Developing the Design
By Brian Burke
So what next?
You’ve sought the input and counsel of everyone in the household, you have agonised and faced up to the reality of how much maintenance you’re actually going to be able to do given that you work full time, have a houseful of kids, go to the gym three times a week, coach the under ten soccer team and volunteer at the local animal shelter. You have been honest with yourself and, in typically selfless fashion, have prioritised the needs of the other family members to arrive at a definitive list of what you want and, perhaps more pertinently, what you don’t want.
OK, so you don’t know one end of an oscillating hoe from the other yet. No need to worry, there is still a lot you can do to move the process along. Get down to your local Woodie’s and pick up the following reasonably priced items; a lump hammer, a roll of builders’ line, a hand saw, a tin of marking spray paint, a few 50 mm x 22mm x 2.4m battens.
Where to start?
Now up you get on the next available Saturday morning, grab your coffee and out to the back garden with you. “To do what exactly?” says you. Well, nothing initially. Sit there and soak up the sense of the place, the spirit of the space. Everything contributes to this essence and the more familiar with it you become the better the ultimate design will be. Sit there, drink your coffee and just absorb it.
‘It’ is the view, the light, the shadow, the height of the perimeter, the immediate landscape, the borrowed landscape, the existing surfaces, materials and textures. ‘It’ is the sound, close and remote, neighbouring dogs barking, distant motorway traffic noise, the rattle of a loose fence panel, the next-door teenager’s hip hop. ‘It’ is the smell, the home baking of the Polish family two doors down, the faint waft of agriculture carried on the prevailing wind from the farmer’s field two estates away. ‘It’ is the movement of the sun, the direction of the wind.
Sit and absorb it all. What this gives you very quickly is a clear idea of what to attempt to accentuate and what to minimise. This is priceless research and information, bank it in the back of your brain and let it inform every subsequent decision from here on in.
Now leave the metaphysical and enter the physical realm for a few moments. Where is the sun when you’ll need it most? Use your newly acquired array of tools to mark its footprint. Where is that in relation to egress from the house? If it’s remote how will you get there? Mark the route. You’ll probably need storage, most of us do. Mark the spot that, over the course of the day, is in most if not permanent shade. It can go there. Mark its footprint. Track the sun. Where is it in that window of time on a summer weeknight after you get home and before dark? Mark its track and overall footprint. How does that relate to your egress from the house and how does it relate to your morning spot? Do the two need to be interconnected and if so, how? Mark the route. What is left is your residual space, who will have control over it? The kids, the dogs, your spouse, the in-laws, Brendan’s homemade motorcycle project?
Put it all together
It’s all there, the outlines and sizes and how they should relate. You have assimilated the metaphysical and let it inform the physical. Transfer it to paper.
Now you have shapes. Shapes that relate to you and how you actually live, not ones arbitrarily drawn to look pretty on a piece of A4 paper. The proportion, relation, balance and harmony of these shapes should work for you because you have put in the work to understand your space and how you want to use it. This is your template. The essence of how you will use the garden is encapsulated in this crude diagram.
Congratulations, the heavy lifting is done. Figuratively speaking of course. Now you can look forward to freewheeling your way through all those delightfully delicate decisions on materials and plants. Speaking of decisions, make sure you tune in next time when I will be addressing the biggest one facing every modern Irish homeowner; should I fake it?
I mean the grass, obvs.