It happens to every newbie. When we all start gardening, we buy one of everything that interests us and then put it all in a bed, but all too often, we end up not liking the way it looks. Yeah, that scrambled egg look is just SO last season. Gardens grow and change, and the design you implement right in the very beginning should be able to accommodate that. A well designed garden is more than just pretty plants all in a row. Designing a garden is ultimately about creating an experience.
Many people shy away from creating new gardens because they fear that after all the hard work necessary to build them, their gardens will not look as nice as they envisaged. Taking the time to properly design a garden will certainly pay big benefits once the job is finished.
In creating a garden you are starting a process – a garden is constantly changing and flowing, not static like a building. And creating a garden is something that takes time, not only to conceptualise, but to grow. It’s not one of those things that you can change fundamentally every time a new ‘fashion’ comes along, as you would in a room in your house. There’s no – Oh, we’ll give it a quick lick of paint, and change the curtains and maybe reupholster the couch and get a new lamp. Sure, you can plant out annuals in different seasons to change a colour scheme, or add some bulk to a specific space. But they’re just the icing on the cake. Although a garden has walls that you can cover or paint, it’s the design and the plants that form the backbone, the very essence of your outdoor room. Before you even start to dig, you do need to understand something about the nature of the plants you’re selecting, in order to be able to visualise how the garden will develop in the years to come. Because, as you’ll learn if you decide to become a garden designer, there are four dimensions to take into account in your space – and the most important one is time.
If you've never tackled a landscape design before, you might be overwhelmed by all the choices you can make. But the same principles that guide your room setup inside should guide your designs outside, too.
It’s tempting, in a field as individual as garden design, to believe that rules do not apply. However, after a few mistakes being made, you will end up believing in certain rules and guidelines that are neither finicky nor restricting. All have proven invaluable to designers over their years of garden-making, and learning those rules right at the outset will save you a whole lot of time and money in the long run.
Especially if you’re planning on going into the green industry as a career, rather than just learning about landscaping to do your own backyard. Different properties will require different approaches, as urban, suburban and rural gardens are all very different. Urban (and in many cases, suburban complex) gardens are pretty much removed from that natural context, surrounded as they are generally by an artificial built environment – although working with and around buildings can sometimes give you more aesthetic leeway. When you get into larger spaces, you’d be looking at more established natural settings, so meshing the design with existing terrain is the way to go. It’s about contextualising the gardens that we get to create, so that when you’re immersed in them, there’s no jarring effect in the space.
The best advice is in the beginning, start small. Have an overall plan, but choose one area to sort out first. Many international garden television shows are masters at revealing complete outdoor makeovers in just three days – but they (unlike we poor cousins here in South Africa) have a crew of up to 60, which is not a situation enjoyed by landscape design for beginners. (Well, we were vaguely guilty of creating ‘instant gardens’ in our television show on the Home Channel, Design-a-Garden, but we were essentially doing a large ‘trolley exercise’ rather than implementing a garden, and using professional landscapers and designers – the majority of whom were graduates of Lifestyle College of Garden Design – to give viewers a realistic view of what goes into making different styles of garden work.) Part of creating a landscape is slowly developing a plan and enjoying the process. The best gardens are those that make people happy and comfortable. Yes, great gardens look good, but they have to feel good, too. Those that are relaxing, easy to move through, and not too hard to maintain are the ultimate goal.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry quoted - “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” But a garden design will never be completely finished, however. Every garden, no matter how young or old, is a constant “work in progress”. This is part of the fun of garden design – the opportunity to change and refresh your palette (or pallet depending on whether you’re recycling ;) ) as things grow, or your tastes (or palate) changes. But do make sure you start it out right.
For more hints and tips on design, follow this link to a podcast chat with Joburg based Landscape Designer, Michael Rickhoff