What are the things to think about when designing a garden ?
Literally the ‘spirit of the place’, what is the prevailing character or atmosphere of the location ? Landscape architects and garden designers use the principle that landscape or garden designs should be adapted to the context in which they are located. As an example, a Cotswold cottage garden in the City of London might look out of place !
Form follows function
Deciding what the garden should be used for is key to the design: should there be a childrens’ play area, an evening relaxing space with a firepit, an area for growing vegetables ? A swimming pool ? Sheds ? A compost heap ?
Although every design for a garden is intrinsically different, there are lots of different styles that can be an inspiration for the design: cottage, contemporary, country Mediterranean, Japanese, urban etc.
Regulating line from a feature
This helps visualise the way individual pieces or parts of a design will relate to the other parts and to the property. Any number of features can be used to establish a regulating line, such as the edge of a building, the property boundary, a doorway, a prominent tree, etc.
Proportion and balance
Getting the sense that a garden has the correct proportions is important. If the proportions are not correct it impairs the visual appeal of the garden and, more often than not, it creates problems in using the garden e.g. plants outgrowing their allotted space or outdoor dining furniture unable to be correctly positioned. One way of helping to define proportions is to use the golden ratio - a ratio of proportion that’s been observed in everything from the Great Pyramids at Giza to the Greek Parthenon and has been used throughout history as a guide to a pleasing sense of balance and order. Another is to use a prominent feature of the property to define proportion e.g. the dimensions of an extension.
Enclosure and movement
Whether large or small, with or without views, a garden is, in essence, a form of enclosure. From the earliest days of settlement, humans have used enclosures to protect, develop and enjoy their land and gardens by putting bounds on a property. This theme can be extended to create enclosures within a garden: secluded spaces or small bounded areas from which to view the rest of the garden. Combined with this can be a method or way to move around the garden: paths leading to secret spaces or an enticement to go to a focal point from which there is a stunning view.
Height and mass
A garden with very little structural height, whether plants or otherwise, can be very unappealing whereas a garden full of tall trees, shrubs, planting and large structures can be overwhelming. Obtaining a balance with respect to the height of structural items and the mass of planting is important. A golden rule is to plant big to small: start with trees, then shrubs, then perennials, then ground cover. Include other tall structural items to help break up the spaces if necessary with e.g. a pergola or arch.
A garden should be a relaxing space. When there is a ‘mish mash’ of materials, plants or colour it can be very unsettling. Keeping the number of materials down, planting in masses with repetition and having a consistent colour scheme helps to provide a sense of unity and provides a degree of calmness.
Design needs to be matched to available budget. There is no point designing a Ferrari when there is only budget for a Mini !
Rob Howard, Garden Designer