Garden Planning for Our New Home

Our Quality Home is in the finishing stages on site (less than 1 week to go!) and we’ve completed all the things we’re responsible for: 

  • Hydro connection 
  • Water treatment (assessed and ordered)
  • Septic
  • Propane. 

This means that I have the time to sit and dream a little about all the things I want to do when we’re settled in. 

The thing I dream most about is having a garden again. Even after we replace some trees, we’ll still have plenty of space in the clearing for garden areas. We’ll have space for vegetable gardens, forest margin gardens and foundation plantings too. But the part that excites me most is the “free space,” the little pockets of space around the property that I get to play with.

I’m so excited about all the potential garden space it’s hard not to go overboard and create something I (or rather we) can’t maintain. I’ve done that before! Right after we married we moved into a home with a big, empty backyard. I used all my Landscape Design tricks and we created a lovely backyard oasis. It’s not my fault we bought a cottage soon after that and had trouble finding time to maintain the gardens! Then we built cottage gardens! I did learn a valuable lesson though: don’t build more than you can maintain.

The Cottage Garden

Don’t Build More Than You Can Maintain

This dreaming/planning stage is the first place I want to keep this lesson in mind. I think it might have to become a mantra. I grabbed my garden planner/journal and got to work making notes. It’s easier to make notes and plans than it is to remove gardens when you discover you can’t (or don’t want to) maintain all of them. So, one of the most important things I’m doing is listing all of the zones I want to plant and then prioritize them.  

Garden Areas

Vegetable GardenBerry PatchFoundation Planting – Front
Foundation Planting – SouthAlong the DrivewayDriveway Niche
Road NicheBottom of Septic FieldForest Margins
Old Driveway PathKitchen/Herb GardenBack Slope/Stabilization
Driveway/Parking Corner

Yikes! With writing this down I’m a little intimidated already! I better draw it out and check again. This is what it looks like drawn out on a copy of our site map …

It’s still a lot but there’s plenty I can do to either scale back the areas or make sure the areas are as “lazy gardener” friendly as possible. Plus, I’m going to do this in stages so I’ll be able to stop or scale any of it along the way. 

Besides knowing the areas I want to plant there are a few other things I need to think about before spring:

How do I want my garden to make me feel?

Gardens are sensory places. They can evoke feelings of peace, joy, wonder, and sometimes stress. Of course stress isn’t one of the things I don’t want to feel, that’s why I’ll be attempting to keep things as simple as possible. I suppose the main feelings I hope to create with our landscape are:

  • Joy – in countless little moments. 
  • Peace – as I come home and breathe in the scents and sounds of the forest.
  • Connected – to the earth and to family. My parents showed me how to garden starting at a very young age, and the lessons never really stop.
  • Wonder – as I learn more about nature and the place we call home.
  • Empowered – as we’re able to put food we’ve grown on the table and solve the everyday garden mysteries. 

We don’t give nature enough credit for its ability to wake up our senses. With the smell of rain on a hot summer day, the feel of the soil in your hands, the sounds of the birds calling each other in the trees, the sight of the first spring bulb poking out of the soil. I’m not so naïve to think it’s all pastoral beauty, sometimes nature can give you a good jolt too, like when a garter snake slithers out from a pile of stones you just had your hand on or when a vole pops it’s head out of a hole in the forest floor just as you’re about to place your foot there. Yikes! 

Bee Balm

What kinds of plants do I want in my garden?

This is a very big question and with so many garden zones I might have to take this one step at a time as well. First, I need to back up a bit. One of my greatest desires at the beginning of this whole New Build process was to “build an efficient home and live lightly on the land.” We want our landscape to reflect the natural surroundings in the area as much as possible. As much as I love a good formal garden, I just don’t think that would fit in so well here. 

Since most of my education was in the use of ornamentals in the landscape, it’s time to do more research! Aside from a very long list of online resources (I’ll provide a list below), I used my birthday bookstore gift cards (Do my boys and their girls know me or what?!) to purchase these two books:

Special thanks to one of my readers, Dawn, who reached out to me and recommended “Gardening for the Rusty Patched Bumblebee.” This book is a fantastic resource for southern to mid-Ontario landscapes! 

From these resources I was greatly relieved to discover that some of my most favorite trees, shrubs and plants are native to my area!

Here are my next steps in the planning process: 

The Big List

From my research, I created an extremely long list of plants that I want to learn more about and choose from to build a native garden. Since I haven’t found a plant list dedicated to our precise area, I chose plants from a regional list and selected them by light and water conditions. It’s a very long, very messy list!

Which Non-Natives are Important to Us and are They Safe to Plant?

As an example, until I actually started designing gardens I disliked hostas. Now, I can’t deny their ability to bring a sense of lush to a garden. And we both have a special connection with Bleeding Hearts. I’ll create a list of plants I really, really want and research their impact in our area. Naturally, I won’t plan to include any that are deemed invasive or harmful to our area and do my best to ensure the ones we do include at least do no harm. 

Peony’s with Lavender

Prioritize Planting Areas

From the list above we’ll decide on the first areas we want to tackle. Off the top of my head, I’m going to guess that they will be: the front of the house; along the driveway, the berry bushes and the start of the vegetable garden. 

Divide the Big List by Garden Spaces

We’re going to be installing gardens bit-by-bit so there’s no point digging into research on plants I won’t be needing right away. This should be fairly easy and I’m hoping there will be overlap of at least a few plants along the way to create cohesiveness within the overall landscape.

Start Drawing!

Since I’ll only be working on one area at a time, I’m not going to bother doing a full landscape design for the entire lot. I’ll use a repetition of plant materials to tie the overall picture together as I go. 

First Things First! 

Alright, now that I’m all enthusiastic and starting on the landscape plans for our new build, I’ve got to catch myself and settle down. It is still the middle of winter AND we don’t even have our lot graded to final grade. So far we have had about 95 truckloads of stone and fill brought in. You’ll remember we built directly on bedrock so we knew this would happen. While the fill was sourced from as close as possible, we still don’t really know the condition of it. We do know that there’s a LOT of rock in it which will be good for plant roots but not so much for digging. 

Once we’re close to final grade, then we can have good, screened topsoil brought in. Having a plan for garden areas now will help us to determine just how much screened topsoil we’ll need. Where we won’t be putting in gardens or grass, we can use rough topsoil or other final fill options. 

Considering that this final site work can’t be started until spring, I’ve got time to refine our plans and make sure they get approved by Brian 😉 Realistically, I may not be able to start much planting until fall or maybe next year with all the other work that will need to be done outside. I’ve been okay with waiting this long for a house though, so waiting a little longer for the gardens should be a little less painful. In the meantime, I’ll keep you posted on the garden plans as they germinate. (See what I did there? hahaha)

The Cottage Wife

In addition to hiking, biking, reading and writing, I like to focus on making as light an impact on the land possible, while still living a modern life.

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