Steps to Designing a Perfect Garden

Garden design is not just the ability to create a beautifully illustrated plan, although this is one of the many outputs of the garden design process and arguably the most exciting. A garden designer’s role is to find creative, practical solutions to the many technical challenges presented by an outdoor space. A good garden designer can make a garden that is useable and suitable for a specific set of requirements as well as being beautiful and a pleasure to spend time in.

It would not be possible to describe fully how to design a garden in a single article. A great deal of training and experience is required to understand how to obtain the correct ratio of mass to void in a garden design scheme, or how to create rhythm in a garden design, or working with shapes to ensure the garden flows and feels comfortable to use. So, the following paragraphs outline major steps in the garden design process and I will go into more detail about each phase in separate articles.

1. Decide on the requirements for the garden

Before considering aesthetics it is necessary to understand the practical requirements for the garden such as how it will be used, by whom and who will look after it. Answering a series of questions is the best way to arrive at the requirements. These are the kind of questions that need to be answered to arrive at the requirements:-

• How much time is available to look after the garden?

• Will a professional maintenance company/garden be looking after the garden?

• Will the garden be used by pets or children?

• Does the garden need to cater for elderly or disabled visitors?

• Will the garden need to cater for users with mobility problems?

• Will the garden be used for eating and entertaining?

• How many people will want to use the garden at one time?

• Is the garden owned by a keen, knowledgeable gardener?

The aim is to arrive at a list of requirements which forms the basis of the design process.

2. Get inspired

Experienced garden designers know the value of regularly looking at all forms of art and architecture in order to keep their ‘visual vocabulary’ up to date and get inspiration for their designs. Inspiration can come from a shape in nature like an old, gnarled tree, an architectural detail on a building, a combination of shapes and colours in a painting, almost anywhere if you are looking with a creative eye.

Look at materials, interior and exterior. Textures and patterns in wall and floor tiles, stone cladding, marble mosaics, etc are a great source of inspiration and can result in a piece of detailing that lifts the garden design scheme out of the mundane. Visit landscaping supply yards, reclamation yards and interior design suppliers like the Design Centre in Chelsea Harbour in London.

Visit some gardens, look in gardening books and magazines, go to some garden shows like the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) Chelsea Flower Show and Hampton Court Flower Show and look at the show gardens.

3. Take the site survey

Take a thorough site survey and analysis. Measure the house including the position and height of all doors and windows. The survey should show steps, drains, manhole covers, chimney breasts, and anything else that will affect the final garden design.

A garden is rarely square or flat. Use triangulation and offsetting to plot in the garden boundaries, and the location of all plants, garden features and buildings. Make a note of things outside the garden like overhanging trees or a fabulous view as they will affect the eventual design of the garden. Survey any level changes in the garden and mark these clearly on the survey.

Take a soil sample for analysis. It’s important when planting to know what the ph level (acidity or alkalinity) of the soil in order to choose the correct plants. Some plants prefer a soil that is more acidic and others will only grow in a more alkaline soil. It is also necessary to identify boggy places, shaded areas and other potentially troublesome parts of the garden.

A note must be made of what lies beyond the garden boundaries. If the garden overlooks a great view this can be used as part of the new design – this is called ‘borrowing’ the view. However, if there is something ugly outside the garden like a derelict building, or the garden is overlooked by neighbouring properties these will need to be screened out as part of the garden design.

The site survey must be drawn up to scale, in ink on a piece of tracing paper large enough to show clearly the new design and put in labels – most gardens will fit onto an A1 sheet.

4. Create the new design

Using the requirements and site survey the new design is created using a series of interconnected geometric shapes. The final design should create a pleasing picture on paper and each element that comprises the design should be the correct size for its intended purpose. For example, if the terrace needs to seat 6 people for dinner it must be large enough to hold a table of the correct size with room to pull out chairs so that people can sit down and stand up comfortably.

The design must addresses any sloping parts of the garden. If flat spaces are required for lawns, seating areas, etc and the site is sloping retaining walls will be required -these should be shown clearly on the plan.

The new design should be drawn to scale in ink on a piece of tracing paper. Everything must be labelled clearly including wall heights, paved areas, lawn, edgings, pergolas, planted areas, walls with their heights, water features.

5. Choose construction materials

Select materials for constructing each area and make sure these are labelled on the plan. There are many different construction materials available and these vary greatly in price and quality. Research DIY stores, garden centres, and landscape and building suppliers to find materials that suit the intended purpose, and fit the budget.

