Now that seed catalogs are piling up in the mailbox and the days are getting imperceptibly longer you may be thinking of the flower garden, or perhaps about planning a bit of landscaping.
After you've done a soil test and determined how much sun the site receives and how well drained it is you will be able to research what plants will do well there.
A good way to start planning an ornamental garden bed is to sketch the current appearance of the site. You don't have to be a good artist (clearly I'm not). Then photocopy the sketch and use the copies to draw out what you'd like the area to look like when it's completed.
Use those garden catalogs to get an idea of what each plant will look like, how tall it will be, and how much space needs to grow.
Choose some native plants and you will attract native bees and butterflies. Learn a few principles of landscape architecture: use odd numbers of plants to make it look more natural, use repetition as a way to impose order and variation to add interest. Think about what flower colors go together, but don't forget about foliage color and texture: coarse-leafed plants look closer than they are and fine-textured ones look like they are farther away than they are—adding depth to shallow or small gardens. If a plant goes dormant after blooming you can plant a later-season plant next to it to automatically fill in the gap.
Or just plant what you like—that's what's most important.
Diagram those plants to scale on a piece of graph paper—a two-dimensional aerial view of the garden. This helps you get the spacing right. Don't forget to place a few flat rocks in the garden to use as stepping stones when you weed; they create a space to put your foot and keep you from compacting the garden soil.
I will happily present a slideshow of how I employed this process to plan and plant the native garden in the barnyard at Crow's Nest. Just give me a call to set one up.