Planning Your Garden Design
Having made some notes on the site, and having listed the main features desired, the time has come to start planning. Equip yourself with a thick pencil and several sheets of mathematical paper (you will need several because planning is a progressive development).
Rough out to scale accurate dimensions of your house and garden boundaries. Then get to work on the design itself. This is usually best done in three stages.
Stage one consists of a rough plan on which to map out paving and terracing around the perimeter of the house and also the general area of the. Try to nominate a focal point, perhaps a large tree or shrub mid-way down the back garden. If there isn’t a focal point, you will need to establish one. Designing a garden is like painting a three-dimensional picture and you will find it helpful to have some object on which to take your bearings, thus arriving at a design which has balance and which is in perspective.
On stage two of the plan, add the dominant features, such as trees and shrubs, walls, terraces, arches and so on, that will provide and establish the outline of the garden proper. The third stage is then taken up with mapping out your flower beds, the paths that will take you round the garden, and drawing in the special effects.
As the plan progresses remember to refer regularly to the notes on aspect so that all your garden’s advantages and disadvantages can be fully taken into account.
There are many varied ideas about styling a garden. There is also a lot of talk about landscaping which to many people — and even to one or two reputable landscape gardeners — means getting the site as level as can be, laying a good lawn and surrounding it with a flower garden and trees.
Styling a garden is an individualistic thing: it can be compared with the way you furnish your home. It will reflect your own personal taste. Your lounge suite — by some coincidence — may be the same as your neighbour’s. But the way you set it out in your lounge will be completely different. The same applies to your garden: the plants and features may be the same as your neighbour’s, but the way you combine them will be different.
The problem of creating an original garden is more difficult on entirely flat sites than it is on what initially appear to be difficult sites, those with dips and mounds and slopes.
For these natural contours can be used — and even exaggerated — to create sunken gardens, terraces, rockeries, miniature mountain streams, and so on. So if ever you had any thoughts of grading and levelling your rough plot — bear this in mind before setting to work to flatten it.
Level sites present something of a problem in creating interest. The special effects and vistas have to be created rather than adapted from natural resources and this requires good planning, and an appreciation of the use of colourful subjects.
An ultra-modern garden with clean-cut shapes, colourful patios and terracing will look completely out of place around an older-type house. Similarly, a brand-new house seems to call out for bright materials and a light and airy surrounding.
Whether your choice in design is for a fairly open style, or for a ragged ‘back to nature’ look, much will in fact depend on your needs, and may be governed by the age of your house.
Whatever your choice, it is important that looking out from the house there is an immediate impression of space and light. Therefore the central area of the first part of your garden is best kept open: trees and shrubs should be kept away from windows.
The exceptions to this rule, of course, are climbing shrubs, like clematis and honeysuckle which can be trained close to the walls, and need not overshadow the windows.
It is also worth noting here that the roots of trees and hedges and even some of the more hefty shrubs spread far and wide.
They will very often throw up suckers which could ruin tarmac drives or patios and should be planted well away from your property. Willows send their roots in search of water, and if the cement becomes weak they could well find their way into the cracks in the drainage system, causing leakage and blockages. More about trees later.
In the meantime back to the landscaping operation. On your plan, you will naturally start at the house and work outwards. It is often best to aim at a paved area around as much of the house as possible, and certainly at each entrance.
A fairly substantial patio is usually called for at the rear and this may be built with steps up or down to the garden itself, according to your site. It is always more interesting if steps can be used instead of going straight on to the lawn.
There are many forms of paving available now. Slabs come in a wide range of sizes, colours, textures and finishes, and the design possibilities are limitless — the choice is yours.
Perhaps the easiest way of planning your patio and paved areas is to map out the design on a separate sheet of paper, using coloured pencils for the right effect. The patio may require edging, either with a low wall in brick or stone or perhaps screen blocks for a higher type.
Again the choice is wide. But as with paving, it is important to be thoroughly satisfied with the design before getting on with the job.
On to the next stage, your lawn. For most people this is the central feature of the garden — yet it is often the most neglected, ill-considered area in the whole garden. It does, after all, require the loving care that you will lavish on your favourite flower. It needs the same close scrutiny in selecting the variety of grass most suited for the wear and tear it will get. The commonly held view that lots of grass makes a garden easy to run is nonsense.
It will, in fact, need mowing once a week, sometimes twice, during the seven-month growing period; it will need treating for, fertilising, aerating, watering — and so on. If you establish a huge lawn entirely out of proportion with the size of your garden, you have nothing but a well-tended paddock.
The shape of the lawn will have a substantial effect on the general view of your garden. A slim lawn will make the garden look longer, a shaped lawn will take the eye around with it and will give the impression of size.
Don’t be afraid of unusual shapes. You might try a zig-zag effect, for instance, repeated on a parallel basis each side of the lawn or, instead of running the grass area and general garden aspect from end to end, ie. north to south or east to west, consider a diagonal approach laying the lawn across the garden, corner to corner.
Circular lawns, also, can be extremely effective, and better still are double circles, one in the foreground of the garden, the second in the far part linked by paths and a covered archway.
Alternatively, to achieve a definite contrast between the first and second garden, use a circular shape in the foreground and a rectangular or octagonal shape in the second compartment.
As you move on to drawing in the second part of the garden, remember that some of it at least must be visible in the general view from the house and not entirely cut off — one section from the other.
The development of two or more sections to the garden is one of the techniques of designing a medium-sized garden and it really does offer tremendous scope for originality.
Where it is possible to establish a series of gardens on different levels, the use of steps can be extremely effective. These help continue the line of the house into the garden and give the illusion of greater space.