Design & Decor - Design Ideas

Garden design 101

Renowned landscape architect, Tom Sparling, demystifies design

Organizing and planning your garden on paper

CG: What are the prime considerations in designing a garden?
TS: Organization of space on a two-dimensional plan and development of three-dimensional aspects such as views, privacy enclosures and focal points. Other important considerations are layering of elements; hard surfaces such as paving, walls, fences and screens; and planting structure, which means taking into account the form of the plants, including branching pattern and texture, their hierarchy and relationships, and contrasts, such as soft, billowing perennials against a formal hedge.

CG: How do you go about it?
TS: First analyze the existing garden space, then develop ideas and finally make a plan. There are two primary aspects to analyzing your garden: one is visual—how it looks and feels; the other is more pragmatic, such as the effects of sun and shade and how much space you need for various activities and to move around in. A garden isn't two dimensional, so you need to think about it in three-dimensional terms—like a big box for your ideas.

CG: What next?
TS: Make a wish list. Consider the primary purpose of the garden and how it relates to your lifestyle. Be honest with yourself (people who want gardens are not always gardeners). Is it to be used primarily as an outdoor room—that is, an extension of your living space for entertaining and relaxing? Or is it a real garden, meaning a place to grow and tend plants? Do you want a garden that you manage, which is less work, or one that you control, which requires significantly more effort? How much time can you realistically spend taking care of it?

Note all the things you need or want in your garden: a barbecue, lighting, a water feature and so on. Observe sun/shade patterns, analyze soil, keep in mind buildings, slopes, trees and views and how they might affect the overall design. Jot down every important thing you can think of.

CG: Once you have a wish list, how can you reconcile it with what's already in your garden?
TS: It takes both careful thought and a discerning eye to decide what to keep, what to remove and what needs to be altered. People are great at knowing what they want and sometimes try to put it all in. My best advice is to beware the tendency to include everything. Remember, less is more!

CG: What things should you never skimp on?
TS: Invest in the best bones you can afford—the paving, the fences and structures. Plants will grow and improve with age, but structures only decline and decay, especially poorly built ones. In landscape construction, a lot of what happens is below the ground—it's the foundation that makes things last. If you can, hire an experienced landscape contractor to put in the basics, such as excavations, grading and properly prepared and compacted sub-bases for paving.

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