These days, with all things 'instant' it will be
difficult to resist the temptation to `get it
done' - particularly if you have just moved into
your new house and are faced with bare earth
instead of a garden. (There may be the pressing
matters of where to put the rotary drier, or
children's swing unit so designing your own
garden may well be a necessity.)
You may have
opted for a `garden designer' to do the
necessary for you and have a design ready to go.
Well don't 'go' just yet! Have a go at
designing your own garden! yest you can! Check
it all out. If your designer has not spent at
least a day on your site, then your design can
most certainly be improved upon. (Bear in mind
that if 10 different designers had been let
loose on designing your garden, then you would
end up with 10 rather different designs.) Study
it, mark it out on your plot, don't be afraid to
change it. Get involved in the designing
process. Don't be overawed by nice drawing with
splashes of colour.
Take time when
you are designing your own garden - your garden
will. Do not rush anything - go for temporary
surfaces such as bark chippings, turf or gravel,
until you are absolutely sure of the overall
If you decide
to do your own garden design plan, you will need
to get down to the serious part of putting it
all on paper. Three basic stages should be
completed before you embark upon designing your
- The site
- The analysis
- The rough
AND PRIORITIES for designing your garden.
compile a list of things you would like in your
garden; and things you want from your garden.
Include everything in the list - even if some
things seem impossible. Priorities come later in
the designing process.
Set down main
headings for your own garden design - which
could include categories such as horticulture,
water, outdoor play/education for children,
storage, ornamental features, recreation,
entertaining, wildlife, lifestyle,
security/privacy. (You will probably think of a
few more.) The main categories will help you
focus on the detail when you actually get round
to designing your own garden.
Under each heading, list the separate items
that are relevant. For instance, under the
general heading of horticulture, `low
maintenance' may come high on the list to
fit in with your busy lifestyle; or you may
enjoy gardening and therefore want space for
borders (which could also link with your
desire for privacy.)
A greenhouse may be
included together with a cold-frame. As well
as ornamental horticulture, you may want
home grown vegetables, herbs or perhaps a
fruit tree or two.
`entertaining' list could include a BBQ, a
seating/dining area, space on the lawn for
activities. Think carefully about the type of
entertaining you have in mind. Entertaining
business associates will probably be rather
different to entertaining friends and family -
or possibly not!
Later as you
decide upon priorities - for it is unlikely that
you will have space for everything - be
anything off the list until you have explored
all possibilities. If there is no room for the
fruit trees, then perhaps they could be grown as
fan-trained specimens along a fence, or as a
division between two parts of the garden -
trained along horizontal wires. Perhaps as a
dwarf tree in a large patio pot. The greenhouse
could be substituted by a shed with a full side
of windows, if you just want to raise a few
bedding plants. Herbs could be grown in patio
pots - or in gaps in the paving. When designing
your garden, do not rule anything out in the
Be aware (or
perhaps wary) of trends and make flexibility
important in your planning. Do you really need a
`permanent' BBQ or would one of the newer gas
BBQs be more flexible - especially on wheels.
It will save a fair degree of space - and mess -
and after a glass or two of cold white wine, it
can be just as romantic. You have the advantage
when designing your own garden, for you are
'living' in the area that you want to design!
Visit a range
of gardens and garden centres; browse through
magazines; collect brochures and leaflets; start
an `ideas' scrap book before designing your own
(This is simply
a plan of what is on the site - not what you are
going to put on it. )
the buying process of your property, you should
have acquired an accurate site plan/survey.
Check measurements, and the siting of elements
within your survey plan. Is the house exactly
where it is shown? (And that concrete base, or
that tree?) You may simply have a boundary
outline, the position of the house and ancillary
works, but without details you require for the
next stage. Exterior doors and windows should be
marked. Existing plants and trees should be
plotted, together with other features/obstacles.
can be plotted using the triangulation method or
simple right-angle offsets from a base line. You
may be able to `sight-off' along a house wall.
undulations and slopes within the site, and plot
the variations with contour lines on your plan.
This will help you assess where to put certain
items in your design plan, and may be necessary
for drainage purposes.
The analysis of
the site is an important stage in the garden
designing process. You should note aspects of
the site over several months. Possibly some
seasonal variations have been noted.
Take time out
to do an actual site appraisal. Orientation,
slopes toward or away from the sun, soil type
(this will include a test for acidity and a soil
structure test - an easy DIY job - involve the
kids.) Assess the impact of items outside your
site. They can have a substantial bearing upon
your own garden design. Do you want to `include'
your neighbour's rather nice Magnolia in your
own planting plan; `borrow' a distant view for a
focal point - or screen it?
Are there any wind tunnels or channels? Note the
direction of prevailing winds. Are any natural
windbreaks in existence or do you need to
provide some? Bear in mind that the windiest
months are from October to March. On the
positive side, note any tranquil areas in the
shade should be noted - through all seasons.
'Light' is a very important element in designing
your garden, and is all too often ignored - or
not even noticed. A low winter sun at about 15
degrees above the horizon, will give
considerably more solar heat to a facing slope
than it will to an adjoining flat area.
