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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Designing Your ‘New California Garden’: 5. Mapping Use Areas: Creating a Bubble/Concept Plan

If you’ve followed this series from the beginning (July 2013), you’ve come a long way towards designing your New California Garden.   If you haven’t seen the previous postings, we suggest you begin with the July posting: Designing Your New California Garden: 1. Why Plan?

Last month you developed a ‘Needs & Dreams’ list that contains all the features and functions your family wants in your ‘New California Garden’.   You also defined water goals for your garden.  Now the creative part begins – you get to play around with different ways to fit the functional clusters into the space you’ve got.   One of the easiest ways is to create a Bubble Plan (also known as a Concept Plan or Bubble Map).

A bubble plan is simply a map with functional clusters roughly located by outlines (bubbles) of the areas they will occupy. You can draw your bubble plan(s) on copies of your Base Plan 2 (see July, 2013 posting).  You’ll need several copies as you’ll likely go through several iterations of your bubble plan.  Alternatively, take a sheet of tracing paper and overlay onto a copy of your Base Plan 2.    

Draw bubble outlines in pencil to suggest where the different use areas might be placed.  Be sure to include all the functional clusters you defined last month.   Bubble size should correspond to the approximate size of each functional area.  For example, if you want a play area for children that is 20’ by 20’, draw your ‘play area bubble’  approximately 20’ x 20’.   Below is a first attempt at a bubble plan for our example garden at 112 Willow Street.


Step back from your bubble plan and look at it critically.  The outdoor areas should have a strong relationship with the areas and activities within your home. For example, outdoor cooking areas should be located adjacent to indoor kitchen or dining facilities. Service and storage areas should be located away from main use areas and views from the home – and provide easy access from backyard and front yard if that’s important. Patios and decks should directly tie into main circulation areas from the home.

Your bubble plan also needs to reflect the physical characteristics of the garden site (your site’s ‘assets’).  If you haven’t yet completed a site physical assessment, now’s the time to do so.  We walk you through the process in our August 2013 posting (Planning Your New California Garden: Site Physical Assessment).


When we compare the first bubble plan with our site’s light/shade patterns and other characteristics (see above) we note a few problems.  First, the Maintenance Area will be readily visible from the house and garden seating areas.  It might be better to move it to the area just south of the garage.  This area is less visible and provides access from both front and backyard.  We’ll have to build a smaller shed – and sell the old one on Craig’s list – but that’s a much better spot for the maintenance area.  

There are also some challenges for the Lawn Area. Note the slope on the South side – that will be difficult for a lawn.  If we move the Butterfly Garden Area to the sunny slope, it will provide flowers visible from lawn, patio and house.  Since butterflies – and their host plants - like sun, this is a better location than the shady east side.  If we move the Vegetable Garden to the sunny southwest corner, it will be pretty, functional and also attract butterflies.   You can already see the lovely flowers and interesting foliage surrounding the seating areas.

The lawn can fill the space between the Shady Seating Area and the Butterfly/Vegetable Garden Areas.   As seen above, this area has a low spot and an area of poor drainage.  We’ll have to choose a lawn grass (or grass-like plants)  that can handle these conditions.   Below is our revised bubble plan.

The revised plan has much to recommend it.  The maintenance and vegetable garden areas are close to each other – and right out the kitchen door.  We’ve got areas of sunny and shady seating.  We’ve located our butterfly garden where the butterflies will come and we can watch them.  If we need more butterfly plants, we can also plant the showier ones in sunny areas in the front yard.

As seen above, the views looking south will be lovely;  lawn, a flowery slope and attractive views in the distance.  We’ll also get good air circulation with the afternoon breezes.   We do have a visual eyesore (the side of the neighbor’s garage) to the east of the quiet/meditation area.  We’ll need to do something creative to turn that view into something attractive. 

Now is a good time to look at gardening books and magazines for some inspiration.  You don’t need to spend a lot of money; your local public library likely has lots of resources.  Also visit botanic gardens, demonstration gardens and native plant gardens for good ideas.  Get out in nature to see how Mother Nature gardens. Take lots of pictures and notes. You’re going to be glad you did this (fun) background work when we get to next few month’s  activities.

There are likely a number of workable layouts that will accommodate your functional areas.  Some will make better use of space and the physical features of your site.  And some will simply appeal to you more than others.     We suggest  you try several different schemes until the best layout becomes evident.   You’ll probably want to work on this over a few  weeks, as new ideas may come to you as you work and see other garden ideas.    

Once you’re satisfied with your bubble diagram, take a copy of your Base Map 2 and create a final Use Areas Map.  File the map behind your Functional Analysis Worksheet for reference.  Don’t have a garden notebook yet?   It’s time to start a binder/notebook for your maps, plans, pictures and notes.    We will use these materials in the later sections of this series.



We value your comments (below).    You can also contact us directly at mothernaturesbackyard10@gmail.com.

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