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5 Things I Wish I Knew About Garden Design (These Would Have Saved Me $$$ Thousands)

5 Things I Wish I Knew About Garden Design (These Would Have Saved Me $$$ Thousands)

Ever wonder what no one is telling you about designing your home landscape?

The trouble is, you don’t know what you don’t know.

What I can tell you is that if I had known the things in this article BEFORE I planted my very first plant, I would have saved myself a lot of time and money.

I literally spent years making bad plant decisions, even though it came from a place of fierce love. I’d shimmy my plants around and swap them in and out like an (extremely unqualified) conductor of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

I moved my plants 👏 every 👏 single 👏 time I learned something new.

I always second guessed my decisions.

Sadly, I lost many plants and created even more headaches for myself in the process. Honestly, if I were to add up all of the money I’ve spent, it would have been WAY cheaper for me to hire a landscape designer to just create plans and install it for me.

And those plans are not cheap!

According to HomeAdvisor, landscape design plans for home gardens cost an average of $6,000.

Home Advisor

Yes, we’re talking thousands. And this is just for the design PLAN; not the actual installation of your design.

But lucky for you, I’ve got your back. By learning these tips, you can:

  • Save money on a landscape designer (which means more 💲💲💲 to buy plants and garden features).
  • Get beautiful results faster (we’re talking years sooner) than if you were to just wing it.
  • Experience the pride that comes with designing a landscape that is totally unique and custom to YOU.

Let’s get into it!

  1. Create a Mood Board
  2. Limit Your Color Palette
  3. Create Groups, or Drifts, of the Same Plant
  4. Choose Plants That Bloom In Different Seasons
  5. Use Evergreens To Create Winter Interest

7 tips for choosing the RIGHT plants

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Hey, since you’re already signed up for my emails, you may be interested in my Printable Garden Planner Kit. It includes 5 printable worksheets that you can use to plan and organize your landscape. Check it out here.

1- Create a Mood Board To Define Your Garden Style

Gathering inspiration for a whimsical garden design
Here are some ideas I gathered on Pinterest for a whimsical/enchanted themed garden. View the board here.

When I started choosing plants for my garden, it was very much like this: head to the garden center and pick out some things that looked nice.

No planning at all. I really didn’t even consider what I wanted my garden to look like.

What was my style? Would my garden have a theme? What’s vibes do I want my garden to give off?

The easiest way to achieve some clarity around this is to do some inspiration research. I really love the idea of creating a mood board.

If you want to learn how to create a mood board like this, check out my mood board workshop.

There are a few ways you can do this:

  • Cut out magazine photos and paste them onto poster board (an old-school style collage project can be really fun & inspiring).
  • Curate photos on a Pinterest board. An alternative to Pinterest boards, Houzz also lets you curate designs into an “ideabook.”
  • Download images from the web into a folder on your computer. You can use an app on your phone or even a program like Canva to create a digital mood board.
  • Check out my Garden Mood Board Workshop – it will take you through an awesome step by step process so you can get super clear on the vision for your garden!

These are just a few great ways to create a fun, inspirational mood board. It will really help you to clarify your vision. Because when you collage, you will definitely start to see patterns in your style, colors and even specific plants you like!

Give it a try!

Recommended Reading: Garden Styles: What Type is Right For You?

2- Limit Your Color Palette

Analogous garden color scheme with blue, violet and purple
Image Credit: Asters – Ian & Lindsay on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/1425490346/

Many beginner gardeners don’t think much about garden color schemes other than they want a lot of color — the more the better. This, my friend, is a common and detrimental mistake.

Choosing too many colors for your garden can result in a wild mess that you likely won’t be happy with.

When you plan your home décor, you rely on color to tie your room together. When you get dressed in the morning, you pick your clothing based on color schemes. So, why would you combine colors in your garden that you’d never put in your home or on your body?

When deciding on a color palette for your garden, take cues from your clothes and your home décor. These are the colors that you’re drawn to and will give you a sense of what you may like in your garden, too!

If you are still having trouble, I would recommend choosing one single color to get started. This is exactly how I teach garden design in my online course.

Recommended Reading: Simple Secrets for Creating Garden Color Schemes

3- Create Drifts of the Same Plant, Not “One of Each”

No more buying just one plant! I’m serious about this! If you decide on a plant for your landscape, you should purchase no less than 3 of that plant.

This will allow you to make a grouping, or a drift. You see, gardens are typically viewed from a distance. So, in order to get that “impact” that you are looking for, you need to create a mass so it can be seen from afar.

Arrange plants in drifts of 3 5 or 7
Drifts of plants create so much more impact than single plants. Illustration by PrettyPurpleDoor.

