Winter Garden Planning

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Winter Garden Planning

I confess: I too have been guilty of waiting until the last minute to begin my own home renovation projects.

And, yes, I have underestimated what it takes to take a project from dream to reality. Now my contractor is booked, my design isn’t done, and my project won’t happen for months. Probably, I should have known better. Each spring following the first sunny weekend, my design office gets copious, excited calls from homeowners anxious to design and build their new gardens -- immediately. Guess what? Calling in spring means your design project may begin in spring, but quite likely your garden installation won’t happen until much later in the year.


The reality is planning your spring garden design should begin in winter – if not much earlier. Whether you’re hoping to put in a new veggie bed, renovate your mixed ornamental shrub borders or start over with everything from scratch, it’s important to jump into the planning phase while icicles are still dripping from the eaves. If you wait until the spring thaw to start planning, be ready to wait even longer to see your garden begin to grow. Don’t let winter get away from you. Dive in to your project now – even if every pond is frozen and your garden beds are buried in three feet of snow.

If you haven’t already, start by filling a scrapbook with photos of gardens, plants and hardscape that you like. In addition to tearing out magazine photos, add in shots from your own garden – hopefully a collection illustrating the elements you adore as well as the areas that drive you mad. If you know the names of any of your dormant perennials or leaf-less trees, make a list of them. Know when and what color your azaleas bloom? Jot down that kind of detail as well. This collection will help you and your designer accurately develop a garden design style to fit you and your garden spaces.


Set a budget. Even if you have no idea what your dream garden project should cost, you likely have an idea what you can afford to spend. An experience designer, armed with an understanding of your finances, will help you prioritize while also working with you to reconcile your gardening wants and needs to your bottom line. The good news – gardens can be installed in phases, so dream big and aim for the garden you want!

Test your soil. If you can still get a spade into the ground, gather some earth for laboratory testing. Although labs like Amherst Soil Lab will send your results to you quickly, actually getting the soil to change through amending can require much more time. Investing in your soil is one of the most important things you can do to protect the expensive investment you will make in new plants. Plus, if edibles – including berry shrubs -- are to become a part of your new garden borders, it’s important to be sure they won’t be growing in any toxins.

Visit garden shows and public gardens for inspiration. Many garden shows, like the Northwest Flower & Garden Show and the Philadelphia International Flower Show, happen in winter. They’re great places to find design inspiration as well as designers. Too, your local parks and botanical gardens may feature plants that perform beautifully in winter. Explore them now; add them in spring; enjoy them in the winters ahead.


And, of course, start designing your spaces. Those who wish to work with designers should begin gathering referrals, making calls and setting up appointments right away. If you start working with a designer by January or February, you’re much more likely to have a ready-to-install design by spring. If you’re a DIYer, get outside to measure your beds on a clear, dry day. Then, when you’re stuck inside, shivering in the frustrating throes of cabin fever, restore your faith in spring by drawing out your own healing garden spaces. Visualizing our new gardens through design can help each of us break through the gloom on even the shortest, darkest winter day.

Whether you plan to design on your own or bring in a professional designer to help, don’t let your inspiration to plan a new garden hibernate all winter long. Start designing now and by spring you’ll be well on your way to creating and enjoying beautiful new garden spaces.