Tiptoe through the tulips in midwinter -- laying out a garden map in detail

Each year the garden is going to be all new, even if the plot itself is not. That's why a garden plan is so important. It can win or lose the garden game. A good plan saves not only time, but money and labor as well.

The short weeks of the winter doldrums, when most gardeners retire from active companionship with the soil, is a good time to get out valuable notes and records of last year's garden which describe the spectacular successes and dismal failures (if there are any of either), as well as just plain "what we did" from day to week to month.

This is the time to settle into doing some thorough thinking about your garden. That's where the plan comes in. Most gardeners advise working out the plan on paper.

Graph (squared-off) paper can be bought in office-supply stores and hobby shops. Or you can mark off large sheets of paper into 1- inch squares, letting 1 inch equal 2 feet, for example. Draw in all existing buildings, walks, shrubs , trees, patios, perennial beds, and any other permanent objects or areas.

Using your list, begin placing vegetable, herb, and flower plantings, giving each bed or row the necessary space. Your eraser will come in handy here, because you'll change your mind many times. Also, some plants will need shifting from last year's locations, while others will want a change of companions.

Any new trial plantings should have thoughtful consideration as to place, timing, and care.

Some gardens are divided into sections, somewhat like the rooms of a house. Perennials (asparagus, rhubarb, strawberries, etc.) should be planted where they are out of the way of cultivating implements and able to grow undisturbed for many years.

Another section serves for starting new bulbs and experimental seeds, cutting , and sprouts.

This could be a marked-off area at one end of the garden, or it could be under a conveniently handy hedgerow. Here the humus will be deep, moist, and shady, sheltered from the hot sun, wind, and weather.

In some very small garden spots the only way to relocate may be to change the soil. Dig out each bed and pile up the soil nearby. Mix together thoroughly with compost, peat, and garden oil from another area, then replace. I know of one flourishing garden on a terraced hillside that has been kept going with this procedure for many years.

Your plan should indicate how the various plants are to grow, whether in straight hilled- up rows, on trellises, or vining up poles; on wire rings or in raised beds.

Some plants grow best near a source of water, while other will be more convenient grown near the kitchen door. I like to mark off another section for plants that love to roam and will, if not secured in their own place, creep, crawl, and march right into forbidden territory.

Large fruited plants, such as pumpkin and squash, of which only a small amount is needed, are allowed to grow between and around tall plants -- corn, for example -- and also to trail along the grassy border outside the fence. Side sprouts must often be snipped off to keep these gregarious members shaped up. The characteristics of various plants and what they will do should be considered when making the plan.

If you want sweet potatoes, look for a nice plump specimen or two in the supermarket to plant among your houseplants. Let each one grow half in and half out of a jar of water (a toothpick fixed in each of the four sides will hold it).

Be sure the potatoes have not been sprayed to prevent sprouting. If viable, they will have dormant but living sprouts.

Among tomatoes, both standard and hybrid, there are many types and varieties from which to choose. Reading the seed catalogs can help you make a decision as to what to buy. It takes from 55 to 100 days from transplanting to maturity. Tomatoes thrive best in warm soil and sunny days. All your plants need this same thoughtful consideration as you make the plan.

If we are experienced enough to know how the plants grow, where they are likely to do best in our special gardens, how long each one takes to germinate, and all the rest, we are far ahead.

The fact is, not many of us have this much knowledge.

Before we acquire all this know-how through experience, we can obtain instant help from books, garden magazines, and the yearly run of see d catalogs.

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