Trust me, if you like the look one little plant, you will LOVE the way that 3, 5, 7 (or MORE) of that plant looks in your garden design. When creating a drift of perennial plants, I start by purchasing at least 3 plants. Then after a year or two, I can divide each clump into at least 9 different plants.

Recommended Reading: Arrange Plants In Your Garden – 3 Simple Ways

4- Choose Plants that Bloom in Different Seasons

Backyard landscape collage in different seasons
The same garden space can look different at different times of the year. Just look for the arch in each of these photos. Design and Photo by Amy at PrettyPurpleDoor.com

When I was a beginner gardener, I thought that “seasonal plants” were plants that bloomed all year round– in every season– all the time.

I now know that this was wishful thinking… at best.

The truth is that plants bloom at certain times of year. And, while some plants bloom for longer amounts of time than others, most perennials you will use in your design will have a “season” of blooming. Before and after their bloom period, they will either look (1) scraggly and messy or (2) a big blob of green, which can be kind of boring.

So, the trick to designing a beautiful garden is to account for these bloom periods and make sure that you select plants that can be the star of the show at different times of the year.

Yes… this takes research and planning.

Yes… your stomach is probably knotting up thinking about yet another thing you have to plan out.

I wont lie; this is a difficult concept to master. And impulse buying every dying plant on the clearance rack isn’t going to magically work out 😩.

My best advice is to plant one or two groups of long-blooming plants you love. Then, observe your garden during the year. When it’s looking dull or empty, head to the garden center and find a plant that is blooming to fill in the gap. This is the time when you can be a bit more impulsive.

Over the years, you will continue to notice gaps in bloom times. And, you’ll need to tweak and adjust your plans as you go.

In my design your 4-season garden course, we discuss lots of ways to prevent these bloom gaps from happening. We also use my printable garden planner kit worksheets to keep track of seasonal bloom times and colors.

Recommended Reading: Creating Seasonal Flower and Plant Groupings

5- Use Evergreens To Create Winter Interest

Storyboard illustrations on the importance of evergreens in winter landscapes
Evergreens create structure and color to a barren winter landscape. They are very important to include in your design. Illustrations by PrettyPurpleDoor.

Evergreen shrubs create vital green islands in otherwise barren winter landscapes. I know they don’t sound as sexy as a group of perennial plants, but they are by far the most important part of a landscape.

Why? Evergreens (along with fences, buildings, paths and other hardscaping) create the structure of your garden. They are the bones that hold it all together. Especially if you live in a colder climate where plants die back every winter.

So, before you rip out the evergreen shrub row along your newly purchased home’s foundation (I SEE YOU!!) — please reconsider. All you need to do is increase the depth of your garden bed and plant the flowering shrubs and plants in FRONT of the evergreens.

You’ll be happy because you’ll have more color.

Your house will be happy because it won’t feel naked all winter.

Seeing your non-naked house in winter will also make you happy (extra bonus!!). Trust me on this one!

Recommended Reading: Evergreen Shrubs – the Most Important Part of Your Mixed Border

Hand drawing landscape design plan
5 tips about garden design that would have save me thousands (and lots of time) if I had known them as a newbie.

Wrapping Up

Now that you’re up to speed on the things I wish I knew about garden design, you’re well on your way to creating your dream garden in less time with much less frustration. Not to mention all the 💵 you’ll keep in your pocket 🤑 (at least until you stumble on the next plant sale). Lucky you!

If you loved this post, definitely check out my Design Your 4-Season Garden Online Course. It will take you through the exact step-by-step framework I use to design a beautiful garden bed with tons of interest and personality.

Plus you’ll get the support of a community of other gardeners who are doing the exact same thing — along with feedback & guidance from yours truly. One of my students, Marte, said,

“You know what I love about your private course Facebook group? I would say you comment on every single post. It’s like, once we make that investment into your class, you get so much with it! It’s a continually ongoing process.”

Marte, Design Your 4-Season Garden course participant

Happy Gardening!


PS: If you’re brand new to flower gardening in general, head over to this post: Flower Gardening For Beginners – the Secrets No One Tells You

Shop my Amazon storefront for my essential gardening books & tool recommendations!

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Narrow Garden Layouts + Design Tips to Make Them Work For You

Narrow Garden Layouts + Design Tips to Make Them Work For You

Designing a layout for a narrow garden can be a very tricky task to take on yourself. If you’re having trouble getting started, I’ve put together several different narrow garden layouts to choose from. I’ll also share with you why each layout works and how you can modify these layouts to fit your own unique needs.

