When you design your garden, one of your first tasks should be to observe the direction your outdoor space faces. But it's important to consider your local climate in your landscape design as well.
The levels of rain, frost, and snow your garden experiences will affect your choice of plants and how much shelter you require. Also, find out your area’s temperature extremes, because each plant species has a maximum and minimum at which it can survive.
Local conditions are influenced by the national climate, but this is often only half the picture. There are other factors that can make your particular garden warmer or colder than your neighbor’s yard, and wetter or drier than those in a nearby town.
For example, temperatures may be lower in gardens attached to properties that are divided by an alley or passageway, where wind is forced through the gap to form a wind tunnel. A patio at the end of the tunnel will be uncomfortably cold, and delicate or tall plants could also suffer. To combat this problem, construct a windbreak in the path of the tunnel, and site your seating areas in a more sheltered spot.
Gardens shaded by a neighbor’s garage or tall buildings and those at the bottom of a hill where frost collects will also experience lower temperatures than adjacent properties.
Hills and Valleys
Those living on top of a hill know that it can be pretty blustery up there. Wind can damage plants and make gardens cold and inhospitable, so it is vital to protect your yard with sturdy windbreaks.
Although valleys are sheltered from wind, they are often colder than hilltops. This is because frost travels downhill and settles in valleys, lowering temperatures.
- Windswept hilltops To protect exposed gardens, construct windbreaks around your property. Deciduous hedges are ideal, or fences with an open construction that allow about 50 percent of the air to pass through.
- Frost pockets Gardens in valleys are often cold and suffer more frosts than those farther up the hillside. Reduce frost damage by putting up solid barriers, such as walls or hedging, on the uphill slope. These will trap cold air behind them, keeping your garden frost-free.
Buried Utility Supplies
To avoid fines or repair bills—and possibly serious injuries—you should always check the location of gas pipes, sewer lines, and electric, phone, and television cables before you start digging or building, especially if you’re working in the front yard, where buried utilities are commonly found. In many areas, you are required by law to call your local utility companies or a public utility locating service at least 48 hours before you begin work, so that buried cables or pipes can be pinpointed with special detectors and flagged.
Consider the location of your downspouts when planning a garden, since runoff from frequent rains can drown delicate plants and wash away soil. You could create a “rain garden” of moisture-loving plants to soak up the water—and help the environment by keeping stormwater out of sewers, lakes, and rivers.
Boundaries and Special Features
When surveying your site, take special note of the boundaries, and the view beyond them. Hedges make wonderful natural backdrops to planting plans, create windbreaks, and offer homes for birds and wildlife, so always think twice before removing one.
Decide what features you want to keep, and those you can live without. It's easier to be more ruthless with built structures, such as sheds, than with mature trees and plants, even if they’re in the wrong place. After all, trees take years to grow and offer unsurpassed beauty.
- View to hide If your yard is overlooked, a wall or screen can be used to mask the neighbors’ view of your space. Create private seating or dining areas behind the screen, or beneath a covered arbor.
- View to embrace Those lucky enough to enjoy a spectacular view should try to integrate it into their design. Use plantings along boundaries, rather than fences, to blend the garden into the landscape beyond.