I was working the fence one evening when a neighbor stopped by to introduce himself. (Side note: Want to meet your neighbors? Drastically change your front yard.)
We talked about the yard and how I was doing the work myself, with a main goal in mind but making some other things up as I went along. I made it sound like I didn’t have a plan, which wasn’t entirely true. In the moment, though, I felt like I needed to make excuses for why the fence or wall blocks might not be perfectly straight, or the mulch looked half-finished.
The truth is, I absolutely, 100%, always make a plan before starting a project. And I research techniques and plans for weeks before putting any sort of plan on paper. But I also freely adjust that plan as I go along. I might learn an easier way to do something or realize that things aren’t going to look the way I envisioned.
This is my front yard. The initial grid and solidly colored areas (the driveway in grays, sidewalk in more gray, the green block that represents my crepe myrtle tree, and the yellow block that shows where the front of my house juts out) were made in Excel. Each block represents one square foot. Although a 1:1 ratio can be unwieldy for larger spans of land, I have a much easier time envisioning the project without constantly trying to translate measurements in my head.
After printing out the base plan, I added the paths. That little blue square on the left side was going to be a bird bath, because one of my goals for this garden is to make it a friendly haven for the birds. Once everything started to take shape, however, I realized that placement wouldn’t work.
I try to keep wild birds out of the backyard, though, because they can carry and spread disease to the chickens and ducks.
In addition to the bird bath, the paths also changed a bit:
It’s hard to see from this angle, but the right half of the yard has a path that basically follows the plans. The left half, however, has a simplified path. The primary reasons the path got trimmed are 1) I decided to install a dry creek bed and the fewer paths crossing over it, the better, and 2) there really wasn’t a need for another path branching off. The primary purpose of the paths are to keep feet away from the garden soil and avoid compressing fragile root systems.
Things that didn’t change – and were perhaps the most important plan – were measurements. Using the 1:1 ratio helped me get a pretty good idea of how much mulch I needed, how many 4x4s for fence posts, and so on. This was important because when I was in the planning stages, I was able to jump on sales and bulk buy my construction materials at a lower price. $0.30 off a block might not sound like that much, but when you’re buying 100 blocks, that’s $30.
For larger projects, longer-term planning and taking advantage of every little discount make a huge difference.
Now, not every plan is written down. I’ve been a little more loose with the flowers I intend to plant, but I did set some parameters from the beginning:
- Choose flowers that attract bees, butterflies, and/or birds.
- Work within a simple color palette of yellow, orange, and pink.
- Aim for leaf and flower shapes that are reminiscent of a meadow, if possible.
- Look for plants that are drought resistant and/or thrive in the climate.
Every time I’ve gone to Lowes to pick up materials, I’ve stopped by the clearance racks. There, I’ve picked up local favorite lantana, as well as standbys like marigolds and dahlias.
While it’s totally possible to work on projects with either no plan or a plan to which you strictly adhere, expect both options to cost more time and money. It’s also easier if you accept from the beginning that the dream garden (or bench or coop) you’ve envisioned based off of staged Pinterest photos will probably end up being a little messy. Angles might not be square. Mulch will get in your rocks. Wood will have knots. But one of the reasons I love DIY projects is precisely because of these imperfections. They are utterly charming.