It was about 17 years ago that I tentatively began a garden design for my very first clients in south London. I have to admit to being very nervous starting out all those years ago, but I knew, even then, how important it was to listen to them and interpret their needs to create a garden that looked lovely and suited their busy lives. The design had a simple, strong lay-out that stood the test of time and developed with them over the years.
Fast forward to a few months ago, and those same clients had recently moved house and asked me for a detailed design of their new garden. Many things have changed over the years and they need different things from their garden now. They’re still very busy, but semi-retired and in the enviable position of having some spare time for gardening. Their main aim is to have an attractive garden with plenty of seating for entertaining friends and family.
THE GARDEN NOW
is a little uninspiring to be honest, it has a big lawn, a large grassy bank that’s covered mostly with couch-grass and a small patio, this was removed when the new extension was built. Apart from a few established shrubs, there’s nothing in this garden to tempt you to spend time in it, but it does have loads of potential.
THE FIRST STEP
before I start working with clients is to have a detailed understanding of what they want. I do this with a meeting to find out, amongst other things:
- what they would like to use the garden for
- how they want it to look
- how much time they want to spend looking after it
- what style of garden they prefer
- plants that they like …. and dislike
- what budget we have to work to
I get lots of clues about their style from what they have in their house, and of course from the architecture of the house and the surroundings.
I love this process of getting to know people, and it’s all very useful information to help me interpret their wishes and tailor the garden precisely for them, whilst steering them towards good design and away from things that just won’t work.
is the next stage, where I get as much practical information about the garden as I can. For example, which way does the garden face? Have a look here if you want to know more about why this really matters. I also need to establish:
- where the damp-proof-course is to make sure the paving will be at the right level.
- I always check for any planning issues, such as trees that have preservation orders on them, or if the garden is in a conservation area.
- I establish where the sunny and shady areas are, so I’ll know where to place the seating areas and what plants to use.
- the type of soil so I can select the most appropriate plants.
Choosing plants is something that most clients have struggled with, it’s so disappointing (and expensive) to have to replace plants, so getting the planting right is a really valuable part of the project for my clients.
Few gardens are completely flat so this is me using specialist equipment to measure the difference in height across the garden. This gives me the information I need to work out things like the the size of the steps and how much of a slope there is on the bank.
This is the garden survey showing all the measurements and information I need for the concept plan.
are the starting point for me, initially just to get ideas down on paper and to work out how the space will be manipulated, at this stage it’s all about shapes. I use all the information, that I’ve gathered so far, keeping in mind what the clients want and working towards the concept plan.
THE NEW GARDEN
will have a large paved terrace with a smart brick edge, the clients wanted plenty of room for their friends and family, so there’s enough room to fit everyone round a large table . I’ve also added a raised brick planter on the corner of the patio with a matching brick edge , it’ll be filled with aromatic herbs (handy for the barbeque), and the brick edge to the planter also provides extra seating.
There’ll be another small patio in the corner of the garden that catches the morning sun, see sketch below, it’ll be partially screened with tall, airy planting, making a nice semi-enclosed area.
The bank will be cleared of all the weeds, there’ll be a low wall at the front so that the height of the soil can be increased to make planting easier and a low evergreen hedge in front of this to soften the long line of the wall. A small bench will be set into the hedge to break up the long hedge and provide another seat that’s close to the plants.
This hedging will be repeated on the other side of the garden, making a partial screen for the vegetable beds. Hedges are a useful way of defining spaces in a garden and adding structure
I talk the clients through it all at our next meeting. It’s easy to tweak the design and make any changes on paper before the next stage of detailed master-plan and planting plan is created.
The Plan and sketches really help the garden plan to come to life on paper. It’s often difficult for my clients to visualise how their finished garden is going to look, and seeing it laid out like this helps them.
I also show them samples of paving and any other materials that I’m proposing to use, so they have a clear idea of what the garden will look like.
It’s always good to make sure that there’s something interesting to see in the garden from inside the house. I’m proposing a focal point, such as sculpture, surrounded by contrasting plant shapes that can be seen from the big, glass doors.
I show my clients examples of pictures and descriptions of the the type of plants to be included in the Plan. The plant list can be tweaked, removing and adding plants so that the final planting plan is just right for the clients and their garden. The detailed planting plan will be done at the next stage along with the final Master-plan.
The clients want an informal style and are keen to attract birds into the garden, this is really easy to do with plants that provide food and shelter for wildlife.
There’ll be shapely, evergreen shrubs for structure through-out the year, with herbaceous plants and ornamental grasses for colour and texture. Spring bulbs are always welcome and so are perfumed plants, especially near seats.
The picture will change subtly through the seasons, but there’ll always be something interesting to see. All the plants are carefully selected for the soil type and the amount of sun and shade there is.
The next stage will be the master-plan and detailed planting plan, I use CAD (computer aided design) for this stage because it’s so quick and efficient, for example I can send plans electronically to contractors and architects.
If you’re looking for inspiration and help with the planting in your garden, you might want to read my book, Planting Design Essentials, it’s available here
I hope you find this useful and that it gives you some insight into the process of designing a garden.
If you enjoyed reading this, you might also like this post about planning your perfect garden.