bought at great cost die because they weren’t suited to the climate.
If your new garden is in the same area as your old one, you may already know your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone and bioregion. If not, click the links to learn. The Plant Hardiness Zone map gives you a rough idea of climate as measured by lowest temperatures; the bioregion info supplies more detail about soils, substrate and natural ecosystems.
Observe the specifics of your site too: how water drains, where the sun falls through the seasons and the hot spots and frost pockets.