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  • Writer's pictureMatt Suprunowicz

Garden Design I: Designer Dreams & Initial Sketches

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

As we enter the Spring months, how should we approach the design of our garden?


This Lesson Plan is part the Gardening Module of SustainEd Farms' virtual programming.

Background: Garden Design

With Spring finally here, gardeners and farmers everywhere are planning out their intentions for the upcoming growing season. Of course, there is a lot to consider when planning out what you want your garden to grow and what you want it to look like. In this series of garden design lessons, we will use the garden at Denver Green School - Northfield to explore the many factors that go into creating a sustainable and beautiful garden space. The lessons will build on to one another, helping to inform the gardening decisions made at DGSN, as well as those made at your own garden spaces.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to...

  • Take the first steps towards planning their ideal garden space by making an aerial sketch

  • Narrow the contents of their ideal garden space by asking questions about personal preferences and environmental limitations

Academic Vocabulary

aesthetic /esˈTHedik/ noun/adj. - a beautiful thing or description of beauty

irrigate /ˈiriɡāt/ verb. - to channel (supply) water to plants for cultivation

topography /təˈpäɡrəfē/ noun. - the shape (aspect, elevation, land cover/use, etc.) of land

perennial /pəˈrenēəl/ noun/adj. - a plant that lives more than one or two seasons, generally

annual /ˈany(o͞o)əl/ noun/adj. - a plant that will complete its life cycle in a single growing season

herbicide /ˈ(h)ərbəˌsīd/ noun. - a substance applied to kill a plant

soil amendment /soil əˈmen(d)mənt/ noun. - any material used to improve the physical structures and qualities of soil


1. Gather your materials. You will need the following supplies:

A blank garden design template (print link) · a pencil or pen · colored pencils or markers (optional) · a notepad (optional)

2. Print the garden design template (link above). Get ready to do some critical and creative thinking! Your brainstorming will be divided into two categories: yourself and the environment. It may be a good idea to write answers to these questions on the back of the template, or on your own notepad for future reference.

3. YOU: start asking yourself a LOT of questions. Feel free to keep your list of possible plants as broad as you want for this category. The questions listed here will help guide your thought process:

  • What do you enjoy eating most, or want to eat more of?

    • Is it a particular food?

    • Which ingredients (particular foods) do you need for your favorite meals?

    • Which foods are most nutritious?

    • Do you want vegetables? Fruit? Flowers? Trees? Bushes? Herbs? Grains? … Which varieties?

  • What is the purpose of your garden?

    • Are you growing for personal consumption?

    • Are you sharing the garden with others? What do they like to eat?

    • Are you giving or selling food to others? Which crops are in demand?

  • What is your level of experience gardening?

    • Are you just starting your gardening?

    • What are your expectations for the season?

    • What do you wish to learn?

    • If you’re an experienced gardener, what things do you wish to do better this season?

  • How do you want your garden to look, smell, and feel?

    • Is there a certain aesthetic you want to achieve?

    • What combination of plants will make your garden a beautiful space?

    • What colors do you want to see?

    • Do you want certain smells? What odors do you want to avoid?

4. THE ENVIRONMENT: start narrowing your plant selection. Asking these questions will likely restrict what you end up growing in your garden … which is fine! You won’t be able to grow everything, unfortunately.

  • What type of space and materials are available to you?

    • How large is your garden space?

    • Do you have access to the seeds and/or seedlings you want? Do you want organic seeds?

    • Do you have transplants ready? Do you have propagated plants? (like romaine lettuce or sweet potato slips?)

    • Do you have common gardening tools? Like a hose, watering can, gloves, hoes, rakes, shovels, etc.?

  • Where is your garden located geographically?

    • When is the last frost date in your area? How will this determine what you can plant in the short term and later in the season?

    • What is the climate like?

      1. Are you in a dry or wet region? How often does it rain?

      2. Is it windy? What is the predominant direction the wind blows? Do you have a shelter belt of trees or bushes?

      3. How often is it cloudy, sunny, or a mix?

    • Do you need to irrigate your plants? Do you have access to water?

      1. If so, with how much water?

      2. Do you have a hose,

  • What is the setting of your garden?

    • Are you in an urban, suburban, or rural setting?

    • What is the topography around you?

      1. Is it flat? Hilly? Mountainous? How far are these features from you?

      2. Are there bodies of water near you? Forests? Jungles? Swamps? Oceans? Rivers? Streams?

      3. Relative to your garden, are there drier or wetter plots of land surrounding you?

    • What is the land around you being used for?

      1. Are there tall buildings?

      2. Are there other farms or gardens?

      3. What is the land around your

    • Is your garden in a sunny or shady location? Are there certain parts of your garden that are more shady than others?

  • Was there anything planted in your garden last year?

    • What did you grow, and where were certain things located in your soil? Did you have a variety of crops?

    • If you didn’t grow anything last year, for how long has your soil been fallow?

    • Do you plan to rotate your crops? Do you know how to select crop rotations?

    • Did you plant perennials or annuals last year, or both? Where?

    • Did you have animals?

    • Did you plant a cover crop? If so, how will you terminate your cover crop? Through herbicides? Tilling? Rollers? Other?

    • Did your soil have earthworms, or other indicators or good soil health?

    • Did you have any pests? How did you treat them? Where were they (on which plants)? How were they scattered?

  • Do you plan to introduce soil amendments?

    • Do you have compost available to you?

    • Are you generating your own compost? Where is your composter located?

    • Are you planning to apply mulch to the top of your soil?

      1. What kind of mulch do you want to use?

      2. Where will you get it?

    • Are you planning on using any type of fertilizer? Is it safe to use?

  • What are the features of my selected crops?

    • How much sunlight/shade do my selected crops require? Do any of my crops create a lot of shade?

    • How much water do my selected crops require? Are they drought tolerant?

    • Are my selected crops frost tolerant? What will you plant in the colder months? How about the warmer months?

    • How much space do my crops need between individual plants?

    • What kind of soil do my crops require? Do they need particularly acidic conditions to grow?

    • Do my selected crops have any special properties?

      1. Do my crops generate porous soil to allow water to percolate deeper into the ground?

      2. Do my crops fix nitrogen?

      3. Do my crops have a lot of vegetative growth, providing ground cover, shade, and (eventually) organic material to feed microbial development?

      4. Do my crops retain moisture well?

    • Do my crops have affiliated pests or diseases, and how do you intend to control them?

      1. Will other plants you selected bring in beneficial insects to control pests?

      2. Will you use pesticides?

  • How do you intend to control weeds?

    • Do you have the tools to control them mechanically? (hands, rake, hoe, tiller, etc.)

    • Do you plan to use any herbicides?

    • Can you use native plants to help control weed pressure?

  • Do you intend to incorporate animals into your setup?

    • Which animals?

    • What do they do? Prune? Work organic matter into the soil? Provide fertilizer?

    • How can you assure that your garden and animals will both be safe?

    • What will you feed your animals?

5. Use the answers to these questions to guide yourself as you draw your design onto the template. Draw symbols, such as the ones below, to show where you plan to plant individual plants in your garden space.

graphic of different types of fruits and vegetables.

6. Finally, as the season begins, here are a few more things to put on your mind for the near future. These are things you’ll need to consider for developing a maintenance routine:

  • Weeding schedule

  • Watering schedule

  • Trellising spacing

  • Pruning

  • Harvesting

  • Crop succession

Additional Resources:

Download the PDF version of this lesson plan:

Garden Design I_ Designer Dreams & Initial Sketches
Download PDF • 2.85MB

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