First thoughts on your garden layout Many gardens have an obvious place for the vegetable garden, but upon what is that decision based? In the past the vegetables were relegated away from the house to the bottom of the garden. They were considered to be unsightly.We think more highly of vegetables nowadays. Deciding the best location for growing your vegetables depends on assessing certain criteria. The layout of that area is often best finalized once you see the strengths and weaknesses of the site. It’s a process you shouldn’t rush, and it may take a few years. Take the time to become familiar with your plot so that you don’t regret your decisions a year down the line. Starting thoughts: make a list of all the things you want from the garden—your veg plot, a sitting area, a play area, compost area, a shed. A washing line? A pond? Everyone’s list will be different. Order the items according to importance, then think about the needs of each item. The top priorities for vegetable growing should include full sunlight for much of the day, good soil, minimizing the exposure, some distance from under large trees, and the availability of water. The needs of many list items overlap, such as soil quality or the degree of exposure.Some of these criteria can be altered. If the soil is reasonable then the continual addition of organic matter will build up the structural quality. If the site is exposed, fences, hedges, fedges or windbreak screens can be added. Perhaps just a few tough evergreens are needed. A fedge is (you guessed it) a cross between a hedge and a fence. Willow is commonly used to make a fedge. Rooted cuttings are inserted leaning at an angle, 20 - 30 cms apart along the line of the intended fedge. Plant a second row of rooted willows 20 cm from and parallel to the first row, but these ones are at an angle leaning in the opposite direction. The effect created will look like a criss-cross lattice. Bend over the tops and weave them together. Use a few stout rods at the ends and at suitable distances along the line to provide support. Several times in the growing season weave in new growth while it is bendy to thicken up the barrier, or prune it away once the fedge is thick enough. They are fun to make and potentially free if you can get enough cuttings. They aren’t low maintenance. They also take up a lot of space, rather like a hedge. Fences and walls are much narrower and maintenance is comparatively low. If you have such a solid barrier be sure to allow a small hole at the base so that hedgehogs can travel through to the next garden. Many years ago, in autumn, a digger dug up a hedgehog nest with three babies. Sadly, the mother and two young ones died but we brought the third one into the house and it thrived. The good advice we received included keeping it in during the winter. He was always snuffling and first in line when macaroni cheese was on the menu. He loved it. In spring we decided to introduce him to some slugs to get him used to an outdoor diet. I have never before or since seen a hedgehog dance, he bounced around those slugs for half a minute before eating them.There are other things you can think about whilst formulating a layout design, including aesthetics and wildlife.Look around your plot before leaves really open out to see if you have a good ratio of evergreen to deciduous plants. Evergreens soften the look of the garden in the winter and give shelter to other plants and to many birds. A ratio of 3:1 is often quoted by designers. Birds might argue for more. For good access, the placement of paths is crucial. Paths should closely follow the line people take when traveling in the garden. If people find a good shortcut they will use it whether or not there is a path nearby. Paths need to be wide enough for a person with a wheelbarrow and the branches that inevitably stick out the sides. Be generous with the main path through the garden and the one going to the door. For two people walking together allow 1.2m++. A single file path through a secret area can be narrower. Avoid structures that impinge on the width. Good design comes from careful thought and a good assessment of the plot. You can test out your current thoughts with a temporary path and a temporary location for your vegetables, and through use over the growing season you get to see what works and what doesn’t. Most plants can be moved if they start out in the wrong place. There are a few exceptions. But moving a hard feature like a path is hard work. Start with that decision and work from there—the hard landscaping provides a good skeleton for the garden.Path creation is good work for the colder months. The path materials should be suitable to your conditions, linking to materials in the house, fitting with the environment you are creating (a woodland garden or a beach garden), and for the amount of time you have for maintenance. Slabs incur an initial expense but then just need to be kept free of debris and algae. Gravel is cheaper but gets weedy. Bark suits a woodland setting but needs renewal according to the traffic and gets weedy. It is tempting to find nice rocks and use them as the edging for paths and beds. My advice is simple—don’t! They very quickly become a maintenance nightmare, especially if on the edge of a lawn. Find something else.A sitting area is nice to have. It doesn’t have to be by the house. If you like sitting in the sun, chart its progress across your garden then choose the spot according to when you are most likely to sit out.The lawn—to have or not to have? Long grass, unlike lawns, is valuable for wildlife. Lawns are an ideal place for children to play. Once the children are older it can become a meadow. Just mow a path through for access.Ponds of any size will be beneficial for wildlife. They are fascinating. Within hours of filling it the first inhabitants may arrive. Do some research on how best to proceed, according to the style of pond you would like. Always bear in mind safety if small children use the garden. To attract the greatest diversity of wildlife, emulate nature. Gardens have been called ‘stylized woodlands’. Biologists describe woodlands in terms of layers of vegetation, each of which offers a different wildlife habitat. The layers consist of large trees, small trees and large shrubs, smaller shrubs, and ground cover, including grass. Large trees may be totally unsuitable for your garden, but there are smaller ones of all shapes and sizes. Include as great a variety of planting as you can. Provide plenty of flowers for as long a season as possible. Simple ie single flowers provide most nectar and pollen and are best for insects. Meantime while you are mulling over your requirements and possibilities, there are seeds to sow and weeds to pull! Anything you plant should be provided with a good root run, so dig a proper hole and don’t skimp. Granny is watching! If you skimp the plant will skimp. Make the hole wide. Seeds need a good tilth and an adequate depth of soil for their roots to explore. The root length of grasses can be measured in kilometres (no lie). Fortunately you wont need to provide quite that much (!) but give them a decent start. They will repay you in spadefuls!