To get started, you’ll need to know 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. You should account for how your property will look both right away and years from now when your plants have grown. Without a plan, you could wind up with an assortment of plants that do not complement each other in size, shape, or color. You might end up with shade where you want sun and with the view from, or of, your house obscured. Worst yet, you might pay for expensive plants when inexpensive ones would work just as well.

Make like an HGTV star and do a rough drawing showing 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 for the designer to draw 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 provide complete service, 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.

For more information on landscape designers and landscape contractors, see our article on landscaping help.

Your county’s cooperative extension office has master gardeners you can call for advice and help with diagnosing 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
9th Avenue & Lincoln Way
San Francisco, CA 94122
415-337-0694
www.calhortsociety.org

Filoli Historic Park & Garden
86 Cañada Road
Woodside, CA 94062
650-364-8300
www.filoli.org

Regional Parks Botanic Garden
Tilden Regional Park
Berkeley, CA 94708
510-544-3169
www.nativeplants.org

San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum
Golden Gate Park
1199 9th Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94122
415-661-1316
www.sfbotanicalgarden.org

U.C.-Berkeley Botanical Garden
200 Centennial Drive
Berkeley, CA 94720
510-643-2755
http://botanicalgarden.berkeley.edu