Tag Archives: design process

Analysing the landscape

18 Apr

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!



To do or not to do?

11 Jul

There’s not been much on TV tonight, but I’ve been transfixed.  I’ve dished up and eaten ice cream.  I’ve read a magazine.  I’ve been the queen of procrastination.  So when Mr Perfect put his foot down and told me to get up off my bum and get on the computer – it is Monday and therefore blog day, he told me to blog about something I know about and am very very good at.  So here’s a bit of a story about procrastination and avoidance.

It’s always simple to do the easy things, the fun things and the quick and painless.  Harder are the things that take a bit more time, need decisions, or are just plain boring or unenjoyable.  I’m a firm believer that life is meant to be easy.  It’s meant to be fun and we’re all supposed to be happy.  Yes, I know that to be really happy we need to feel pain, grief and sadness, that we need to experience the full spectrum of emotion to understand and really feel, but lets face it it’s much more fun when we’re happy and those around us are too.

As for the easy and enjoyable tasks, I wish that life was like that.  I would love to sleep in every day, but the Daredevil has a bit to say about that.  I would love to spend my day at the beach in the sun relaxing, building sand castles and reading books, but we have to go through winter to see spring, and I think the beach might get a bit boring after a couple of months of the same thing.  I would love to cook and have someone else clean up (hmmmm Mr Perfect might say I already have that!).  If I could have room service every day, and a regular large income deposited to my bank account every week without having to work for it I would be a very happy girl, but would I really appreciate it?

We need to work at least a little and earn the good stuff.  It’s fine to get some things handed to us on a platter, but to really appreciate things and be proud of our achievements there needs to be a little bit of blood sweat and tears mixed in.  Having said that, I know we need to work to achieve, I know that things are much easier when they’re not left to the last minute and I understand that you need to deal with the yuck to get to the yum, why do I always try to put things off?

I’ve had some great excuses reasons for not doing the “fun” things like washing up, cleaning, preparing tax documents or getting on the phone to any government department.  They are always valid and believable, but most importantly they are creative and quite often take a bit of effort.  But really I’ve just been doing something that I just find much more enjoyable.  For me, the creative part is important.  I am most happy when I feel that I’m creating something, when my artistic juices are flowing, which is probably why I really don’t enjoy the government department phone calls!

I am the queen of lists.  I have a list for what I need to achieve in the day, what needs to be done around the house, what I need to do to finish my Drawn Outdoors business plan, basically a list for everything.  I get great satisfaction from crossing off completed tasks.  There is nothing more pleasing than seeing a completed list at the end of the day, if you have managed to complete all on the list.  This is where I hit a snag.  I should write my list and then work out what are the most important tasks for the day, what needs to be done and then get those things done first.  I don’t.  I pick and choose.  I do the fun stuff first, a bit like having desert before your main course.  You never want to go back for bangers and mash when you’ve had the chocolate mud cake.

I grew up with a father who’s favourite saying was “never put off until tomorrow what you can do today” so you would think I would have learnt, but alas, no.

How can I change this habit of false achievement?  I get to the end of the day and I’ve achieved a lot.  I’ve checked Facebook, prepared my blog post, made some brownies and played with the munchkins (yes, all very important I know) but we still don’t have milk, I’m not sure what we’re having for dinner and the laundry is still sitting in the machine (woops!).

I need to adopt the same discipline I have in my landscape design process to my every day.  I have a list for a design process .  It is methodical, and if I have a set timeframe I know how much time I can spend on the fun conceptual stuff and how much time I need to commit to the not so fun detailing and documentation.  I know I need to finish things in a certain order and at the end of the day I have achieved something creative, unique and generally pretty good fun, despite the yuck bits.

So heres to a bit of prioritisation and discipline so I can really enjoy my place in the sun building sandcastles and catching waves. And heres to Mr Perfect for being… well…. right again!!


Inner West garden story part 2 – Detailing the design

9 Jul

You’ve seen the site, and the concepts in the previous Inner West post.  You can read it here if you missed it, or if you need a refresher, it was a little while ago.

The next stages involved refining the design and detailing and documenting to enable construction.  This is sometimes the hardest part of the design process.  It involves some hard decisions, compromises and a lot of calculations and cold hard facts.  This is the part, as a designer you can either fall in love or fall apart with your design.

After chewing through a lot of butter paper and a fair amount of red wine (most of our design discussions were held over food or between kid minding duties) a final design was reached.  It was time for the hard work to start.  Fortunately, they already had a landscape contractor they wanted to use, so there was no real need for a full set of documentation and specification.  We agreed that I’d put together a basic set of detail and planting plans.

Some of the butter paper workings

What does a basic set of plans entail?  It’s still a fair bit of work, especially when you’re a hand drawer, but you need to get them right to ensure that your design is communicated and able to be translated into a living breathing garden. I prepared 3 basic plans and some details and planting schedule.

The final plans

1. Site set out, demolition and general information – gives basic site information and instructions to the contractor.

2. Hardworks and finishes plan – this included all the basics hardworks finishes like paving, garden edging and drainage.

