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How to Test Your Landscape Design

After you sketch your landscape design, you need to test it. Now, you get to play with a bunch of weird objects to make your landscape look alive. Pull your garden hoses out of their perpetual nest-of-snakes tangle, collect a handful of tomato stakes or wire cages, get the rope from the garage, drag out the plastic lawn chairs and buckets, prepare a wheelbarrow load of leaves or a bale of straw, and get ready to play make-believe. Work on one section of the plan at a time:

  • Outline curving paths with hose or rope, or sprinkle a path of oatmeal or flour so that you can see the direction it takes.

    To make a straight line, invest in a chalkline, a chalk-filled device that looks like a tape measure. The chalk powders a pull-out string. Tie the chalked string between two uprights, clip the end, lift the taut string in the center with your fingers, and let it ping hard toward the ground. It snaps against the grass or soil, leaving a perfect straightedge. Use the chalkline to mark potential beds and paths when you’re drawing your design, then use it again later when you start digging.

  • Put lawn chairs where you plan to add shrubs or young trees.

  • Pound in tomato stakes to show the future homes of roses or large perennials in your flower beds.

  • Rake the leaves or straw into the outlines of your new beds. If you have a bounty of fall leaves, grass clippings, or straw, you can spread them out to fill in the outlines to get a feel for your new beds.

  • Use a step ladder to represent an arbor.

Squint your eyes, throw your imagination into full gear, and check the position of the elements you’ve placed from every vantage point that you can think of. Move your portable garden around until you like the way it looks. When this part of your yard is arranged to your satisfaction, mark your rough plan with revised lines to show bed edges, plant placement, and any other niceties. Then move on to the next section of yard and do it again. Repeat until your landscape plan is — gasp! — finished.

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