Taking a fresh look at your garden with Design Eyes
In this article I’d like to take you through the steps I would go through with a client to help you see your garden afresh and help you make the decision process easier.
People are often intimidated by their garden space, accompanied often with a fear of plants. Maybe in the past they have bought plants that have died on them or just don’t know how to maintain each one. Likewise, some have spent lots of money on the garden and it hasn’t resulted in the transformation they had hoped. Others don’t know where to start with the thousands of plants that are out there.
Whether you want to rehabilitate your garden or have a new plot of land, the first stage is to look at your garden as a space in which you need to DO things. This might be hanging out the washing, sitting around a firebowl, playing badminton or just getting to the shed. You need to mark out these activities, what space each one needs and the best way to access these spaces.
Often this first question delineates the spaces in the garden in obvious ways. The place for wildlife has to be over there where the soil is poor and the footfall is minimal. The place to meditate needs to be near the pond. The vegetables need to be in the sunniest spot. You’d be surprised how much the design is already done by this stage.
Moving around my space
This way of looking at your garden comes with the following questions: How much fullness and how much empty space do I want? eg lawn v beds. Do I want the garden to encourage me to move me around the garden so that I complete a circular journey? How much of the garden do I want to be on instant full display from one vantage point, or do I want secret places and hidden views? How does my body feel in the different spaces? eg walking along a straight bed, entering into a grove, having an expanse of lawn to cross. Do I want a series of rooms or a large open canvas? Do I want form to follow function?
Creating an atmosphere
This aspect is what we feel when we enter into gardens but sometimes find it hard to put our finger on exactly how the garden has created this mood in us. Simple ways to think about it are:
Do I want wild or controlled? Languid and lazy or formal and buttoned up? Spilling over or well behaved? Romantic or farmyard practical? Bursting at the seems or a clear space between every aspect? It is important to say there is no right and wrong here, each of us choose styles that meet a need in us. Overtime our tastes can change and we can also have a mix of styles eg the English design style that is prevalent at the moment is very tight clipped evergreens forming a background to wild grasses and tall flowered perennials.
Deciding on a structure
Some of these decisions would already have come up when you considered the function of what you want to do and the style you are aiming for eg a formal Yew hedge dividing a social area from a play area. Good structure can be helpful as it lasts through the seasons. Also over the years plants come and go and if the structure is both beautiful and practical, the garden will have a timeless feel and choosing replacement plants will be an easier job.
Structure can be hard, like paths, patios and pergolas or soft like hedges, ornamental feature trees and pots with ornamental grasses. Whatever you go for, you can think of structures as outlasting you and that is a good question to have in mind- will this form that I am giving the garden be so beautiful, musical, that it will last for decades and even the new owners will delight in its upkeep. We know how this feels when we enter a garden with good structure- we can feel held, respected, considered and inspired. The garden planting can float over this ageless form.
Choosing your plants
This is what most people ring me about. The plant choice out there is enormous. Often people say they are not fussed. I used to believe what they said and come up with interesting planting plans only for them to curl up in horror, exclaiming Oh but I hate that yellow flower! Then I realised most people have very strong opinions but they just don’t know what they love. It is my task to show them the options.
Before thinking of what to buy, you need to know your garden conditions. These are some of the important factors to consider: Acidity of your soil, moisture retaining qualities of the soil, sunny v shady aspect, exposed to winds and frosts or sheltered.
You can think about plants in different ways. Evergreen v deciduous, leaf colour, flower colour, season in which the plant is outstanding in the garden, how the plant will look in the dead of Winter, how easy it is to maintain, how susceptible it is to pests and diseases, how big it will be in ten years time!
By using some of these steps I hope you can start to see your garden afresh. Don’t be afraid of being radical- that’s what we have our imaginations for. A tired looking garden that you are bored with needn’t be something you have to live with. A garden can be a space you can pour your love and creativity into and it can be symbol of what you hold most dear in your life.
Where to go in August
Visit the Hanna Pechar Sculpture gardens. We ran a feature article on this garden in April and then lock down happened.
Booking by appointment only from Thursday to Sunday
Black & White Cottage
RH5 5QR (postal only – use RH5 5QU for SatNav)
Telephone: (+44) (0) 1306 627 269
What to do in August
Obviously keep up the watering in this sustained hot weather, especially with plants in pots and new plants.
Top up the mulch to retain moisture and keep weeds down
Keep pinching out your tomatoes and sowing new rills of lettace, radishes and spinach
Time to prune the bigger shrubs that have just finished flowering like Wygelia, Philadelpus, and Sprirea- cut out the old flowering wood back to new growth that next year’s flowers will bloom from them
Mow your lawn on a higher setting now to keep moisture in the grass to help mitigate against summer browning in dry spells
Apply a nitrogen feed if Red Thread fungus is taking over your lawn
Have a bit of a rest- things slow down in the garden now, and so can you.