The landscape design process has a pretty logical path to follow. When you’ve prepared your base plan, see how we did here at How do we measure up?, You need to take stock and assess what you have. You need to get out your coloured pencils and undertake a landscape analysis.
I know this post has been a bit of a while coming, but to be honest it’s pretty dry subject matter, so I’ll do my best to make it a little more interesting and fun.
Before you can start the fun of designing, you need to be really clear about what you have already. There’s no point in designing the hanging gardens oaf Babylon if you only have a postage stamp sized area, and a tropical garden is never going to work in an alpine climate. Your existing space and its current features are your building blocks and foundation for your future dream garden, so having a good long look at them, working out what they are and how you can or can’t use them is super important.
Once you have your base plan prepared, what do you need to look at and why?
Aspect and light – what way does your garden face? Grab a compass and work it out if you don’t know already. Solar access is really important in terms of how you plan your garden. If you have a north facing garden full of sunshine, or a south facing shady space you are going to treat them differently (if you’re in the northern hemisphere than swap north and south). Sun light is important both for your plants and for you. It impacts how spaces can be used, and how well what you plant will grow.
Soils and geology – the building blocks of your garden – I have written about the dirty stuff here in Mud pies , so if you missed it , have a read and sort out your soils. What are they and how happy are they? This is important because different plants will grow in different soils, and if you intend on doing any structural works or earthmoving, different soils react differently and require slightly different treatment depending on what you are planning to do.
Topography and drainage – How steep is your yard? Do you have a great flat palette to play with or do you have something a bit more challenging and hilly? I personally like the sites with a bit of contour to them. It’s fun to play with landforms and create different spaces, but it is hard work, and generally means that you have to think bit more about the drainage on the site. In terms of drainage, how much water is there, where does it collect, where does it go?? Water in the landscape can be a very powerful force. If it’s not managed and directed properly, it can scour or pond and has the potential to damage landscape features or garden beds. Get your drainage right and you will save yourself a whole lot of grief.
Existing vegetation – What do you already have? Take a good look, identify what you can, and then decide what needs to stay and what should go. This is an assessment of what still looks OK, and still has good potential. What is healthy and happy, and you still like. Try and be a little bit ruthless if you’re going for a complete overhaul. It’s useless trying to work with plants that are past their use by date or are struggling. Equally as difficult is keeping plants that are doing so well that they could also be classified as weeds, the plants that have taken over and smothered everything else are going to be hard to control.
Make a list of what you have, work out whether you like it, whether it’s healthy and then mark on your site plan where it is and whether you’re going to keep it. You will need to look at everything, from your turf right through to your trees. If you can’t identify everything, don’t worry, it’s not really that important, but have a go. Don’t feel overwhelmed, you don’t need to be a horticulturalist to know what you like and what is or isn’t working in your garden right now.
Other features – Paths, walls, furniture, rocks, gardens, fences, anything else really. Do you have any service pits or pipes? Is everything functional and in good repair or does it need a bit of work to make it safe and usable? And again, what is worth keeping and what really needs to hit the Council clean up or garbage tip.
You should also consider the views into and out of the site. What do you need to screen? Do you need to open up some views? And do you need to create some privacy?
Use and access – This one is up to you. How is the site used at the moment and does it work? Are you using your garden to it’s best potential? Are there access points that need to be formalised? Should you define or pave an area? Where is your clothes line and utility area? Has your compost heap become your garden’s focal point? Where should things be and how are people moving through your garden. Take into account all of the gardens users. If you have pets, how do they use the space? Do your little people use your garden differently to you?
Climate – This one is not really site specific but will have an impact on what will grow in your garden. There are different ways of assessing this in different global regions. Australia has broad zones ranging from Tropical to Alpine (check out this link to the National Botanical Gardens), while the US has a much more detailed map that clearly define gardening zones (this links to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map). Work out where you are and what sort of climate you’re living in, so you know if you need to be frost or drought tolerant in your plant choice.
Now that you’ve collected all of this information, what do you do with it? I find the easiest way to collect and consider it is to draw up a quick plan. Use your base plan and note your site features and information on it. This will then help with an overlay of design options. Here’s a very simple one I prepared when I designed our front garden. It is a very small and simple site, but all the information I need is in the one place now and made the next design stage straight forward.
It doesn’t have to be pretty – mine isn’t, but it just needs to hold all the information that will take you through to the next design step. And remember, you can keep coming back to your landscape analysis and change it and amend it as you learn more about your garden.
What are you waiting for, get out pencils and give it a go!