Compact gardening – Part 9

Compact gardening checklist.

Herb garden raised bed

Today I will give you a step by step process which you can use when designing a new garden or if you want to update an existing one.

Tools you will need: Color pens, paper, ruler or a garden design system on your computer – whichever you prefer. A long measuring tape or folding rule is also practical if you’re not sure of the dimensions of your available space.

1. Start with drawing up your available area. Mark out the points of the compass, sun direction and wind direction (in case you have one side more affected by strong winds). Give yourself some time to analyze where and when the sun rises in the morning and where and when it sets. This changes over the year, but having a basic idea of the conditions in the middle of summer is a good start.

You should also note down if you have any slope that might impact the runoff of rain. This will help you determine good spots for implementing rain catching features such as swales. (Read more about swales in Compact Gardening part 4.)

Mark out buildings, eventual existing trees and bushes and other feature that you wish to keep where they are.

2. Figure out what you want to grow. Choose the plants you would like to have and write down their preferred conditions (sunny, semi-shade, moist and so on). If available, write down some companion plants and if they are incompatible with certain plants. Try to base your design on perennials. This will save you a lot of time and effort in the long run.

3. Combine the plants you want to grow in your space. Remember to work with different heights and root depths. Work smart with shapes that optimize the available space such as bent lines, zig-zag etc.

One way to try out different design ideas is using a garden design software with movable plants or drawing plants or pots/containers on paper and cut them out so that you can move them around on top of a sketch of your garden plot to try out different solutions.

Don’t forget your zones if you’re working with a slightly larger space. Put the things you use daily such as herbs right outside the door. Bushes and trees that only give fruit once a year can be placed a bit further away.

Remember to fit in water features and water collection in your design. Water maintenance is very important for a successful garden and having your own supply will give you better protection in cases of extreme drought in your area. If it is not possible to have a rain barrel, pond or swales, try to fit in a drip irrigation system to save as much water as possible when watering your plants.

4. Choose the type of containers and/or garden beds you wish to use. Be creative and try to see what you have around you already. There might be suitable containers that you can get for free or that you can recycle. Old buckets, tin cans, baskets and much more can be used as pots. Check Compact Gardening part 6 for more details on how to build raised beds.

5. Sow your seeds or buy ready plants depending on the type of plant your implementing and when you are starting. It’s not too late to start a garden in the middle of summer, but you will probably have to buy ready plants instead of sowing seeds in most cases. Many plants are on a discount during this time since the garden centers want to get rid of the plants that weren’t sold earlier in the season.

If something isn’t available right now, try to see what you can replace it with temporarily or leave space until next season where you can fit it into your design.

6. Once everything is in the ground or in your pots/containers you need to take good care of it. Water your plants early in the morning or late in the evening during summer to avoid burn damage on the leaves and too much evaporation.

Mulch around your plants to maintain the moisture in the soil and to protect them against weeds.

Observe if there are signs of pests and only take action if needed. Pests are best controlled through preventive measures such as good design with a big variety of plants.

7. Adjust your design when needed. A key element of Permaculture design is observation. See what works and not. You will notice how the angle of the light changes with the seasons, how the weather influences different parts of your garden and other subtle changes. With time you will get to know your garden and what works out better. This is the beauty of this kind of system. Try to stay open minded and let nature tell you what works the best – then adjust your garden to this.

If you notice that a plant isn’t getting enough or too much light or for some other reason isn’t happy where you placed it, see if you can move it to another spot. This is mainly not applicable to annual vegetables since they are sensitive, but perennials can usually be moved. Just make sure to inform yourself of the best time to do this, for instance with the help of gardening books.

8. Harvest and enjoy your garden! This is one of the most important steps in your gardening adventures and the reason why you’re doing this in the first place. Be proud of what you achieve and learn from the things that were not successful. Every year you will find something new and figure out ways to improve your garden. Some years you may want to put in a little more ambition and other years you might want to relax and let your garden rest with you. If you take good care of it and plan smart you will always have something you can harvest, even if just a couple of apples or berries.

9. Learn more! Gardening is fantastic because it gives you something new to learn for a lifetime. In the last Compact Gardening article for this season I will share some useful links and books that I find helpful.

If you have any tips yourself – share them with me so that I can update the article with more great resources!

Below you will find an infographic which I hope will help you remember all the steps of creating a design. (I’m not 100% happy with it, but it will have to do for now.)
Compact Gardening infographic
(Click on the picture to enlarge it.)

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About Veronica (166 Articles)
Veronica is the founder of With one foot in the past and one in the future she takes inspiration from older aesthetics and ideas to apply them in updated form today. She is passionate about teaching timeless skills and believes that the world needs more polymaths.

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