Tips for Garden Planning: What to Work Out in January

This is a good time to think about the things that underpin a successful garden. You may already be a keen organic gardener, or you may want to start growing your own for the first time. Either way, this is a good time to sit down and do some garden planning. For those in the Northern Hemisphere, this is a good time to think about the things that sustain a successful garden. Don’t get bogged down in choosing varietals of seeds before you consider these simple but important things:

Work Out What Works Where You Live

You can’t plan a garden if you do not know yours. Understanding your site properly is something that will broaden and deepen with time. But all garden planning should begin with at least a cursory understanding of where you live.

It might sound obvious, but it is important to think about the basic environmental factors. Make sure you know the climate and microclimate where you live. Make sure you know how sunlight moves across the site, and how shade is cast throughout each day and throughout the year. Is it wet and boggy or arid and dry? Is it windy or sheltered? Get to know your soil, and the plants already growing in the area.

In the middle of winter, you might not spend as much time outdoors. But make sure you do spend some time out in your garden, getting to know it and making observations that will later help you to make the right choices

Decide Which Type of Gardening You’ll Do

Most garden planning articles focus on growing annual crops and planning a planting schedule for those crops. But it is important to understand that planting vegetables in rows or squares is not the only way to grow your own.

I like to divide food production into three categories: annual production, perennial production, and small space gardening. You might decide to focus on one of these or adopt a combination of approaches.

Annual production

The most typical and familiar type of gardening for most. It involves growing a range of common annual fruits and vegetables, usually in the ground or in raised beds. I would recommend considering a no-dig approach if this is the route you decide to take.

Perennial production

Less familiar to many. But it can be the most eco-friendly, sustainable, and easy approach to food production. There are plenty of edible perennials to grow – from fruit trees and fruiting shrubs and canes, to perennial cabbages and perennial onions … and more. Forest gardening is a full instantiation of this type of gardening. If you are already growing your own, but have so far focused on annual crops, this could be something interesting to consider.

If you don’t have much space

Container gardening is the typical choice. But vertical gardening, and the potential of hydroponic or aquaponic growing systems, could help you think outside the box.

Make sure you’ve explored the options and decided which path or paths to take before you continue with your garden planning.

Determine How Ambitious You Want To Be

Each garden system has a number of elements. It is important to consider that you, as a gardener, are one of those elements. When planning your garden, it is crucial to take your own abilities, inclinations, desires and personality into account.

One important element in garden planning that is often overlooked is an analysis not just of the garden but of the gardener too. Think about how ambitious you want to be, work out your goals, the resources available, and how realistic you are being when it comes to the size and scope of your plans. Think about how risk averse you are, and how that will impact your intentions.

Make Sure the Basics Are in Place

Before you even begin to think about garden growing areas, I would strongly suggest that you plan to have the basics in place. First of all, think about water, and how you will catch, store and manage it in your garden. If you do not already have a rainwater harvesting system in place, for example, now could be a good time to plan to put one into action.

It is also important to think about how you will maintain fertility and return nutrients to your garden over time. If you do not already create your own compost, now is a perfect time to start. You might compost in place, have a cold or hot composting system, or enlist the help of worms. Whichever method or methods you choose, make sure you are set up to return surplus to the system. This is crucial to keep it going over time.

Consider Garden Layout

Zoning is one permaculture idea that can help you when working out the layout for your garden. Make sure areas you will visit most frequently are closest to the center of operations. A lot of garden layout is about common sense.

Think about paths you walk around the garden and plan accordingly. Think about the inputs and outputs of each garden element, and where they will come from and be used. Aesthetics are important – but remember they are not the be-all and end-all.

Develop an Initial Planting Scheme

Roughing out an initial planting scheme with plants suited to the location and your needs can help you cement your plans. But treat your initial planting scheme as a starting point. Don’t view it as the end point for your garden planning. Be flexible, and open to changing the plan over time.

Whichever type of gardening you have gone for, remember biodiversity is key. Whether we are talking about an annual polyculture bed, or a forest garden – plant with diversity in mind and integrate, don’t segregate. Think about plants that will work well together, and which can aid one another in different ways. Don’t be afraid to think creatively and try out new combinations.

Plan for the Future: Succession Planting, Crop Rotation, Natural Change

Once you have roughed out a planting plan for spring/summer, don’t leave it there. While winter is still in full swing, you have some time to work out a plan for the longer term. Think about succession planting in annual beds, and how you will combine companion planting with crop rotation. In perennial schemes, think a little about potential future changes and how your plan will alter as a result.

Many people think garden planning largely boils down to which seeds and plants you choose. But plant choices are really only a small part of the equation. Garden planning begins with the above. I would highly recommend getting these things sorted out and moving from patterns to details as you develop your garden design.

Grow Green Guide

For more information, visit the guide below for eco-friendly lawns and gardens in Metro Vancouver. The guide will help with designing your space, or simply browse their collection of non-invasive plants to find the best choice for your lawn or garden:

Credit: Elizabeth Waddington