Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Planning a new garden


We all face this situation each time we move house, whether just married, moving up the property ladder or moving to a new location following the sun.
It may be a new house where the builders have just left, it may be flat but turfed, or it might be an existing home where the previous owner has left behind his neglected, overgrown or fantastically landscaped garden. However, you are likely to want to develop your own ideas for your garden, but just where do you start!
I have always loved gardening and my horticultural career has taken me all around the UK, so every time I found a new house it had to be landscaped to my needs at that time. I always had a notion of the plants I wanted to grow if room and funds permitted. In the early years the house and garden were quite modest and there was always a garden problem to solve. Nothing much has changed except that my garden is a wee bit bigger and I have now grown many of those special must have plants.
The experience of creating new gardens has developed into a pattern that can now be followed breaking it down into logical stages.
Let us start at the beginning.

Site analysis

I always start here, walking over the site and noting if there are any worthwhile features, e.g. specimen trees or shrubs, or good views to preserve, eyesores to remove or problems, e.g. steep slope to solve. Now look over the fence and see if any screening is needed for neighbours washing line, adjacent busy roads, building next door with windows looking onto your private patio.
Have a look at the topsoil, dig a few pits a foot deep. Is it good, does it need amelioration, assess the drainage to see if this is a problem. Look at local weeds. Nettles indicate good soil, buttercups, wild orchids and reeds wet soil.
You will now be getting an idea of the site's potential, so you can incorporate your own needs. Give every idea an airing. Will the garden be totally ornamental or will you want a vegetable patch, and what about some healthy fruit crops. Will you plan for a compost heap. This was always an essential with me where I recycle all plant waste material including tree and shrub pruning after shredding them, plus all household waste paper that goes through a paper shredder first. However don't compost any diseased material.
What about a greenhouse and shed for pots, canes, tools, wheelbarrow and wood shredder.
Getting friends around for the barbecue on those long warm summer evenings and a patio in a sunny sheltered location is needed to relax on after all this garden planning. Very mentally exhausting work.
Then of course there is the lawn, for some an absolute essential, and for others nothing but a problem area that is always full of moss and weeds and never stops growing.

The other major task is the hard landscaping of paths, walls if required, rock garden for some, fences, and services (water and electricity) to the greenhouse and shed.

Finally what about all those plants you want to grow for year round interest and colour.
Now the work can begin!

Structure, shelter and privacy

A garden will take on a very professional look if it has a good structure within which specific features are incorporated. Start with selection of trees. Is the garden big enough for one, two or more? Trees come in all shapes and sizes so nearly every garden can take at least one of a modest size. I will tackle this subject in a later article showing a wide range of trees suited to the small to medium sized garden.. The small garden can consider some slow growing conifers, an upright cherry, Prunus amanogawa, or hornbeam, Carpinus betulus pyrimidalis and if your drainage is good what about the golden Robinia frisia.
Keep trees, especially willow and poplar, well away from house walls and check where the services are before you drive in any supporting tree stakes.
Shrubs are the next item to be planned, usually to define boundaries or give shelter and privacy. However the planning of these will depend on the location and route of paths, greenhouse, sheds, vegetable patch and patio. Many shrubs flower and some such as the Philadelphus are scented.
I like to blend buildings into the garden landscape by using climbers on any bare wall around the house and on surrounding perimeter fences. Choose plants known to do well on the appropriate wall face, as some need the warmth of a south wall and others prefer a north wall, (more information in a later article).

Entertainment and Relaxation

The patio and barbecue should be big enough to accommodate several people. It should be sheltered, have privacy and will be hard surfaced. Outdoor tables and chairs will be needed and it is a good idea to have some colourful bedding plants in tubs, hanging baskets and borders to brighten up the area. Scented plants located nearby add to the tranquillity.

The lawn

Decide whether the lawn is to be attractive but functional with daisies and buttercups cut with a rotary mower or whether it is to be a feature of admiration with level surface, close mown weed free fine grass which the cylinder mower leaves in pretty stripes after its weekly cut. Of course, the edges will need to be kept cut regularly. The height of the lawn must relate to any surrounding manholes and path edges so the blades do not get chipped and make sure there is free access to get onto the lawn. Plan the lawn shape with flowing perimeter curves so mowing is easy. Select an appropriate grass seed mixture depending on what type of lawn you wish. Do not use a fine grass mixture if the kids will be playing ball games or riding bikes over it.
The greenhouse

If you like to eat very fresh salads, home grown sweet cherry and the larger Alicante tomatoes cannot be beaten when picked totally ripe off your own plants.
Then you can also grow a grape vine and any amount of bedding plants.
Site your greenhouse in a sunny but sheltered spot and put in power and water before you dig foundations. I have always put in a brick base about a foot high to give extra height for my grape vine and giving added drainage with a large pit dug out and filled with old crushed bricks. Top up with 6 to 9 inches of good topsoil. Grapes want decent soil to get them started, but then good drainage. Don't feed or over water them much once established.

Colour all year round

There is a huge selection of excellent flowering plants to brighten up every month from early spring to summer bulbs, spring and summer bedding plants, herbaceous and border plants, flowering trees and shrubs, lilies, gladioli, carnations, bush and shrub roses and annuals for a quick display. The effects will change continuously as every time you visit a nursery or garden centre you will always find something new to try.


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