Although some beautiful gardens have been created without any initial overall plan, evolving over the years as different elements were introduced and changes made, in general most people work to some kind of “scheme” – even if it is not a particularly detailed one.
Whether you are setting out to create a new garden, develop one of several years standing or entirely reshape a plot inherited from previous owners, careful planning can help avoid many of the pitfalls and ensure that you end up with the sort of result you had in mind all along.
Elements of Design
At its simplest, garden design is all about thinking things through – looking at the possible alternatives and then deciding which one will provide the “look” you are after or allow you to make the sort of use of the space that you intend. In this sense, the first element of design is knowing what you are trying to achieve – and while it may not be possible to have it all, for a number of reasons, it does at least give you a starting point.
For many gardeners, compromise is an inevitable part of the design process, either as a result of limited space, conflicting needs or aspects of the growing environment itself. Although the expression “landscape design” can tend to call to mind planning the shape of large gardens, it is in many ways more relevant when it comes to balancing the many demands placed on small plots. To come up with a scheme that comes even close to accommodating all the functions that the typical modern garden must play is no small feat in itself.
Style in Design
One of the key aspects of garden design is deciding on a general theme, which is best done fairly early on, to establish a guiding principle to see the process through. A well designed landscape has a feeling of belonging – so it is often important to consider the type of house and the setting to avoid a finished product which sits uneasily in its surroundings.
While descriptions such as “formal,” informal,” or “cottage” are often heard, in reality they can only ever be broadly descriptive terms; the business of categorising gardens is fraught with difficulties, not least because each one is different. They are, however, far more useful as general guidelines providing overall direction and “feel” rather than being seen as hard and fast rules. Good garden design is as much an instinctive art as it is a formulaic science.
Plants and Planting Schemes
A good overall design needs to take relevant planting considerations into account, which may include the garden’s aspect, soil type, climate as well as paying attention to more direct matters such as the desired colour scheme. It must also address the intended use of the space, since the plants chosen need to reflect the purpose they are to support; a garden principally aimed at providing a peaceful relaxing haven, for example, needs to be as low maintenance as possible, to allow the time to enjoy it.
The planting scheme also needs the flexibility to take personal interests and preferences into account and permit variations from what might ordinarily be seen as a departure from a particular style or type of gardening. The modern world allows for precious few outlets for entirely indulgent, creative expression – and the potential that garden design provides in this respect should not be ignored. At the end of the day, the “rules” are there to be broken – and if you like what you have created, then that is really all that matters; you are, after all, the one who is going to be enjoying it!
While the design element is obvious in the geometric lines of a formal garden, the best informal schemes are those which appear to be entirely natural – but, of course, this is itself a triumph of the designer’s art and in many respects the more challenging look to achieve. Good garden design is principally about intelligent planning and the desire to engineer a certain look or ambience in the outdoor space around our homes.
From the innumerable property programmes on TV, we all know about the importance of “dressing” our houses; with good landscape design we can do exactly the same for our gardens.