Photo by Melody

Garden Design on Your Computer, Part 4: your first garden design with your new software

By Jan Recchio (grampapaMarch 9, 2008

You've purchased the garden design software that's right for you and worked through the tutorials and practiced with some simple designs. You should be ready to design that new bed for spring. I'm going to show you one that I did last year. It's an herb garden that sits at the center of a 70' long cottage garden. The herb garden has some interesting elements, so I'll just concentrate on that here. This is the final article in this series. Please join me.

Gardening picture

I had a small kitchen herb garden at my last house...some mint, chives, oregano and sage.  Annual herbs, such as basil, went in the veggie garden.  This time I wanted a REAL herb garden, with lots of varieties and some style.  I wanted to include lots of cooking herbs but also some that were just for fragrance or beauty.

Steps to designing the new herb garden


Image1.  Lay out the bed

There was a space about 90' wide at the back of our lot overlooking the 'lake' (actually a retention pond for flood control).  We wanted a lot of color across the back of the lot, both for our enjoyment and the view from across the lake for neighbors and for folks driving by who have a clear view of our back yard.  So the choice was an English-style cottage garden.  I didn't want the bed too close to the existing beds at the sides of the lot, so I decided on 70' for the width of the entire cottage garden.  The lot slopes down to the lake slowly and then rather dramatically for the last 6-10'.  So I knew I wanted the bed at least 15' in from the shore line.  ImageThe depth of the bed should be kept manageable for maintenance purposes; pruning, adding and replacing plants, mulching, fertilizing.  I decided on a depth of about 6', but I had an idea for an herb garden in my head.  So the herb garden would be centered and an extra 6' would be added to the depth of the main bed at that point.  I labelled the 'tape measure' tool in the picture to the right so you could see it.  The bed isn't centered between the east and west existing beds because we wanted to be able to see the herb garden in the center from our sunroom windows.

2.  Add a retaining wall

A retaining wall of some kind is a good idea because of the slope.  We have dry-stacked stone about a foot high on other beds, so that was a good choice for consistency.  The first shot below shows laying out the wall.  It's a simple matter of selecting the material and size of your wall from the menu, and dragging/dropping section by section along the perimeter.  The second shot is from the lakeside looking back to show you what the wall looks like.  The last thing I did here was raise the soil to about the height of the stone wall by putting in a 'plateau', which in 3DHA consists of a flat, raised area with sloping sides.  The user defines the height of the flat area and how steep the slope is at the sides.

    Image    Image   Image

3.  Where's that style I was looking for?

I had seen a thread* on DG where the gardener, Katlian was using upright clay chimney flue liners as bottomless pots in which to plant her herbs.  Not only would it contain any herbs with a tendency to be a tad invasive, but it was very attractive.  She had varying heights and sizes.  While it would be really nice to be able to recycle some salvaged ones, I didn't have access to any, so I would have to buy them. 

OT...The nice gentleman at the builder supply store asked what size flue liner I needed.  'What sizes do you have?' I replied.  That got the attention of most everyone in the store.  How could I buy flue liners if I didn't know what size I needed?  I explained that I was going to grow herbs in them.  He didn't know you could grow herbs outside in western NY.  Several people, customers and employees, joined the conversation.  By the time I left, he was convinced he needed an herb garden, too.

My husband, who is my enthusiatic accomplice in my gardening projects, suggested coming up with some kind of pattern for the clay tiles.  Here's a perfect example of why you need garden planning software!  I could rearrange those flue liners to my heart's content... a snake? a spiral like a snail's trail? a diamond? lines like a pipe organ? The possibilities were endless.  The winner was a heart shape. 

   Image  Image  Image  Image

4.  Add the varieties of plants I want

Add plants... lots of plants... what can I start from seed? take cuttings from other parts of the garden? trade for? buy on sale? what are the 'must-haves'?  what are the 'spreaders' that need to be confined to the flue liners?  I made my wish list and then started to look for my plants in the encyclopedia (substitute whatever term they use in your software for the plant listing).  Be creative with anything you can't find.  For some reason, curly parsley was left out.  In fact, there was no parsley at all.  So I found a model of a plant (wild parsnip - Angelica archangelica) that had a look I liked; bright green, bushy.  I resized it and placed it inside the heart where the parsley was supposed to go.  Looked pretty good.

Because the heights of the flues are staggered, I had to adjust the property that is called 'distance above terrain' in 3DHA.  In other words, I wanted the plant to begin at 12" above the ground if it is growing in a 12" planter.  Otherwise it will disappear inside the planter and you will wonder where your plant has gone.  The same principal applies if you have a hanging planter, or plants on a raised deck.

Even if I didn't get all the plants the first season, a good plan would help me save space for the ones I couldn't afford yet.  If I am growing from seed, I need to know how big they are going to get so I don't put a tiny perennial seedling in a small space only to find later that it will be 3' wide at maturity.  You don't need a computer for this, but if you don't have all this information in your head (and I certainly don't!), it saves you looking up each plant as you do your planning.

            Image      Image      Image

Image5.  Finish up with some decorative statuary

This is accomplished with the photo import tool which almost all of the software packages include.  I bought a terra cotta Winnie-the-Pooh and Eeyore (lucky enough to find at half price).  In order to have Eeyore show up, but not the background of the photo, it's necessary to use a photo editing program to color all of unwanted parts of the picture magenta, which will then theorectically disappear when the picture is imported.  I have to confess that I haven't been able to get this to work.  The photo imported fine, but the magenta areas still show.  As I've said, I'm working with older software that is currently not supported.  I might be able to get help from another user, but I'm not sure it's worth the trouble.  I would hope that this is smoother in some of the newer software.

When I finished the plans, they went to my landscaper.  By now, he's used to me.  He claims it makes it easier for him because he doesn't have to draw anything up, but I think I'm kind of a pain because I know exactly what I want.  At least the crew has something to look at while they're working so they don't have to ask a million questions.  It kind of goes without saying that you can do as much or as little as you like on your computer.  I try very hard to keep all my gardens up to date in the software when I add or move plants (or, gardening saints preserve us, a plant dies!).  It gives me a permanent record so that when I want to order plants in the middle of January I don't have to wonder where I have room. 

   Image  Image

      the weighted down paper is my plan for the heart             the herb garden at the end of July

ImageImageThe garden is now officially christened 'Pooh's Harty Herboretum' (Pooh is not the best speller, you know) and it is the 'heart' of the Hundred Acre Cottage Garden.  Pooh is hoping it will attract bees to make hunny.


* With Katlian's kind permission, here's a link to that thread that inspired me.


  About Jan Recchio  
Jan RecchioI'm a 'dabble' gardener. Been gardening since I was a child. I will plant anything that will grow for me and some things that won't, indoors or out. Outdoors I have theme gardens: roses, butterfly/hummingbird, heathers/dwarf conifers, a rock garden (in progress) and a new English-style cottage garden with an herb garden at it's 'heart'. Indoors I try to concentrate on orchids, African violets, anything that will flower or has lots of color and unusual houseplants. I try to stay organic and keep chemicals to a bare minimum. My non-gardening interests include quilting, counted cross-stitch and watercolor painting. I am a proud grandma, recently celebrated my 40th anniversary and before my retirement I was a clinical systems analyst (computer geek) for 24 years.

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