I find myself inspired to garden at some of the weirdest times. As I write this article it’s -21 degrees in Ottawa but feels like -30 and a winter storm warning is blowing up everyone’s phones.

I’m sure most avid gardeners can relate. As the winter months in Eastern Ontario blow and wail, our only escape can be that nebulous dream of dark warm earth between your fingers and that deep rich smell that fills your nostrils. The distant sound of the wind whipping through the cacophony of different species in your garden; that tiger eye sumac, the tall stiff zebra grass and the safari of bird life over head.

But the reality is, we’re still a few months out from this bliss. What most people don’t know is that gardening starts in January. But it starts with a plan.

You Definitely Need a Plan

The best time to start planning for your landscape goals is after the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. It’s this time of year that nurseries start to amp up their marketing and if you’re like me, a member of different facebook gardening groups you begin to see life creep back in to conversations, shares and inspiration.

Building a garden or landscape project isn’t something you just do on a whim. A lot of people approach gardens with trial and error, which ultimately ends up costing a lot of money and wasting a lot of viable plant life.

With the right approach you can stand back and envision a space as you want it and then take that idea to a drawing board. In my opinion the biggest and most important stage of Landscape planning is the process of dreaming. When I am harmonizing a landscape space – much of my time is spent just staring and feeling the space. It’s my philosophy that the paradise is already there – it just requires a helping hand.

Start by Understanding Your Space


The space in which you will design a landscape project or garden is more dynamic than you might know. As this blue marble spins through space, tilting to and fro, sunlight is ebbing and flowing over Easter Ontario in an annual dance that affect every property. The light patterns and sun orientation are going to be the most influencing factors in your design versatility.

Get a clear picture of your cardinal directions. North, East, South and West will each play a huge role in your design and even how you use the space.

Earth and Soil

The second dynamic factor that you need to understand is the soil composition. There is nothing more complex in your garden than the substrate from which all life with blossom. This medium needs to be be different for almost every kind of plant. So understanding a bit about your soil is paramount in the planning process.

Property Lines and Utilities

This can be one of the most monotonous parts of planning your landscape. Not only does it require research but the research takes time and you can find yourself waiting on the city. Regardless of the less creative elements to this phase in the project, it is one of the most important.

Driving over a waterline or septic bed can cause a lot of damage. Digging up a phone line or powerline can cost you a lot of money to repair, not to mention it can be very dangerous in the case of the later.

It’s also important to know where sewer pipes and water mains run because you don’t want to build any structure over them In the even they need to be repaired or replaced by the city, you won’t be getting any help from your municipality to move or rebuild the structure.

When you’re starting this part of the plan here are some pointers.

  1. If there is a pre-existing fence: you’re good to go. Unless you plan on changing the fence or building a structure like a gazebo or shed you don’t need to check the property lines.
  2. Having your utilities marked is free in most jurisdictions – I know in Ottawa, Ontario it definitely is. So there’s no excuse to skip this step.
  3. Be conscious of what is overhead the same way you are weary of what is below ground. Overhead wires can be hazardous when moving machinery around your landscape during construction. Also planting trees under them will result in a headache for your kids or grandkids.
  4. Make a map. This is the first time you start putting your ideas on paper. The map is an illustration of barriers and constraints in your space. It is around these defined elements that you will construct a beautiful harmonious space.