Planning New Garden

This is an excerpt from the Book called “New Classic Gardens  by Jill Billington. Continue reading to learn more about Planning New Garden, thanks to the author.

The Planning Stage  

Making a scale plan, analyzing the existing garden, writing your brief, legal constraints, basic principles of garden design 

Gardens are important places for most of us, providing a green space in which to unwind at the end of a busy day, or a relaxed place for children to play and explore. Whatever type of outdoor space you have, it makes sense to enjoy it to its fullest potential. 

The plants are an important element of any garden, and they can also be the most challenging. They are after all living things that don’t always perform as we would like them to. Combining plants successfully requires knowledge about how they grow and the situations that they prefer. The initial approach to any changes will depend on how well you know the garden. It takes time to get to know a garden; they are dynamic spaces developing through the seasons, looking different throughout the year and sometimes even changing on a daily basis.

Planning a New Garden 

If you have taken on a new garden, resist the temptation to make changes until you’ve spent time getting to know it-find out what the soil is like, where the areas are that are exposed to cold wind. It’s also important to know where the sunniest spot is to sit on a spring morning, how the light changes through the seasons and where’s the best place to plan those ornamental grasses so that they’ll glow when back-lit by the evening sun.

Winter is the ideal time to make plans about what could be planted or to change the basic structures of the garden. There may be some choice herbaceous plants and spring bulbs already established, waiting to emerge the following year, so any digging should be done carefully. Wait until late winter, when dormant plants are beginning to appear, then you can see exactly where things are and begin to identify exactly what plants are in the garden. Spring and summer can be spent tidying-up the garden, removing weeds-especially the tough perennials such as nettles and bind-weed. They will need several attempts to remove them entirely, but they should always be removed before any new plants are put in. They will compete with surrounding plants for water and nutrients, and because they’re well established, they are most likely to be successful. Spring is a good time of year to improve the soil too and prepare it for planting. It can be frustrating if you are keen to make progress, so indulge your need for new plants during this period by planting up seasonal plants in attractive containers. 

Planning New Garden
Planning a New Garden

Changing a Familiar Garden 

 If you have had your garden for a while you have the advantage of knowing the conditions in it, what type of soil there is and how it responds to the changing seasons. But sometimes dissatisfaction can gradually creep in; there may be problem areas where plants won’t grow. Maybe the garden doesn’t look how you hoped it would, and combining plants together hasn’t been altogether successful.  

Whilst the information here is mostly for gardeners planning their own planting, it applies just as much to garden designers planning a garden in a professional capacity, or friends who have gardening experience offering to lend a helping hand to someone with less experience. A designer will use their skills to interpret the owner, finding out their likes, dislikes, general taste and preferred style is crucial. A lot of information can be obtained by observing the owner’s surroundings and establishing what their personal taste is, as well as discussing the project with them. It’s useful to note what types of pictures are on their walls, the choice of books on the shelves and the colors used to decorate the house-all are valuable clues. It will take a concerted effort to get to know their garden too, analyzing it as a whole, identifying existing plants and putting all the information together, then talking to the owners so that the plans and ideas are clearly communicated between all parties involved. 

Making a Scale Plan 

The first real step is to make a plan of the garden exactly as it is at the moment. When you go on to creating a planting plan, however big or small the area you wish to change, it will be so much easier if you have a simple sketch plan that is drawn to scale. Even if the changes are quite minor, a plan will give you the opportunity to see the whole garden in one go and work out if there’s enough room for all the plants you’d like and you’ll see how any changes will work within the existing framework. 

If the house is new or has been extended, you may be able to obtain existing plans from an architect or developer. They may not be accurate if they’ve been enlarged or reduced, so check their accuracy by comparing measurements of the plan with one or two features in the garden. (If the garden is very large it may be easier to commission a professional surveyor to plot the garden accurately.) 

How to Make a Scale Plan  

You can scale clown the measurements onto graph paper so that everything on the garden fits conveniently onto one piece of paper. (A4 graph paper is available from stationers, but you’ll probably need a larger sized sheet of paper, which can be bought from art shops.) 

At a 1:50 scale, 2cm (approx. 33ft) length of fencing will measure 20cm (8in) on the paper, which is useful for the average garden. If you have a larger garden you could use a scale of 1:100, then 20metres would measure 20cm.  

You’ll need two tape measures, 30m and a 5m. First you measure the outline of the house, and the boundaries in relation to the house and gradually add all the other dimensions of the house and gradually add all the other dimensions of the garden. 

Where to start 

Start by measuring the house walls adjacent to the part of the garden you’re going to be planning. Draw them onto a sheet of graph paper to the scale you have chosen. 

