You could think of your garden like a blank canvas. But when it comes to designing it for your use – where do you start? Sustainable gardener Kevin W Gelder takes us through the most logical questions to ask yourself when thinking about garden design.
In our previous post we went through what the land can offer you when you take over a new garden. Now it’s time to look at the reverse side of the coin: what do you expect from your land? We’ll see there are five key components, and it’s best to figure out your priorities for each before acting.
Beauty or bounty?
The big starting point with any plot of land in my mind is whether you want it to be productive, or simply to look attractive. These two are not mutually exclusive. If you have enough room, you can have decorative borders as well as a vegetable patch. A vegetable plot can be planted in a visually appealing way, and flowering plants can be interspersed among the edibles.
Be open to your focus changing over time too. I found myself picking from my ornamental border so often in 2021 that I took the plunge to start transforming it into a dedicated cut flower patch.
How much time and effort do you have?
Gardens can be designed as maintenance-free or involved as you want. Ultimately it comes down to how much time and energy you have to give to your garden. If gardening is a passion, you’ll want to incorporate elements requiring regular input. In contrast, there are plants and landscaping features you can easily plan in which will minimise the amount of time you have to spend tinkering.
Your physical wellbeing is pivotal also. Raised beds are perfect for those with reduced mobility, and shrubs and trees demand less effort than annuals and tidy lawns.
Who will use the space?
You might live alone and want a private sanctuary, sheltered from others. Alternatively, you could be social butterfly who envisions summer evenings with friends drinking and dining on a fine patio. Many of us have family to take into account, and this will influence leaving areas for children or pets to play and explore.
Larger plots allow for “garden rooms” dedicated to distinct activities. A family-friendly spot can have both an outdoor kitchen and dining area, an open lawn and a hidden arbor of tranquility.
What buildings do you want or need?
Tied closely to the uses and outputs of your garden is settling on which buildings to include. Available space and planning regulations also play a part here.
Most people will benefit from a shed unless they have adequate storage in the house or a garage. A greenhouse will also come in useful for the avid gardener, even if just a mini version. Those who don’t garden keenly might want outbuildings such as a studio to work in, a sauna or a summer house.
The topography of your garden goes some way towards positioning buildings. Beyond that, there are two main approaches: keeping buildings close to the house to minimise distance in inclement weather or constructing them out of view. My parents had their shed at the far end of the garden, screened behind trees and shrubs.
It feels like the days of anthropocentric gardening are behind us, as we witness dramatic declines in wildlife populations around the world. Leaving some space in which different creatures can find safe haven really is a non-negotiable, especially in urban and suburban locations. That said, you should carefully ponder how much room for wildlife you can allow. For some it will be nettles behind the shed, for others a wildlife meadow. Bird boxes, bug hotels and gaps under fences permit movement of all sorts of species, and this in turn can be an eyeopening education.
Forming a true reflection
Once you really know your land and what you want from it, you’re all set to move forward. Whether you draw plans out in detail or get in landscapers then go with the flow, you’ll be more assured of a garden unique to you. With more than 390,000 species known to science, the real fun begins when researching and gathering plants for your garden. By acknowledging your garden’s underlying nature and building upon this foundation, a true reflection of both the location and the gardener will evolve.