Winter sun will also cause long shadow areas
which could prevent some areas from warming -
even on a bright winter day. (We do get some!)
But winter sun may also filter through leaf-bare
branches to areas which could be shaded in the
summer by a full foliage canopy of large trees.
Damp or dry areas should be noted. Bear in mind
that damp areas are not always at the bottom of
slopes; nor dry areas at the top.
Services and utilities should be marked to avoid
problems when constructing your garden.
Ascertain the depth of pipes and cables. (On one
project I discovered a gas main just 100 mm (4
inches) below ground level!)
All of this should be marked and noted on your
ROUGH ZONE PLAN...
Basically it is the first stage in designing
your own garden.
The zone plan will allow you to plot rough
positions for your garden features. This is
quite an important part of the designing
process, but you do not `design' at this stage -
simply put rough shapes down on paper. Get a few
copies of your site analysis plan for this -
just in case you change your mind at any point!
will probably help if you mark off your plan
with a 5 metre square grid - or any other size
grid that suits. This will help you assess the
size and area of your various elements without
having to resort to the scale rule too often.
Before you start drawing rough shapes, you can
simply 'title' some areas with elements that you
would like there. Be prepared to change them.
This plan is simply a method of trying to fit
your preferences in. Don't crowd it. You will
invariably have to prioritize the items in your
list - some may have to go.
Most designs will incorporate a patio or some
form of seating area. As this is usually quite
important, it would be a good thing to start
with. Refer to your analysis for the direction
(and duration) of the sun and shade. Also wind
direction and privacy.
(If another element of your plan is more
important to you, then start with that.)
This is where I resort to my `5W' technique.
What, why, where, when, and who?
With a patio for instance. What is it going to
be; what do you want it for; what shape is it
going to be? Why do do you need a patio; why not
some other seating area? Where is it going to
go; where is the sun going shine; where is the
shade going to be; where should the access be;
where will the surface water go; where will we
put the table and chairs? When are we going to
use it? Who is going to use it other than
This little exercise makes you think.....involve
everyone in the designing process.
you allocate space to other items in your list,
you will probably run out of room... Adapt....
Re-size some of your items. Combine areas for
dual use. If you decide upon a purpose built BBQ
for instance, bear in mind that it will probably
be used fewer than 10 times in the year. That
means wasted space for around 355 days each
year! Will it house a nice terra cotta herb pot
for the rest of the year? Or perhaps an old sink
or trough full of alpine plants.
Analyze everything you include in your zoning
How will it fit in with or affect its immediate
surroundings? The tall planting screen to hide
that unsightly view. Will it cause a shade
problem for you - or your neighbours - as it
grows? Can you really justify a water feature if
you have a 2 year old toddler?
Draw up several zone plans and when you are
happy, get out on your site and stick a few
canes in the ground where the main elements are
to go. Assess heights; visualize in three
dimension. Does it it work?...... Good. Now
let's get down to the finished design plan.
you have been thorough in the previous stages,
the final design plan should not be too
daunting. It will help if you are comfortable
with drawing implements such as a compass, a
scale rule and a set square. But do remember,
designing your own garden does not
have to depend upon your skills as a
draughtsman. Well drawn plans are a good way of
'selling' your design to a prospective client.
For your own garden, the plan simply needs to be
understood and visualised by yourself! A
`flexible curve' which can be moulded into
various curving shapes could also be helpful.
(And an eraser!)
is important to realize when you start your
design plan, that you will never see your garden
from this viewpoint - unless you have included a
helicopter landing pad! You will view it from
around 1.6m (5'6") above ground level and will
not see all of the elements in your design at
the same time: Individual items will also look
different when viewed from various positions.
Garden design plans - being 2-dimensional single
plane drawings - can soon overwhelm. Try to
visualise what the plan will look like in 3-D.
Lay your garden design plan out on the kitchen
table - have a hunt round for household items to
use as 'features, place them on the plan, and
bingo - 3D.
The final plan does not have to detail each
shrub or plant to be included, or what type of
paving is to be used. It should however,
accurately show the positions, shapes, and sizes
of the individual items within your garden.
Detailed planting plans, to fit in with the area
denoted in your garden design plan, will come
later - as will the choice of material for
surfacing your patio. (Though do bear in mind
that your designed shape could affect your
choice of paving to a certain degree. But you
can build a curved patio with rectangular paving
stones - without cutting them!)
Your basic trait as a formal or informal person
will have started to show through in the zoning
plan. If - like me - you are somewhere between
the two, then you will need to be a little
careful in your final layout, to ensure harmony
within your design. You do not have to
conform to any particular style. If you like it,
then it is fine.
Together with the garden design plan, draw up a
section view along a relevant axis. This is
helpful if you are not up to sketching
`perspectives', and is often more revealing.
is easy to try and 'fill up' a plan and perhaps
over-design. Allow space when designing your
garden, for your design to develop and evolve as
you build it. Do not try to plot every single
planter or stepping stone. You will get a better
physical and mental feel when you are out there
with your feet on the ground.
Know when to stop!
Brickwork in the Garden Design
design and construction