Introduction to Garden Design
By Brian Burke
What do you want your garden to do for you and your family? That’s the first question you need to ask yourself.
Think candidly about when and how you will use the garden. This doesn’t have to be an onerous, agonising or soul-searching process. The answers to a simple series of practical lifestyle questions will provide priceless input on the direction you should be taking with the design of your garden:
• What time do you go to work?
• What time do you get home?
• Do you work weekends?
• What direction is the garden facing?
• Do you have a pet?
• Are you interested in plants?
• What time is available for maintenance tasks?
• If there are children in the house what are their ages and interests?
• How much entertaining will you be doing, are you overlooked?
• Are there any objectionable views which need to be eliminated?
• Are there pleasant views which need to be enhanced?
• Is the soil free draining or clumpy?
• Does water have a place?
• Would you like to grow modest quantities of your own food?
Honest answers to a range of questions such as these will ensure that you get close to a finished product which fits your needs.
Now we can start to take these underlying principles and flesh them out. We can start to get into a bit more detail on the shape of things, on the proportions of the space given over to different purposes and how they relate to each other.
Bear in mind that anybody can take a blank rectangular piece of paper and divide it up into a series of connecting shapes. It is easy to divide a space up into sections and give each section a name – paving, lawn, planting. We should, even as DIY designers, be looking to do more than that. We should be looking to explore how our personal preferences and the honest answers to our lifestyle questions will inform decisions on position, shape, colour, texture, flow, balance, harmony and composition.
Let’s also think about the materials and surfaces we want to experience on a daily basis. For example, it is now well known that children react more positively to and enjoy longer periods of engagement with tactile, natural materials such as wood, stone and water.
Consider also the Irish climate. Its impact will need to be carefully evaluated from two primary perspectives; the view from the inside outwards and year-round usability.
The reality is that for substantial portions of the year we admire the garden through the double glass door from the living room. If you are planning any extensions or alterations consider designing the garden simultaneously, the two should be inextricably linked.
The year-round usability imperative will have a bearing on major decisions, particularly if there are children in the house. We would like to see our children outside all year round. It might sound like heresy coming from a garden designer, but artificial grass is an example of an element which could be a means of facilitating this year-round immersion.
Garden design, just like any other design realm, should have the needs and priorities of the user at the forefront of the process. Evaluate candidly what those needs are and then set about configuring your outside space to meet them. It’s not as daunting as it sounds, in fact you’ll have the time of your life doing it.
Stay tuned, over the coming weeks I will be describing practical, achievable steps you can take to build a garden that works for all members of the household.