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5495 Canotek Rd.
Ottawa, ON
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Design 101

There is nothing more exciting for a gardener than starting a garden from scratch.  The possibilities are endless when it comes to a blank slate.  Whether you have a new yard that is completely empty or an existing garden that no longer suits your needs, both canvases will allow you to start over if that is your desire.

When creating a garden from scratch, keep in mind the following steps to keep you on the right track.  Hastiness, as well as lack of planning and research, can lead to costly mistakes that can end up robbing you of valuable time, money and enjoyment of your garden.  Any or all of these steps can be done by Rockcliffe Landscaping if you lack the time.  Landscape designers are able to take into account lots of variables that you may overlook, and can help you to get the maximum enjoyment out of your garden with their tricks of the trade.

Determine Your Needs. Take into consideration what you would like to get out of your garden so that you can layout your garden accordingly.  Are you a sun worshipper?  Then plan on putting seating areas in the sunniest parts of the garden.  Do you like to entertain a lot?  If yes, think about how many people your space will need to easily accommodate on a regular basis.  If you only entertain once a year, this won’t be an issue.   Do you need privacy?  If so, determine which areas require it and think of privacy solutions (ie. fence, shrubs, etc) in advance.

Prepare Your Wish List.  This is the fun part! Determine what you would like to put in your garden to make it enjoyable for you.  This too will help to determine how you would like to layout your garden.  Do you wish to have a pool?  A water feature?   A built in barbeque?  Do you want a deck or would you prefer to have pavers for your seating area? See what fits into your budget and then fit it into your garden. 

Plan the Layout.  On paper.  Seeing your plan laid out to scale will help you to see how it will all come together and will keep you on track.  Take measurements of your garden area and draw it out on paper so you can see exactly what you have to work with.  Now that this is done, you can incorporate the items you decided you need and want for your garden, along with garden beds and seating areas.  You will be able to see how you will make it fit, how it will all work together, and will be able to determine material requirements.

 Need to make some changes?  Aren’t you glad you put it on paper first? A good idea is to take some marking paint and lay out everything in advance.  You may decide that the patio is too small.  Don’t forget to mark out your table and chairs too (or better yet put them out) so that you can see if you have enough room.  A common mistake is to install a patio that is too small to be comfortable or useful.  Make sure there is enough room for traffic flow and for when the chairs are pulled out.   Another common mistake is to make garden beds too small.  Make sure the garden beds are in scale with the house and property.   A 1’ wide garden bed along your 20’ tall house in your 3000 square foot yard will look lost.


Determine Focal Points. This is usually done in conjunction with the plan layout and may influence how your plan is laid out.  There may be areas in your garden that have a natural focal point (i.e. an existing tree with architectural branching) that you would like to retain or you may want to create a focal point in a certain area.  Is there a spot visible from inside the house that you would like to make interesting?  Is there something in your garden that you would like to detract attention from such as a hydro meter?  If so, a focal point in another area close by is likely to draw the eye away from the offending sight.  Is there a line of sight from the seating area you would like to take advantage of?  Once you have determined where you would like your focal points to be, you can then choose how you would like to create them.  It is a good idea not to incorporate too many focal points as this will make your garden look busy and take away from a calming atmosphere.  A good rule of thumb is to incorporate one or two focal points within your space.

Choose Plant Material.  Take the time to do some research and select the proper plant material for your garden.  Everyone loves palm trees but getting one for your garden isn’t such a great idea in our neck of the woods.   Make sure that the plant material you choose will survive in our zone and is suitable for the existing lighting and soil conditions.  Take into account the mature size the plant will reach and include it on the plan to make sure it will fit.  Determine if the plant material fits in with your overall goal.  If you are looking to make your garden a calm den of serenity consider a monochromatic color scheme with mass planting as opposed to a variety of different plants and colors, which will cause the eye to bounce around.

Dig. That’s right you heard me!  Be sure to call your utility companies for locates so that you don’t accidentally cut through important pipes and wires. Now is the time to make all of your plans a reality.  If at all possible, install your hardscaping first.  Contact Rockcliffe Landscaping if you need assistance with your landscape installation.  Installing fences, patios and pathways first can help to avoid damage to the rest of your garden if they are installed at a later date, thereby saving you money.  Depending on budgets, this is not always possible and shouldn’t deter you from enjoying a garden now. 

When preparing your garden beds, assess your existing soil and amend accordingly.  Now is the time to make any adjustments to your soil as this will have an impact on the overall health of your garden.  If your soil is mostly clay, be sure to add compost to improve its soil structure.  If your soil is very sandy, adding compost to your soil will also add nutrients and increase moisture retention.  Make sure to work the new soil into the existing soil.  Leaving the new nutrient rich soil on top will encourage shallow root growth making your plants vulnerable to drought.  There should be approximately 8-12 inches of good topsoil for your new beds.  For more information on soil and soil amendments please refer to our August 2007 article Science of Soils.

Plant.  But not quite yet.  The first thing you should do is layout all of the plants according to your plan. This will allow you to see if you need to make any changes.  If something doesn’t look quite right, move things around until it does.  This will save your valuable time and effort and avoid stress on plants that would have had to been dug up and replanted.

Now you can plant!  A rule of thumb when planting is to dig a hole approximately 2-3 times the size of the root ball. Backfill soil and mix some bone meal in around the root area to help encourage root growth.  Place the plant so its best side is facing forward and fill in the rest of the hole with topsoil.  Water well and continue to check moisture levels regularly until plant is established.  When planting is done, add 2-3 inches of mulch on garden beds to help retain moisture and keep weeds to a minimum.

As you can see, a big part of putting in a new garden is the planning.  When starting a garden from scratch, there are a lot of factors to consider.  It is essential to take the time to think things through and plan accordingly, as this will help to ensure that you get the absolute most out of your garden for a long time to come.  Making unnecessary changes after the fact can be expensive, time consuming and may detract from the overall enjoyment of your landscape.  Start off on the right foot and follow the previously mentioned steps so that you show off your masterpiece!


Landscape Installation