Winter Is for Planning: Basic Principles of Garden Design


Text by P. Allen Smith | Photography by Jason Masters and Mark Fonville

Winter is the perfect time to reflect on the successes and mistakes of the previous year. Once you’ve finished pondering your wins and losses—ideally with a slice of pie and hot coffee in your hand—it’s time to plan for the future. I love to do that by thinking about garden design. Take a bird’s-eye view of your garden and assess its potential. Are you making the most of your landscape? If not, it’s best to go back to the basic principles of garden design. Here are some I return to year after year to refine my garden. I hope you find them helpful.

Start with Structure

Consider the basic form of your garden. If you’re starting from scratch, map out the walkways and paths. Where will you sit and reflect? What is the best and most efficient path through your garden?

Plan Seasonal Highlights

This is the fun part of garden design: choosing the flowers! With so many beautiful flowers in the world, the options can be overwhelming, but it gets easier when you break it down by season. Ideally, you’ll have something blooming throughout the year. To get started, make a list of what’s currently in your garden and when it blooms. Sort your list by spring, summer and fall. Do you see gaps in the seasons? If so, it’s time to add more plants! Make a list of favorites to incorporate into your garden and start shopping.

Consider the Pollinators

Don’t forget about birds and pollinators! Make sure you have plants that will attract birds, bees, butterflies and other garden helpers. It’s soothing to watch butterflies and bees flit from flower to flower, and moreover, our food supply depends on pollinators. Gardeners can help by increasing the food supply for these insects, ensuring their, and our, survival.

Some of my favorite bee-loving plants to grow are bee balm. catmint, zinnias, goldenrod and allium.

Layer Up

Layering plants ensures that you’ll have visual interest throughout the year and adds thickness and depth to your landscape. Layering and combining plants can fill in space and bring a lush look to your garden that will make it the envy of your neighborhood.

I hope these ideas will inspire you to plan for 2018. To find a more in-depth presentation of garden design, visit If you’re seeking even more inspiration, consider a visit to Moss Mountain Farm. We’d love to show you these principles in action during a lunch tour!



Portrait photography of P. Allen Smith at Moss Mountain Farm in Roland, Arkansas.

P. Allen Smith, an author, television host and conservationist, is one of America’s mostrecognized garden experts. His show Garden Home airs on WKNO and AETN2. You can watch Garden Style on KAIT and KPMF. Smith uses his Arkansas home, Moss Mountain Farm, as an epicenter for promoting the local food movement, organic gardening and
the preservation of heritage poultry breeds. He created his farm to serve as a
place of inspiration, education and conservation and provides visitors from
around the country with tours of his property, which may be booked at