Whether you have a large garden area or a small one the principles of garden design are pretty much the same.  Whether in containers around a patio, in a small bed near your front door or a large expanse of yard I always have a certain process I follow. Let’s walk through those steps this week here on the blog and on my new YouTube Channel called: Let’s Talk Gardening with Robin.  I am again preparing (3) three new beds and I will show you how I design and install new garden beds but this can apply to anyone.


*First, I consider the soil. Is it sandy, clay, nice loam? Have you had it tested? Here I have clay soil which drains very poorly. Over the years I have been amending my beds with compost to enrich the soil and help drainage.

*Second: What is the light and water situation? Is it Full Sun – Part Sun- Part Shade or Full Shade?  We have many water issues living on the lower end of a mountain.

The old saying Right Plant, Right Place is very important for success.

My garden is basically Full to Part Sun. Over time my shade beds have gotten sunnier due to the removal of diseased ash trees.

*Next, I consider the Planting Zone (I am in Zone 6a), then comes Winter Interest and Pollinator Plants.

Here in Connecticut, we view our gardens for several months of the year only from the window, so winter interest is vital.

*Next, I look at Form, Texture and Color.  I’m a very visual person and I like to see the scope of what I am envisioning before I begin planting anything.

I try to repeat colors or plants for a cohesive palette throughout. Also, I consider what has or hasn’t worked in the past. Just because a plant or shrub is the correct zone hardiness, the right light and soil doesn’t mean it will always work.  I have had things die for no explainable reason.  The life of a gardener.  Best laid plans!

*Next consider obstacles like the septic field, major tree roots or deer issues.  In my case, rabbits and voles are the bane of my existence.

*Research for appropriate plants based on those initial criteria always with options in mind as everything is not always available.

In Bed #3 I started my plan with the troughs and raised beds and knew I wanted a tall evergreen on the right side for screening and a deciduous tall tree for balance on the left.

New Bed #3 location

We have already removed the grass, rototilled the area, applied a topsoil/compost mix and rototilled again.  This was done to break up and enrich the clay soil in this area.  This is the only area except my front yard that really stays sunny enough for vegetables. I plan to grow strawberries, tomatoes, carrots etc. in the troughs once the ranunculus are done. In the raised beds my plan was always for cut flowers.

I always draw a scaled plan when designing a new area to determine what will fit as things mature whether for myself or for clients. However, I stress you need to be flexible.  Even though you plan, things often need tweaks or adjustments on the fly when the actual installation begins.

My original plan was for a weeping Spruce as the major element and winter interest but my nursery did not have one that I liked.  Luckily, I had a backup and got a lovely Pine that is being delivered this week.

Pinus parviflora ‘Glauca’ – Japanese White Pine

This pyramidal shaped evergreen has bluish-green to gray needles; Zone 4-9

It can grow 20-40’ tall and 10-20’ wide

Low maintenance, hardy evergreen and good for alkaline soil which we have. This will look beautiful in winter.


I had several options for the left side of the bed but again, when I got to the nursery I knew when I saw the Paperbark Maple it was exactly what I wanted.  The gorgeous bark is a standout all year and I knew maples already thrive here so that decision was easy!

Acer Griseum – Paperbark Maple

It has an open, upright branching habit with leaves that turn a beautiful scarlet in the fall. Zone 5-8, slowly reaches 25’ tall and 15-20’ wide. It’s distinctive cinnamon colored bark makes a gorgeous specimen or understory accent which I wanted.

*Another major item I considered was just to the left of the troughs and I had wanted a Quince originally but had previous issues with one suckering so opted instead for a Rose of Sharon for its color and height.  Be prepared to pivot as things change or further information is brought to light.

Hibiscus syriacus -Azurri Blue Satin

The shrub gets 8-12’ tall and 4-6’ wide but can be trimmed to keep it’s size in check.

Full Sun; Zone 5-9

This Rose of Sharon has striking blue flowers that bloom all summer long requiring no pruning or deadheading- YEAH! It attracts pollinators and resists deer.



*Next layer – I consider the minor components like the shrubs, grasses and perennials. Hydrangeas grow very well on this property, so I selected a few of those to compliment the color palette I was looking to continue which in this garden is purple, green, pink, and white.  There are several other smaller shrubs also selected for their structure, texture and color.  An Aronia, for color and blooms, a Cotinus Winecraft Gold and a Cryptomeria for some green texture. Finally, the perennials which in this case are three (3) of my all-time favorites, Nepeta Walker’s Low (Catmint), Daylilies and Grasses.


Once we get all this in and mulched if I need to fill in temporarily with annuals till the shrubs fill in, we will re- evaluate.


Design is a process of give and take and you sometimes need to pivot. When I moved here 6 years ago there was no landscaping.  We have added all the trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs.  We purchased the largest evergreens and trees we could afford. These three (3) new beds will complete my original design plan and my process will be the same as it was originally except now, I can show you how I create gardens from scratch no matter the size. Below are the original beds I created on this property when we moved in.

The first of the large trees are installed

Marking out beds

Beds being dug out and amended, plants patiently waiting for transplanting


*Preparation is absolutely paramount: Soil test, amending soil, evaluating water and light on site

*Planning:  How much maintenance are you prepared to do? Are you away at a second home on weekends? Do you have an irrigation system of some type? Will you need help to maintain your garden?

*Placing items before digging I find invaluable!


*Water well till established and be flexible

Follow these basics and you’ll find success.  If you need help and are in Connecticut I am available for garden design and photography. This year my garden will be open by registration only through The Garden Conservancy Open Days program on June 4th.

I hope you’ll enjoy watching these new beds take shape and mature. Follow me on YouTube to see the progress.  Feel free to ask questions and as always, I will attempt to answer the or get you an answer.

Want more gardening tips? Here are some links to previous blogs. My garden adventures – how a garden changes over time!; Daylilies – my secret passion besides travel!; Spectacular Fall Blooms; Attracting Pollinators to your Garden

Prefer blogs on travel? Here are some links to some of those! More than just the Ponte Vecchio!; Restaurant lingo in Italy; The Historic Center of Florence; Bologna – a Food Lover’s Paradise; Why do we travel?