While I think the adage "Failing to plan is planning to fail" might be a smidge overstated, the concept rings true, especially for the novice gardener. You find something that is built to last or is functioning smoothly, and behind it, there's a well-laid plan: a blueprint for a building, a budget and financial plan for a wealthy couple, pages of detailed written music for a complicated symphony. Drive past a gorgeous, thriving garden, and you can bet that there was a plan before there was a garden.

You can make such a plan and acquire for yourself said admirable garden, and it's not really that tricky. New gardeners, competent gardeners and people who are looking for a new perspective on a longtime piece of property can all benefit from a garden plan. If you are beginning to whine to yourself that you have a black thumb and can't grow anything, it may be time to take our "black thumb diagnostic test" and find out how to cure your appendage of its disease.

This landscape plan won't win any beauty pageants, but it does plot out the important features of the lot.

The first step in making a plan is pulling up a map of your lot. I like to use Bing Maps for this because I've found they have clearer pictures and more views of my lot, but you can also use Google Maps. If you have an official map of your property lines in relation to your neighbors and the street, that will be a big help in this project. If you use Bing, make sure you're using "Bing Classic" so you can use the satellite and and bird's eye views of your property. (In the bottom right corner of the map, I clicked "Use Bing Classic.") Type in your address and hit "search." When a map of your neighborhood pops up, click the "Aerial" button at the top of the map and zoom in on your lot. Once you get over the initial shock of realizing that your big toe is visible from space, you can take a look at how your property is laid out.

This is a good time to find a big piece of paper or cardboard to plot your layout on. If you need to, cut it to be roughly the same shape as your lot. Mine is square, so I used a large square piece of cardboard. Bigger is better in this case, because it will allow you to be detailed as you make a plan. Don't forget to plot in cardinal directions. Next, draw the permanent features of your lot. You can print out a copy of the map and draw a grid on the printout to help get the proportions and distances right. This doesn't have to be scientifically perfect, but accuracy helps. Make sure you use pencil for this step!

On your plan, draw:

1. Your house. Don't forget porches and overhangs or steps
2. Outbuildings, like a pool house, tool shed, or detached garage
3. Driveways, sidewalks, patios, decks
4. Fences

If you're a color-coder like me, you might want to decide what colors you'd like to use to indicate different features. Color-coding can keep your map looking neat, rather than cluttered with lots of notes. Once you've decided that those permanent features look about right, trace over your pencil outline with marker, so you can "landscape" around the house and erase when necessary without erasing your house or driveway.

Next, sketch in permanent landscape features. These might include:

1. Trees, hedges or shrubs you're not going to remove
2. Existing beds
3. Terracing
4. Large rocks you're not going to move
5. Particulars about your lot that will affect your gardening, like if you have a corner that's kind of swampy and stays wet all the time

At this point, you should be able to see your lot "coming together." If you're satisfied with how it looks, trace in the landscape features with marker, labeling types of existing plants and trees if you'd like. Now that your garden plan is set, start making notes (maybe on Post-It notes) about how the sun hits different zones in your yard. Remember that the sun drops south in the winter and is directly overhead in the summer. If you're making your plan in the winter, don't forget about the leaves growing in on trees and shading areas that might be sunny in the winter.

As you continue with your planning, it's a good idea to use pencil from here on out, at least until you plant what you're plotting. Putting plant names on moveable stickers will also allow you to "move" plants around and test out new locations. If you really love your plan, before you start "planting" new things, take it to get laminated, so you can write on it with dry-erase markers and erase easily.

We'd love to see photos of your landscaping efforts, or samples of your plans ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ). What tips do you have for creating a helpful landscaping plan? Let us know in the comments below! Also, if you're into computers, you might find a landscape design program such as Realtime Landscape Architect 2 a very useful tool for your planning.

Joanna is a new-ish homeowner who lives with her husband Todd in East Medford. They've been baptized by fire into gardening and landscaping, after moving in to an old house with a half-acre lot that was best described as "dead." After a year and a half of pruning the overgrown, planting new stuff and removing the dead, things are starting to look a lot more green.

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