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So What is Garden Design all about?
By Alice Blount

So what is garden design all about?

Knowing about plants, where to plant them and how to care for them is of course a very important part of the story.  But what a knowledgeable garden designer will do, however, is help you to get the absolute best out of your garden site- turning it into the garden of your dreams, a relaxing sanctuary, a space for entertaining and maybe making it productive with fruit and vegetables as well as beautiful. 

As a designer, I am juggling many aspects in my head at any one time and the ability to think and visualise in three dimensions is vital! I need to know what a group of plants might look like from every angle, for example when walking up the garden one way, and then on the way back.

Designers need a lot of foresight, imagination and patience. And that's all about the time the plants take to grow and not just my clients!! Just this week, for example we've been planting trees that I will never see to maturity such as oaks and beech trees.

We are also used to seeing gardens redesigned on the TV - those quick fix makeover shows where our gardens are sorted out in a weekend, with new decking and water features galore.  But these programmes tend to make it look far simpler than it is. We rarely see the designer interviewing the client to find out what their wants and needs are, nor the hours spent measuring the site or the designing and drawing up of construction and planting plans.

Perhaps you’d like an uber modern garden with a concrete arch or stainless steel pergola or even an acrylic box summer house? Or maybe a romantic cottage garden is more your style with drifts of wildflowers, pretty bunting and home made elderflower pressé and cupcakes!  These are maybe trendy stereotypes, but we all want little bits of some of these in our gardens....especially the cupcakes!

What a garden designer really has to do is take the information you’ve given them and then think very hard about a number of different aspects:

Firstly, we look at the Functions of the Garden:

The Aesthetics

How does the garden feel; what does it look like? Known as the "Genius Loci", this is the unique, special sense of a place, which we can build on or try and change.

Recreational aspects

Do you want a BBQ or outdoor kitchen? A proper play area for children? And what about a dining area (and how big should that be?). Do you want to be able to play sports in the garden and if so do you need a tennis court, swimming pool or just somewhere to play Swing Ball? What about music? Many gardens these days are linked to home entertainment systems with surround sound in the garden.

Utilitarian aspects

We need to consider the practical elements in a garden such as the need for a washing line, a shed or greenhouse. Will you want a veggie patch and if so what about compost bins? Do you want to have a conservatory or garage or need it? And for night time, you will need to think about lighting for security, for creating atmosphere, and uplighting key features within the garden like specimen trees and statuary.

There are various factors which will affect the design which need to be considered:

The size of the garden

One can make a dramatic impact in a small garden, while larger spaces can be divided into "rooms" for more interest and also to make it more manageable.

What's your budget?

It’s vital to know exactly what the budget is, particularly if the budget is tight! It is easier to make a gorgeous garden with a healthy budget but using a designer can help you save money by helping you get the absolute most out of your garden space and available budget and it is important to find a designer you trust to guide you on this journey. Do you have a fixed amount, or do you have room for stretching this budget? And a contingency is always a good idea to cover any unexpected costs or choosing a better quality of materials.

Maintenance  Are you planning on looking after the garden yourself or will you be paying a gardener to do it? Do you understand plants and know how to look after them? Do you need a maintenance schedule?

What about the site itself?

What are the levels like: sloping or level? Will you need terracing, retaining walls, or is the garden flat and will we need to create more interest with some level changes, maybe decking?? Is there water in the garden- and if not would you like water!! Or have you had quite enough of that recently! Do you feel overlooked and need to address privacy issues? And what is the local weather- is the site exposed or in a frost pocket or close to the sea or a very dry area or wet and rainy. Is flooding an issue?

The soil conditions are also important. Are they clayey, gravelly, sandy,  or - if you're lucky- loamey! What will we need to add to the soil to improve the soil’s nutrients and texture and make it more friable? It’s good to know what the soil acidity or alkalinity is - its pH- as this determines what plants will grow successfully.

And lastly, the most important aspect we need to consider is who will use the garden.

What are YOU hoping to achieve with the redesign of your garden? A calm soothing space away from work maybe? A designer will ask you who will use the garden? Think about your children and grandchildren; do you have dogs and cats; think about what do you plan to do in the garden- socialising with BBQs and garden parties, and what are the average numbers of guests as these numbers dictate the size of social areas needed.

Will you spend the time growing veggies or do you simply dream of relaxing on a swing seat (whiling away the time after a hard working week? We need to incorporate all that into your design plan.

Think of structure in your garden- Pergolas add height and interest and can subtly guide you around the garden and lead you from one are to another. It’s great to have lovely seating areas to invite you into the space. Benches and armchairs are great for creating a more intimate and secluded seating area within the garden- and swing seats give people sitting on it a wonderful sense of relaxation and tranquillity. 

And other ways to maximise the interest levels in a garden include what plants and colours you use. Selecting specimen trees and shrubs for their flowers, colours, scent or foliage are just one of many things we can do to input interest into the garden, especially if we think about the seasonality.

Ultimately, my role as a Garden Designer is to use my knowledge and experience to elicit all this information from you and from the site and to guide you in the direction of materials and products that suit your taste and the style of your garden, all the while taking your budget into consideration. And then provide you with a master plan from which to build your dream garden or from which you can cherry pick projects that can be completed at leisure as time and as money permits. 

There is undoubtedly a great garden designer in your area- word of mouth is often the way to find them or simply ask at your local garden centre. But if you would like some help or advice with your own garden, do of course, give us a call.

With many thanks to Alice Blount Garden Design, professionally trained and experienced garden design consultants who can design your garden, design structures and source garden furniture and statuary – for assistance please call Alice on 07747 772524

Visit Alice Blount on Instagram here

Posted by Siobhan on March 9th 2020

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