Note where the sun rises: if it’s behind you as you stand in the garden, then north point is on your right. Mark this on your plan so that you can work out where the sunny and shady areas of your garden are during the day. This will be one of the relevant facts when choosing plants. 

How to position main features on the plan 

The main features are added using triangulation, which is simply a method of accurately indicating the location of features such as an isolated tree in the middle of a lawn, which would otherwise be difficult to position accurately on a plan. This third point, the tree, is located using its relationship to two known points, such as the corners of the house. As well as graph paper, a pair of compasses and scale ruler are needed for this. 

First draw a base-line between two permanent features, such as the wall of the house: A is one corner, B is the other. Note the measurement from A to the tree (c). Note the measurement from B to the tree(C). 

Using the ruler draw the baseline (A-B) to scale on the graph paper. Extend the compass and measure the length A-C on the scale ruler. Position the spike of the compass on A and draw an arc. 

Repeat the process for B-C, placing the compass spike on B, and draw an arc to cross each other will be point C, indicating the position of the tree. 

This method can be used to determine the position of other elements of the garden, such as the corners of the boundaries. 

Analyzing the Existing Garden 

Try to identify exactly what plants are already growing there; if the precise names aren’t known, make a note of the size and whether they are evergreen or deciduous. 

Next have an objective look at the plants that thrive and those that struggle. Which ones have never looked quite right where they are-maybe they’re too big, or the wrong shape or colour? Make a note of all your initial thoughts about these plants, including ones that you definitely want to keep and others you may be considering removing. 

Use the plan to note down the conditions in the garden, such as cold winds, the sunny and shady areas or low-lying areas of clay soil that can be soggy for much of the year. There may be views of neighboring buildings to be screened from your garden or a lovely view to be farmed by a gap in the planting. The initial notes that you made earlier about the plants, trees and large plants can now be accurately marked on the plan. 

Writing Your Brief 

Professional designers have developed a process to make decisions about each gardening project. They begin by gathering information to determine the choices of plants that will suit you and your garden; it’s a thought process that generates a list of ideas. It will clarify all the constraints and possibilities that need to be taken into account and encourage you to think about the opportunities for the garden. The finished result is more likely to be successful because it’s been well thought through. 

Gathering Information 

By visiting gardens and horticultural shows, you can learn more about plants and how they combine together. Take a notebook and camera with you to record what you see. Build up a record of the type of plants that you like, what colour combinations catch your eye and which contrasting shapes appeal to you. Cut out pictures of plants and gardens that you like from magazines and newspapers. Inspiration doesn’t just have to come from obvious sources; you may also be inspired by sculpture, buildings or soft furnishings. Include pictures of all of these and examples of favorite colours or experiment with combinations of ones that you don’t normally use. 

You may be a gardening novice with relatively little knowledge or experience, or a more experienced gardener who hasn’t used this orderly approach before. Ideas take time to evolve, so be patient and gather as much relevant information as possible and learn to trust your judgment. Make sure that your garden will reflect your character and personality, because that’s what will make it unique.

Familiar Garden
Changing a Familiar Garden 
garden to your life style
Matching your garden to your life style

Matching your garden to your life style 

Above all, the garden must suit you and your family’s life style. How much free time have you got? One of the most important factors to consider at this stage is how much time you can spend maintaining the garden. Some plants need more maintenance that others; for example, herbaceous plants need regular dead-heading to keep them flowering and then require dividing every three years, whilst most evergreen shrubs need little regular maintenance. A garden filled only with shrubs and low-maintenance plants changes little through the seasons, and can look static and dull. The ratio between low-maintenance shrubs and high-maintenance plants will depend mainly on the amount of time you have to look after them. Choosing the right plants can make the difference between your garden being happily within your control or unmanageable. Depending on the size of the garden and the time that you have, a combination of different types of plants is a safe bet, allowing variety and interest through the year. But if you are short of time, planting an area with just one species of plant is a technique that works well in a contemporary setting; blocks of tall ornamental grasses can look very effective used this way. 

How long do you plan to live in the house? This may determine how much time and money you want to spend on the garden. If you see your garden as temporary, herbaceous plants may be the best option because they are usually cheaper and grow more quickly than most shrubs. 

What plants have you already got? Consider which existing large plants are worth keeping- it’s a more sustainable way of gardening, and their mature size will contribute height and volume to a border. Neglected but healthy plants can be renovated or creatively pruned to give them a new lease of life. 

Looking at photos of your garden will reveal things that you may not have noticed. It’s a good method of focusing on particular areas without being distracted by the larger scene. This technique may also help you become more aware of parts of the garden that are uninteresting. Look at photos of the garden from different times of the year, so that the planting can be planned to provide something of interest to see all year round. Pay particular attention to the part of the garden that is seen from the house in winter, where you should avoid using only deciduous plants. 

