All of us have ideas on how to change our garden, but few of us know where to start. Most of us ‘pick’ at the problem, ‘attacking’ one area in isolation.The male of the species is particularly prone to this affliction, especially if there is construction involved. There is no coherent narrative, no sense of planning.
Look on making changes to your garden as a play in two acts. Act 1, which we shall look at here, is the design stage. Understand what you already have in your garden and decide what you want to change. Act 2, which we will look at another time, is the landscaping, the implementation of all those ideas.
Understand what you already have in your garden
Firstly, get the title deeds to your property. This is your blueprint of what you already have, showing the property, boundaries and relevant dimensions. Overlay a piece of tracing paper. Sketch in, as accurately as possible, man-made features not already recorded: any paths, water features and outlying buildings. Don’t ignore the mundane: the manhole covers and washing line; record the visual distractions including overhead power cables, telegraph poles and water tower; note the main trees and shrubs.
Track the sun round your garden on paper, sketching in areas of shade. Use the senses to record wind direction, audible irritations and aromas, pleasant and unwelcome. Your eyes will become attuned to every detail: the changing levels, the patches of erosion.
Remember also that your corner of Eden does not stand alone. It is one piece in a much larger jigsaw. Record some of those other pieces: properties that overlook your garden, local shops and roads, perhaps a nearby water-treatment plant. The list is endless.
The final stage in the understanding process is to go round the house and from every room look out of the window: record, on paper or with camera, what you see, in the garden and beyond. Remember to include views from upstairs if you are on more than one level.
Decide what you want change in your garden
Involve the whole family because you can be sure there will be a wide range of preferences and opinions. Sit down at the kitchen table and hammer out a list of collective wishes. This is how they might look:
His: Barbecue, lots of parking space (speedboat, two vehicles, visiting friends), workshop, low maintenance.
Hers: informal, wildlife, shade, sensory (e.g. scent, colour), indigenous, ‘veggies’.
The kids: play areas and sport.
The average garden will struggle to accommodate all these divergent wishes and there will have to be compromises. It is better to compromise at the planning stage than to make changes during construction. Landscape changes arising at this late stage invariably bring cost implications.
So, as a family you have reached a peace accord. Now Act 2, actually changing your garden, can begin.
Charles Waters is the owner of Charles Waters Landscapes.