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Garden Planning

Spring is springing and it’s time to start planning and planting the garden. Garden planning can be a fun adventure, a time to dream about all the food and flowers you’d like to grow this year. It can also feel overwhelming, so I like to take a little time to write some stuff down first. 

If you are new to gardening, dream about all the things you’d like to grow, but then narrow it down to just a few plants you really want to focus on growing this year.  If you have a few years gardening under your belt, write down what went well in previous seasons, what didn’t work, and what else you’d like to try.

I find drawing a map of my garden to be super helpful for planning purposes, but also for keeping records. First I draw a base map including any pathways, structures, fences or perennial plantings that aren’t likely to change. If you have raised beds, draw those in too. Draw your map to scale, so it’s easier to understand how much will fit in the space you have.  

This is what my base map looks like:

I make several copies of this base map that I can use to draw in my seasonal plantings. Important things to keep in mind when planning the seasonal garden are timing and spacing.

Timing is so important, not all of your seeds and starts should be planted at the same time. Some are cool season early growers and some won’t be happy until the warmth  of summer. Find planting charts appropriate for our climate online in the city’s Growing Food in the City brochure or in Tilth Alliance’s Maritime Northwest Garden Guide.

Spacing can be hard to figure out at first, but it helps to know how large any given plant will want to be when it is fully grown. A tomato plant will be quite large and need a lot of space to be successful. You may just plant one or two. But lettuce and bok choy are smaller and can be eaten in early stages as well. I like to plant many seeds close together and then thin them as they grow. The thinnings go in my salad bowl!

Some folks like to plant in rows, some plant in blocks or patches, others like to experiment with companion planting and succession sowing. Try out what feels good to you and if it doesn’t work out how you thought, try a different way next time. 

Your base map copies and seasonal planting maps can be kept in a notebook, binder, or garden journal. If you’d like to do this digitally, there are many online platforms for garden mapping and planning. I prefer paper and colored pencil! 

Here is my seasonal plan for the spring:


  • Gardening is a science: running an experiment based on an educated hypothesis, observing and recording the outcomes and then coming to a conclusion that will inform your next growing season.
  • Gardening is also a craft: creating something beautiful and useful which will get better and more complex over time with practice.

Happy gardening!

About the Author

Carey has been gardening and teaching classes with Tilth Alliance for over a decade, with expertise in organic gardening, food preservation and permaculture. She works at Rainier Beach Urban Farm & Wetlands, manages Tilth Alliance’s community learning garden at Bradner Gardens Park, and has also worked as an educator for the Garden Hotline.