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 Garden Design Ideas

Looking for backyard ideas? flower gardens, or taking out grass to make a rose garden - or perhaps you only have space for some pots for a bit of colour. No matter, here are some of things from my garden... I am used to the word design, but it's still all about IDEAS...

Backyard garden

See this photo? it didn't start out like this... 

Back Garden in July

 ... Just a few years later....and it keeps evolving... 

Whether you are a beginner, or an experienced gardener, here are some steps  to get you in the mood.

Start by doing a bit of tidying - weeding or getting rid of leftover "junk".

Perhaps your garden needs rescuing? You've inherited a garden or even starting from scratch. 

Check out these  Ten Steps to take your garden from Lousy to Lush.

Take Your Garden from Lousy to Lush in Ten Steps.

Ideas can come from  magazines, other gardens or the internet.  Keep some notes what you like and we'll find a way to use them.

 Designs are more than bits of lines on a piece of paper. Even though we keep some notes, hen-scratches, photos and tags, it's really important to save them in some sort of organized manner....

It could be a rough sketch like this one below:

Or  a bit more detail with curved beds and paths like this below.

even this.... straight lines, and traditional beds.

...a sketch is just a bunch of lines and ideas.



It's probably a good idea to start keeping track of what you like, want; plants you put in, move or get rid of...... look here to see some ways to do this.


At this point, you might need more than

just my personal story.

When you make any sort of plan,

or even fill a notebook with ideas,

you'll have some big decisions to make.

Will you need

a Landscaper or a Gardener?

              And, here is a lot more about what steps to take...

            remember the Ten Steps ?

And if you have a bit of time, and want to "hear"  my story, pour a cuppa and settle in....It's a bit long but I'll share some links to tempt you to read my other pages... and you can return here any time.

Many years ago, we moved to a home with no garden and a sense there never was one.

 I was overwhelmed.

In the book, ‘The Brain that Changes Itself” Norman Doidge says when we make a ‘modest’ change, (moving to a new house), we find that something as basic as our sense of space, must be slowly altered while the brain rewires itself. ...Yuk…

If you’re like me, I don’t want to do the 'slow altering' thing… I want things to happen now…

I wanted the house decorated "now", my garden designs done and flower beds already growing … sigh...

Imagine then, having to adjust to a new house AND a new yard.. Perhaps it would help to see it as a blank canvas and start fresh with all new ideas.

Once in awhile, nature gives us a little help.

For me, it happened when a dead tree started to fall and had to be taken down. It opened up a whole new world for me as well as for my back yard.

I say "yard", because there was no garden… just an ugly open space.

Take a break now, and check out these other links and then come back

Keep track of what works, or doesn't...where you bought what,

how much you paid and where are those blasted plant tags?


Or maybe you want roses on your boulevard or in a hedge?

                                  ROSE HEDGE

Do you want to get rid of your grass? LOOK what I did:


Or  you need to start small with some pots or containers  CONTAINERS

Even in Winter - see Months  and Outdoor Arrangements

 why not add  ROSES, ?

(and some roses will grow in the shade !) 

Other plants and TREES as well.

Maybe we just need to fool the eye a little and make the viewers stop awhile so they don't see the whole garden all at once, even if the garden is small.  

See how we did that in another garden with an ARBOUR  and a REDBUD TREE.

STILL WITH ME?  - then let's go back to my story.....

After the big old tree came down in a storm, I had to re-think the space but it never occurred to me that I would be planning spaces that could even be called a 'garden'.

What's the first thing we think of?

Yep, grass…. Thick green grass. Kind of like a canvas only soft and wonderful to walk on. So, grass it was….

And it was good.

Ugly Garden-before

..wait, when do we get to the design part ?

Oh, I forgot to say I had a big tin shed?

..wasn't  very pretty, but stuff was out of sight.

Someday I'll re-design another garden with a pretty shed I'll  call a garden-house. In the meantime....

... back to the design idea. I had a rectangle yard with long straight sides: I prefer curves.

I carved out some sinuous edges under a huge Blue Spruce. Nothing grew under those piles of needles, not even weeds…. and because I didn’t know any better… I planted the Hostas my neighbour was throwing out and I liked how it looked. 

That isn't the way "garden designers" do it, though.  

They think it all out by asking questions - like:

  1. How do you want to use this space?
  2. How do you want to feel in this space?
  3. What colours do you like?
  4. How much time do you have to do your own gardening?
  5. How much will it cost to hire someone else?

Questions we all might ask ourselves before we begin and perhaps I will, next time.

A few weeks later… here is how it looked. It wasn't  much of a  garden yet, but my design-philosophy had more to do with the time I had and the things I didn't know than a formalized plan.

It was a yard with a garden in its heart - waiting for my imagination to start working.

Garden designs are in our heads...

The following year, I decided that tin shed, although shiny, new, and very practical, just didn't suit any garden designs  I had seen. I didn't exactly know how I wanted it to look, but sometimes the best things come from unexpected places.

A few years before, I spent a month at a writer’s workshop in Provence, and those hills of lavender still haunted me…

Our summers were as hot as theirs and the prevailing westerly wind in my yard… oops, garden… was more like the Mistral than a breeze, so I brought a little bit of Provence to my garden shed and it set the tone for colour and gave me more ideas.

With a few small cans of leftover paint and a photo, I painted a scene on the front doors of the tin shed.