6. Create the planting plan

A planting plan is required that shows the location, type and numbers of plants clearly labelled with their Latin names for each planted area of the garden. Planting should comprise a mixture of evergreen and deciduous shrubs, herbaceous plants and bulbs that will give a year-round display of colour and scent. The plants give the garden structure and that important quality of seasonal change.

7. Create the construction plan

The construction plan helps remove margin for error and ensure the garden is constructed correctly to a high standard. The construction plan is a technical drawing that shows contractors how to construct specific features in the garden such as steps, pergolas, fences and retaining walls. It should contain details of required paving patterns and sections showing how paving is to be laid, how footings for walls are to be constructed, how edgings are to be laid.

8. Create the setting out plan

The setting out plan is another technical drawing that enables landscape contractors to construct the garden accurately. This plan shows the dimensions and location of all features in the garden. The central point of any circular features such as seating areas and lawns will be shown as a measurement from a fixed, measureable point such as the corner of the house. This plan will also show angular dimensions, wall heights relative to finished paving height, and the finished ground level of any terraced areas.

The setting out plan enables landscape contractors to quickly mark out the garden before they start building the garden. This allows them to check there are no errors in the design or survey and that the design will fit correctly into the space. It enables adjustments to the plan, if necessary, before construction work starts, thereby avoiding expensive mistakes further down the line.

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The History of Winter Gardens

Winter gardens trace their roots back to the Victorian period when municipalities began building large conservatories for the enjoyment of their citizens, and eventually the phrase winter garden took off from there. Once these municipalities paved the way for large conservatories the upper crust of society began building their own private structures one larger than the previous to out do their neighbors. Once the wealthy homeowner showed that winter gardens could be applied to residential applications the techniques were taken to smaller homes. The small residential gardener would use structures like overhangs and tree branches to protect fragile plants from winter weather. The original conservatories were built as the convention centers of their day, they were the site of concerts and dances. The largest cities of the day built these conservatories. In Washington D.C. the United States Botanic Garden was the home to plants from around the world. In Chicago the city built The Garfield Park Conservatory in 1906-1907, the conservatory was the largest publicly held conservatory under one roof. In 1919 Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania built a conservatory that still houses an astounding 4.5 acres or glass.

After WWI these large conservatories fell out of favor due to the high costs of maintaining and heating. Due to the advances in heating technologies these conservatories saw a resurgence in the late 20th century. Some of the grand conservatories mentioned before have even been retrofitted and reopened.

Although I wish I had space for a winter garden on to itself it’s easier to have a few plants in the garden that can shine in the winter. For Public and Botanical gardens that can budget a large conservatory outdoor winter gardens or a winter border allow their patrons to get a similar enjoyment from the winter. The newest generation of winter gardens are growing in popularity as winters become more tempered and plants from warmer climates can be used. In 1979 the first of its kind winter garden was established at The University of Cambridge’s Botanical Garden.

Once the conservation mentality found in homes during WWII subsided interest in ornamental plants increased. During this post war period the way homeowners used their gardens evolved. During the war gardens where for supporting ones family with vegetables crops, but post-war people began growing more flowers. With produce being the main goal of growing a garden before the focus tended to shed light on the summer months, even when people started growing flowers after the war the trend of thinking about the garden continued to focus on the summer. With the increase interest in gardening magazines and books, winter gardening began to receive more exposure and the trend began to grow. Those plants that found prominence in the 19th century conservatories finally began to take their home in second half of 20th century home gardens. Winter gardens like any other trend eventually became stagnant by the 1970’s winter gardens typically consisted of evergreens and heather. While evergreens and heather can be beautiful only utilizing to areas of the plant landscape will limit the creativity of a winter garden. The two plants are very static during winter months and a garden utilizing them alone has turned static summer gardens into static winter gardens. Luckily we have evolved out of the days of strictly evergreens and heather and today’s gardener utilizes winter flowering bulbs, perennials, and uses shrubs for their winter interest. Today’s winter gardens evolve through the seasons as points of interest can rotate throughout a garden and plants have more than one period of interest to bring to the table.

In gardens in the front of the house techniques can be enjoyed at close ranges, and the scent from the plants cab be appreciated. Using the house as a way to protect plants from winter winds and larger snow fall can allow delicate plants to survive harsh conditions. This gardener is certainly happy that he no longer has to wait for spring to enjoy gardening.

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Surrey Garden Design Inspiration

Other counties might be extolled as the garden of England but the county of Surrey where we have our office is rightfully the home of some of the best gardens in the British Isles. A brief glance at many a best gardens list and Surrey gardens will often appear.

