It’s important to assess your time and availability during this step—be realistic. A container garden is best for those with just a few minutes a day. For those with two to three hours a week, a small raised bed might be the option. Don’t go too big on your first garden, they can be more work than expected (try 10 square feet if you’re a first-time gardener).
The maximum width of beds should be around four feet or narrow enough for you to reach the middle to weed and harvest. Length will depend on your space, but eight to ten feet gives you plenty of room to access the garden from all sides. Square four-foot beds can be ideal for small spaces and gardening with children. Consider how you’ll access all parts of larger beds or garden spaces and add pavers or pathways, so you don’t compact growing areas or inadvertently step on germinating seeds or small seedlings.
Incorporate pathways wide enough to walk down once your plants have grown large. Give yourself more room than you expect—at least two feet wide. Transfer soil from paths to beds to build them up and delineate clear walking areas. Where possible, use permeable materials if you want a “paved” walking area.
If you’re short on space, consider growing “up” with plants that climb trellises and have a small garden footprint to allow you to grow more food in the same square footage.
When determining the best layout for your garden, start with a simple sketch. Physically measure or estimate the dimensions of your area and get it on the page (it doesn’t have to be pretty). You might use the ratio of 1 square inch on the paper to 1 square foot in the garden. Read about plant spacing on seed packets or online and sketch a layout that works for what and how much you want to grow.
Use your sketch as a guide when planting this year and keep it to ensure you’re rotating plants next year. Consider companion planting in the future, once you feel comfortable experimenting with some more advanced practices. These advanced planning practices help your plants succeed without costly external inputs like fertilizers and pesticides that have negative impacts on the climate—and they all rely upon strategic layout and planting techniques.
Read the beginner gardener toolkit for more about choosing your garden's size and layout.