Designing a Garden – The Professional Touch for Garden Landscapes
The Professional Touch
There are certain techniques of planning that can be applied to lift your garden out of the ordinary at the initial stages of designing a garden. The first of these is to apply an axis — an invisible line but one that you should draw in on your sketch — to which main features are related.
Ideally, the axis should lead the eye to a compelling focal point of your garden design — perhaps a distant view, a specimen tree, a statue or sundial, or a summerhouse. To run the axis parallel with the side boundaries, especially if the plot is narrow, only emphasizes its rigid rectangular shape. So experiment, trying an axis at varying angles.
Many excellent gardens have been designed on the theme of a geometrical shape — a circle, rectangle or hexagon. These may assume a severe formality which does not always suit the feel of the neighbourhood, but carefully handled can be very effective.
If an informal garden is the aim, the amateur is more likely to succeed with gentle (but not fussy) curves. These have a softening effect, harmonizing with the loose, flowing habit of most plants.
Don’t regard straight lines as taboo. They can create a telling contrast in the most informal garden. And a rectangular shape is undoubtedly the best for a vegetable plot, where crops are grown in straight rows.
Making the Most of Slopes
Designing a garden can be quite challenging when you have slopes to consider, but try to make full use of rises and falls in the ground — these can add much to the attraction of your design. A steep incline may have to be terraced, with retaining walls, to simplify cultivation and maintenance. Lesser slopes can be grassed, planted with groups of shrubs, or used happily as the site for a, with perhaps a running water feature.
A flat site should be given greater interest by creating changes of level. A long, narrow lawn, for instance, gains extra charm if the far half is either built up or lowered by as little as 15cm (6in ), using a shallow paved step.
Theexcavated when a pool is dug can conveniently be used to form a neighbouring rock garden, roughly equal in height to the depth of the pool. Alternatively, if the end of the garden leads on to open ground, the excavated soil could be used to form a bank along the boundary, giving the impression that the garden extends into the open land beyond.
The Function of Paths
Paths must be sited with care when designing a garden, with strict attention to their purpose. If this is purely one of access — as from gate to front door, or rear door to kitchen garden — a direct path, with an all-weather surface, is normally best. Curves are not only irritating when you are in a hurry (or your visitor is), but also invite short cuts across the lawn.
If, however, a path is meant for strolling and admiring the garden landscapes, slow curves are perfectly acceptable. There may even be a sharp bend, designed to intrigue. Paths can occupy a lot of space — growing space — so keep them to a minimum, especially if your plot is a small one.
Grass paths, provided the traffic is not too heavy and the turf is well-drained, are beautiful if well kept, but should never be narrow. Nor should any ‘strolling’ path, but a service path can be as narrow as will permit the easy passage of a wheelbarrow.
The Role of the Lawn
When designing a garden, it becomes apparent that most gardens are built around the central feature of a lawn, and there are good reasons for this. A lawn creates a sense of space; it allows the eye to travel to distant features; its texture is pleasant to walk and sit upon; its fresh green is the perfect foil for surrounding plants; its smoothness allows the shadows of trees to pattern it; and it is a perennially bright living carpet.
Although a level surface is essential for ball games, very gentle undulations can be attractive, but avoid small humps and hollows, which prevent even mowing. Whether you should turf or sow your lawn is a matter of personal priorities.
Alternatives to a Lawn
Not all garden landscapes, particularly if they are small or enclosed, are suited to, which need sun and a free flow of air. The alternative is an artificial surface of some kind, which may be natural stone (most feasible if there is a quarry locally), reconstituted stone (of which good paving slabs are made), concrete (which can be attractive if tastefully handled), pebbles, gravel, or stone chippings.
Some of these materials can be used happily in association with each other: stone flags with chippings, or concrete relieved with pebbles, for example. An artificial surface has the advantage of being usable in all weathers — provided, of course, that concrete or paving set in mortar is slightly sloped to give efficient drainage (that is about 5cm in 3m or 2in in 10ft).
A hard surface also provides good standing for containers of any kind —tubs, urns, vases,and pots which, planted up with colourful or graceful subjects, soften the severity of the floor. Although town gardens, in particular, lend themselves to the idea of container gardening, it can be used with effect anywhere, and in particular in an area adjoining the house.
The Charm of Water
Water adds life and charm to any garden, however small. Still water reflects the sky and surrounding planting, moving water offers sparkle and music. Ornamental fish are an unfailing source of interest, and a pool will soon attract a variety of wildlife — birds, dragonflies, frogs, and aquatic insects.
Plastic or rubberized liners make pool-building a simple matter, but digging out the soil is still hard work! Submersible electric pumps efficiently circulate the water for fountain or waterfall. Water-loving plants around the margin complete a delightful picture.
Remember, however, that a pool has dangers for very young children, who can drown in a mere few centimetres (inches) of water. Take no chances.