Garden design

We just had retaining walls replaced and our garden is a huge bare area now with just 2 trees poking up. I have no idea where to start with designing a lay out. Right now I'd like to put a stepping stone pathway through with a bench and bird bath along the way. Other then that I'm clueless. It is a very large area on a slight slope, there is a 4.5 foot retaining wall at the front that comes up from our lawn, there is another 5 foot retaining wall (all stone) at the back that leads to the road. There is a set of stone steps that leads up the hill.
Any ideas or great websites for garden design?? Right now I'm thinking I would have an island type layout, with plants all less then 1.5 feet on the side towards the lawn and have a border garden on the side towards the road where the trees are right now.
I guess I need to post some pictures to display what I'm talking about. I could sure use some help though! Can I go with all kinds of colors or should I stick to just 3-4? I'm in gardening zone 5b by the way, in Canada.
Thanks for any help! I'm new to the group and look forward to reading and posting here!
KR
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Great idea: Your library, and at least a dozen books. If it takes you less than 3 months to come up with a design, it's probably a bad one.
Three book recommendations: "One Man's Garden" and "The Essential Earthman", both by Henry Mitchell. "The Essential Shade Gardener", by George Schenck. There has never been a better book written in this category. And, he's very clear about which plants also do well in sun. Some plants fail completely with the wrong light. Others just grow differently, but are equally beautiful.
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Thanks! I have at least 5 months of winter ahead of me, then a full summer of trying things, I'm certainly not in a rush. For now I will just plant a few fall bulbs.
KR
JoeSpareBedroom wrote:

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If you have deer, don't focus too much on tulips, based on my experience. They ate the buds off every single plant. Didn't touch the daffodils, though, or the crocuses.
This is a slow time for garden centers, by the way, which means it's a good time to go and pick their brains. You might get lucky and find someone who REALLY knows something about the plants they sell. Bring photographs and diagrams, and if they give you lots of information, be sure to reward them with your business in the spring. Ask about preparing planting holes correctly, so you're ready to do it when the time comes. Mitchell's books go into detail about this subject, but with enough humor that it'll sound easy.

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Took me a few years (30) to stumble into our present garden.
A Japanese Touch for your garden ISBN 0-87011-391-7
A goal not obtained. Something to work at. But perhaps play is a better idea.
Bill
--

S Jersey USA Zone 5 Shade
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One plant at a time!
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Generally trees and shrubs are the backbone of a garden design, with help from hardscape (paths, patios) and features like benches, statues, fountains. Then perennials and annuals round out the design.
In a 5b climate, you've got lots of choices for plant materials.
The first thing to do is identify a style that you like. Your proposed island beds sound rather municipal park to me.... like you haven't thought about variations in height and texture adding to the landscape.
Another thing to think about is changes with the seasons... for instance, spring bulbs are pretty well gone by early summer, which is about when the roses kick in. For a lot of people, summer annuals carry most of the color, until fall when chrysanthemums and colored leaves pick up the load. Changes in dominant colors also tend to go with the seasons ; natural prairies tend to have a lot of pink in the spring, violets and blues in the summer, and yellows and oranges in the fall, for instance.
I'd suggest you want to do a couple of things now: 1) take some photos of the house and yard, particularly from your main entrance or main view into the property, and the view from the back door or whatever your entrance into the private areas of your yard might be. 2) Think about how you want to use your area -- you've got retaining walls, do you have an area where you'd like to sit and read a book or bbq in peace and quiet? If you want a bird bath, is it near a water source, and are there shrubs or other good cover for the birds? Will you have a feeder? Do you like lawn? If so, you're going to want to work on layouts that will give a semi-sane mowing path (nothing like having to lift and carry a nice heavy lawnmower through a patch of shrubbery to mow an isolated stretch of lawn!). Do you have some spots to sit and talk with friends and neighbors?
Head for the library and check out the books on garden design, landscaping, and if you're not an enthusiastic gardener, native plants, particularly 0native trees and shrubs. Identify styles that appeal to you -- for instance, I prefer the informal or natural styles, and start getting hives when I think about having to trim and weed a knot garden. <g> I grew up with prairie, so I think a large green monoculture lawn is deadly dull, while my husband likes the effect... so we've got lawn in front, where he's likely to spend time, and wilder stuff in back, for me. <g>
Then start sketching over your photos... as you do so, think about putting high maintenance plants near your watering sources (if you will have to water), lower maintenance things back where the hose won't reach easily. Think about shade and sun, and grouping plants of similar culture together. Do you need a play area for kids and/or dogs?
This is a good winter project. Next spring, you can lay out any beds, etc, with flour or garden hose and begin to revise your plans.
For most of us, garden design is not an easy thing, or something that comes with a set of plans, unless you've hired a landscape architect. Most gardens wind up evolving over a period of time, as you decide this plant looks better over there, and what was I thinking planting so close to the house that the shrubs are poking through the kitchen window and.... and gee, those daylilies need more light than they're getting now that the apple tree is taller...
Look Function Color Texture Height
Have fun!
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Congratulations - it's great to start with a blank slate, as it were.
I'd suggest you hire a professional to create a design, with your collaboration, of course.
When I decided to redo the back of my yard, I hired a designer recommended by my local nursery. It was a good investment, as we combined ideas, and I think the plants were cheaper than if I'd bought them retail.
What others have suggested -- reading and studying in advance -- is a good idea, so you and the designer can utilize your time efficiently.
Good luck!
Persephone
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There are a couple of free garden design programs available over the internet. Do a google search to find them.
Jen
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