The best known are the large gardens opened by organisation such as the Royal Horticultural Society and National Trust. The former’s RHS Garden Wisley is rightfully one of the most visited in the country. It can at first glance seem a mix of botanical garden with ‘features’ thrown in but after many visits you understand that this garden stands apart as both scientific collection and centre as well as giving inspiration season by season. If you have limited space in your own garden this is a great place to see how borders can be designed to give year round interest. Or if you’re interested in a specific species then you’ll likely get something from a particular area. A top tip, check out the orchards in the spring when they blossom, its an oasis from the crowds that hover down in the main body of the garden.

The National Trust is well represented in Surrey as well. Clandon Park, a Palladian mansion is set in 7 acres of garden, Claremont however os probably more widely known. Claremont is a beautiful garden surrounding a small lake and featuring an unusual grass amphitheatre. The garden’s creation and development has involved great names in garden history, including Sir John Vanbrugh, Charles Bridgeman, William Kent and ‘Capability’ Brown. In 1726 it was described as ‘the noblest of any in Europe’ and the garden today is of national importance. For something more subdued Runnymede is the riverside site of the sealing of the Magna Carta, historically significant with one of the few easily accessible designs of Jellicoe.

These gardens are significant and you can sometimes get inspiration from them, especially for planting but if you want some ideas for smaller gardens than a year of visiting the Surrey gardens open under the National Gardens Scheme is well worth a try. They won’t always be to your liking but some will strike a chord. Small gardens such as Stuart Cottage in East Clandon, Heathside in Cobham, Walton Poor House in Ranmore and Chinthurst Lodge near Guildford are all interesting for the plantaholic in you. Vann in Hambledon and Cleeves near Haslemere are Surrey gardens worth a look for their design ideas for older buildings. And there are other gardens such as Timber Hill near Chobham, a garden that glories in fine trees as well as great planted borders.

And of course these Surrey gardens are all owned by enthusiastic gardeners so it’s always good to go back and see what has happened over the years. A garden such as that at The Round house in Loxhill is constantly evolving often, in this case because of an owner gradually creating a new garden from once neglected market gardens. So the National Gardens Scheme gardens in Surrey are well worth an exploration but be prepared to be both delighted and exasperated. They are private gardens, created by their keen owners, not you, so don’t be surprised if occasionally you see the plants you’re not so keen on. But from experience these gardens will also turn you on to new plants and new ideas that you can twist for your own uses!

Of course we don’t all want the maintenance that is so often involved with these gardens that open for the public. Sometimes it’s good to just see what other people are creating and revel in the seasonal colour whilst going back to our own simpler gardens where we can manage the changes in our gardens. If that’s the case don’t forget about the many resources in the county. Of course many of the gardens mentioned above will sell you some great plants and in the case of some you’ll find something unusual to impress your friends. The other thing you will find in abundance are garden designers for Surrey supports a profession second to none drawn by the great climate, an eager audience and a network of great nursery and landscape suppliers. Looking out of the window of my office it’s almost impossible not to see a local landscape van pass by every hour!

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Grow a Fall Garden: Tips and Shortcuts

Fall can be a great time to grow a vegetable garden. We typically think of spring as the best planting season, but believe it or not fall can be an even better time of year to grow a garden. Even though summer is coming to an end, it’s not too late to grow a fall garden. Fall gardens work best with a little advanced planning, but I can help you throw one together quickly.

If you’re interested in planting a fall garden now, you can! I know you’re busy, that’s the way of the world. We are constantly over-booked and running from one responsibility to the next. In the essence of time, I will give you some great short-cuts. You can order mostly everything you need right now while you’re searching the web. Then, within the next few days or by this weekend you can start growing a fall garden. It should take you an hour or less to get it going. So, what are we waiting for? Let’s get too it!

Tips and Shortcuts:
• Use the internet to reduce shopping time
• Order plants today
• Order an easy to assemble raised garden bed
• Determine your growing climate
• Buy Gardening Soil & Organic Fertilizer
• Set aside time and start your garden

PURCHASE ONLINE
I know how busy life can be. Who has time to drive from store to store looking for the right plants and materials to set-up a garden? I know I don’t have that much time, so I’m sure you don’t either. Hey, since you’re sitting here learning about how to grow a fall garden, I bet you can spend another 15 minutes ordering all the supplies you need to get started. I promise that’s all the time it will take you. I will give you links to quickly direct you to the information you need to get a jump start on growing your garden.