While it sounds counterintuitive, dividing up a long, narrow garden will actually make your landscape look a lot BIGGER than it really is.

The best design tip I can give you when trying to conquer a narrow garden is to divide your space into smaller sections. I know that most home gardeners feel like this will make the space feel smaller, so they shy away from creating separate areas. But the truth is that most garden designers, when faced with a long narrow garden, will do exactly this.

Before you get started with your design layout, it’s important to think about what you actually need in your landscape. So, head over to my article, 7 tips to starting your landscaping from scratch. There’s lots of great information there about gathering inspiration photos, determining your garden style, understanding the conditions of your property and creating a wish list for what you need or want to incorporate into your garden. You can also check out my post filled with ideas specifically for designing your backyard landscape.

Once you have the basics covered, you’ll be able to use what you’ve learned to decide on a layout for your narrow garden. I’ll provide several unique narrow garden layouts that you can try:

  • A simple, kid-friendly narrow garden with a large lawn
  • An organic, curved design for an informal, narrow garden
  • The plant-lovers paradise layout for a narrow garden space – also “no lawn” friendly
  • A bold and unique design for wow factor in a narrow garden – also “no lawn” friendly

Depending on your needs, you can easily adjust these layouts to create a garden that’s uniquely you!

Narrow Garden Layout with Large Lawn Area

Narrow garden design layout with large lawn

This is a very simple and straightforward design for a long and narrow backyard. I think that most home owners will really enjoy the simplicity of this layout. There’s a reason why this is a popular option: it solves all the problems of a narrow garden design and can be adapted to accommodate a lot of different items from your garden wish list.

First, a patio/dining area can be placed right outside of the home. It’s always a great idea to have a deck or patio near the house so that you can dine outdoors and cook on the grill. It makes carrying dishes in and out a lot easier.

What I like most about this option is that it provides a large lawn space, which is great for kids. So, if you have young children or a dog that likes to use the lawn space, you may consider trying out this option.

Finally, at the far end of this narrow garden, I’ve designed a “relaxing space” that’s secluded from the patio and the lawn. This space is separated from the lawn using evergreen hedging that will make it feel cozier. There’s also a little garden path that you can travel down before you enter the relaxation area.

Some ideas for a relaxation area are:

  • fountain or water feature
  • hammocks for napping and enjoying the sun
  • fire pit / campfire area
  • outdoor living room with sectional couches and lots of pillows
  • a space to read, draw or pursue your hobbies
  • an orchard of fruit trees
  • a gazebo or pergola with a bar and a big screen tv to watch the game
  • this is also a great location for a garden shed, if you don’t have a need for a second space

And, if you’re a visual person like I am, here’s a hand illustration I made to incorporate some of the ideas mentioned for this layout.

Hand illustrated narrow garden design layout with large lawn
Hand illustrated narrow garden design layout with large lawn and two relaxing areas for outdoor entertaining. Illustration by Pretty Purple Door.

You will notice that in this layout I’ve divided the narrow space into 3 smaller areas that are easier shapes to handle. You could always make the patio larger, the lawn smaller, etc. Personally, I think I would create garden borders around the lawn area so I’d have room to plant some more flowers and shrubs!

Asymmetrical Narrow Garden Layout with Curves

Narrow garden design layout with large lawn

This narrow garden layout is for those of you who dislike boxy designs and want a more organic look to your garden design. Honestly, it’s not much different from the first design. The main difference is the asymmetrical layout.

The patio/dining area is still right at the front of the garden near the home. Except, it’s offset a little bit. A meandering path starts right at the back of the home and will walk you all the way to the very back area of the garden. Along the way there are lots of planting areas to make it a gorgeous, secluded stroll. This would be a great design for a cottage style garden.

And, if you’re looking for some ideas for planting up the garden areas, check out this YouTube video where I explain how I designed a similar pathway garden in my own backyard!

Subscribe to my YouTube channel for more gardening videos!

To the right of the pathway, there’s a large lawn area for the kiddos and doggies. I’ve included a lawn area in this design as well because, well, it’s the most practical use of the space for most families. But, if you’re trying to get rid of the lawn or hate cutting the grass, keep reading because the next two options can easily be “no lawn” solutions for you.

At the end of this long and narrow garden, I’ve included an area for a vegetable garden and a small shed. But, remember all of the ideas above that you could swap out for this area. And, if you like the idea of including a vegetable garden in your design, make sure that you place it in an area that gets LOTS of sun. Your veggies will need AT LEAST 6 hours of sun per day in the location you choose.

Could this be the garden design for you?

