So you’ve got a bunch of plants and don’t know exactly what to do with them. Sound familiar? You’re not alone – even remotely. Indeed, the process of designing a garden is always a challenge, even for veteran designers.


Line a walkway with plantings on both sides to add color, texture and feeling as guests head toward your door.

Photo Credit: Mark A. Miller

Stone pathway

This isn’t just a garden path – it’s an adventure! A visitor can’t help but notice the plants.

Photo Credit: Tres Fromme

Sitting area

A well-placed small flowering tree and some chairs make a welcoming garden area that’s perfect for a little relaxation.

Photo Credit: Tres Fromme

To make things a bit easier, I want to share with you some steps I’ve learned from years of working in my own yard. I’ve had three great gardens over the past 10 years – one in Wilmington, DE; one in Kennett Square, PA; and now one in Dallas. Believe me when I say my tips work regardless of where you live! (Unlike plants, designs don’t have heat and hardiness zones.)

The first step in any good design is to decide where you want your planting beds. Usually, these seem to end up huddled against the foundation of a home or around the mailbox. I say why squash your garden against the side of the house where no one is able to enjoy it? Personally, I know there are more exciting areas to put all that color, texture and fragrance that plants offer.

I like to place my garden beds where I’m able to walk through them – and it’s all the better if the path is one I have to walk every day as part of my routine. This makes the garden an integral part of my life, and it lets me observe and enjoy every change of the seasons. I also think that planting along both sides of a front walk is an excellent choice because it makes entering the house more of an event or experience.

Moving beds away from your house and into the yard also serves another purpose: It creates some distance so you can see your garden from the inside, where most of us spend a lot of time. Really, how can you see your beautiful garden if you’ve got your plants smashed against the windows? (And besides, how can any plant live in such a condition?) Building your beds away from the house makes space for larger plants to flourish, too – so you can actually add those ornamental trees, tall flowering shrubs and impressive perennial beds without blocking your view.

I also think it’s important to consider how you want to walk around your yard and use your property. When it comes to my gardens, I want freedom and refuse to be imprisoned in any one part of them. Making beds in a sequence creates a journey and encourages me to explore my entire garden – perhaps in the evening with friends in tow and a cocktail in hand. I also like to position plantings to block views of my neighbors’ yards and give me some privacy (something I definitely want in crowded suburban Dallas).

A final tip: Group some beds together in various shapes – circles, squares, rectangles, horseshoes, whatever – to create beautiful, useable outdoor spaces. I might grill and eat in one enclosure, hang a hammock in another for summer naps and even maintain a compost pile in yet another. The possibilities are limitless, and each choice I make reflects my lifestyle. After all, it’s my garden! (Now, what would you like for yours?)