By: Mary Perkins, CCE Master Gardener Volunteer
The perfect garden spot is always on the other side of the fence, no matter where you try to garden. The critical factors for a perfect garden – crop, sunlight, soil, drainage, and location – are all involved in any garden design and selection of the garden site. These factors can be changed or modified to make any spot ‘nearly’ perfect for your garden. Evaluating each factor is the first step in garden design. Each plant you may wish to grow has its own pattern of need in regard to the other factors mentioned above. Designing your plantings in terms of these critical factors will result in greater success. Always work with nature, instead of against it.
Selection of plants and varieties of plants is important to gaining success and satisfaction from your garden. The range of sizes, shapes, colors, and growing season is mind-boggling. Selecting the best variety for your location can require a lot of research and even some experimentation. A really poor choice may result in near failure, while a good choice will result in success. Do you have a soil that is moist for most of the season, make sure to select varieties that don’t mind having ‘wet feet.’ Other varieties may do well in drought conditions or in soils that haven’t been improved for a while. If you have powdery mildew every year, select a variety that is resistant to it.
Most vegetables and many flowers need full sun – 6 – 8 hours of sunlight each day. Others will do well in only partial sun, or even deep shade. Thus you can, by being aware of an individual plant’s need for sunlight and the amount available, choose plants which will do well in nearly any location.
Soil requirements of plant species also vary. In general, the better your soil, the better your gardening results are going to be. Healthier plants can be grown in better soil. The health of the plant is critical in its resistance to disease and in the results you can expect. The perfect soil is well-drained, loose, light, friable, rich in organic matter, high in nutrients, and doesn’t exist anywhere on your land. Each of these desirable aspects of soil can be improved as you work in the garden. The addition of soil amendments over a period of time can continually take the soil closer to perfection.
Drainage is another variable factor in site selection. The garden soil needs to be well-drained, but not too well-drained. Many soils locally have clay or a clay mixture, “up to the second rail on the fence” and can cause problems with water retention. On the other hand, some sandy or gravelly locations may drain so quickly the plants don’t have the chance to get enough water unless they are watered every day. To check the drainage in your garden spot, dig several holes about one foot across and one foot deep; fill them with water and note the length of time it takes for the water to drain from the holes. The water should drain away in about three hours. Various methods can be used to improve the drainage if the holes drain too quickly or too slowly.
The last factor to consider in designing your garden is location. A garden which is far away from the house and out of sight will not receive the same amount of attention as will the plot next to the back door. One option available in locating the garden is the use of smaller plots in several different locations. A special garden can be achieved by grouping plants for a specific purpose in a small self-contained unit. Some examples of these special gardens are perennials, shade, annuals, herb, butterfly, or various vegetable or fruit gardens.
Before going any further, check your site and do as I have discussed to ensure greater success in whatever you grow.
Photo: Colleen Cavagna