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Planning the perfect garden

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Jennifer Moore
You need this in your perennial border.

Before the actual planting of a garden, considerable thought must be taken to ensure important features are correct.

There are many factors to consider when the idea of having a garden surfaces. The light availability, soil structure and PH level, water availability, and buildings or other structures around, all contribute to the location of the proposed garden. Other things to contemplate about, are the different garden styles available, various materials to work with and the overall scale of your garden.

Light - All living plants need light to survive. It is the amount and type of light which is given, that will determine the type are garden you can build. In the proposed area of your property, monitor when the sunlight hits the area and leaves it again. Is it for two, three, six or twelve hours per day? Also, is it in early morning, during the heat of the day or late afternoon? Your available light will judge what limitations you will have. For example if it only gets a few hours of filtered sunlight a day and it is in the morning or late afternoon, then a shade style of bed is probably best. If your area is full sun for the most part of the day, then sun-loving plants will thrive.

Soil - This also has a reflection on what type of plants you can grow. Heavy clay soils need the addition of compost and peat moss to help lighten the area, and a sandy area needs more topsoil with amendments to balance the moisture level. A rock plagued location can be dealt in many ways, one by removing the rocks and adding soil with amendments, or the other extreme by encouraging plants that thrive in these conditions to grow in your setting.

The PH level in the soil is another factor. The best PH level is between 5.5 and 7.5, with a lower number being more acidic and a higher number being more alkaline. A soil test kit can be done and given to your local test station, to determine which soil you have and if any necessary changes needed to be made. With this information, it is possible to change your PH level by adding various amendments; acidic soils can have powdered lime worked into the soil, and an alkaline soil can have sulphur added.

Water - Various plants have distinct water requirements for them to flourish. Some species of plants are water-lovers, while others are drought tolerant. You need to look at your area and determine if it is a low-lying area that retains water or is it on a bank that drains quickly. If it is a fast drying area, then xeriscape-type plants would do well, and if the area is always saturated with water, then bog-type of plants are needed.

Other factors to consider, are whether you are willing and able to water the area if a drought occurs and can the gardens have a mulch applied to help retain the necessary water they need.

Structures - This is a very broad subject, as they can be natural or man-made. For example, evergreen trees would present a shade location, where a leaf tree would most likely provide filtered sun and both would provide a cooler atmosphere for the plants underneath. A man-made structure, such as a garage or garden shed however, would create many planting options; the north side being shaded most of the day and the south side being the hottest by receiving the majority of available sunlight. As heat and light is reflective as well, this area would be intensified further.

Scale - This too, is an important component to your space, because too small of a garden or pond, can look out of place and a large one seem overwhelming to a visitor. I always suggest before taking a spade to your property, to try to scale your property on paper first. This may not be what is exactly done in the end, but it is much easier to change it on paper if alterations are needed.

When in the garden, I also suggest using a garden hose when trying to get a feel for where the flowerbeds will be located. It is more pleasing to the eye to have a flowerbed with soft, flowing curves and not juts in and out. If your garden hose doesn't stay in the position you lay it in, then look at your layout, to see if you are creating too strong of a curve.

Lastly, the styles to create are endless; visiting other gardens or reading books to gather ideas are invaluable. It is easier to research what will suit and work in your area, than having to rebuild or re-work your garden. As a gardener, I can also tell you that ideas will never stop and transformations can happen over time, enjoy what you create!

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