When I design a garden I use elements of permaculture and ecological design. So, what does that mean?
Permaculture can be thought of as permanent agriculture. The idea originated in Australia in 1959, and you can study more about it in Permaculture: A Designer's Manual by Bill Mollison. The practice is to design ecologically sound landscapes that function similar to natural ecosystems. Permaculture principles have been used to design buildings, energy and wastewater systems and communities.
In a culture that focuses on things rather than relationships this will be new thinking for many of you. The first tasks set upon you will be to observe your site, record the connections among all the parts and identify the energy flows and cycles.
In many cases you will be looking to make the least change for the greatest effect. In such cases you must understand the existing system. In other cases you will be attempting to return a landscape to a more natural state. But in both you must acknowledge the systems and flows that enter and leave the space. You will have several edges to your plan, especially in smaller urban landscapes. The edge of your property is where two environments intersect. This intersection may be fluid or rigid.
I always begin with human flow. When you design your landscape you need to first look at the pathways and uses for the space, both current and intended. The greatest impact on the space will come from you.
The first landscape I completed used a garden room concept. It was much more compartmentalized and the edges of each space were defined for a specific use. At this time we had small children and we had a need for intentional space for soccer balls and sprinklers. A large pert of this garden was devoted to pollinator plants for hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. The edge of these two spaces was defined so that the children and the bees had separate areas.
The next landscape was a deliberate attempt to create an urban farm and use the land for food production. In this plan I created zones based around the kitchen door and planted edibles based on care and harvest needs. For example, the herbs were located the closest to the kitchen door for daily use, and the vegetables and other edibles were further away for daily or weekly collection. Also, in this landscape the pollinator plants and edibles were interspersed. You would find eggplant, tomatoes and squash in the front yard some years, and rotations of greens and peas moving from garden bed to garden bed for crop rotation and soil conservation.
Wow, that's a lot to think about. Life cycles and food chains, organization and conservation...Yes, it can be overwhelming. But a good plan will develop as you understand your needs and the space that you will be landscaping. All of my plans now involve edible planting. That is a human use of the space. I support this use with plantings for pollinators, and designs that allow crop rotation. And then the space needs to be aesthetically pleasing, or at least not challenge the neighbors and your community to question your sanity. My recent move has moved me from a community where edible landscape are "trendy" to one that has not even heard of the concept.