How to plan your Garden

How to plan your Garden  

All gardens are different. They vary greatly in size and shape and in the ingredients which make them up. There is no recipe for a well-planned garden -indeed, in many cases it is a garden’s uniqueness that makes it special. But be careful thought at the planning stage will reward you, year after year, with the satisfaction of having a garden that meets all your needs and that works well, practically as well as visually.

This confined corner of a garden in high summer has all the appeal of a charming outdoor room. The seat on a terrace is surrounded by the luxuriant growth of sunloving climbing plants. The banksian rose (Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’) showers deep primrose coloured clusters of flowers, some falling on to the sapphire blue Ceanothus ‘Cascade’. The bearded iris links harmoniouslv with the vellow rose. The natural stone path, fringed and colonized by low-growing plants, offers a dry place to sit all year round.

If a garden has been carefully thought out and well designed, it not only looks pleasing, with a strong layout, harmonious materials and attractive planting, but it works. This is to say that the paths are in the right place, the terrace is afforded some shade, the utilitarian areas of the garden are screened off and, if appropriate, there is somewhere for young children to play. Whatever the components of the garden, there should be a logical progression through the garden and a theme tying the whole together, be it a certain material, colour or style of planting.

Whether you are creating a garden from scratch, or modifYing an existing one, it is vital to devote enough time to the important preliminaty stages of forethought, research and planning. Mistakes are all too often made, or inappropriate decisions taken, which could have been avoided if the options had been fully explored at the initial stage. It is dangerous to narrow your mind early on, as interesting 8 opportunities may all too easily be overlooked, only to be recalled when it is too late.

Forethought involves deciding what you expect from the garden and how you will use it. It implies a consideration of the materials you will use -for paving, walls and hedges -as well as the main plants. Today there is a greater range of materials available than ever before, which provides an exciting choice but at the same time such a wide range can baffle the inexperienced and it becomes difficult to know where and how to start making decisions. Besides questions of cost, appropriateness and personal taste, you should bear in mind the local climate when selecting materials, and choose something that will prove long-lasting and resilient. I place great emphasis on the importance of research, which to my mind lies in critically observing other properties, where positive and negative lessons may be learned at first hand. Once you start looking around, you will soon recognize materials, building styles and designs that are in sympathy with their surroundings -and additions of inappropriate style and materials even quicker. This is not a question of taste, good or bad, for taste, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. It is a matter of respect for existing features -the surrounding landscape or other buildings -and working with, rather than against, what you have. This does not mean that we should slavishly reproduce and restore evety garden hack to its presumed origins, for some of the finest gardens have been made over a long period and owe their beauty to a succession of stages which time has helped to unite. But the use ofsympathetic.materials or period features will significantly ease a newly designed or redesigned garden into its context.

Developing the planIn working out a ground plan for the garden, you should aim for a balanced ratio between hard landscape areas, such as paths, terraces and drives, and the soft, planted areas made up of lawns, shrub beds and herbaceous borders. Both hard and soft surfaces have to fulfil practical roles, such as paths providing dry routes through the garden in winter and a terrace furnished comfortably as a sitting-out area for meals and relaxation. Lawns should always be considered carefully, no matter how small the garden, for they provide a unique, bland surface against which both plants and paving can be shown to good effect. The overall layout should link the hard and soft areas, the trees, shrubs and flower borders together harmoniously, so that the garden has a natural flow.

Planning a garden is in some respects like designing the interior ofa house involving both structural divisions and decorations -but there is one important difference: many of the components in a garden are ofliving material, which may not only increase in size but also undergo a change of character as they mature. To allow fur this, a well-planned garden must have cettain tolerances built into its concept, with longer-term plans as well as immediate solutions. For example, yew hedges will take several 10 years to grow tall enough but in the meantime you might erect a short-term boundary such as a fence.

You may decide to keep the garden as a single area, open and spacious in its appeal, or to divide it into two or more intimate and, perhaps, strikingly different garden ‘rooms’. The way in which these areas are separated off from one another will provide one of the strongest structural elements of a garden. By building the internal divisions in the same material as the boundary structures, you will achieve unity or, from a new material, introduce contrast.

The plants you choose will of course reflect personal preference but they should always be suitable for the regional climate as well as the garden’s orientation and type of soil; it is also important that they are an appropriate size for the scale of the garden. In some cases a single specimen of one plant may easily be sufficient, such as the ornamental rhubarb (Rheum palmatum), but in other cases a clump or drift may be called for to give greater impact, such as a drift of bluebells through shrub planting, or anemones through a wood. A specimen tree or shrub, for example Comus contr()versa ‘Variegata’ , or a herbaceous plant of dramatic shape like a globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus), may become a feature in its own right, in the same way that a statue or a large container might be used, as a focal point within the garden. Such features can contribute greatly to the character and emphasis of the garden and should be carefully sited for maximum effect.

During the course of this artical we look at the ingredients of a well-planned garden separately from the vertical elements of boundary walls, fences and hedges and the horizontal elements of paths and paving, lawns and level changes, to the structural and ornamental fearures that furnish the garden and, ofcourse, the plants that bring it to life by providing colour and interest at different seasons. But it is only when the component parts of a garden are brought together as a cohesive whole that a garden really begins to work as a space which is well furnished, logical and attractive.

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