Know your soil. "Get it properly conditioned before you plant," Cyndi Maas said. Their soil is heavy clay and was compacted from construction equipment. So they dug out the clay and hauled in black dirt. "Plants need air in the soil," she said.

Think about textures. "We live in an environment that has four seasons," Cyndi said. "You have to think about winter and what you're going to see in the winter — the outline of a tree or an evergreen shrub." Get those structures in place, then fill in around them, mixing up textures to create variety and interest, such as straight evergreen needles juxtaposed against curving leaf shapes.

Move plants freely. "I'm constantly changing things," Cyndi said. "Any living garden, you have to make adjustments."

Keep notes. Cyndi scribbles throughout the growing season to guide her efforts the following spring. "I keep notes on what I want to do next year, like 'This is a bare area' or 'The lilies under the evergreen need to move,' " she said.

Be patient. Creating a beautiful garden takes time. Some of the Maases' plants sat in temporary beds for multiple growing seasons while Cyndi tinkered with the landscape. "We were on the five-year plan."

Kim palmer