Making Gardens and Re-making Gardens
The need to make or remake a garden comes about in the following ways. An existing garden can no longer be tolerated and requires major changes to make it acceptable. A house is acquired with an existing garden that must be improved, or a new house with a bare site is taken over. In the first two cases it is likely that some permanent features can be salvaged and a new design planned around them. Ground left by the builder is an empty canvas on which the gardener can create an original picture.
In all cases the pleasant task of garden-making begins on paper — graph paper — on which a scale plan is drawn. The larger the paper, the easier and more accurate the draughtsmanship. Start by measuring the outside perimeter of the house and then choose a scale that will enable the whole site area to fit on the paper: four or eight foot to the inch is often employed. Some rudimentary surveying equipment is required, the basics being a stout tape measure, a couple of long lines of cord, nylon or wire, half a dozen stout pointed stakes about a foot long, an equal number of four-foot bamboo canes, and a large right-angle triangle made of wood. Take as a base line a wall of the house that faces the greatest part of the garden and run lines at right angles from this wall until they meet the boundary of the site. If the line of sight is impeded, set up canes along the line so that each is exactly in front of the previous one when viewed with the eye close to it. Transfer these maximum distances to the graph paper, marking the boundary points with dots.
From points along these initial lines (marked by canes) run ‘branches’ at right angles until these lines reach other garden boundaries. Measure the distances and transfer them to the plan. If the garden is on several sides of the house, these house walls must be used as new base lines to make further right angle measurements. When sufficient dots have been made on the paper they can be joined up to make an accurate perimeter plan of the site. Also measure and mark the position of any tree or other permanent feature that is to be retained.
Draughtsman’s tracing paper now comes in useful. Pin a sheet over the graph paper and sketch in possible positions for certain major features — paths, borders, lawn, ‘kitchen’ area, pool, greenhouse and so on. Over this can be placed another sheet of tracing paper on which variations and other details can be marked in a different colour. In this way a picture of the future garden can be built up and changed until the ideal is achieved. Aim for simplicity and seek a balance between straight lines (as for paths) and sweeping curves (for lawn and border edges). Bear in mind that an ‘artistic’ design of little beds in grass or winding paths may look nice on paper but that to translate it into spade-work and concrete mixing can be a herculean task at the outset and require constant edging and maintenance. Rather allow for a larger lawn area than you might think you want, and include a large sweeping border instead of scattered beds. Later it will be much easier to cut into the grass area to make another feature (or put additional shrubs in a big border) than to erase items from an over-fussy or time-consuming layout.
While still at the planning stage, some design principles should be noted. To create an effect of greater distance make a focal point, with a tree, sundial or seat for example, at the end of a con-verging vista, and let a path ‘disappear behind an internal hedge or trellis. Conversely, to shorten a long site divide the garden into self-contained areas. For example, a circular lawn near the house with a low hollow wall on its far side will concentrate interest on its pleasing proportions so that the eye is less distracted by the length of garden beyond. Most garden perimeters are rectangular, so try to break the rectangle by curving the edges of lawn and borders.
Above all be realistic: design for easy management (none of us gets younger). Have good access paths for the mower and other heavy tools; this may mean a slope instead of steps. Consider bringing the food area and greenhouse near the dwelling house if ease of access is more important than eye-appeal. And remember that you may want to supply electricity to the greenhouse, or even have a heated frame. By the same token it is pointless to place a shed at the bottom of the plot and tramp the whole distance for every item that is kept there.