Winter is now rapidly fading into the record books as one of the warmest to take its place alongside the coldest winter for 30 years – and only 12 months apart.
It’s time to dig out the spade, shake out the wellies and step boldly out into the garden reciting your mantra: “this is the year”. If only it were that simple. Great looking gardens don’t just happen; they are always well planned. To some people the thought of designing their garden can seem like a very grand gesture and something which is only reserved for large country gardens and estates. But, in fact, you couldn’t be further from the truth. The smaller the garden, the more planning it needs to optimise the use of your outdoor space.
Over the next couple of issues we will outline the basic principles that we use when designing a garden and break it down into some simple key stages for you to have a go yourself.
The first step is the client brief:
Make a wish list of all the things you would love to have in your garden if you could blow the budget. Even though cost is probably the most important essence in redesigning your garden, try not to get to bogged down with how much things cost as this can limit creativity. Remember this is a WISH LIST, and can be adapted later on. List all the things you hate about your garden as you will want to do away with these, and list all the things you love like a special plant or tree.
Now for the Blue Peter part. We’re going to create a mood board. Once you have made your list, get a large piece of card, scissors and glue. Look for inspiration on the internet, in magazines and books. Anything you love: print or cut it out and stick it onto your card (mood board). It might only be a picture of a patio area, a colour scheme in a border or just a garden you like, but a simple picture can spark some great ideas.
The next stage is to survey your garden. Grab a good, long tape measure, a notepad, a pen, a camera and, of course, a willing friend. Get outside to take stock of your garden.
As a baseline, a good place to start is to measure the perimeter of your house. Transferring the measurements on to your notepad, note the position of doors and windows as you go along. If you are lucky enough to have a square garden, just measure the length and width of the area and write down the measurements for later. If you don’t have a square garden, don’t despair. It’s quite simple to measure accurately using a simple triangulation method. This involves measuring a line from a point. In this case, place the end of your tape on the left-hand side corner of the house to a boundary point. Then you measure from a different point (the right hand -corner of the house) to the same boundary point, so that if you linked all the points together they would make a triangle. Make a note of the measurements as you go along. Repeat the process for all boundary points.
As part of the survey you need to determine the aspect of the garden: this refers to the facing direction, north, east, south and west (south if your lucky). This can be ascertained with a compass, or by noting where the sun rises and sets – the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. This is really important for deciding where to site your seating areas and what plants will thrive there. We’ll look at any microclimates you may have in your garden, later on.
The next stage is to take some soil samples. Knowing what type of soil you have is an important part in any garden design as this determines which plants are suitable, what the drainage is like and how well it holds nutrients. Soil is made of tiny particles known as structure; sandy soil has large particles with big gaps between them so the soil will have excellent drainage – sometimes too good as it loses its nutrients faster. Alternatively, clay soil has tiny particles and so smaller gaps limit drainage. This means it holds the nutrients for longer but also makes the soil waterlogged.
Sandy soil, when rubbed between your fingers, feels gritty and falls apart easily whereas clay soil can be rolled into a ball and feels smooth, sticky and can be easily moulded.
Ph value is also important as this tells you whether your soil is acidic or alkaline. This test can easily be performed with a soil probe ph kit from your garden centre. Always take several samples from different parts of the garden as it can vary considerably. Soil in the UK ranges from 4 to 8.5, with most plants preferring 6.5 to 7.
Plants such as azaeleas love acidic soil while acanthus favours alkaline. It’s just a case of planting for your conditions.
Next month we will look at producing a scaled plan…
Article provided by Helen Powell of Townsend Design – Garden Design, Construction & Maintenance 01873 857008