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DH Designs - The Art of Design








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Garden Design

We have discussed the importance and benefits of getting to grips with a few principles, one of which was Design Principles.

Now lets look at a few design ideas!

A Wildlife Garden

To begin with - a possible design for a small/medium sized urban wildlife garden. This family garden is the rectangular shape that is typical of many suburban gardens. When developing any garden its aspect is very significant, in other words - where is the sun! This will have an impact on where we create and place any features or plants. Let’s give the garden a southeasterly aspect. The sunshine in the garden will consequently start in the front during the morning and travel to the back across its length during the day. The back of the garden will catch the afternoon sun, a good place for sitting at the end of the day - hence the two patios!

A family wildlife garden

The thinking behind this garden was to replicate the sequence of natural landscape habitat formation. So, all be it on a small scale, there is;
Freshwater, Grassland, Heathland and Woodland.
The wilder areas will be situated towards the back, progressing to heathland areas towards the front.

1. Patio area
2. Closely cut lawn
3. Meadow grass 
4. Bog area
5. Pond
6. Wild flower meadow
7. Gravel/Grass-meadow
8. Tree (Crab-apple)
9. Tree/large shrub (Lilac)
10. Tree (Hawthorn)
11. Native planting
12. Native/semi native border
13. Semi native/exotic planting
14. Shed
15. Compost area
16. Arch with climbers
17. Utility area
18. Hedging/Climbers
19. Pergola with climbers

The Brief:

The main patio is near the house with a second, smaller patio at the back to take advantage of the afternoon sun. The width of the main patio equals half the width of the garden and its length is about one third the length of the garden. This helps balance the patio within the garden. Decorative sets are used to distinguish the two patios, with cheaper materials used for access and for the utility area.

A lawn is placed along a diagonal axis to aid direction and to help ‘square’ the rectangle. The width of the lawn is one-third the width of the garden, maintaining a sense of balance between lawn and garden. The shape of the lawn not only adds interest and direction, but will help compartmentalize the garden.

The most significant part of the garden for wildlife the pond, is placed in the rear quarter adjacent to the afternoon patio area. There will also be a bog area linked to the pond. Again, thought has been given to balance by making the combined pond and bog area approximately one third the length and width of the garden. A rustic pergola is used to create direction, height and interest, as well as provide an opportunity for growing climbing plants. You’ve guessed it – the length of the pergola is about a third the length of the garden!

The lifeblood of any garden, the compost area, is placed at the back of the garden. Three rustic arches are used for the same reasons as the pergola but will also divide the garden and give a sense of mystery. The first arch is placed to separate the lawn and the back of the garden. Another is placed between the front lawn and utility area and the third is used to help hide the compost area. Gravel is used to fill around the pond both for access and interest. It will also make an ideal area for growing grasses and alpines.

With the construction completed its now time for the planting! We need to first establish the ‘green’ structure of the garden by planting the permanent plants - the trees and shrubs. Begin by planting the trees; as the garden is not huge we shall use just three. Proportion is the key word when it comes to the plants, particularly framework planting. We need to consider the ultimate size of structural planting for a wildlife garden with the same care as with any type of garden. Apart from their wildlife potential, the trees have been positioned to aid direction. The shrubs continue this theme but also to help divide the garden.

The pergola, arches and boundaries are now planted up. For the boundaries, apart from using climbers consider hedging plants where possible - bearing in mind the chosen plants size and maintenance. A combination of both could also be an advantage, both aesthetically as well as for wildlife. The rustic work would make an ideal framework of course for the climbers.

Apart from the potential to provide structure, harmony, direction and permanence to the garden, the woody plants play a vital part within our developing nature reserve.
They influence the garden microclimate and provide the necessary protection for the various habitats.
These are the plants that will attract, and on the main part, home the wildlife.

