Pick your moment
Winter is a critical time for Garden Design. As leaves fall and the space becomes emptier, the bare bones of the garden are revealed. Structure is everything in design. When we buy plants in an attempt to fill gaps but fail to achieve the desired effect, it is usually because the underlying structure is missing. During the cold winter months the importance of trees, shrubs and hedging becomes ever more evident. Without them you may be viewing a barren, empty landscape, devoid of life and interest.
One hedge acting as a backdrop could change all that, provide a home for winter wildlife, a micro climate for a diversity of plants and an opportunity for scene setting. Design is a mix of aesthetics and practicality driven by the demands of the site and required style. There’s much to consider and professional advice or full scale design may be required but some simple pointers may help you locate essential problems and apply remedies.
Assessing the plot
Walk around and try to view with it fresh; objective eyes. Often it is the personal attachments that prevent fundamental change. Look clearly at the tree that overhangs the path, the bump in the lawn, the slippery path. Take pictures or notes on the elements you wish to change. On a practical level, move the tree or prune back hard over winter, repair the fence and consider staining, replace the path with a functional stone if it has a utilitarian purpose.
Then, stand back. Try and view the plot in terms of lines. Where does the path lead? Are the soil and lawn levels clear? Is the fence or hedge an eyesore or leading to a disused garage? Moreover, does your lawn have any shape at all? Lawns are often the central feature of many gardens and totally neglected in terms of strength of shape they can offer. Defining lawn shape can alter the entire perspective of the land. Do you have cross falls, damp areas or beautiful/poor views? Consider the patio. Is it in the right place or simple by the house where it’s always been. Maybe a sunny seating area would catch the evening sun? Then stand in the centre of the garden and spin round taking notes or pictures to all sides. View from an upstairs window or across the road. Get as many perspectives as you can then consider putting pen to paper to plan.
If possible measure the site and get the plot down to scale on paper: 2cm = 1m. This is the easiest scale to work with at 1:50. Once you have a base plan you can overlay with any tracing or greaseproof paper and test out any new ideas. Get hard copies of photos and sketch plans over the top using tracing paper. A combination of both will allow different perspectives. Stick to the elementary: moving shapes, assessing bare winter structure. Try and consider what effect moving lines around will have. Is the garden more dynamic or easier to maintain? Perhaps sketch a couple of ideas..
These practical steps will help you objectify the garden and start to look at the plot with fresh eyes. Do look at books for inspiration and attempt to find plans that will suit your requirements.
If you do nothing else, define the lawn edges and demarcate from beds. Weed beds thoroughly. Add well-rotted manure as mulch if soil is poor or ornamental bark mulch to set off greenery of plants. Cut hedges to clean lines.
Move eyesores out of sight or divert attention to another part of the garden. Consider using trellis to hide sheds and bins. Do not put plant pots on drains: you will lead the eye straight to them. Divert attention elsewhere with eye catching focal point. If you garden had no views it is introspective therefore keep the interest within. If you have views beyond it is extrovert. Lead the eye beyond. Front gardens generally require different designs to the rear. Keep it simple. Make everything larger than you would for internal spaces.