While making a map of where to plant each vegetable and herb is a worthy goal at this time of year, I’ve found that working with a master plan for the landscape can save a lot of effort, time and money. Whenever you have the urge to start a project, whether it’s adding a section for compost, a planting bed, renovating a patio or planting fruit trees, a master plan can help you assess priorities, integrate sustainable systems, and avoid costly mistakes and future regrets.
A professional consultation can certainly do the job, but creating a master plan can also be a do-it-yourself endeavor that will make you much more connected to your landscape.
Sit down and look around you. Take notes on what you see. Try to draw a simple sketch. It does not need to be precisely measured or to scale at this stage, but to include the relative space between all built and natural features like trees. If there is grass, describe it: dense grass, bare patches, patches of weeds, yellowing, etc. What can you notice about the places where water flows in the landscape? Show where it settles or forms puddles.
Also include in your map how the sun moves through the area during the day with shady and sunny spots delineated. I have found that the assumptions I had made about how much sunlight an area gets are wrong and I have to visit a place frequently to get a better rating.
Enter your home and look out your windows. How does the landscape contribute to beautiful views? Take notes on designs where you spend a lot of time near windows and where you will enjoy flowers or foliage at different times of the year. Where do you want more or less shade?
Don’t forget to notice how you feel. Does the landscape evoke wonder, peace or joy? Does it make you want to linger or be active? We can create landscapes that meet these basic needs for natural connections.
Visualize your landscape in five zones. The space closest to your home is Zone 1. This should include all landscape features that need to be close and convenient. The main outdoor entertaining and cooking areas are here. If you like to cook with fresh herbs, find an herb garden near the kitchen. A favorite fragrant plant could be located near a window. Rain catchment systems could be included here, as roofs are an ideal place to collect runoff water.
Zone 2 might be the best location for a vegetable garden, chicken coop, compost, garden shed, and recreation such as a swimming pool, children’s play equipment, or a hammock in a shady spot. Flower beds and aesthetic landscaping can sink in zone 2.
Zone 3 could also be the vegetable garden, depending on your layout, but remember that grouping the items you use frequently is key. In my landscape, the chicken coop is not close to the garden or the compost. It’s handy for keeping an eye on the hens and collecting the eggs, but when we clean up we have to pull a wheelbarrow to the compost pile. Not ideal.
In zone 3, there could be fruit trees or a patch of berries. A tree seedling nursery, pollinator gardens, a mixed hedgerow with habitat and food for birds and wildlife will happily exist here. The idea is that in each strip or zone you have features and plants that require less care and maintenance and become less cultivated.
The next group is Zone 4. Things can stay untouched and wilder here. This is a great place for a brush pile that wildlife can use and for leaf piles that can be added to the compost in batches. And the best part is that you can move the lawnmower away. Overgrowth is OK.
Just keep an eye on this area to make sure invasive weeds don’t take over. This is an area for natural systems, not neglect. Letting Japanese barberry, stilt, or sagebrush dominate, for example, will lead to other landscape problems.
If you included animals like goats, horses, or cows, shelter and pasture would be zone 4 and zone 5 would be the wild edge.
Sketches and areas can help you prioritize and make decisions about what you want in your landscape and provide a map for getting there. Hopefully, your observations become valuable tools for understanding your yard and transforming it into a sustainable and productive space for you and nature to coexist.