Winter weather might be dreary, but it’s still a great time for gardening. Even when snow covers your yard and you’re stuck inside, you can design your landscape from the comfort of your kitchen table. It’s inexpensive, fun – and you won’t even get dirty!

Grass path

I conceived this part of my garden at the kitchen table and built it specifically to create a view from an adjacent window.

Photo Credit: © Pennystone Gardens

Garden planning tools

Kitchen table gardening requires just a few tools and your imagination.

Photo Credit: © Pennystone Gardens

String compass

Use a short piece of clothesline and two tent stakes to create a compass that can help you translate a graph paper sketch into a new garden bed.

Photo Credit: © Pennystone Gardens

Path marking

A long piece of used well pipe marks out a proposed path for a new stroll garden that’s currently in design.

Photo Credit: © Pennystone Gardens

Garden bed

We had fun last year rearranging this garden bed from sketches we made the previous winter.

Photo Credit: © Pennystone Gardens

Once the “outdoor” season gets into gear, there’s just too much on the to-do list. So the deep winter, right after the bustle of the holidays, is the ideal time to plot and plan, scheme and dream – and most of all learn. Focus your imagination on improvements you’d like to make or plants you’d like to add to your yard. Learning about gardening never ends. If you’re a newcomer to this popular pastime, rest assured that thousands and thousands of seasoned gardeners are spending their winter months doing this very thing: kitchen table gardening.

Personally, I find that a pot of coffee and plenty of cookies make a nice accompaniment to my winter gardening tools: a pad of graph paper, a short ruler, sharp pencils and a nice table with room to spread out. Graph paper comes in handy because it keeps layout concepts in relative scale – especially if you’ve got a detailed plan of your property showing buildings, walks, driveways and other major features like trees. Just trace a copy of that plan, then outline key features with a felt-tip pen. Slip this copy under a sheet of graph paper and easily transfer those features to working drawings. Now, scribble away to your imagination’s delight!

If you don’t already have simple snapshots from various vantage points around your property, get outside and take some. Don’t forget to include shots looking out from the inside of your home, too – from those key kitchen or living room windows, for example. At this time of year (provided there’s no snow), your pictures will show the landscape completely unadorned of anything that will interrupt your free flow of ideas. It’s a blank slate, if you will. Print your pictures out on cheap bond paper from your computer printer, and use them to doodle with sketches of short and tall plantings (just like you see in garden design magazines).

Be honest about how much sun and shade different areas of your yard get during the growing season. When you shop for plants, it’s easy to stretch “part shade” into “well, it’s kinda sunny” to accommodate a tempting pot of whatever’s catching your eye. Now’s a good time to reign in those thoughts before you see anything at a garden center, because truth be told, a part-shade plant put in a sunny location really won’t perform as well as you’d like, and you’ll only end up disappointed. (The lesson: If an area of your garden is truly part shade, it’s part shade – and that’s okay. Go with it!)

Candor also counts when you consider the amount of time you can spend in the garden. If you’re super busy, choose plants that require little care, as well as groundcovers and mulches to keep weeds at bay. If you like to putter, pick some of the more labor-intensive plants that’ll give you joy and keep you involved in your yard.

Now’s also the time to study those landscape ideas you’ve collected from books or magazines to see how you can adapt them to your yard – especially considering activities of kids and the family dog. As you hone your ideas, plant names will start to sprout up, so it’s time to do some research! General information is easy to find on the Web these days – and Learn2Grow® can certainly help! You can also do a search for a plant’s Latin name and tack on the word “habitat.”

While the Internet is a good resource, books can offer more depth. So visit the library or bookstore and get some landscape design books, or even specialty references relating to a family of plants (like chrysanthemums, roses, azaleas, etc.). Stay open-minded and receptive to suggestions that, if nothing else, can inspire you!

Finally, take your sketches and preliminary lists to a full-service garden center. This is the time of year when customers are few and chores less demanding, so the knowledgeable employees are likely to have time to chat a bit and give you advice and more ideas. Late winter is also the time garden centers order for spring, so they’re most aware of new varieties coming in.

As calendar pages turn, your kitchen table garden will take shape. That pad of graph paper will get thinner and thinner, and you may even get a little nervous about the work ahead. But relax! If the project is too big for time or budget, break it down into logical segments. Gardening, after all, is supposed to be fun!

When spring arrives at last (and it is just around the corner), you’ll be so organized, you might surprise yourself at how easy it is to transform your kitchen table garden into full-scale reality – because all the guesswork is gone! You’ll know what plants to buy, how to care for them, where they’ll go and what comes next. Then once the snow flies again, you’re sure to be back at the kitchen table with another pad of graph paper and some notes on how your garden faired over the summer – because when it comes to growing, you never stop learning!