To get started, determine your garden’s soil type and acidity, how things drain, and how much sun different parts of your property get.

When making a plan (or adding to an existing one), you’ll want to match plant types with areas where they’ll probably thrive. Account for how your property will look immediately and years from now when your plants have grown. Without a plan, you could wind up with a mishmash of flowers and bushes that don’t look good together, shade where you wanted sun, or a jumbo tree blocking the view from your picture window. Worst yet, you might pay for expensive plants when inexpensive ones would work just as well.

Do a rough drawing of your house, other structures, property lines, and desired plants. Get guidelines and ideas from gardening websites, friends with attractive outdoor spaces, and the experts listed below.

If you want professional help, you have several options. A garden center or landscape contractor can send a designer to your place. And if you want to do your own buying and planting, you can pay a consultation fee for help preparing your own plan or a design fee if a designer draws the plan. Or get a free consultation by asking a nursery for a landscaping estimate.

You can also hire a landscape architect or garden designer to do everything, including consultation, design, assistance in selecting a landscape contractor, and supervision of plant selection and contractor performance. Or get only the consultation or the design. Your first conversation with an architect may be free; from then on, fees are set in various ways.

Expert Advice

Your county’s cooperative extension office has master gardeners whom you can call for advice. They’ll help you diagnose plant problems if you bring or send them specimens. Other local sources of gardening expertise:

California Horticultural Society
San Francisco County Fair Building
Golden Gate Park
1199 9th Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94122

Filoli Historic House & Garden
86 Cañada Road
Woodside, CA 94062

Regional Parks Botanic Garden
Tilden Regional Park

1550 Wildcat Canyon Road    
Berkeley, CA 94708

San Francisco Botanical Garden
Golden Gate Park
1199 9th Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94122
415-661-1316 x412

University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley
200 Centennial Drive
Berkeley, CA 94720

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