Drawing Up a Planting Plan
Planting plans don't have to be complicated, but they can be a great aid, helping you to organize your ideas and calculate planting quantities.
The lure of an instant effect often tempts new designers to cram too much into a small space, but overcrowded plants tend to be unhealthy, so always bear in mind their final spreads when drawing up your plan. You can achieve a fuller look by grouping plants together. With perennials, larger groups of three or more of a single species will have a stronger, more substantial effect than single plants dotted around, which can look messy. Grouping plants in sausage shapes (which works well for cottage and prairie styles), or triangles, is satisfying to the eye and makes it easier to dovetail disparate groups. Also, try placing the occasional plant away from its group to suggest it has self seeded for a naturalistic look. With shrubs, you can either plant in groups for an instant effect, or singly and wait for them to fill the space. Plant trees at a good distance from your property to prevent subsidence, and give them plenty of space to mature.
A formal planting design near the house will create a contrast with natural plantings elsewhere. Try a simple parterre formed of squares or rectangles enclosing a cross, and outline your design with box hedging. Avoid making the beds too small, because once planted up they could look cramped and overly fussy.
Prairie-Style Drift Planting
Interlocking sausage-shaped drifts of plants give a less contrived look. Make the shapes a good size for maximum impact (Image 1).
Strong geometric shapes are emphasized and complemented by bold blocks of planting, such as cubes of hedging (Image 2).
The symmetry and formality of a parterre makes planning fairly simple. Start with the outline hedging, then add the infill plants (Image 3).
To recreate a natural habitat, place plants in random groups. To avoid a chaotic design, use a limited color palette (Image 4).
One of the simplest ways to visualize a planting plan for a small garden is to sketch the view from an upstairs window. Give full reign to your imagination and don’t worry about accuracy at this stage. Next, identify the views from the house at ground level (stand by the back door) and consider whether you want planting to enhance, frame, or block them. Finally, walk around the plot visualizing the overall layout, and the shapes and positions of structural plants, such as shrubs. Mark these on your sketch as simple shapes.
Take photographs as well, so you can refer to them when you come to draw your plan. If you feel confident, you can sketch your ideas directly on to photographs; if not, work on a sheet of tracing paper laid on top. You may find that black and white printouts are less distracting to work with than color pictures. Use your rough sketches to prepare a more organized planting plan.
The Final Planting Plan
If you are preparing a plan for your own use you will not need fancy graphics, but if it is for a client a professional-looking plan is appropriate.
On your scale plan, first draw the outlines of the areas you want to plant, then add specific plants. To help you position trees or shrubs, draw circles to scale, depicting their likely spread. Mark perennials in as freehand shapes. To help you calculate planting densities, mark out a square meter on the ground and work out plant spacings for different species using their final spreads. Keep a note of them for future reference.
Draw your plan on graph paper, or on paper marked with a pencil grid of 1 cm squares—you can then erase the latter when you ink in the final design. The scale you choose for your plan depends on the size of the beds or borders you are designing, but for a detailed plan, a scale of 1:50 or 1:20 is appropriate.
Use acrylic tracing paper to copy your final sketch and produce a clean, finished drawing. Office supply stores usually sell tracing paper. Architect’s offices often offer a copying service for large plans. You will need at least two copies: one to keep on file as the original and one that can be taken out into the garden at planting time. Consider laminating plans to make them weatherproof.
Costing Up Your Plants
If you can afford large shrubs and trees you can create an instantly mature look; a smaller budget means young plants and patience while you wait for them to grow. Perennials flower and reach their maximum height in the first couple of years, so don’t spend a fortune on big plants.
It is worth asking garden centers and retail nurseries if they give discounts to designers; some also offer a plant sourcing service. If you can show you are a trade customer, wholesale nurseries allow you to buy plants in bulk.