Use this Trick Before You Make Garden Changes

How to Design a Vegetable Garden

Garden lay out in progress during an installation for a client.


Last year my in-laws sold their house in the Minneapolis suburbs and moved back to the small town in Iowa where my mother-in-law grew up. They decided to buy a newer house in a subdivision with a huge empty field behind the house. For most of her gardening life my mother-in-law worked under huge shade trees so she wasn’t able to grow vegetables. She was very excited when she bought a house with a backyard in full sun!

There is little to no landscaping around their house, so she decided to take my online class to help her with designing her new garden. In one of the modules the participants have to start making decisions about the size of their new gardens. I recommend that they go out into their gardens and physically map out the layout of their new garden. After doing so, she posted this note in our class group, “I went out (to my yard) to plan my garden space.  I want it to be small but when I marked it off it looks too small. I better start over and decide how much space I really need for what I want.”

I love this comment because it shows the importance of playing with your garden layout in your yard before making your final decisions about size and design. When meeting with a new client, I bring a bucket with stakes and twine. As we start to dig into the specifics of their garden design we’ll often use those stakes and twine to start to map out some of the possibilities.


Designing a Vegetable Garden

After garden installation.

It makes a huge difference to be able to see how big the space will be, where the beds will be located in relation to one another, and how the path will line up with your back door. Like my mother-in-law, you might realize the size you had in mind is a little too small, or the main path is too narrow, or that you have room to add one more garden bed.

If you’re considering a new design or changes to your existing garden, take some garden twine and stakes and use them to lay out your proposed changes. You can also use a hose or heavier rope to play with the curves of the garden. I’ve used a hose at my own house when establishing a new perennial bed so I could get the curve just right.

Taking some time to physically lay out your garden allows you to see first hand if it’s what you had in mind. And it’s much easier to make changes with a piece of string than to rearrange you garden later after installation.


Vegetable Garden Design

The client’s garden later in the season after she added a chicken coop and fence.

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