Mt Cuba Center
Mt Cuba Center
Back to News Updates – January 7, 2015


Make a Landscape Plan – Ecologically

Winter is the ideal time to curl up on the couch with your plant catalogs and sketching paper to plan your new landscape. A new landscape can pay off both environmentally and economically. According to the American Society of Landscape Architects Homeowners Guide, you can add 15% to the value of your house with a 5% investment in home landscaping.

Base Map

To get started, it is helpful to find a site map of your yard. Use an existing property survey, if you have one. If your survey is not available, Google Earth can provide an aerial view in the form of a satellite photo. To create a map you can edit, trace the details using tracing paper overlaid on your survey or photo. Include existing structures like sheds, decks and pools. Also include any major existing vegetation like hedges or big trees you want to keep in your design.

Site Study

In order to begin planning, you need to analyze your current site. Which areas get the most sun or shade? This will determine what plants you use and where. Water is also an integral component of a successful garden design. Determine how water flows in your yard. Are there particularly wet or dry areas or troublesome downspouts you should locate on
your drawing? Once your site map is complete, it is ready to fill with your horticultural heart’s desires.

Wish List

Imagine your ultimate landscape design. Maybe it’s a play area for a child, a dog run, a butterfly garden, a fire pit, or a more obvious path to the front door. Use another sheet of tracing paper to overlay sketches of these ideas. Don’t be afraid to try several sketches as you work on the design.

What is your house's exposure-James Ethridge Butterfly at Mt Cuba Center

Ecological Gardening Fundamentals

Try to follow nature’s ways in your landscape practices and make your garden more than pretty; make it functional too. Try some of the following techniques in your design:


Include an area in your yard for a compost pile. Make your own compost and add it to your lawn and beds instead of fertilizer. Just collect “greens” (green leaves and vegetable peels) and “browns” (twigs and old leaves). Mix the greens and browns together in equal parts and turn the pile every couple of days. If it is the color of chocolate and smells good, you have been successful. If it is smelly and slimy, start over. Compost is filled with beneficial critters that will help to sustain your plants.

Mow Less

Look at your plan and consider how you can reduce your lawn area. Reflect on the considerable savings in money, time and energy if you decrease the size of your lawn. Contemplate planting a meadow, more garden beds, a tree or installing a patio.

Use Water Wisely

Design your landscape using plants that require less watering and practice conservation by capturing runoff from your
downspouts with water barrels. Also consider rain gardens as an element to solve water problems by slowing runoff and letting the water slowly penetrate into the ground, preventing silt and pollution in our streams.

Right Plant, Right Place

Think about bloom color, foliage texture and series of flowering times to create interest across several seasons. Choose native plants that have adapted to your local environment. Some prefer sun, some shade, others wet or dry. Look at your drawing and discover the best place to locate them based on their needs and your garden conditions. Native plants have coevolved here and will support the birds, bees and butterflies. They require less water and are more adaptable if sited correctly. Please don’t use invasive plants. Wildlife will eat their seeds, spread them around, and lovely wildflowers will be out-competed by them, decreasing biodiversity and reducing the capacity to support a wide variety of wildlife. Local nurseries and plant catalogs can provide ideas on plant selection. Mt. Cuba Center offers classes on native plants, composting, and garden design that help home gardeners learn techniques for creating
a naturalistic garden.

Garden for Life

Following these basic steps, you can create a healthy, enjoyable and highly functional landscape for your family, environment and the creatures around you, while saving time and money. Doug Tallamy, well known author of Bringing Nature Home (A book about how to sustain wildlife with native plants ) always signs his books “Garden like your life depends on it,” because it does!

Sustainable Sites Initiative

For more information on including these practices in your landscape explore the Sustainable Sites Initiative.

make a meadow-Dave KorbonitsKONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA