Make your Own Zen Garden

pond in the backyard

Planning a landscape is an exercise in imagination. You need to think, dream, and ponder. What do you envision? What do you like and dislike?
For example, Frederick Law Olmsted, America’s first and greatest landscaper, believed that home landscapes were best when they surrounded family with nature.
We won’t leave you with a blank sheet of paper! Here is some advice to get you started:

  • Walk around your neighborhood. Look at other gardens and yards that you admire.
  • Evaluate your own land. Where are the problem areas, such as poor drainage, do you need to consider? You’ll want a deign that moves water away from your house. Think about how much sun/shade your land receives (and when) because this affects plant choice. Consider your climate and soil type.
  • Think about the style of your house. Is it formal or informal? Your landscaping shouldn’t compete.
  • How do you plan to use your landscape? For kids’ play, for gardening, for outdoor entertaining? Do you need to create different spaces for different uses? 
  • How much space do you have? Walk around your yard and make a simple sketch to get a sense of scale.
  • How much time do you have to maintain your landscape? Be as realistic and not overly ambitious. Are you going to take care of your landscape by yourself? Are you planning to hire someone? Are you at home during the summer when the garden will need lots of care and maintenance?
  • Make flowers incidental, to supply color and finish. The lawn and the mass plantings are the main pieces of the plan. Flower sparingly.
  • Avoid plantings that might grow and block the windows and light. At the same time, use plantings to hide less desirable parts of your home.
  • Consider position carefully. Far more important than the right choice of plant is its correct position with reference to other plants and to structures.  
  • Fill a scrapbook with ideas. Include magazine clippings and photos and colors that you can reference at a nursery or with a contractor.

Olmsted’s principles demonstrate that we all have different philosophies, likes, and dislikes for our home landscape. Take time to dream and plan, especially during the winter months. Then, as the earth warms, walk outside your front door.

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