Make a Garden Map

? Photograph ? Map ? Locate ? Divide & Plot ? Budget ? Work slowly

All too often, people scorn the idea of making a garden map. They shouldn?t be. This task involves about the same amount of time it takes to sip a glass of wine. But it will reveal a garden?s ambitions, make them crystal clear and indicate what to do this month in the garden.

First of all, get a set of digital images of the garden, even if this means you have to borrow a camera. Take shots of the garden dead on, from each important window and from the back toward the house. Then print them out – in black and white, on ordinary printer paper, not glossy photo paper.

This stark rendering will give you an amazing insight into the state of your garden, far better than any pretty colour print. By making extra copies, these images will become your virtual garden and help you make important planning moves. By sketching right on the images, you can gain a sense of scale as you plot where to put new plants, trees, shrubs, borders and hardscaping, such as patios and paths. Think of this fiddling with images as a method of revealing the garden’s inner self – and your own desires for the garden.

The next step in mapping is to buy grid paper in big pads (anything will do but I happen to like big Rhodia grid-lined pads). With your earlier images in hand, rough out the shape of the garden. It doesn?t have to be exact, just eyeball the configuration – rectangle, square and so on. This is not supposed to be a work of art, just a guide. Date the sheets and hang on to them, either in a file or in a garden journal.

Then, figure out where all the important things are: taps for hoses; the bumps and troughs in the landscape; and large trees to see how much space they take up and where they cast shadows. Also rough in your borrowed view – that’s the neighbour’s ugly garage or basketball hoop, you?ll want to block them out.

Divide the plan in half to get the central axis; and then in half again to get the cross axis. Make sure you have a focal point, a seating area, a place for the compost and storage. By dividing the map into zones or sections like this, you can work out where you want to have an area for entertaining and how much space you?d allot to a deck or patio (make it bigger than you think you?ll need?outside everything looks smaller).

As you plot your areas, keep in mind that every major garden project requires a rigorous budget. Whether it?s $1,500 or $15,000, know what you can realistically spend. And keep your wish list to a minimum, pick your priorities carefully. I?d take plants every time but in some years the bulk of my money has gone into such major projects as lighting or getting a fabulous piece of sculpture. Think about the cost of fences, paths and furniture. These are all big-ticket items, so leave at least 40 per cent of your budget for plants and push off things you can?t afford to another year.

You don?t have to be slavish about sticking to your garden map. And you shouldn?t try to tackle everything in one year. Take on one section or pocket at a time, make it lovely, then move on. And remember, things shift as soon as you start building or planting and a garden map will help you refine a vision of what the garden should be doing for you.