Hand illustrated narrow garden design layout with large lawn
Hand illustrated narrow garden design layout with two trees, a large curved lawn area and room for a round patio, vegetable garden and a shed. Illustration by Pretty Purple Door.

Narrow Garden Layout with Lots of Room for Plants

Narrow garden design layout with long pathway

I think this is my favorite long, narrow garden design because there’s tons of space to plant. It truly is a plant-lovers dream… probably why I love it so much!

The space begins with a lawn and then a hedge row separates the lawn from a beautiful garden area. This could be a cut flower garden, a woodland garden, an orchard, a vegetable garden or even a play space for the kids… anything you want really.

What Blooms with What?

Never know what to plant together? Find out with this FREE Plant Pairing Guide and become a pro at combining plants for the best garden design possible!

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This design incorporates a lot of green space for planting ! The center area is divided by a hedge row on either side and a small path guides you into a patio area near the back of the yard. It’s so dreamy (I love this one).

Don’t get too caught up in what I’m calling lawn or patio. These areas can easily be swapped so the patio is near the home and the lawn is in the back. Or, pick something else that fits your needs better!

To eliminate the lawn from this design, I would swap the lawn for a patio right by the house (near the bottom of the design). Then, in the far back area of the garden create a “relaxation area” using the ideas I provided above. Personally, I think I would add a campfire area in the back.

Hand illustrated narrow garden design layout with long pathway
Hand illustrated narrow garden design layout opens to a large lawn, narrowing to a long pathway with large garden areas on either side. The back of the garden has a large patio space surrounded by gardens with room for dining and relaxing. Illustration by Pretty Purple Door.

Narrow Garden Layout with a Center Focal Point

Narrow garden design layout with fountain in center

This design is not for the faint of heart. It’s a pretty bold and unique design for those of you who really want to create a feature in your backyard. Does it speak to you?

This design starts out with a straight pathway anchored by gardens on the left and right as you enter the space. These garden areas would be a great place for a cutting garden or an herb garden since they are so near to the house.

Then, the garden area is separated by a hedge and enters into a small, curved lawn area. This is the smallest lawn design in the bunch so it’s great for those of you that don’t want to completely eliminate your grass but do want to reduce the size of the lawn and the maintenance associated with it.

Next, we will enter the bold, focal area of this garden that features a circular pathway that surrounds an impressive focal point. In this design I’m calling this a water feature, as I can see a grand, bubbling fountain in the space. Along the circular walkway I’ve included some benches for seating… Because who wouldn’t want to sit near this focal point and enjoy the space?

Hand illustrated narrow garden design layout with fountain in center
Hand illustrated narrow garden design layout with fountain or other large focal point in the center of the landscape. Stroll down a brick pathway flanked by lawns and end at a large entertaining space near the back of the garden. Illustration by Pretty Purple Door.

But, don’t get too caught up on the fountain focal point, because the center area can really be any focal point you want. It can be rows of topiary or trimmed hedges. It can be a beautiful reclaimed brick patio. It can be a gorgeous statue or garden bed.

Quick Tip: If you want some ideas for the center area of this design, head over this article about focal points to learn more.

Finally, the circle continues with another pathway that leads to a hedged patio area in the back of the garden. This would make a beautiful space for a quiet lunch, a place to read or even catch up on work. Although it’s more common to have the patio right off your home, I actually love having a patio area in a far back corner of the garden.

Narrow garden design tips
Amy in her home garden. A river rock walkway leads to a reclaimed brick patio in a shady corner.

In my own home garden, I have a small circular patio right tucked into a shady corner, complete with a meandering rock walkway and an arbor to create a secluded entry. It’s my favorite space!

Eliminating the lawn in this design is easy as can be. Instead of lawn, you can extend your garden. Or, use the lawn area for a patio or seating area. The lawn could also be swapped for a vegetable garden, a blueberry patch or a children’s swing set. This would be a really simple design to transform into a no lawn option.

Wrapping Up

In this post, we discussed several different narrow garden layouts that you can try at home. I hope that these layouts have given you the confidence to tackle your long and narrow garden space. Remember: the trick is to break up your space up into smaller sections that don’t have such an awkward shape. Then, assign a purpose for each of the spaces. If you want to create your own design, head over to this article for more ideas: Backyard Landscape Design, Step-By-Step

If you have a long, narrow garden, you may also want to check out my post about tall, narrow trees that you can use in your garden. And, if you’ve decided on one of these layouts and are wondering what to do next, here are some articles that will help you out.

You may also be interested in taking my free gardening training. It’s a free, 45 minute video training where I’ll reveal three of my secrets so you can overcome your biggest gardening challenges! I also have several online garden design courses that you will love, too!

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