Garden Planning 101

A little bit about the process of planning what to grow, some terms to know and how to store your seeds.


2/11/20234 min read

Garden plan on paper
Garden plan on paper

Planning the layout of your garden can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you're just getting started or this is your first gardening season. There are a lot of different tools out there to help, from free templates to applications. If you're like me and enjoy drawing out the layout of your garden space so that you can personalize it, that’s also an can even get out the graph paper!

So how does one go about designing a garden? Well, first you need to decide what you plan to use the space for - flowers, herbs, vegetables, shrubs, evergreens, or maybe a combination of several of these. Then once you know what you'd like to grow, assess your space. Measuring and calculating square footage may be necessary - especially if you're planning to amend your soil, build garden beds or cover your space with mulch. Purpose is also helpful to consider - growing vegetables for your family, a social space to entertain friends and soak in nature, or maybe you just want to help out the pollinators and have something peaceful to look at.

Since my purpose is to grow vegetables and herbs for use in cooking, crafting, bath & body products and just for the hell of it, my planning is usually centered around vegetables, herbs and native flowers that happen to be pollinator favorites. And, since I am more of a visual learner/processor I tend to want to draw out an aerial view of my garden - but for those who do not enjoy this sort of activity, a simple list can be just as effective.

So, if you're making a list, just list out all the things you'd like to grow, and if you're like me, be prepared to edit that list to about half of what you'd like unless you happen to have an extremely large amount of garden space! If you're unsure of what you'd like to grow, I recommend first looking up what gardening zone you live in - most of the PNW will be located in zones 6-9. Here's a handy map for figuring out what USDA Plant Hardiness Zone you live in. After you've determined your zone, then you can do a search for plants that grow well in that zone. 

Terms to be aware of while doing your search:

Perennial: this usually refers to a plant that will come back year after year; it may lose its foliage in the winter, but it will survive and come back the following spring.
Annual: this usually refers to a plant that will need to be replanted every season and cannot survive the winter. Accidental re-seeding, which sometimes happens in vegetable gardens and with other seed-bearing herbs and flowers may still be considered an annual. Most vegetables will also be considered annuals, however in the relatively mild PNW climate, annuals like kale and broccoli may survive season to season.
Evergreen: as its name suggests - this is any plant that retains its leaves throughout the entire year. In the PNW, we have many native evergreens (hence the moniker The Evergreen State) from shrubs to trees and they definitely thrive here, keeping the area a variety of green shades all year long.
Biennial: although less common to see, this refers to flower and vegetable varieties that complete their life cycle in two seasons, but not more.
Determinate: this usually is used with tomatoes but can be used with other plants and means that the plant has a discernible limit to its growth and/or stops growing once fruit appears.
Indeterminate: again, this usually refers to tomato varieties, but can be used otherwise, and it refers to a plant’s continuous growth, with no discernible limits, even after fruit is present.
Heirloom: typically, this refers to open pollinated varieties that are over 50 years old.
Hybrid: this is when two specific parent plants are chosen to breed a specific first-generation offspring. Typically, this term indicates any variety achieved through cross pollination (usually intentional, but not always).
Open-Pollinated (OP): any variety that produces seeds considered "true", meaning that the seeds from this plant produce another plant nearly identical to itself.

Okay, so now that you know some of the lingo, you can plan what you'd like to grow around your desired outcome, or purpose, which we touched on in the beginning. Make your list, sketch out your garden space, or if you have over-achiever/over-planner tendencies (of which I know nothing about), you can do both and it might look something like the picture above.

Congratulations! Now you have a solid plan, a list of plants you'd like to grow and maybe even a sketch of where you want to plant them. All that's left is a little research on the varieties of plants you don't know very much about, and to decide what you're growing from seed and what you'd like to find at your local gardening center. Plants like evergreens will always be easier to purchase already at least a few years old from a garden center, and they will be more likely to survive. Most annuals whether they are herbs, flowers or vegetables will be just as easy from seed as from starts - and you get to decide.

For more information about starting seeds, begin here, with my how to guide.

And after that, if you're feeling confident and want to venture into the realm of soil amendments and environmentally responsible gardening practices, you'll find those here, and here, respectively. Thanks for reading, and joyous gardening!