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Step One in Designing My New Homestead + 10 Helpful Tips for Creating Your Own Garden Map

I’ve started the design process of turning my new yard into an urban homestead.  As tempting as it is to just start building and planting things, I’m committed to first come up with a design plan (remember my resolutions?). It’s the process I do with design clients, so I figured I should follow my own guidelines for my own yard (novel concept, right?!). And the first step of that planning process is to create a garden map of my existing space.

Before starting a new garden or landscape, it's important to create a garden map. Read more for 10 helpful measuring and mapping tips!

What is a Garden Map?

In landscape design, this step of the design process is known as creating a base map. It’s like a blueprint or a map of your garden. It’s to-scale and shows the property lines, where the house is, the location of paths, sheds, patios, trees, planted areas, or any other features of your garden.

While not the most glamorous or creative aspect of design, it is possibly the most important. Creating a map of my space and the existing features will give me a blank canvas to design over, determining the best way to fit all the garden components I want, and to determine what I need to remove. It will also give me a template to fill in during the observation stage, which is the next step in the design process (stay tuned for an upcoming post!)

Even if you aren’t planning a new landscape like I’m doing, having a base map of your garden is a good idea!

Why You Need a Map of Your Garden Space

It can show you how much space you have to work with, allowing you to calculate exactly how much materials you need for a project. No need to go outside to measure the shed dimensions or a fence line, when you have a to-scale map.

It can help you determine if something will fit, like a new patio set, without actually moving them around your garden. Has anyone else had buyers remorse after buying something you didn’t have space for?

It acts as a template try out different layouts and designs on paper, without actually making costly and labor intensive mistakes of building something in the wrong spot.

It provides a different perspective, to see if you should remove a feature (like an existing tree or structure). Seeing things from a bird-eye view can often help give you an understanding of spatial use and relationships.

It gives you the opportunity to see, create or edit the big picture.

10 Helpful Tips for Measuring and Creating Your Garden Map

Creating a garden map is pretty easy, but it can take some time. There are two steps in creating a base map. First, measure and record. Second, draw out so it’s a usable map. It can, however, get overwhelming with lots of measurements, particularly if they are inaccurate. Here are some helpful tried and true things to keep in mind, that I utilized when creating my garden map and when I create base maps for design clients.

Getting Set Up for Success

1: Before you start measuring, draw a rough map of your yard. This won’t be to scale, and that’s ok. This is just to give you the shape of the space to make it easier to record your measurements.

2: It’s super easy to get confused by pages full of measurements. Trust me, I know. I keep TWO maps, one where I record North/South distances, and one where I measure East/West distances. I combine them later on my final map, but this helps keep my measurement note pages legible. Or, using different color pens would also be a good strategy. It’s also helpful to make note of what the measurement IS (corner of house, to inside of path, etc.)

3: It’s helpful to take measurements with a friend, so they can hold the tape measure. However, if you’re going solo, use a rock or a garden stake to anchor the end of the tape measure.

For accurate measurements, make sure the tape measure is flat and level. You might have to weave or pass though bushes or plants.

Don’t depend on your cat to help you create your garden map. They are worthless. Also, be aware of cats attacking tape measures. They are guaranteed to yield the wrong measurements. I know from experience.

Take Accurate Measurements to Create an Accurate Garden Map

4: You could measure from point A to point B, move the tape, then point B to point C, etc., but that’s a lot of work and isn’t always accurate. Instead, put your tape measure in the corner of the property, and use that as point 0′. Now, make note of the measurements along that line, increasing in distance from your point 0′.

Before starting a new garden or landscape, it's important to create a garden map. Read more for 10 helpful measuring and mapping tips! Start at the tape at point zero then record incremental measurements, instead of moving the tape measure.

5: If you run your tape measure along the side of the yard, but a path is in the middle, it can be hard to eyeball exactly what the measurement is since the tape measure isn’t next to the object. This is where I use two tapes. I use my shorter one to run from the object, crossing over the other tape measure. This not only gives me the accurate point on my North/South tape but also my East/West measurement.

Before starting a new garden or landscape, it's important to create a garden map. Read more for 10 helpful measuring and mapping tips!

Using two tape measures can ensure accurate dimensions. Here, I have my long tape measure along the side of the property. I use a smaller one to align the edge of my patio, extending it to reach the number on the long tape. I could use a stick, but this way, I also get my East/West measurement as well as the North/South.

6: Make sure your tape measure is flat on the ground (or, at let’s be honest, mostly flat- we aren’t building bridges here). This might mean you need to weave it through bushes or move plants so it is straight and level. Measuring a space can be surprisingly physical, so expect to get some leaves in your hair and dirt on your knees! Having a measuring tape curve around bushes or wave up and down adds lengths to your dimensions, making them inaccurate and problematic for when you go to draw them out.

For accurate measurements, make sure the tape measure is flat and level. You might have to weave or pass though bushes or plants. Before starting a new garden or landscape, it's important to create a garden map. Read more for 10 helpful measuring and mapping tips!

For accurate measurements, make sure the tape measure is flat and level. You might have to weave or pass through bushes or plants.

7: For free standing objects, like trees or planting beds or even a house if not parallel to the property line, it can be hard to accurately map those out from only one measurement. For these types of features, using triangulation is the best way to accurately plot them on your base map.To triangulate, you pick two fixed points. Property corners are the best, but my house is set square on my lot, so I use the corners. I take one measurement from the corner of the house to the object (for example, in my yard, a giant camphor tree). Then, I do the same from a different corner. You’ll want to measure to the same side of the tree, but add on a bit to what you think would get to the center. Also, make sure to note the approximate diameter of the trunk.

For accurate measurements, make sure the tape measure is flat and level. You might have to weave or pass though bushes or plants.

Drawing Out Your Garden Map

8: If you are creating a garden map for design purposes and drawing out the house, make sure to notes on where the windows and doors are located. That way, you can tell where pathways need to be for exits, or line of sight out windows (to avoid things like putting the trash can storage out the dining room window!).

9: I use an architect’s scale and draft in 1/8 scale on large sheets of vellum, but you don’t need professional drafting supplies to do this. Using a normal ruler and graph paper is perfectly acceptable. If your yard is larger than a sheet of paper, just tape some together to create a bigger sheet. If you are doing it this way, 1 square is ¼” on your ruler, and is easiest if that represents 1’ of your garden. You can also get smaller grid graph paper, where 10 squares make up an inch or 5 squares make up an inch. This is called engineering graph paper, and can be a way to fit more of your drawing on one page of paper. You can create your own using this helpful site, or google “printable graph paper”.

10: If you’re going to be drafting your map away from the landscape, take lots of pictures. From every angle. Take some more. That way, if you can’t read a measurement on your notes or you forgot something, you can take a look at pictures to find what it’s in relationship to.

Before starting a new garden or landscape, it's important to create a garden map. Read more for 10 helpful measuring and mapping tips!

Stay tuned for the upcoming steps in my homestead design process!

If you want to create a new garden or update an existing one, don’t forget I offer landscape design and consultations services! If you are local, I can visit your site, and if you are out of the area and have a base map like this, we can work together remotely. Contact me today to get started on the garden you’ve always dreamed of!

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3 Comments

  • Reply
    Kalamain
    April 6, 2017 at 10:08 am

    This is a great idea!

    The other thing I did was to use a screen grab of Google Earth of my garden to make sure I kept my plans right.

    • Reply
      Melissa
      April 7, 2017 at 10:10 am

      Google Earth is a great tool for things like this! I’ve used it for when I have funny shaped lots. Street view is also handy if I forget to note where the front door is 🙂

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