On a large notepad, sketch out your yard, including buildings, large trees and shrubs, property lines, fences, utility lines, paved areas, patios, pools and other permanent features. Don't worry about accuracy yet. Using a compass, find the direction of north and mark it on the map.
Measure the features, such as house and pool dimensions, tree drip lines, spread of shrubs and lengths of fences. Add the measurements to your map. Also measure and locate windows and doors, as well as outside faucets, lights and electrical receptacles.
Using stakes and string, mark a straight line along a property boundary, starting at one corner. Keeping the tape measure at a 90° angle from the boundary, measure the distance from the boundary to the nearest corners of the house, trees and other objects on your map. Measure from other boundaries, too, to confirm accuracy.
With a ruler and pencil, transfer your measurements accurately to graph paper. Use 1 inch to represent 4 feet for small yards, and 1 inch to represent 20 feet for larger yards.
Tape the base map to a table or board. Lay sheets of tracing paper over it and make additional maps, each with a different theme, such as sun and shade patterns, slopes, views, gardens and traffic patterns. Each map becomes a layer that adds detail to the base map but remains separate for clarity. Use the layers to plan the optimal place and shape for your garden.