Design & Decor - Design Ideas

Garden design 101

Renowned landscape architect, Tom Sparling, demystifies design

Figuring out the costs of garden design

CG: Do you have any tips for figuring out costs?
TS: This is difficult, because it very much depends on the size and scope of the project, the materials you want to use and how much work you're willing to do yourself. For professionally designed and installed gardens, a basic rule of thumb is 10 per cent—which means you can figure on spending a minimum of 10 per cent of your home's value on improving the landscape.

CG: That figure will shock a lot of people!
TS: Well, to put it into perspective, consider the fact that if you decide to sell your house, a real estate agent will charge you five per cent for doing so.

CG: Any other advice?
TS: Take a design course, if possible (see “A Tool Kit of Ideas,”). If not, great sources of information are books, magazines and the Internet, all of which can give you a wealth of visual ideas to start the creative process. It's also fun to try out some of your preliminary ideas right in the garden. Use a rubber hose to play with potential shapes for new beds. Get your friends to “make like a tree”—standing tall with arms outstretched or crouching low like a compact shrub—to see how a certain plant would work in a particular place. And if you're stuck, don't rule out calling in a designer, if only for a consultation.

- Simplify components, shapes and materials.

- Aim for a unifying shape, form or line, such as a central circular space, a linear path, the repetition of colour, or the use of one or two materials for paving.

- If your project is being done in stages, get overall bones in place first, then focus work on one area at a time rather than spreading everything too thin.

- Grooming is essential! Even the best-designed garden soon loses lustre if it's poorly maintained.

- Study your garden's perimeter and consider what's beyond it, its neighbourhood. Really look at and experience your outdoor space.

- Take a series of photographs—digital ones that you can enlarge to the size required or black-and-white snapshots, in which you'll be able to see forms without getting distracted by colour&ndasglfrom all the vantage points you'll be viewing your garden, as well as looking from the garden toward your house. Now stand in the middle and take a series of photos to give you a 360° panorama—you can tack this up on a wall for illumination, confirmation and inspiration.

- Make lots of copies of your photographs and draw on them with a fine-point, felt-tipped marker. Trans­ferring ideas to the real, familiar space of your property will help you get a better, three-dimensional feel for the actual size of spaces, places, walkways and planting beds.

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