6 things to consider before you dig...

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There are six things to consider before you pick up a spade when radical change is needed in your garden; I know - you're dying to get on with it but hold your horses!  It’s so easy to jump in and get excited about all the lovely elements you want to include, such as the dining area, summerhouse, water feature and more… and the plants of course  - but there are some basic design principles you need to use if you want to create a space that is gorgeous; cohesive, functional and easy to maintain.

Functionality 

This is crucial - for instance you need to ensure that your dining area is going to be big enough to seat the number of people you usually entertain.  This sounds so obvious but it’s easy to underestimate how much space is needed and it’s never pleasant to be tip-toeing around the edge of a patio or to feel one of the legs of your chair fall off into the grass or border.  Actually measure your table and then add plenty of space all around to allow chairs to be pulled out and people to pass by. 

Style

The gardens that work beautifully are the ones that sit comfortably in their surroundings and are constructed in a style and with materials that are sympathetic to the house and any other significant structures in view.  

Personally I want a garden to look as though it belongs and you can achieve this by deciding on a style and sticking with it though-out.  For instance if your home is period and you have used essentially clean lines internally but retained and featured the period detail it’s lovely to do the same outside.  Use your garden as an extended opportunity to express your taste and personality.

If your house is fabulously modern and your interiors have clean lines you would be best to follow this through into the garden.  Choose all your elements to tie up with the style of the house and the interior.  

For a wonderful old character cottage a cottage garden style may be the way to go - you can make it more contemporary and ensure it offers all year interest by including simple strong shapes as a foil to the busy planting.  A great way to do this is to include simple topiary.  

A great way to achieve the cohesion that really makes a garden work is to choose materials that are already a feature.  For instance in the garden of an old house with beautiful old bricks you could echo the house in the garden by featuring bricks in the path - be careful though as not all bricks are frost-proof and will start disintegrating once the wet and frost get to them.   

In a more contemporary home consider linking the inside with the out by choosing paving for the patio that echoes that inside.  In some case you can even use the same stone - check out that its frost-proof and non-slip though.  Think about placing a large indoor plant (or a collection of plants) to the side of large bi-fold doors to frame the view and link the green through to the outside.  

Repetition

A good rule of thumb is to limit the number of materials in a garden to three - ie stone for the path, bricks for the detailing and gravel perhaps.   Repetition is one of the basic design principles - by repeating these throughout the garden you achieve a sense of rhythm and calmness that is attractive. 

It’s one of the reasons I always repeat groups of the same plant throughout a garden and don’t just use a plant once.  If you’re not sure about this visit a gorgeous garden near you and check it out - you will find the the same plants are used over and over and in good sized clumps too.   

Simplicity

Repetition also contributes to the next design principle - simplicity.  Do you ever notice the the things that work really well and are delightful to experience are simple - pared down to the minimum.  This of the design an iPhone for instance.  In a garden how pared down you go will depend on your home and what style of garden you want - but limiting the number of features adds more not less to a scheme.  

This is one of the places that plant lovers can go wrong (and I have to hold my hand up here) - because we love plants so much it is easy to create a planting that feels bitty rather than cohesive.  To avoid this repeat, repeat, repeat and always plant in at least 3s but preferably 5s, 7s or more of the same plant depending on the amount to space you have available.  When I say this I’m not referring to shrubs or big structural plants but to the smaller, pretty perennials though it is nice to repeat the larger plants too where space permits.  I’m going to look at the principles of planting design in another blog post soon.  

Scale

Getting the scale right is crucial too.  Some designers start with a grid linked to the house on their drawing boards when designing a garden so as to ensure that all elements adhere to a complementary scale.    This ties up with my first point too about functionality - you want a path to be wide enough so two people can walk side by side if space allows.  Just makes the progression through a garden so much more comfortable. 

Negative Space

Thinking about the area between the features is crucial too - you might have lawn - think about the shape of your lawn - it needs to have some purpose. One of the things I hate to see in a garden is a wiggly edged bed alongside a lawn.  Why?  Play with shapes and consider them as a whole and you won’t go too far wrong.  A lovely way to do this is to cut them out in paper and play with them on a scaled plan of your garden.  There are lots of demos online for surveying your garden and really it’s the best way to start.  

Good luck!  Designing a successful garden is a complex process and it's possible with careful planning and consideration of all your needs and wants.  I've got loads of information to share, from design and styling tips, through gardening advice and plant inspiration.  

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Sarah LaytonComment