Designing a Garden - Where do you start?
Extract from Garden Design (Part 1) by John Mason.
Designing your own garden can be one of the most creative things you ever do – producing a living sculpture that gives you years of enjoyment.
The secret to good garden design is a plan!
When starting a design, the first thing to do is carefully examine the existing garden. Unless you have a brand new house on an undeveloped block, you will have to consider what is already on site. Things to look for include:
Easements, caveats and utilities – are there legal restrictions on what you can do and where you can build? Look for gas, electricity, phone and water connections.
Buildings and hard surfaces – are there sheds, paved areas, garden beds, etc?
Topography and access – is there a slope or a change in levels? Can vehicles or pedestrians move freely?
Orientation, seasonal issues – does the house shade parts of the garden? Do deciduous plants let in light during winter? Does one part of the house or garden get hot in summer, etc?
Climate – where are the prevailing winds? When and how much does it rain? How often do you get frosts, etc?
Soil, drainage – do you have clay or sandy soil? Are there wet spots in the garden?
Atmosphere – is there any noise or air pollution?
Vegetation – are there existing trees or shrubs you want to retain?
Re-usable materials – are there any pavers, timber, etc. on site?
Local area – what are the surrounding gardens like?
Are there likely to be any future building works (extra rooms, new garage, etc)?
Deciding What You Want
What sort of atmosphere do you want to create?
Privacy – do you want the garden for entertainment purposes, or for peace and quiet?
Views, focal points – where are you going to look at the garden? (The most common view is usually from the kitchen window). Is there a view you want to hide?
Traffic – do you need room for cars? Will pedestrians trample the lawn?
Children, pets – do you need room for ball games or for the dog to play?
What sort of plants do you like?
What sort of plants don’t you like (e.g. do you suffer from allergies or hay fever)?
How much maintenance do you want to do?
Do you want to include an irrigation system?
Do you need a clothesline?
Would you like an area to grow vegetables?
Budget – how much do you want to spend?
DO IT IN STAGES
Often the garden has to be developed in stages because:
a) The money isn’t available to do it all at once.
b) Other work must be done first (e.g. a sewerage main is to be laid, a shed is to be erected, or a building is to be extended).
Undeveloped, or underdeveloped, parts of the garden might be screened with fast growing plants or a temporary fence until they are able to be attended to. Areas designated for paving, garden beds or water gardens might be grassed to provide a reasonable appearance until the time is right to finish the development.
As with anything constructive, it is always a good idea to start with a plan. List everything you want to eventually include in the garden - and arrange these things in order from your highest priority to your lowest. (Note: the low priority item might only be low because it’s expensive and not necessarily because you want it any less).
Your ‘prioritised’ list might be something like this:
1) Washing line
3) Lawn (or mulch to keep the mud and dust down)
4) Fences on boundaries
5) Trees for shade
6) Shrubs to screen the neighbours’ houses
7) Plants to provide cut flowers inside
8) A garden setting for eating outside
9) Paved pathways for access in wet weather
10) A paved patio area
11) A vegetable garden
12) A garden shed
13) An ornamental pond
14) A swimming pool.
A well-planned garden will eventually accommodate everything on your list - but you may very well consider the garden’s development to be an evolutionary process over many years. At any stage of that evolutionary process, the garden should still be aesthetically pleasing and functional.
THE PLANNING PROCESS
Landscape planning is both an art and a science. It’s a process in which you need to consider the physical requirements of building a garden, and at the same time strive to create something which is artistic and pleasing to the eye.
Don’t Be Put Off By The Challenge
Planning your garden can be a lot of fun, and remember it’s a lot cheaper to make your mistakes on paper!
Follow this step-by-step process and you can’t go too wrong:
1) Draw a sketch of your property (preferably to scale) as it is now. A builder’s plan is often good to work off (all you have to do is trace over it).
2) Make up a list of things you want to put in the garden (e.g. washing line, shed, BBQ, lawn area, vegetable garden, children’s swing etc).
3) Draw in pencil where you think the best place would be to put each of these things.
4) Now stand back and think for a week or so. If you like, ask friends or relatives what they think about where you plan to put things. Use a bit of common sense and consider whether each of these things is located in the best place (Refer to the list “What Goes Where”).
5) Rearrange the location of these different components, and settle on final locations.
6) Fill in the gaps - placing lawn, shrubs, paving, mulch, gravel, etc. between the various components.
What Goes Where?
The barbecue, outdoor setting, and patio should be together - and close to the kitchen, if possible.
The rubbish bins, compost heap, and burner should be away from the house and any outdoor living areas.
The washing line is better hidden from outdoor entertaining areas, but in mild to cold climates it must be in a sunny spot.
Areas where children play should be away from things you don’t want to get damaged (e.g. prize roses or the vegetable garden).
Areas which are walked over frequently should be well-drained and surfaced with gravel, mulch or paving (grass will become damaged and high-use areas may become slippery when wet).
Start to design better gardens with Garden Design (Part 1) today!