What is it about gardening – besides the aching back and dirty fingernails – that inspires romantic hyperbole? Yeats pined for Lake Innisfree where " peace comes dropping slow." When Thoreau needed room to ponder the plight of civilization, he "would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion." Michel de Montaigne:"I want death to find me planting my cabbage."
Part of the appeal, it seems to me, is that the winter die-off allows us to wipe away last season's disappointments and regroup. (Do you southern gardeners find this respite during the scorching months?) The yearly ritual of planning the garden brings out the romantic in all of us:we create Eden-like gardens in our minds to sustain us 'til the first dandelion pops out of the ground. We get a chance to experience gardening in the abstract, unsullied by drought, disease or pests.
On the other hand, planning is as practical and necessary as any other garden chore. If you're a vegetable gardener who wants to practice crop rotation (and you probably should), you need to keep records of what gets planted where. If you have your heart set on a continuously blooming perennial border you'll need to map out size, color, time of bloom -it's a four dimensional puzzle with pieces that change from week to week.
How do you make your garden plan? Master Gardener Dana Fast sticks to the tried and true – graph paper, pencil and ruler. I like the ease of erasure on an Excel sheet and the ability to copy the layout from one year's records to the next. This year I've combined Dana's method with my own and created virtual graph paper on the computer so I can see all of my planting beds in scale to each other.
There are plenty of online garden planners that offer lovely graphics and even some useful planting information on spacing, days to harvest, etc. Gardener's Supply and Better Homes and Gardens offer DIY planning as well as pre-planned designs for free at their websites, and other planners have free trial periods. Go wild on paper (or pixels) – and if you have a design you're proud of, share it on our facebook page!