Celebrating Planning a Garden

By Antonia Demas, Ph.D.

“Look deep into nature, and you will understand everything better”

                                –Albert Einstein

Garden of Bomarzo, Lazio, Italy, Pirro Ligorio, 16th century

“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”

-Abraham Lincoln

It is believed that the first gardens were planted at least 10,000 years ago in the Mid-east in the Fertile Crescent. When humans went from being hunters and gatherers to establishing settlements, gardens were planted as a source of food, shade, and medicine. They have evolved to a huge variety of applications from the kitchen garden to the grandiose formal gardens, to works of art, to parks, victory gardens, theme-based gardens, subsistence gardens, and farms.

The purpose of this blog post is to describe considerations of planning a garden during the seemingly endless month of January when the earth goes to sleep in many regions of the world. A garden plan is important to consider before acquiring seeds or plants and gives one something pleasant to look forward to during the dark days of winter.

Recycled tools, welded and painted bird contemplating the garden plan

Considerations in the pre-plan

A fundamental consideration in designing a garden is where the garden is to be planted. The topics to be addressed include the following issues in the pre-planning:

  • Location – is it accessible, safe, sunny, does it have soil and good drainage?
  • Do you have permission to use the space if it is not yours?
  • Sunlight – how much sunlight do you get per day? Is this a shade garden or a sunny garden?
  • Water availability
  • Soil quality (will you get your soil tested)?
  • Will your garden be completely organic? (Highly recommended)
  • Do you need a fence to protect the garden from deer and other critters?
  • Will you be able to have adequate personnel to maintain the garden and harvest the plants when ready?
  • Will your garden design be aesthetically pleasing and maintained? On a personal note, I find unkempt gardens to be depressing eyesores.
  • Will your garden be used as a vehicle to educate others, such as a school garden?
  • Do you want labels for the plants?
  • What style of garden do you want – formal, informal, mixed, flower, herb, fruit, vegetable, theme based (see options below)?
  • Will you grow perennials (come back each year) or annuals (must be planted each year)?
  • Will you need to design paths and if so, what will they be composed of – i.e.- mulch, stones?
  • Will you order seeds in advance, buy them during planting time locally, and/or purchase starter plants?
  • The American Seed Trade Association was founded in 1883 to print seed company catalogs so people could get seeds sent to them in the mail while exploring what they want to plant and their growing requirements.
  • Currently there are a number of seed and gardening supply catalogs available and many with specialty items. It is fun to receive the catalogs in the mail and study their offerings during the winter months.
  • Will you plant veggies, herbs, and flowers in the same plot or have separate areas?
  • If you are a novice, it is best to start small and not be overly ambitious until you gain confidence from what you have learned.
  • Do you want decorative items in the garden such as birdbaths and birdhouses and/or garden sculptures?
  • Will you build raised beds or plant directly in the soil?
  • Do you have a desire to make a compost pile or heap out of kitchen and garden scraps and if so, where will you put it?


  • What sort of tools do you need? Suggested basics include garden gloves, shovel, garden trowel, aeration tool, clippers, hose, watering can, rakes, wheelbarrow. 
  • Will you need to have the garden area plowed or roto-tilled?
  • Will you have a fence built that is at least 6 feet high? If deer are an issue in your area, they can jump up to six feet and will seek out plants they normally won’t eat if they can’t find food in the late spring and are starving.