Assessing Your Existing Garden

Whether you have just inherited a garden from a previous owner or are contemplating reworking your own handiwork of several years, it can often be difficult to imagine how what you want to do relates to what exists already.

However, this is a vital part of any landscape redesign and before you can begin to ring the changes, the first step has to be making a full and honest assessment of the elements that are already in place – good and bad alike.

Getting Started

If the process is to work, the whole garden needs to be carefully scrutinised, looking to identify those bits which make a positive and valuable contribution, those which – at least from the point of view of your own particular taste – certainly do not, and everything in-between. The object of this preliminary work is to get a fairly comprehensive feel of the overall scheme, so it is important to include all the elements, even if there is nothing you can do about them.

While you obviously cannot alter the shape or size of your plot, it is possible with clever planting to make it seem bigger or longer or wider; likewise the aspect cannot be changed, but the particular plants you grow – and where you grow them – can make it seem quite different. In short, there are almost always things you can do to ameliorate – if not alter – most common problems, but the key to doing so lies in making a fair appraisal of the garden “as-is” at the outset.

Take Your Time

Although there is a strong temptation with any new plot to try to stamp your mark and do everything at once, unless you really have to make changes, it is often better to wait a bit and allow your understanding of the garden to develop. Plants that are unfamiliar to you may be seen in a different light if you have seen them over the seasons; that rather uninteresting shrub may develop a striking display of colourful berries come the autumn, or an uninspiring bush reveal attractive bark full of winter interest. Clearly, it is only by getting to know a new garden that you can possibly decide what to keep and what needs to be changed.

For the same reason, it is just as important not to be too hasty in removing things; some plants are all too easy to misidentify outside of their growing or flowering season, while the previous owner’s reason for a particular planting may only become clear with time. As a general rule, unless there is a very good reason to do so, try never to remove any plant which is clearly well-established and of obvious age; it may have unexpected value.

When it comes to assessing your existing garden, taking the time for a period of observation and reflection will pay long-term dividends. To develop a design properly may take years of work and this demands a vision which sees beyond the clutter of the currently installed features and planting arrangements of today to devise the true “master-plan” which will ultimately allow you to have the garden you want. Like a fine wine, it is not something to be rushed.

In many respects, modifying and adapting an existing garden is a hard task, often calling for some difficult decisions to be taken. By contrast, gardeners faced with virgin sites on new developments have a much easier time of it, making choices based entirely on their own preferences and without the need to take anything else into account. However, working with a mature, established garden has its own rewards; if you assess it fully before you begin work on developing it and plan accordingly, the end result should be well worth the effort.