There are two main approaches to building out a nicely landscaped yard:

  • Waterfall – Large up front design and implementation by a contractor (whether or not an actual waterfall feature is included in the garden),
  • Agile – Iterative, incremental and continuous improvement of a design and implementation.

The "Waterfall" approach is typically taken by people who:

  • Like having a garden but don't want to be a gardener (insta-garden),
  • Have a significant amount of money and want the work done quickly,
  • Like to plan everything out on paper beforehand, and
  • People starting with essentially a blank slate (new home).

Planning out the hardscape (structural) parts of the landscape requires some up-front planning or a lot of difficult rework. This is much like software development where the choice of programming language, code design patterns (MVC, MVP, AJAX, etc.) and other architecture items need to be made early and can be hard to change later. Moving a 30×20 exposed aggregate concrete patio is non-trivial.

However, even these things are not 100% permanent and serious agile gardeners will evolve the entire landscape over time.

Agile gardeners usually like doing much of the work themselves, but will bring in experts for some of the difficult or impossible tasks. Since they are do-it-yourselfers, they are limited in how much they can accomplish in any one span of time.

There are several cycles of landscape development each year. Winter is the dreaming and sometimes planning phase. For me planning is like white-boarding, the details will emerge in the project. Spring, summer and fall each have their unique maintenance tasks and projects are normally implemented in one or more of these periods. Some tasks have to be done in certain seasons and "mother nature" makes those rules. For instance, fall bulbs have to be planted in the fall. Some plants can only be moved safely in the spring. You don't get to decide.

Now to be honest, here in Calgary, winter is probably 6 months, spring is 1 month, summer is 3 months and fall is around 2 months. 6 on and 6 off allows gardeners to rejuvenate.

The really agile part of landscape development is that the landscape is constantly evolving.

After you plant an orange flower beside a pastel pink flower you realize, what was I thinking and moving one of the plants to a new location gets added to the gardening "backlog". Now moving the plant to a new location usually means that something else will have to move as well, or you will need more space; either situation adds another item to the backlog.

Now the gardener is always thinking, what changes could I make in the next while that will deliver me a beautiful garden as soon as possible or for next year? This is usually how a gardener chooses items off the backlog.

Of course, there is nothing preventing you or your spouse from going to a greenhouse and picking up some new plants. These suddenly emerging requirements get added to the backlog and cascade into a bunch more work for the current "sprint" and follow-on sprints.

One year we acquired a number of trees and shrubs for 75% off. Unfortunately, there was no home for them yet and we had to "park" them in a temporary location. This wouldn't have been too bad if it was one year that passed; but after 2 years they got really big and the price of moving them is a lot of work. This is like a debt that is built up that eventually must be paid. So the initial savings were not as great as we thought. Lesson learned.

During the season, you are continuously trying to improve your gardening processes and getting better tools. Too much time spent watering? Mulch or irrigate. The goal is to get the best garden you can with the time you have to spend.

And remember, gardening is usually a team effort. Sometimes, everyone does everything and sometimes people specialize.

At the end of the gardening season, the ground freezes and you must stop working.

You get done what you get done. Your time line is constrained by nature and hopefully you managed your budget well. If so, then you got as much accomplished as you could and the team should be feeling good about delivering a working garden for next year.

Sit back, relax and dream about the improvements you can try next year.