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Experts suggest that for a perfect spring garden your grand plan should begin in winter - even if it's merely to beat the cold weather doldrums. However, you can start imaginatively lay out your garden anytime of year.

But there are so many things you can do, it's hard to know where to start!

And, of course, half the fun is in the planning ....

Garden planning step-by-step

garden plan
Above, a simple 'potager' garden design features a mix of garden vegetables
and flowers. In between plots, allow at least 2 1/2 feet for walking paths

1. Before you put anything to paper, first observe the natural cycle of sun and shade.

Does your garden get full or partial sun?

If your garden space is bathed in sun all day think about growing roses, sunflowers, marigolds, zinnias, or geraniums.

Or, go whole hog by starting a home vegetable garden. (also see vegetable garden planting instructions and harvesting times.)

If your garden space gets only partial sun, consider plants that do well without full sun like bellflowers, impatiens, or sweet peas.

Finally, make sure you have a plentiful supply of water nearby (like a a garden hose connection or even an outdoor sink.). If not, you'll be expending most of your energy hauling water cans to your garden during some of the warmest months of the season.

2. And now .... comes the fun part! First, measure out the length and the width of your garden space and with a piece of graph paper and a pencil start sketching out the general plan.

Depending on the size of your garden, begin by dividing up the space into squares or circles in areas for full sun or partial shade plants. And, most importantly -- leave enough room for YOU! Your garden walkways should be ideally 2 - 2 1/2 feet across to access plants for watering, inspecting for disease, or fighting off ever-present garden pests.

3. Once you have the general design mapped out, "placing-and-spacing" is the next step.

Depending on their size, plants need a certain amount of space of plants between them. Remember to include that in the overall design. You'll also want to take into consideration the size of your plants fully grown, so plan on placing larger specimens in the back so that the smaller plants aren't hidden from view.

At this point, you also might want decide upon any garden ornaments you want to include in the plan. (But keep the garden gnomes down to a minimum. Accents should always allow the plants to be the main focus.)

Putting your garden plan into action

6 - 8 weeks before the last frost, begin sowing seeds in starters or small pots to get a head start on the growing season.

As soon as the weather warms, begin plant seedlings directly into the garden. Meanwhile, keep a sharp eye on your original plan. How is it shaping up in the real world?

You may decide planting bee-attracting sunflowers so close to the house is not the best idea. Those small cherry tomato plants may be best suited as an edging, or just maybe you'll decide to swap out the marigolds into terrace pots and plant something else altogether. No worries. If you want to make any changes to the grand plan now's the time to do it.

During the growing season, continue to observe how your plan is working and make note of any changes that experience has taught you. You can always further revise it for an even better garden design next year!

Have fun.

More about how to design & plan a garden around the Web:

Royal Horticultural Society - Gardening Advice - Garden Design - Discover pages & pages of pictures, garden plans, and expert advice on laying out the small home garden with information on best times to plan, budget & shop, choosing the best specimens plus more on irrigation, garden furniture & ornaments.

Fruit & Vegetable Gardens - Here's a helpful library of topics to starting up your garden in spring with advice on personal choices to consider, garden location and plant groupings, from the Virginia Cooperative Extension.

Flower Garden Design Basics - Beautifully illustrated, included are practical tips on location, landscape, soil preparation, sunlight requirements, plus more on designing for backgrounds, borders and islands, from Cornell University.

Basic Principles of Landscape Design - Get the whole picture with this illustrated course in Landscaping 101 from the University of Florida.

How to Make Butterfly Gardens - How to attract butterflies to your garden with tips, techniques and suggested plants and flowers, featuring illustrated plans and pictures

Low Maintenance Gardening - This is a quick hit on how to be a casual weekend gardener, from a sensible master gardener and busy mother of two...

My First Garden Planning Checklist - Simple, printable to-do list for kids of all ages planning their first garden.

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