Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Mondays in Steamboat Today.
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Have you ever seen that funny sign that reads “Plan Ahea,” where there wasn’t enough room at the end to include the “D”? Organizing a garden is kind of like that. If it isn’t planned, it’s going to look a little off. Even rustic, native and natural gardens will benefit from landscape design.
The first step — whether you’re designing a whole new garden or just trying to improve what’s already there — is to study the site. Carefully consider how your indoor and outdoor spaces relate to one another.
For example, do you like to cook with fresh herbs and vegetables from your garden? If so, you’ll want to plan your herb and vegetable garden near the kitchen so you can easily bring your harvest indoors.
Is the view outside your family room window a focal point of this space? If yes, you’ll want to consider plants that will bring color, texture and interest to the near view without obscuring the distant mountains and valleys of the Yampa Valley.
Do the children or pets need space to play? You might want to design this area near the space in your home where you spend the most time so you can watch over them.
Perhaps you need to build a walkway or sheltered area to easily move from one part of the house and garden to another, or to camouflage your compost heap or trash cans.
As you begin to draw these areas out on paper, it’ll be easier to begin thinking about the plants and structures you’ll need to achieve your objectives.
In a well-designed garden, no particular feature should stand out too much. What you want to achieve is a sense of unity where all your plants and structures work together. Use plant shapes, textures, color, aroma, heights and variety to attain this effect. Certain plants might be used repeatedly throughout the garden to give it continuity and flow. A berm, swale or accent might add depth or interest to an area.
One garden design characteristic that I like is adding mystery and expectation to a garden by concealing certain plantings. A visitor needs to walk behind a berm or around a corner to find this surprise.
Other design tips include the use of mirrors to make small spaces seem bigger; using a series of spaces and potted plant arrangements for variety; and using interesting materials for walkways, borders and seating areas.
Group your plantings together according to their needs. For instance, place xeric plants in sunny dry areas and water-loving plants in shady areas where they’ll receive regular moisture. Plant spring flowering bulbs below summer and fall flowering perennials for a season-long display of color and foliage. You get the idea.
Finally, plan your garden to accommodate your individual desire for puttering around the garden. If weeding, deadheading and pruning are activities you’d rather avoid, put in plants and structures that lessen these chores. If you like to change out the plants in your garden from year to year, consider leave space for an annuals garden that can be newly designed each spring.
Most of all, just enjoy Steamboat’s short growing season to its fullest by planning your garden spaces now as the season winds down and you have time to think about next year.
Deb Babcock is a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Extension office in Routt County. If you have questions, call 970-879-0825.