Picture of one of my designs for a garden in east Cheshire featuring a sunken garden and water rill.
In my work as a professional garden designer, I hear the same story time after time when I first meet with prospective clients. “I know what to do and what I want when it comes to inside the house but when it comes to the garden I just don’t know where to start”
Although the UK is recognised throughout the world as having a very strong tradition of gardening and garden design this fear means, that for many, the garden remains a dull unloved space beyond the house windows. With maybe a few shrubs, a bit of patchy lawn and some fencing. It doesn’t need to be like this, even for those who don’t have green fingers, nor the ambition to become keen gardeners. Added to this, a simply designed garden space can lift the look of any house, home or dwelling, and in so doing improve both living environments as well as benefiting mental well-being in the process.
When setting out to create a garden design for your outdoor space the first step is to measure up the plot, making sure to include the location of any services such as inspection chambers drains and existing features. The drawing of the plot should also include the footprint of the house as well as any outdoor structures, such as sheds, garden rooms, or garages, that will fall within the garden design areas of the plot. This plan should be dimensioned with the locations of any doors and openings clearly marked. The location and dimensions of windows to the lower floors of the house, which may potentially look out onto the garden, should also be included.
You should note the aspect of the garden, is it north-facing, south-facing for example? Are there areas of the garden that are in permanent shade, or areas that are in the constant sun? Are parts of the garden shaded by neighbouring garden trees, shrubs, or structures? If so, note them down on your plan as these details will impact both how you design the garden, but also where to position potential hard standing, and terracing for seating areas, as well as the best type of plants for each location.
The sample picture below shows a professional topographic survey from one of my garden design projects to illustrate the points made above. As can be noted it has a key with symbols denoting various pointers on the plan as well as aspect marker to the top of the plot, indicating due north. In a professional topographic survey the levels within the garden space, internal floors, and openings will also be marked on the survey. If your garden plot, or landscape, is quite large or complex with varying levels et al you may well want to employ the services of a professional surveyor to carry out your topographic survey. Garden and landscape designers will usually carry out the survey themselves, or on more complex and demanding projects employ professional surveyors.
Once you have an outline of the plot the next step is to take some pictures of the space. Although its a view you look at it every day taking pictures of that space opens a different perspective. This can also change the way of looking at your garden and its relationship to your home and surroundings. Be sure to go to the corners of the plot and looking back at the house take some snaps from these viewpoints too.
Take pictures from inside the house looking out onto the garden from windows and doors that overlook garden areas. Print those with good cross-sectional views of the garden areas landscape, you wish to design. Looking from the house it’s also important to note any areas of the garden and house that may be overlooked.
At this point, you will need to take a soil sample to ascertain whether your soil conditions are. It may be acidic, alkaline, or neutral. Noting what type of soil you have will assist with choosing the correct plants. For example, is it heavy clay or a sandy loam? There are a couple of ways that you can test your soil conditions. You can either buy a PH+ kit online. A summary will help to determine the amount of prep work required as part of your design process. This could include elements such as additional drainage where water-logging is a potential problem. Down to the type of plants you will eventually choose for your designed garden. Having completed your proposed garden design you will want to call in professional landscapers to carry out the landscaping works. In which case, all of this information will prove invaluable.
Or if you happen to have an RHS membership, they offer a more detailed testing service for a fee. They test the soil PH and also test for nutrients, soil types as well as an outline of suitable plants.
By now you will have enough information and be ready to start the next part of the process. Preparing to design your garden. At this stage it’s best to write yourself a design brief listing things like what type of garden you want. Will it be low maintenance or is it your plan to create a design for a keen gardener? Are you a hands-on gardener or is low maintenance the goal? Will the garden be purely ornamental and aesthetic? Perhaps you want to use part of it to grow some fruit and vegetables? These are the first questions I ask all my prospective clients prior to setting out to design their gardens/landscapes.
This is when you really want to begin to analyse what type of garden you will attempt to create. Will it be a contemporary garden or a more traditional garden, a cottage garden perhaps, or a wildflower meadow. If space allows perhaps an orchard even? Will the garden be wildlife-friendly with areas set aside for insect and wildlife habitat? Will you look to use recycled materials, or buy everything new?
Do you plan to take into account the possible impacts of climate change? This will impact the types of plants you want and how they will be watered and sustained. This is an important consideration of our changing and unpredictable climate. Speaking of water will your plans include water features? If yes will it be a self-contained off the shelf feature or something a bit more elaborate and custom made? What about rainwater harvesting systems? In a smaller garden do you plan to install rainwater butts? Handy and can be used to water the garden during dry spells. It’s also a great way of not only reducing the amount of fresh water you use. It will also help cut down on water bills.
If all this seems a little daunting, don’t panic, it’s time to create that mood book. Simply put this will involve the creation of a collection of ideas, pictures and references of both materials, styles, and plants combinations. It’s really a pictorial reference to incorporate into your vision for your garden designs. A good starting point for this part of the creation of your designs can be to purchase some books on gardens and garden designs. You might want to consider a subscription to some of the quality garden-related UK published magazines. Gardens Illustrated, The English Garden, or Homes & Gardens, are all quality publications Each is sure to be filled with inspirational stories and pictures of gardens and plants that will help you to develop a clear idea of what can be achieved.
In part two we will begin the process of designing the basic outlines of the garden. So make sure to subscribe to the blog and look out for further posts.
© David Keegan Garden Design January 2020.
David Keegan is a multi-award winning internationally recognised garden and landscape designer. He is the only UK designer to have been awarded the prestigious Northern Design Award for best landscape designer four times, 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2016. He has also received international recognition for this landscape design work with recognition in the International Landscape Design Awards in the USA winning awards in both 2012 and 2018.
His Eco garden also won national UK recognition winning BALI (British Association of Landscape Industry) awards in 2017 Principle Award Winner for domestic garden construction. A self-confessed plant-a-holic his personal motto is ‘It’s All About The Plants’ He regularly appears as a speaker on trade panel shows. His work has also featured in numerous magazines and books on landscape design. Based in Manchester he is currently working on a variety of projects across the North West the UK and Europe.
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© David Keegan Garden Design February 2020 all rights reserved. Do not copy or use any or all of the materials of this blog post without prior permission and authorisation of the author.
2 years ago, By David Keegan
I came across this preface I wrote for a book on garden structure and designs in 2013 and thought it worth reposting...