1. Location of your services
Before you start any design, you need to consider the location of the services to your house and the location of drains. You do not want to plant a treasured tree right over the water line or a gas line, nor do you want to plant a deep-rooted shrub or tree near your drains. Hopefully you were supplied with this information when you bought your property; if not, you will need to contact Fortis BC for your gas line information and your municipality for the location of your water services, drains, and sumps.
2. Snow and salt in winter
Another consideration is snow removal in winter. It is difficult to picture mounds of snow on the side of your driveway or curb when you are planting in the middle of May, but please believe me when I tell you that you need to! I can still remember the winter I planted my cherished Japanese Maple (Acer Palmatum) ‘Omurayama’ by the side of my driveway. We had record snowfall that year and before I knew it, my sons had kindly shovelled the driveway. There was no sign of my maple under the piles of snow so I could only hope for the best and keep my lips sealed (otherwise I would have been shovelling for the rest of the winter). In the spring when the snow started to melt, I found my little tree lying completely sideways on the grass, bent at the base of the (thankfully very young and flexible) trunk. After much coddling it has now fully recovered, but I was very fortunate. You must also remember the district snow plow crews are not going to care about your street side plantings and you, also, will need to put the snow piles somewhere. There is also the issue of salt. We do not get a lot of salt on our street because we are probably the last street in our municipality to get plowed for some reason, but if you live on a busier street, the salt is sometimes thrown out in incredible abundance. Not good for a lot of plants.
3. Plant small shrubs and perennials near your foundation
Another important thing to remember is to not plant large trees or shrubs right next to your house. Not only could your foundation suffer, but you will eventually regret constant pruning (or mutilating) of your beloved plants. I have also heard of wildlife (think mouse, rat, squirrel and raccoon) infestations due to access to your soffits, dryer vents, windows, and attic. Make sure your foundation shrubs and perennials are small, shallow-rooted, and easily pruned varieties.
4. Consider the amount of sun and shade in your yard over the changing seasons
Watch the location of shade and sun on the four sides of your home and throughout your yard throughout the seasons. Each plant will have a recommended tolerance to sun, and this is always adaptable depending on your neighborhood, micro-climate, elevation, and the location of the sun at various times of the year. My neighbour has a Lilac planted on the north side of her house (that she has to prune regularly), but it receives the late afternoon and evening sun so performs well.
5. Choose your garden style
Your next step is to decide on the style of garden you most prefer. Remember, however, that YOU are the designer so you can incorporate different styles the way you want to. Some of the usual styles here on the Westcoast are woodland, natural, formal, and cottage gardens. Woodland and natural are very similar, although woodland typically has more shade . If you are visiting my site, you must like woodland, so that is what I will focus on with my design tips, but you can still incorporate sweeping borders and lawns, formal hedging with boxwood or yew or a native plant hedge, or an area of bright and cheerful cottage plantings. Consider a subscription to some gardening magazines so you can cut out pictures that you find beautiful, and paste them into a gardening scrapbook. Also consider visiting your local library and check out the landscape and garden sections for design ideas. Search images on the internet. Look at gardens in your community to find styles and plants that do well in your area. Remember to match your design to your house. A woodland garden will not look appropriate outside a 5000 square foot mansion.
6. Plan the view from your home
The next item to carefully consider is your view from the house. I removed an old rusty metal shed from a corner of my yard because it was what I looked at every time I was washing up at the sink or preparing food. Instead, I placed the shed to the side of the house where no one has to look at it. If you can’t move your existing shed, you can beautify it by adding a veranda or a cute door, perhaps decorated with a wreath made of twigs, or adding pretty shrubs outside it. Put something interesting outside the windows you look out of frequently. I put this rock birdbath outside my kitchen window so I could watch the robins splash. I also have chosen plants that will look good in more than one season.
7. Decide whether you want a lawn – how much time do you want to spend in the garden?
If you have an existing lawn that you want to remove, please see my earlier blog on how to get rid of it. You can replace it with gardens, gravel, pathways, a water feature, or a patio. Remember to always keep an open area as any successful planting will have a clearing. It can be stone, moss, brick, barkmulch, gravel or even dirt with stepping stones but it is essential to a good design. If you have a wet or shady yard, consider a boardwalk with river rock and simple plantings.
Here is a photo of my front yard in May. The Rosebud azaleas and the Siberian Iris look wonderful together. They are also both low maintenance. I spend about 10 minutes a month looking after this front garden. There is an open oval behind the garden consisting of deep green moss that provides me with an open clearing between the garden and the house foundation plantings.