Questions to ask yourself before designing your garden.
What would you like to achieve on your property in terms of the landscaping of your home and its ability to feed you? This is the time to dream big and long term.
What is your timeline- can you make changes quickly or do you plan to make changes over several years?
How much money do you plan to dedicate to initial changes?
How much money can you dedicate on a monthly or annual basis?
How much sun do you get on your property? It helps to think in terms of number of hours of directly sunlight between March and November and think in terms of the different areas of your property.
Are you willing to remove trees to increase the amount of sunlight?
What is your source of water if irrigation becomes necessary? Can you harvest rain from your roof?
What is currently growing in your yard?
How important are the aesthetics of your yard to you? To your neighbors?
Are there neighborhood covenants, rules or regulations that are suppose to keep you from growing food or raising certain types of animals?
Will children be using the yard? If so what age and how many?
Will pets be using the yard? If so how many and what kind?
Do you use your yard for entertaining purposes?
Are there special activities like bonfires or hog racing for which you will need to set aside room?
Would you like to include fruit trees, bushes and edible perennials (plants that come back every year) in your landscape? If so how much room can you devote to these plants? (Remember trees are big and produce lots of shade. Shrubs can get big too.)
Do you plan to grow annual vegetables (plants you start from seed or transplant every year like corn and tomatoes) and if so how much room can you devote to these vegetables. By the way you’ll want at least 6, and better yet 8, hours of direct sunlight for this area.
How much time can you commit to your garden each week?
How much food, on a percentage basis based on your weekly menu, would you like to harvest from your yard?
Do you have physical limitations that would make typical gardening difficult for you?
How much help (significant others, reluctant in-laws, children, household pets pressed into the service of chasing away squirrels) do you have at your disposal?
How much experience do you with growing plants and gardening?
Do you have room to over-winter potted plants in your home?
Do you have sunny windowsill useful for starting seeds or growing sprouts?
What kinds of animals would you be interested in raising: chickens, turkeys, rabbits, goats, cows, pigs, sheep, llamas, bees, fish, or others?
What equipment do you own or could borrow? Think hand tools like shovels and rakes but also mowers and tillers.
Do you have natural sources of mulch available including baled straw, fallen leaves or grass clippings? How about cardboard (any appliance stores near by?)
Do you have room for outdoor containers on patios, decks or porches for growing food?
Do you anticipate a problem with animals such as rabbits or gophers visiting your garden and helping themselves to your produce?
Do you anticipate encountering soil contamination due to exterior lead paint or other chemicals previously used on your property?
Measurements you’ll need
The easiest way to get the measurements you’ll need to draw up a master plan for your yard will be to dig up a site survey of your property. You might have a copy tucked away in the material associated with the purchase of your home. If you rent your landlord, pleased that you’re improving the property, might offer you a copy of such a survey.
If you don’t have a survey handy don’t worry. You can take the measurements yourself. It’s best to invest in some graph paper. You can by a pad or print some out. Here’s a source:
Using the graph paper to record your measurements and a tape measure or other measuring device, record the measurements of the perimeter of your house and any other structure on your property. Try to also measure the boundaries of your property. Often you can find pins or stakes or other marks that indicate property corners. If you can’t than your best guess will have to do. Try to measure the distance of your home and other structures from the edges of at least two property boundaries. This will help to more accurately place these structures.
Don’t expect to get this drawn up accurately on your first try. Typically you’re going to use several sheets of paper to record the measurements outside and then come inside to piece them all together for a base plan. By the way you can use the grids to represent a certain distance, say 5 feet. This will vary between properties because different scales will be necessary depending on the size of your property. Count the number of individual squares on the length and width of your paper and divide that number into the length and width of your property.
Or you can just try and get close in proportion to everything you want to show on your property. This should include all structures but also trees, shrubs, driveways, patios, decks, wells, existing gardens, walls, and anything else you see in your yard. When trying to measure and place these items accurately it helps to triangulate or take measurements to a certain object from several locations.
Again don’t try to get all this right on your first try. Get as many measurements as possible and then go inside and combine your efforts. It’s likely you’ll have to go back and remeasure a few elements but the more accurate your base plan, the less frustration you’re likely to encounter as you move forward with your plan. You don’t want to plan for and purchase 15 blueberry bushes only to come home and find that you only have room for 8 or that the play lawn you promised your children for purposes of Frisbee and football really has only enough room for a game of tag.
This base plan and the questions you’ve answered below will serve as a reference for the design process as we plan your garden. Keep them handy as we move along.