Along with the shelter woody plants provide we must remember they can of course rob nutrients and light, which can impinge on a habitat. With that in mind, as mentioned earlier, proportion is the key word when it comes to the woody plants. The choice of plant is worth considering with great care. A tree for instance can make or break any garden aesthetically and will have a major influence over its microclimate. Generally speaking the ratio of one to three rule used to help balance the garden is the absolute maximum with a tree. Let’s take a garden that measures ten meters wide and twenty meters long for example. It would be best to use the smallest dimension of the garden to determine the trees ultimate size, which is ten meters in this case. A simple calculation of dividing ten by three will give us the measurement; the tree should therefore not exceed 3.3M. The same rule applies to the shrubs and it must not be forgotten that both visual impact and habitat potential of the structural planting must be considered all through the year.

We can now ‘fill in the gaps’ and complete the planting using herbaceous plants. Herbaceous planting has vast aesthetic potential by providing colour, texture, form and movement. But their significance does not stop there; they will play many other roles within the garden:
These will be the main plants that will attract invertebrates in to the garden.
These will be the main plants that will help create a habitat.
These will be the main plants that will feed the invertebrates and sustain the habitats ecosystem.
These will be the main plants that will host many of the invertebrates that will preserve the ecosystem of our garden.

The herbaceous plants help to link and unify the features of the garden visually. The planting also provides the necessary cover for the wildlife to move around the garden – thus physically linking the habitats. When using plants that will either die back or die off each season, consider both how the borders or beds will look throughout the year as well as the impact to the ecosystem within them.

A 'Courtyard' Garden

Simplicity is all important for any small space. Perhaps the more practical way to approach the development of the very small garden is to look it as an... 'extension of the lounge' or 'outdoor room'. Despite each cliché, the phrases are nevertheless, still very apt.

There are just five decorative features included within this design. Buff coloured slabs have been used for the groundwork - their light, warm shade help make the area appear less restricted. Natural, oak sleepers have been used to create the raised beds and pool. Matching bricks could be used for the base and walls as an alternative. This would give the garden a more formal, modern and coordinated feel, but would add considerably to the cost. Natural oak beams have been used for the construction of the arbour.

1. Surface area
2. Raised pool
3. Raised bed 
4. Arbour
5. Barbeque
6. Small / medium shrub
7. Small tree
8. Shed

The Brief:

The garden is south facing, which sounds great – lots of sunny areas to allow good plant growth and warm places to sit out in! However, whilst this may be true, it also means plenty of plant watering and the need to create some shade in the summer. Shade could also be a problem, particularly if the garden is very narrow. Whilst there will be sunlight in the garden throughout the day, as the sun travels across the garden, in this case from left to right, each side could be in shade for half the day. This will require careful thought to the positioning of the few features we have, and the plants we grow.

So, despite a gardens small size, in many ways the design can be a real challenge – more so than with a larger garden. This is why there is the need for simplicity; it is often a mistake to think that, due to a small gardens restrictions we need lots of interest to somehow detract from it! A small garden can be a real asset to a home, particularly where hard working owners are concerned!

When it comes to the construction of a Courtyard Garden, a high standard of workmanship using the best quality materials you can afford would be required for the design to really succeed. Attention to detail is all important when it comes to any formal area in a garden. As the entire garden falls into that category it becomes paramount. There are a selection of plant containers, tubs and pots around the garden. This attention to detail even extends to them; not only what they are made of but their shape, colour, size and placing!

With the design itself, there are many, many variations that could work based on a formal theme. As with any style or size of garden the rules are pretty much the same but unity, balance, proportion and scale will dominate the thinking behind this one. As will movement and direction, and this is where the containers come in. As you can see the solid features are rectangular apart from the pool. The shapes of solid objects help to create and guide movement; depending on the way they face rectangles for example, subliminally create direction or produce a ‘trap’ – as will ellipses and ovals. Square or round shapes on the other hand, suggest that you can ‘rest’ where they are placed!

The choice of plants are significant in any garden, but particularly when there are only going to be a few. The proportions and scale we looked at in the previous garden are even more important in a Courtyard Garden. The objective behind the planting here is mainly to ‘decorate’ the area. The plants will of course add interest, life and movement but will need to be used with care in such a strong design.


Associated Links:

Garden Principles
Plants for Places
Garden Wildlife
Garden Features
Seasonal Planting
Planting Combinations


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