Defining key areas so you know where to start

With your sketched yard in hand, your next step is to decide which area you want to start with and to roll up your sleeves. As I repeatedly advise, tackling everything at once isn't easy and often isn't realistic or affordable. Break big projects down into manageable pieces, and do them one at a time.

A word in defense of boundary materials

Call me fussy, but I like enclosures and edgings in a garden, which in the context of the key areas in this chapter, can be walls or floors or portions thereof. I mean bricks, stones, plastic materials, wood, iron, and of course, also living plants.

Enclosures and boundaries distinguish the cultivated area from the wild or neglected areas beyond. They embrace the plants and the people enjoying them. They create a sense of order and intimacy so you can focus on and savor what the garden contains and has to offer your senses.

Boundary materials also set the tone for a garden, making it feel formal or informal, elegant or casual. Wisely chosen, they connect a yard to a house or a yard to the surrounding landscape. They enhance the scene and flatter your plants without stealing the spotlight. Good-quality materials endure for years and look like they belong.

Like rooms in a house, a garden area has four major elements. And as in building a house, going from the ground up is best. Tackle the four major elements in this order:

1. Floor

Lawn grass, a groundcover, paving materials, or good, plantable soil

2. Walls

Supplied literally by a wall of your house; by a fence, hedge, or trellis; or by backdrop of evergreens or shrubs of some kind

3. Ceiling

Can certainly be open sky but may also involve an umbrella, awnings, overarching tree or large-shrub branches, or a pergola with or without a cloak of plants

4. Furniture

Literally tables and chairs and benches and the like, but also major containers or garden ornaments and d├ęcor

Don't go overboard with garden gnomes and pink flamingos. Limit yourself to one or two ornaments and keep the focus on the sense of space and the living parts of your garden.

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