How To Design My Garden:
An Interview With Susan Schlenger

As many of you know, I am determined to design my garden. But I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a professional designer. And I'm willing to bet that most of you aren't either. Which is why I decided to call in an expert.

Susan Schlenger is an award-winning landscape designer with a wonderful website,, where she gives landscaping advice to all comers -- and she has graciously agreed to be interviewed here today.

Hi, Susan! Let's say I wanted to design my garden, but I didn't know where to start. Where do you feel the best place is to start when designing a yard?

It depends on whether you want to address your front yard, back yard or your entire property.

Let's take the front yard. This is how I would design my garden.

  1. Look at the entire picture. (Isn't that true in life, too?!) Stand in the street and look at your property and home. Are there any things that really stand out as being unacceptable ... a dying tree, overgrown shrubs, a disintegrating walkway or driveway? Perhaps it is just plain boring! This can be helped by adding lots of color, textures, and heights...especially heights.
  2. Next I would address the front foundation plantings, whether they just need revamping or a total re-design.
  3. Plants on the walkway side closest to the street might be considered. This adds to the design. I like to place perennials and groundcover next to the walk with evergreen shrubs behind them (closer to the street) as a background.
  4. Driveway entry plantings would be next. These are always welcoming and also provide both an opportunity for driveway lighting.

(look at Susan's page about front yard landscaping ideas for more information)

This website is for sale.

Contact me if you'd like to make an offer.

When you design someone's yard, what factors do you take into account?

A quote comes to mind: "Form follows function". A design must function well.

This has to do with access with walkways or paths, a driveway design that works (turn-arounds, parking, etc.), enough space for relaxing and entertaining (usually patios or decks), level play areas for children, and correct grading and drainage.

Then the fun stuff can be considered:

  • Beautiful plantings
  • Structures - pergolas, arbors or gazebos
  • Water features - did you know that most of the great gardens in the world have a water feature?
  • Patio elements - outdoor kitchens, fire pits, fireplaces

What should I avoid when I design my garden?

  1. Do not plant one of this and one of that. Plant in groups so that you get maximum input from each plant. One Coneflower perennial plant means very little in a landscape, but three to five (or more) are striking. You can still add a single featured plant into the design here and there, but these are kept to a minimum.
  2. Don't fall for that lovely plant at the garden center before you know what its mature size will be. This is how overgrown landscapes come about! If your windows are three feet high, that should be the maximum height of the plants you are placing in this area.
  3. Measure out the furniture you will need for your patio so as not to make the patio design too small.
  4. Do not get stuck on a paving material, thinking that you must have it! The design matters more than the materials. Even concrete can be made quite lovely by getting creative.
  5. Don't forget about your budget! Things can get quickly out of hand.

When should I call in a professional designer to design my garden?

  • If you feel overwhelmed.
  • If you have no knowledge of plants.
  • If you don't feel confident that you can achieve the design you would like.

The design fee is a small percentage of what you'll be spending overall on your landscape. Studies have shown that professional landscaping adds to the value of your home, so don't let the cost of a design consultation keep you from getting help if you need it.

My website has a ton of information for both homeowners and professionals alike. If you are about to design a particular area, do some research so that you are knowledgeable. Some areas of interest might be plant information, hardscape design and materials, grading and drainage, retaining walls, etc.

Also, if you are so inclined, you can play with 3D landscape software. Sketchup is a great one and it is free. If you are a homeowner, it might be a bit complicated for an intense planting design, but for such things as patios it is very helpful and a lot of fun.

Landscape design is like anything else. The more knowledge and experience you have, the better the design will be.

Thanks so much for the interview, Susan!

If you're thinking, "I'd like to design my garden too," and feel that you need some expert advice, visit Susan Schlenger's website, Landscape Design Advice

Want to talk more about how to design a garden, or get feedback on your edible garden design ideas?

Join the Tasteful Landscape community, a group of people who love edible landscaping as much as you do.

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