Garden Project Lifecycle: Design Phase

Once you have documented a core set of requirements, you must start designing your garden. This could be the most time-consuming part of the project. If you have a solid design, then the later phases of the garden project lifecycle should be quite simple. My favorite part of the design phase is researching different plant varieties and visiting garden centers to see what plants are available! However, it often helps if we break the design phase into different pieces:

  • high-level design outlines how the garden will be structured/organized Where and how will all of your features be included?
  • low-level design outlines how each feature will be realized — which specific plant varieties will you plant? What type of mulch will you use in the garden after planting the plants? What type of edging? How thick will the mulch be?
High-level garden design indicates the structure or locations for all of the features that were outlined in the requirements phase. Software engineers might refer to these as ‘wireframes’
Low-level design indicates the specific varieties, brands, types, and amounts of resources needed.

High-level Design ‘Wireframes’

To start with high-level design of your garden project, go back to your list of features from the requirements phase. Using a sheet of paper, a drawing board, or a software program like PowerPoint, start drafting a high-level design diagram that includes all of your features. You might start by drafting 3-4 alternate high-level designs to consider advantages and disadvantages of each. Eventually, you will choose the high-level design that you prefer.

Low-level Design Details

Once you’ve chosen a preferred high-level design diagram, it’s time to start working on the low-level details. Low-level design should account for both your qualities and constraints that were outlined during the requirements phase. This is also where you get to start researching specific plant varieties, brands, and other details necessary to complete your project.

Research! Visit your local garden centers to explore what plant options or landscaping options (like bird baths or edging stone) are available. Explore websites of popular plant brands like Proven Winners, Monrovia, and the Southern Living Plant Collection. Plant brands often have advanced search features to allow you to search by USDA zone, plant height, color, type, etc. Watch videos from popular social media gardening experts, like Garden Answer, Gardening with Creekside, or HortTube with Jim Putnam. Since local garden centers may have limited selection, you might have to eventually order some plants online for some hard-to-find or newer plant introductions. Take note of costs of each relevant item at garden centers and online.

Itemizing Resources Needed

Once you’ve selected your plant varieties, stone type, mulch type, etc., it’s time to start itemizing everything to produce an estimated cost. This is especially important if one of your constraints is a limited budget. Start by estimating costs for each item required for your garden.

Example Itemized List of Resources Needed

Here’s the problem: you are very likely to go over budget! Check your constraints from your requirements. Garden projects always seem to be more expensive than you think. There are a couple options to move forward:

  • Revise your low-level design to select different plants or different varieties or brands that might be cheaper. Using a spreadsheet is very helpful to organize all of the information about costs.
  • Break your garden project into iterations or phases. Maybe Iteration 1 can include the evergreen, perennials, mulch, and stone edging ($225). A month or two from now, your Iteration 2 could include the salvia, petunias, and the bird bath ($275.60). Now we are being an agile gardener and adapting our project as new obstancles or concerns arise!

Verify You’ve Addressed All Requirements

When you’ve finalized your design draft, be sure to take a few minutes to go back and verify that your design meets all of your requirements: every feature has been included; every quality has been addressed; and every constraint has been met and incorporated into the design.

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