My husband and I have achieved a sort of detente when it comes to lawn and garden. Given my druthers, we’d have very little lawn (just grass pathways and carpeting in some garden rooms). If his was the only opinion to consider, the lawn would be more expansive.

At various times, we’ve traded space: If you’ll give up this bit of garden for lawn, I’ll give up that bit of lawn for garden.

This May was one of those times.

Meadow and Bird Hedge in 2015

The Introduction of ‘Madame Lemoine’

It all started when I discovered a reputable source where I could buy a ‘Madame Lemoine’ lilac, but I had no place to plant it. Now, lilacs are known for their beautiful fragrance, but ‘Madame Lemoine’ takes it up a notch. According to descriptions I’ve read, this cultivar can perfume an entire neighborhood.

You can understand why my mouth was, figuratively speaking, watering.

So I talked with Joel to see if he’d be willing to give up a spot of lawn for Madame.

Long story short, the lawn between the meadow garden and the bird hedge, roughly 150 square feet, was slated to become garden. (If you’re reading this, thanks, honey!) ‘Madame Lemoine’ was duly purchased and planted. But my budget for the new garden, with other commitments already in play, didn’t stretch beyond that this spring.

Which brings us to fall, an excellent time for thinking about next year’s garden plans!

All that said, lawn is a pretty blank slate – and that very blankness can be a bit overwhelming. So where do you start? How do you begin to go about deciding what to put there instead?

Start with Questions

Before ever setting pencil to paper (never mind adding plants to shopping cart!), begin with questions:

What do I want to achieve? And how do I want to use my new garden? In my case, the new garden will:

  • create a seamless transition between two, separate gardens: one, a mixed hedge of trees and shrubs and the other, a meadow
  • attract attention away from the neighbor’s chain-link fence, softening the property line and adding a hint of privacy without being unfriendly
  • offer nectar, pollen, and shelter to pollinators, as well as foraging and sheltering opportunities to birds and other wildlife
  • provide beauty and fragrance for us, neighbors, and visitors
  • gently suggest that foot traffic flow either down the hill or around the house

Hopefully, that gives you some grist for the mill. You absolutely can design a garden just for looks and if doing that makes you happy, then I’m happy for you! As I’ve shared before, that’s where I started myself.

But there’s a lot more that a garden can do than look pretty! So as long as you’re happy to think beyond looks alone, I really encourage you to do that.

Do I want to highlight the journey or the destination? My new garden will enhance the journey; that visual hiccup of lawn between two closely situated gardens won’t be there anymore. Sometimes, though, it’s more about the destination, such as a pathway that leads to the front door. In that context, you might want flanking gardens to play more of a supporting role (rather than being stars).

How does it relate to other elements? You probably don’t want to plant a 100-foot (at maturity) spruce tree right next to a small, one-story ranch house, for example. Not a great idea to site a children’s play area immediately next to a garden meant to invite meditation. 😊 You don’t want to block a great view or frame a poor one. And you “just know” that a saguaro cactus doesn’t belong next to a marsh. As you plan, you’re looking to create logical connections between the garden and its surroundings.

What feel (and feelings) do I want the garden to have and evoke? Naturalistic or formal? Cozy or open? (You might enjoy this post to explore more on the subject.)

Who will the garden serve? Unless you’re living alone, other people’s wants and needs are part of the design equation. When tastes and desires are very different, it may be possible to accommodate both in different areas. For instance, the front garden might have a more formal feel to accommodate one person’s taste, while the back yard may be more naturalistic. The repetition of some “signature” plants that grow well in both sites can help to visually unite the two, even though the overall styles differ.

As you consider these questions, they’ll begin to suggest answers to two others that are essential to ask:

  • What is missing?
  • What can be removed?

In Conclusion

So that gives you a series of questions to mull over as you get started. Becoming clear on the answers helps to ensure that what you create satisfies you on multiple levels over the long term, whether you’re creating a new garden or editing an existing one.

Still, regardless of how much thought you put into your garden at the outset, if you choose your plants poorly, your garden will be disappointing. To avoid that unhappy fate, you need to evaluate your site. My next post in this series will walk you through that process.

Meanwhile, though, I’d love to hear from you!

When you think about your garden, what purpose do you want it to serve? How do you want it to function?