If you’re new to the area, have a look and see what type of plants are growing and doing well in neighboring gardens; they may not be exactly what you want in your garden, but they will provide clues about the soil type. 

Try not to rush into any decisions before a plan has been completed and all possibilities have been considered. It’s worth spending time on this part of the procedure, because the final results will stem from this initial process. This disciplined approach does work –it’s the tried and tested process that professional garden designers use for their clients. If you need help with this process, then you may want to engage a professional garden designer for some advice. Once you have gone through the process of gathering information as described here you will have a clearer idea of what you want and be more able to communicate your ideas. 

Your conclusions 

This is the time to write down your conclusions, making a list of all the elements you want to include in your new plan. Collect all the photos, magazine pages and colour swatches and stick them on a large piece of paper. These two items-the plan and the inspiration ideas- will be the basis on which you make your choices about the style of the garden and the type of plants you want. 

The following examples may relate to you, but if not they will give you some ideas of what to include on the list. 

 Growing family 

(Short on time but with lots of different requirements for their garden) 

  • A safe but interesting place for the children to play 
  • Tough plants to withstand children playing and kicking a ball near them 
  • Plant screening for storage of toys and tools  
  • A lawn 
  • Somewhere to grow vegetables and soft fruit, with a compost heap and water butts 
  • Scented plants to surround the terrace 
  • They may be away in school holidays, so want plants of interest at other times of the year 
  • Interesting, attractive low-maintenance plants 

Your single professional person 

(First house or flat with a small garden) 

  • Low-maintenance plants 
  • Garden is mostly shady, so needs appropriate plants 
  • No lawn 
  • A place to entertain friends: needs a paved area for table and chairs to entertain friends, would like scented planting nearby 
  • A pergola to enclose a patio, provide shade in summer and screening from neighbors 
  • Specific planting, i.e. strong architectural shapes 
  • likes trees 

Retired couple 

(Perhaps have a large garden and enjoy gardening as a hobby) 

  • The garden has poor soil, so appropriate plants are required 
  • Somewhere sheltered to sit so that they can enjoy the garden all year round 
  • Some structural planting to divide the garden and encourage a route round the garden 
  • Vegetable beds (including herbs), a green-house, cold-frames, compost heaps, water-butts 
  • A lawn 
  • Borders for shrubs and flowers for cutting 
  • Structures that need climbing plants 
  • Enjoy maintenance and like propagating their open plants and growing them for others 
  • Fruit trees 

Busy young couple living in an urban area 

  • Terrace for entertaining where scented plants would be welcome 
  • Bike storage that will need plant screening  
  • No lawn 
  • Low-maintenance plants 
  • Lush planning with some seasonal interest 
  • They enjoy cooking so would like herbs in the garden 
  • Screening of neighbor’s house 

Legal Constraints 

Apart from your own personal constraints, such as time and budget, there could be legal limitations that may have to be taken into account before any work begins. It’s important to be aware of these issues at the planning stage, otherwise you may waste time thinking about incorporating features that may not be possible or will require planning permission. If you carry out work without the necessary permission there is a risk of being fined and being required to reinstate. Listed below are some of the limitations that may apply to your garden, but you are strongly advised to check all these issues with your local authority for advice and a clear idea of what is possible before starting any work. 

Sites of special scientific interest and conservation areas-whose character has been designated as worth preserving because it is of special scientific, architectural or historic interest-are all subject to restrictions. A quick phone call to your local council will establish if your garden is affected by these restrictions and what you will be allowed to do. 

Tree preservation orders are made by local authorities to protect particular trees, even if they are on private land. If your trees are protected by these restrictions, you will need permission from the local tree officer (contact your local council to speak to them) before you begin any work, such as thinning branches or felling. There are substantial fines for any work being carried out without permission. 

It’s not always clear who owns the walls and fences that form the garden boundaries. There are no general rules about who owns what, so it’s a good idea to be clear about this in case you want to change them. You may need to check the title deeds to your property or ask a solicitor to do so. You will need permission if you want to attach anything to a neighbor’s boundary wall of fence. 

If possible find out where the services (water, sewage pipes and cables) are so that these can be avoided when you’re digging below ground. It will be useful to a make a note of them on your plan if you do establish what’s underground. There are regulations now about placing cables and pipes deep under ground and covering them with brightly coloured plastic warning tape, but this wasn’t always the case, and cables that were positioned years ago are often just under the surface and may not be made from armored cabling, so take care. 

Since October 2008, planning permission is necessary if more than five square meters of impermeable paving is being used in a front garden. This is to deal with the problem of flooding, due in part to a large number of front gardens being paved over and rainwater being diverted onto roads and pavements instead of being absorbed into the earth.

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