Planning a Garden

Planning a Garden

John Patrick

JOHN PATRICK: Designing a garden can be a real problem to the home gardener and yet if you follow some simple steps, it’s really quite easy.


The first thing you need to do is to work out exactly what the garden’s going to provide you with and who’s going to use it. Do you want shaded areas or sunny areas? Do you want play areas or places where you can sit and relax on your own? Do you want to entertain lots of friends and have a big, outdoor eating area or do you need to screen the house next door? Answer those questions and you’re well on the way to designing your garden.

Site analysis is the most important step in your design. You need to consider the way the garden’s exposed to the sun for example. Make the most of the sun when you need it. You may need to screen it at other times. Look at landscapes next door. You may want to screen or perhaps borrow a landscape so it becomes part of your garden. Existing vegetation may be retained, or you may want to remove it if it’s past its best. And think too about the house. It’s such an important part of your design. It gives you architectural styles, it gives you view lines and of course it gives you the entry point to the garden through doorways.

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Next, plot the measurements of your house, carefully locating doors and window and garden on graph paper, making sure you’re accurate. Measure the boundary and plot everything else systematically from there. On your graph paper, make each dark line square equal to one metre and when the outline is complete, scan it or photocopy it so you can try lots of different designs. Before you know it, you’ll have a professional looking design, you can use this to calculate your material requirements.

Once you’ve completed your plan on paper, it’s a really good idea to plot it out on the ground. You can do that using a hose pipe, a rope; lime’s quite useful, or spray paint, as long as you can see the boundaries of the different parts of your garden. And the really good thing about this is you can live with it for a week or two and find out if the garden’s going to work for you. If not, just scuff it out, prepare a new design and draw it on the ground.

The really great thing about doing your plan on graph paper is it gives you a really easy way of estimating. These dark lines represent a square metre so you can work out exactly how much you need of turf or paving. Remember, a square metre of bricks is 36 bricks so you can order exactly how many you need. But with paving materials like bricks and pre-formed concrete, order a few more to allow for breakage – you’re not going to end up one or two pieces short.

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When it comes to length, well that’s simple to measure – you just measure the length itself. But with volumes – things like mulch, for example, or soil you want to import, you need to measure in cubic metres. Simply enough, you take the length, the breadth, multiply it by the depth in millimetres and then divide by a thousand and in the end, that’ll give you the volume you need. This may sound complicated, but really it’s quite easy and what’s more, there’ll be more information on our website to help you sort it all out.

When it comes to choosing hard surfaces for your garden, there are a few practical things to think about. Now for decking, timber is really popular, but it is expensive. Other paving surfaces you might consider are brick. Really tough, easy to lay yourself, but a fair bit of reflective heat comes up from that and it’s almost impossible to lay really attractive looking curved paths as a home handyman with bricks. If you use brick, why not put it down as an edge to a gravelled path and then you can pour the flowing gravel to the shape you want. But gravel is quite hard for children if they fall on it and it also tends to travel so you might want to think about that one. Grass – well of course that’s a fantastic surface. It sort of ties a garden together. It’s wonderfully cool in summer, but do chose a drought tolerant turf, otherwise it’s really quite water expensive.

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Now when it comes to plant selection, it’ll depend on the style of garden you want. But regardless of the style, one of the things you’re really going to have to think about is plant spacing. If you want immediate impact, then you’re going to plant more closely, so that they fill the space and the garden looks full. But if you can afford to be patient, you can save money, plant the plants further apart and let them grow together over time.

Now when you do this design, do realise you’re not going to get it right first time so do persevere. Try different things and in the long run, when you get it right, you’ll have the great satisfaction of knowing that you’ve designed your own garden.

STEPHEN RYAN: Every block is different, so success is often about trial and error and what works for you and up in Sydney, Angus has found an avid gardener whose whole property is one huge experiment.