Design & Decor - Design Ideas

Garden design 101

Renowned landscape architect, Tom Sparling, demystifies design

- Accurately measure your garden's boundaries. It's easiest if you can get a friend to help hold the tape and double-check your measurements. (Tom has a cloth measuring tape that lies flat and rolls up easily. It has a hole at one end so, if need be, he can anchor the tape to the ground with a screwdriver.)

- Once you have your measurements, use graph paper to carefully sketch out, to scale, the shape of your garden as it looks now, indicating on it your house, other permanent fixtures and the canopy size of large trees. This is your base plan.

- Tape down your base plan onto a board, then lay tracing paper overtop. You can now doodle shapes and develop your design ideas on as many sheets as it takes.

- Jot down what you like in terms of form, colour, texture, seasonal change and structure.

- Make a list of your favourite plants and their characteristics.

- Consider these plants'
interrelationship in terms of form, texture and colour. Eliminate any that won't fit.

- Research each plant's ability to survive in your garden's conditions. Omit any that won't do well.

- Make a realistic assessment of the time you'll have to maintain plants. If limited, remove needier ones.

- Consider grouping plants with similar requirements to further cut down maintenance.

- Refine your list; then pare it down some more.

A lot of North American outdoor furniture is very large in scale (European lines are smaller). Before deciding on the dimensions of a patio or deck, visit a couple of retailers and measure the type of furniture you'd like to have, then factor in how much space is required to get around and behind it, too; you might be surprised. Here are some useful general guidelines:

Round table
Four feet (1.2 metres) in diameter with four chairs, minimum area: 8 x 8 feet (2.4 x 2.4 metres)

Rectangular table
Six-foot-long (1.8-metre) table with eight chairs, minimum area:
8 x 10 feet (2.4 x 3 metres)

Two chaise longues
Minimum area: 8 x 8 feet
(2.4 x 2.4 metres)

Patio, terrace or deck
Minimum area: 12 x 12 feet
(3.6 x 3.6 metres)

Minimum width: 4 feet
(1.2 metres)

Some of Tom's favourite reference books
- The Essential Garden Book: Getting Back to Basics by Terence Conran and Dan Pearson, Random House
- The House of Boughs: A Sourcebook of Garden Designs, Structures, and Supplies by Elizabeth Wilkinson and Marjorie Henderson, Viking Penguin
- Bold Romantic Gardens: The New World Landscape of Oehme and Van Sweden by Wolfgang Oehme and James Van Sweden, Spacemaker Press
- The Canadian Encyclopedia of Gardening by Christopher Brickell and Trevor Cole, DK Publishing
- Any design book by John Brookes
As some of these titles are expensive or out of print, check first with your local library.

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