ORDER PLANTS TODAY
I have to admit, we’re getting a late start on our fall garden. Since fall is just a few days away, the best thing to do is to start with seedlings or pre-sprouted plants. There are many good options for direct sow seeds that can be used in fall gardens, but at this time I think we should start with pre-grown plants. That way we can avoid the dreaded freezing of our lovely crops. Burpee.com is a great site to visit when planning your fall garden. You can order just about any plant you’re looking for, and in my experience the plants you get from Burpee are healthy and grow very well.

ORDER AN EASY-TO ASSEMBLE-RAISED GARDEN BED
The best way to get a garden growing quickly is by purchasing an easy to assemble raised garden bed. By doing this you can avoid tilling up your yard and will minimize the amount of digging required. There are many easy to assemble garden beds available for online purchase. Both Burpee and Amazon have some great products. I will give you direct links to a few of these products on my website if you want to quickly link to them and get them shipped to you in a hurry.

DETERMINE YOUR GROWING CLIMATE
One of the most important steps in growing a fall garden is to determine your growing climate and choose the right plants. It’s easy to get lost in a slew of maps on the internet. I am a big fan of the Burpee website; they make it easy for the typical gardener. They have a growing calendar tool. All you do is enter your zip code and boom there’s a list of the crops you can grow throughout the year. This awesome tool even gives you information on which method to use for planting (direct sow, indoor sow or transplant). If this sounds like something of interest to you, I will give direct links on my website so you don’t have to spend too much time searching around. I’ll do the leg-work for you to make this process as quick as possible.

BUY GARDENING SOIL AND ORGANIC FERTILIZER
Since we will be using an easy to assemble raised garden bed, our plants will get fresh healthy soil. This makes plants happy! It also makes gardeners happy because it eliminates the step of having to till and dig up our yard in order to get the ground ready for planting. This is the most simple and effective way to get a fall garden growing quickly with healthy plants.

Get this:
• Two bags of topsoil
• 1-2 Bags of more expensive garden soil/compost
• Organic Fertilizer

You can just buy these things from your local garden store. You can stop by on your way home from work and run in, it should only take you a few minutes. Remember, we’re doing this quickly. You will also need a few handfuls of grass clippings or leaves to spread over the top. You can have your kids collect these from your yard. It shouldn’t be too hard, and it gives your garden some nice organic material.

SET ASIDE TIME TO SET-UP AND PLANT YOUR GARDEN
You should set aside about an hour to get your garden set-up. Depending on which raised garden bed model you choose, your time commitment for setting-up the garden may be more or less. This is a simple process. Here we go!

Prepare the Bed:
• Choose a location for your garden
• Take your raised garden bed assembly kit, plants, soil and fertilizer to your garden location
• Make sure you have a garden hose nearby
• Assemble the raised garden bed kit
• Take your top soil bags and lay them down near the garden bed
• Poke several holes in the bottom of the bags
• Lay the bags inside the raised garden bed
• Cut off the tops of the top soil bags
• Pour the garden soil/compost, little by little on the top soil mixing the soils as you go
• Add the organic fertilizer to your top soil/compost mixture, mix again with your hands

Basically, what we’ve done here is create a quick and effortless healthy soil for your plants to thrive in. By leaving the top-soil bags partially in-tact we are reducing the amount of weeds that will attack your veggie garden. Don’t forget to cut holes in the bottom of the top soil bags though. This ensures proper drainage of the soil. We also combined healthy garden soil/compost with a cheaper top-soil to cut cost. By blending in the fertilizer, we are ensuring your garden will have a healthy start.

Now it’s time to plant:
• When planting, be sure to leave a small pathway between your rows of plants
• Take the plants, one at a time and wet them well with the garden hose
• Remove the plants from their containers, one at a time
• Plant in rows, close enough to prevent weeds from taking over bare spots
• Once you’ve planted all your seedlings, top with grass clippings or leaves

It’s important to plant your vegetables close together. It may seem counterproductive, but this will reduce the weeds in your garden. By wetting the plants before removing them from the pots, we are giving them a nice and minimizing the amount of root damage upon removal. Topping the garden with grass clippings or leaves adds organic matter, further preventing weeds and other undesirables.

Conclusion:
Planting a fall vegetable garden doesn’t have to be difficult or time consuming. Gather most of your supplies by ordering online and your time commitment is reduced even more. This can be quick, easy and painless. I will add this article to my website with simple links to get you directly some easy-to-assemble raised garden bed, plants and climate research tools.

It should literally take you 15-20 minutes to order your supplies. Running into the garden center for soil and fertilizer should be quick. Your time commitment to setting up the garden should only be about an hour. That’s a total commitment of about an hour and a half. Just think how great it will be to have healthy, organic food growing right in your back yard. Let’s do this thing!

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