Updated: Nov 14, 2019
I often speak to my garden design clients about the importance of planning, about the need to sit back and observe a space before launching in and actually doing. At a time when the world around us seems to move faster and faster it can be difficult to exercise this kind of patience. To sit back and watch a space and to observe the micro-climates within a space (and every garden, no matter how small, will have its quirks of nature) before launching in and laying a terrace, building a pond or planting a tree.
I encourage observation and patience simply because, with good, solid planning, a garden will offer many more rewards than one that was cobbled together in an unplanned rush. If you fail to look at the garden as a whole – as a single system that functions within nature and supports itself, then you'll end up with lots of piecemeal sections that don't work with each other. There will be no flow or continuity to the space.
Think of any other system that relies on lots of different elements to function as a whole – for example a bicycle. If you take the front wheel away, or remove the brake pads, the bicycle will no longer work as it should. A garden should ultimately function in this same way. With each individual element coming together to form one, unified space.
So, when thinking about what to do with your outdoor space. Before reaching for a spade or calling in the landscapers, spend a little bit of time in the space. Sit back and observe. Are there any frost pockets? Which section gets the most sun? What sections are shaded? Do any sections remain sodden at all times? What is the soil like? What creatures visit the garden in its current state and why? What draws them in? These are just some of the myriad of questions that you can ask about your space before the planning
begins. Think of it like a type of meditation.
And once you've taken the time to sit and observe, you can then proceed to the planning stage. At this point I would encourage you to think about who will be using the garden – you, your children, your pets? About who you want to entice into the garden – birds, bees, butterflies, hedgehogs perhaps? And about what you, and anyone else who makes use of the garden, wants to use the garden for. Create a garden wish list.
My wish list, for example (in no particular order), is to have a space to BBQ and entertain, to have a space to relax in, to grow as many edible and useful plants as I can and to encourage and house as much urban wildlife as I can. Thankfully, my husband has similar ideas, and so from this wish list we've created a garden that ticks all these boxes and that functions as one, self-sustaining system.
Once you've taken time to observe and have written your garden wish list, you can then start making plans. Draw up a 2D, birds eye view plan of your garden as it currently looks and mark out where you want all the different elements to go. Think about how much space each element requires and how you will move from one to the other. Think about the practicalities of it too. How wide do your pathways need to be? Where is it most practical to place your water butt or compost heap? What part of your garden gets the late evening sunshine and so will work well as a relaxation or entertaining space? Do you really want to be trekking to the end of the garden on a rain sodden evening to grab a quick handful of herbs from your herb garden or would it be more practical to site your herbs closer to the kitchen door? Where should you plant for shade? Where should you plant for sun?
There are of course so many factors to consider when planning and designing a garden, and if you get to the planning stage and don't know where to turn or how to bring your ideas together, think about getting someone in (like me!) who can help you to put shape to all your amazing ideas.