How Do You Section a Garden?

To section your garden start with a walkthrough of the area in which you observe the space and note sun exposure. Then sketch a few design options.

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To section your garden start with a walkthrough of the area in which you observe the space and note sun exposure. Then sketch a few design options.

Most landscape architects recommend you start with a drawing when deciding how to section your garden. Use basic shapes to defi ne general areas such as patios, pools and garden beds. Then slowly refine the plan after considering materials and cost. 

This article will begin with what to consider before drawing up your garden plans. Weather and topography can greatly impact the success of your design. We will then look at ways to actually create a plan using paper and pen. Finally we will consider the wide variety of materials available to create interesting and useful spaces in your garden.

For this article I have drawn on my own gardening experience as well as that of professionals. When discussing materials options I have referenced my local landscape supplier but options may be different in your area.

Table of Contents

Begin Sectioning Your Garden with a Walkthrough

Planning a garden and deciding on how to section the space can be a fun exercise in wishful thinking. But before you plan anything, it is a good idea to do a walkthrough of the space. Take a closer look at all aspects of your land so you can make the best use of what is available. You may already know you want a raised bed for growing vegetables or a bed of roses so keep those ideas in mind as you get a thorough understanding of the area.

Here are a few specific conditions to take note of when doing your walkthrough. Take notes for reference later if needed.

Sunny vs Shady areas

If a patio for sunbathing is on the list of desires then you don’t want to put it in an area that is shaded all day. Ideally, look at the area during different times of the day to understand how the light changes. This is important not just for how you, as a human, will use the space but also for what plants will thrive in which locations. You will never get ripe tomatoes in a shade garden.

Damp or Dry

In my garden there is a grassy patch that is alway wet and squishy. Even when the rest of the yard is dry this spot is still damp. But that just means the grass there is always green so take note of areas in your garden that have more or less water.

The level of moisture in an area can be very important for deciding on what plants to place where or what materials you can use in the space. Bark chips in a wet area may always be damp and squishy but gravel might be a good alternative.

Slopes and other topography

You may have found a gloriously sunny spot for a stone slab patio but if it is on a slope or hilly mound then there could be a lot of work involved to make the area flat for paving stones. Note slopes, hills or dips and try to work them into your design rather than fight against them.

Decide on Key Garden Features

Now that you understand the lay of the land, literally, you can begin thinking of what you want in your garden and where it can go. Inspiration abounds on websites like Pinterest and Instagram but don’t forget about magazines and books.

Popular Garden Section Ideas

  • Outdoor dining/entertainment area  
  • Outdoor kitchen
  • Patio or porch
  • Vegetable garden featuring raised beds
  • Shaded seating area with pergola
  • Grass area for lawn games
  • Firepit
  • Permaculture Food Forest
  • Shade garden or night blooming garden

Now might also be a good time to consider a budget. Landscaping materials can get pricey. Repurposing materials from a site such as Craigslist or using natural found materials can be cost effective and environmentally friendly.

Labor is another cost to factor into your design. If you have a lot of different spaces that need to be created then someone has to do it. You can do the work yourself or hire someone but a simpler plan will almost always cost less.

Design the Sections of Your Garden

Now that you have considered the space, thought about what you want and pondered costs it is now time to design. There are many ways to do this but most landscape professionals start with a sketch.

Landscape Garden Designer Alice Bowe recommends using basic shapes to define the separate spaces in the garden. Interlocking or overlapping sections can create interest and help make for a cohesive design. You can watch Alice’s short tutorial here.

Or you could go with Landscape Designer Eric Arneson’s method that favors starting with ovals and circles to denote the main areas. He then creates multiple iterations on tracing paper to refine his design. To watch Eric’s in depth process you can start here.

However you decide to create your plan it is now time to decide on the sections of your garden and which materials will be used.

Ways to Physically Define a Space

Once you know what types of spaces you want in the garden you can consider how to create them. Using a variety of materials, shapes and textures will create visual and physical cues as to the intended use of a space.


When we think of defining a space a fence is probably the first thing that comes to mind. Many gardens and yards have fences around the perimeter but fences of different sizes and materials can also be used to break the garden into sections.

Short fences, less than two feet tall, can be used around flower beds or vegetable patches. They can keep out wandering feet or paws while also adding visual interest. A mini white picket fence which matches the one around the exterior of the garden will create a cohesive and charming aesthetic.  

Medium height fences, between two and four feet tall, are ideal for protecting vegetable gardens. Creating an enclosed and protected space for gardening within the yard is a great way to define space and keep critters from munching your lettuce. Wire mesh paneled fences are a popular option for this and less expensive than solid wood.

Tall fencing, five or six feet tall, may be excessive in most gardens but sections can be used as privacy screens. In my garden the neighbor’s patio overlooks a section of our yard. To add privacy we installed seven foot tall metal screens on which vines can grow. It is not a full fence but has a similar feel and function.


Simply put, a hedge is a fence made of bushes. Hedges are a great option for defining sections of the garden while also providing greenery. Blueberry bushes are my go-to hedge plant because they are pleasant looking bushes that turn a ravishing red in fall and, of course, give you blueberries.

But if you fancy something a bit more ornamental then writer and landscaper David Beaulieu has some suggestions. Mountain laurels, lilacs and forsythias all have lovely flowers or foliage. For a sturdy but less lavish option to get the job done try a boxwood hedge.

Ground Materials

What you put on the ground can have a big impact on the use of a space. Gravel, grass, stones, cement, bark chips, soil and wood are all common materials used in gardens to create pathways and other areas. The transitions from one material to another is an easy way to section a garden.

A quick search on the website of my local garden supplier gave me all the available options and costs. For example, 4 cubic yards of mulch costs about $116 while the same amount of gravel is $168. Price differences will increase as the amount needed goes up so checking prices on different options is very useful.

Retaining Walls or Terraces

If you have any kind of slope in your garden then a retaining wall can be used to define a space. Stones, bricks and wood are popular options.  Even poured concrete can be used.

Retaining walls can also be used to create raised beds or multiple planting areas if needed.

Another main goal of a retaining wall or terrace is to stop or lessen soil erosion. Keeping the soil from eroding will not only maintain the look of the garden but also help keep nutrients for plants from washing away.

Raised Beds

While flat garden beds are on the same level as the rest of the ground, raised gardens beds are built up to a higher level. Wood framed beds are very popular and can make it much easier to access crops when growing vegetables.

If wood isn’t an option then cinder blocks or other stone can be used to contain the soil of a raised bed. For a more natural approach you could try hugelkultur. Simply put, a hugelkultur is a log or pile of sticks that is covered with soil and compost to create a mound for planting. You can learn more about hugelkultur from the Master Gardener Society of Oakland County.

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