We frequently hear ‘size matters’ but in gardening, very often small is very beautiful and therefore with careful planning and clever design, it is possible to transform even the smallest space or plot into an attractive feature rich garden oasis. Even if your plans are to build a garden on a small budget, it is possible to develop an attractive planting scheme without spending a fortune.
Before the process of designing a garden begins, it is necessary to first plan the new garden space. Other factors which will also require consideration include budget - how much are you willing to spend on features, plant varieties, stage of maturity etc, and how much time you are willing to invest in maintaining your new garden. Gardening might be broadly considered a leisure activity, but for many it involves plenty of activity and little leisure! As time becomes an increasing precious resource, it is very important that we also consider time and dhow much time will be available to manage and maintain the garden as it develops and matures.
When it comes to planning a garden, there are several factors which might be considered but three in particular:
Aspect – note the direction and times as the sun travels across the site. Remember that patios, ponds, flower beds, vegetable plots, fruit trees etc require good light. Sheds, compost heaps and shade loving plants can be positioned in areas where light levels are low. Trees are excellent for screening out unwelcome views they do cast shadows especially long shadows during winter.
Topography – sloping or uneven sites offer particular design scope not found in level sites. Otherwise when planning avoid placing fruit trees or other frost sensitive plants in hollows where temperatures are more likely to be lower than other parts of the site. Site areas which might be subject to persistent cross winds might require windbreaks until new shrubs and trees become established.
Soil – as general garden wisdom goes, one plants with the soil, not against it. Important to test the pH of your garden soil to determine whether it is alkaline or acidic. Plants which are lime hating should not be planted in alkaline soils or plants that are lime tolerant should not be planted in acidic soils. Similarly plants which prefer moist conditions are not suitable for growing in free draining sandy soils. A quick survey of neighbouring gardens would be a useful indicator of which plants are thriving in local conditions and would be good indicators of prevailing soil conditions etc.
Ideally when planning a garden in large sites try to create compartments otherwise in all sites large and small go for distinctive views which will vary and change as one walks through the garden. Some people prefer an open view looking at the garden from the house, whereas an incomplete or slightly obscured view can create mystery, intrigue and interest to explore. There are some visual aspects which can be considered:
The relationship of house and garden can be softened through use of perimeter beds, growing roses or climbing plants against the house or indeed well positioned hanging baskets, window boxes or pots.
Trees are excellent focal points, for screening unwanted views, shelter etc but position trees that will not obscure interesting views, create cold shadows in important areas.
Patios, paving and pathways, use materials that will blend with or contrast sympathetically with house and garden style. Natural stone is an excellent choice. Avoid dissecting lawn areas, instead position pathways on one side, and better still plan the route which takes the visitor on a journey through the planted areas. It may even be possible to conceal pathways in amongst the planting.
Geometry, straight lines can look particularly well in contemporary or architectural formal garden but otherwise curves are usually more appealing. Avoid intricate short complex curves and instead plan long bold sweeps.
Outbuildings including garden sheds, glasshouses, and potting sheds should where possible be screened. Plan positions carefully, glasshouses should be in sunny locations but there is no real need for the garden shed to stand in the sunniest place of the garden.
At this point it should be possible to decide on general shape, structure and key aspects of the broader layout. Next stage will be to begin the design and selection of planting types and groups, interesting features as well as visual tricks to create different illusions of for example how to make a small area seem bigger etc. Every garden no matter how small the space is, has big potential to become a relaxing and stylish retreat.
The author is a leading Garden Designer and Landscaper based in Dublin, Ireland. Many of his ideas and advice have been tried and tested through many years of professional experience as owner manager of a well established and award winning garden design and landscaping company which provides Private and Commercial clients a complete landscaping service including Garden Design, Construction & Planting.
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