I found a couple of old windows in the basement, painted them and hung them on lattice on either side of the doors… Voila ! my shed made me smile and felt like I had some of those Provencal hills closer to home.

You don’t have to be an artist to do this…. All it takes is an idea -  copy someone else’s painting or photo or have a creative friend do something for you.

Painted Provence Shed

I think it looks better, don’t you? At any rate it pleased me.

Little by little, I made the garden and the original flowerbeds bigger because I kept finding more plants I liked and of course, the curves got deeper.

Then when the tree in my neighbour’s yard died, I had even less shade… just blistering sun and wind. Time to change the design once again....

Although roses like the sun, they were sometimes battered and blasted about by the wind that swept down along the backs of the neighbouring yards.

I found a LILAC that was fast growing, had luscious scented blooms that blossomed later than the regular lilacs or Common Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) –  a “Preston Lilac” (Syringa Prestoniae-' Nellie Bean') and I planted it on the west side with the idea it would grow to block the wind. It is small here, but it is the largest plant next to the fence.

When you design your garden, think about dividing it into areas if you can…(the garden books call them "rooms" but I find that a bit far-fetched in most of our tiny pieces of property).

I kept pulling the edges of the beds out further - jutting away from the fence and into the garden.  I planted a Preston Lilac in it added an arbour with a bench around the corner- almost out of sight.

Below, you can just see the edge of the bench and it always made me want to go there and sit for awhile and to see what was going on in that nook. Like this….

Sure enough in less than 4 years, "Preston" was 8 feet tall…. With lovely large, heart-shaped leaves and beautiful grey stems that let me look through them to the back of the garden.

"Ugly" Garden now beautiful

... the next year, how simply glorious…. No muss, no fuss, just glory !

Preston Lilac

It gave lovely shade to the Solomon Seal and wood violets that popped up one Spring.

Those violets popped up wherever they pleased so I kept moving them to shady spots as ground cover until I needed the space for another plant. They kept the soil moist where there was little sun and shielded the roots of more delicate plants too. They are a lovely part of my Shade garden.(the science folks call it 'green mulch' while others call them invasive.)

If you choose to plant violets, they'll spread quickly so be ruthless, otherwise they would happily take over an entire garden. Some of my gardener friends admit to "hating" them, but how could you not love those sweet little faces?

Wood Violets

The rest of the garden grew bit by bit.

For example, you saw how the Rose Garden grew from the stump of that old tree and each year, I kept adding another rosebush or two.

No real formal plan, but an idea or two can evolve until you are pleased with your garden. By this time, it really does begin to look like you had some garden design ideas.

You can see the progression when you look at the Rose Garden page, but hang in, I'll show you the desperate way it looked in the beginning and how it looked only 4 years later.

Make sure, if you like an informal look, that you make the edges curved. Don’t be afraid to exaggerate the curves… tiny curves will look rather ditsy…. and are a nightmare for cutting the grass around them.

Undulating curves are pleasant to the eye,  more romantic and send your eye around your garden. 

Garden Designs with curved beds

Like these......

Garden designs with urns

Actually, you can do this garden design thing, a couple of ways…. You can get an idea what you want by looking at other gardens or magazines, and gradually carve out the shape and look you like…the evolving-garden-design.

(Some folks lay down a hose and move it around until they get a shape they like... some others, use spray paint and mark out the shape that way... whatever you are most comfortable with).

Then you can plan the flowers and plants you want to put into those spaces.. a few at a time, or as you can afford.

As the years go by, my garden changes and so will yours. When I add a statue or a new plant, sometimes I have to make the bed bigger to accommodate it.

Or I move it to another spot to change things up, or if it isn't doing well. It's rather like a new garden every year.

We'll talk about plants;perennials and annuals and how to choose.

And colour… we started to talk about colour in the beginning of the garden design and left it to talk about shape.

Remember the colour wheel on the page about Container Gardens ?

The same goes for flowerbeds. Think about how you want to feel in your garden.What colours calm or excite your?

Do you work all day indoors so that when you come home you want to spend time on your deck or in your garden?

Then your colours should reflect the gentle and relaxing shades of soft pink, mauve and blue.

Different shades of green will do the same thing.

Bonica Rose
Blue Delphiniums

If you depend on your garden to give you a jolt of energy, then you might choose vibrant reds, yellows and oranges


When you plan your garden, make room for lots of perennials… they come up every year, and saves planting them every Spring. However the down side of that is that if you only plant perennials, your garden will look much the same from year to year….so add trees, shrubs and, annuals.

 Annuals provide a lot of the colour in your garden and you can change the look of your flowerbeds from year to year by changing the colour of your annuals… it's win-win…. How great is that?

When all is said and done, your garden plan depends mostly on how you want to feel in your spaces – and if you plant for that feeling, the design will follow naturally. If you want order and symmetry, your garden will have straight lines and present with a calm and formal look.

If you want your eye to roam around your garden, stopping in nooks and hidden spots, then you will have lots of curves, focal points and winding paths to lure you into those spaces.

Your colours will follow your preferences… and when you go to the garden centres, you will fall in love, over and over and over again.

Follow your heart, let  your ideas flow, make a plan and plant what you love (and for your zone); take care of it and you will never (well, hardly ever) be disappointed.

Your garden design will reflect you and what you love about those spaces in your garden , whether private or public.








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