Garden Planning 101: Creating a Garden Plan

This post is a part of a series on planning your 2013 garden.  Click here to read all of the posts in this series.  
Finding the perfect layout for the garden can feel a little like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle.  Each element has a specific shape and size that needs to fit with the others in a way that will be both fruitful and functional.  And while having a less than ideal garden layout isn't going to mean total garden failure, having a smart layout can make your job as a gardener much easier and more enjoyable.
Give Them Space to Grow
Spacing is key to a good garden layout. To start with, know how much space the plants you have chosen will need.  Plants grow in 4D, so anticipating the height, spread, root depth, and time necessary will make the task of placing the plants in the garden easier.  This information is almost always included on the seed packet or plant tag and is readily accessible if you don't have any personal experience with a particular variety to work with. Once you know what to expect from the plants you have chosen, follow these simple guidelines:

Give Yourself Space to Garden
When it comes to creating a garden layout, there are a number of approaches you can take to ensure that not only do your plants have the space that they need, but you have the space you need to access your garden as well.  There is a delicate balance to making the most of your growing space and maintaining good access.  Generous space will have it's advantages, but will limit the amount of food you can grow.  More compact planting will increase your yield, but the more limited you are with where you can step in the garden, the greater an issue soil compaction will be.  I find that a combination of these three approaches works well for me:

Be a Matchmaker
There are some plants that grow really well together, providing mutual benefit in the form of pest control, nutrient sharing, and attracting pollinators.  These are good plants to match up either as companion plants or as a part of your rotation plan from year to year.  There are a number of companion planting charts floating around the internet (this one and this one are two of the most comprehensive that I've seen) that will tell you exactly who are the friends (and frienemies) of a particular plant, but here are a few general rules that will be helpful to keep in mind:

Think outside the bed: 
Still having a hard time fitting everything in to your garden? Consider some of these solutions to making your garden plan work:
Visual Appeal
Okay, an edible garden bed doesn't have to be to strictly utilitarian; edible can be ornamental, too!  Have fun and be creative with your garden plan and create a visually interesting feature in your yard or community garden with some of these ideas: 

UPDATED: check out this post to see how online garden planning tools can help you create your garden plan!

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