3. Softworks plan – identifying all plants, their location and size.  The accompanying plant schedule provided quantities and container sizes.

4. Some basic construction details were also provided.  As I was assuming that the contractor could knock off the basics, I was more concerned with the construction of the retaining wall and ensuring this was sound.

I seemed like the design process took forever, but eventually the construction was underway.  Here are some “in progress” photos.

I can’t wait to see the finished product!


Are you in the mood?

30 Jun

The mood for what I hear you ask.  The mood to inspire?  The mood to create? The mood to cut and paste like a pre-schooler???

It’s time to talk mood boards.

Mood boards can be an exceptionally fun way of identifying the look and feel you want for your landscape design, or any other project for that matter. A mood board is a collection of images and ideas that can provide inspiration and direction to determine the aesthetic you want to portray .  They provide not only a visual representation of your ideas, but also an emotional one.

You can use absolutely anything to represent how you want your garden to look and feel.  From the literal – photos of native plants or standard iceberg roses.  To the more metaphoric – swatches of fabric that might provide a colour theme or a feeling, “I want my garden to feel luxurious like a piece of silk”.  A mood board doesn’t need to mean anything to anyone except for you, however if you want to use it to communicate your ideas to others you might want to think about what your using and how they portray your message.

If you are engaging a landscape architect or professional designer to help you with achieving your dream garden, a mood board can be the perfect way for you to let them know what you want.  Designers are generally very visual people, and a bunch of images and ideas in a format they understand will get their creative juices jumping.

Here’s how you mood board.  It’s easy really, and will take you back to your pre-school days.  You will need a pile of magazines, photos, or other stuff that you like, a pair of scissors, and some glue and paper or a pinboard and pins.  Find a comfy spot, preferably on the floor so you can spread yourself out and start searching for inspiration. This is where the scissors and glue come in.  Start to cut and paste to your hearts content.  It doesn’t matter what the finished product looks like as long as it means something to you.  Don’t think you need to finish your mood board here and now, the best ones are those that evolve over time.  When you collect things as you go, on your day to day travels, you can watch your dreams build and grow.

My Bizness Babes course included some mood boarding for our businesses.  It was great fun sitting on the floor with 14 other mums surrounded by paper, scissors and glue.  We chatted, searched and laughed and all felt like big kids back in pre-school.  Here’s my Bizness Babes mood board,  and some images waiting to find a mood board home.

My Bizness Babes mood board

Images waiting for a mood board home

More ideas waiting fora mod board home

If you prefer to collect your ideas online and electronically there are a couple of websites that are set up for online mood boarding.  My favourite is Pinterest, and I’ve found some truly beautiful images and words of inspiration there.

So, are you in the mood yet??


How do we measure up?

6 Jun

Finally we had a break in the rainy weather and a spare day to spend together in the garden.  Not that much has changed, don’t get too excited, it was a baby step kind of day.  There is so much to do before we actually get started with the creating part.  Lots of dreaming and designing, and redesigning and redreaming until we get our ideas straight.  Plus, we need to remove the telegraph pole Bangalow Palms.  If we had a huge garden these palms would be fantastic and we could work with them, but given our limited space and their size, they just look like huge telegraph poles, and unfortunately for them their days are numbered.

It's only when you look up really high that you can tell that it's actually a palm tree and not a telegraph pole!

So, instead of turning soil, digging holes and planting plants, we took the first tentative steps in the design process, which are much more important than any other.  We undertook a site inventory.  It was a team effort.  The Drama Queen was the boss, Mr Perfect was strictly under her instruction, and the Daredevil ended up with a lumpy grazed head!

The Drama Queen and the Daredevil working hard

What did we do and why did we do it? or Landscape Design lesson number 1

Before you start any landscape design process you need to take stock of your site and undertake a site inventory which then leads into a site analysis.  There is no way you can design something new when you don’t know what you’re working with. On a large site, this might be easier done by a professional surveyor, but if your site is small and simple, like ours, you can do it yourself with a tape measure, a scale rule and a bit of time.

A site inventory needs to collect all the base information about your site.  You need to know the following:-

The shape and size of your yard – if you have a site survey use this as a base – it’s better to use information at your disposal than to recreate everything.  The aerial photo function on Google Maps is also a great place to start if you’re in an area that has good resolution.  We had nothing, so measured the whole yard from scratch.

The Drama Queen and Mr Perfect measuring the yard

Any site features – do you have any stairs, taps, retaining walls, slopes, seats, paving, cubby houses – basically anything.  You need to know what they are, where they are and what condition they are in.

Any existing vegetation – Are there trees, gardens, shrubs, lawn?  Is there anything green and is it worth keeping?  If you want to remove any trees you will probably need to start talking to your Council about getting permission to remove them now.

What is the topography? – Is the site flat? Is there a slope? How much of a slope.  This is a tricky one to measure without a dumpy level, we were lucky and could set a level on the bricks of the house.  You could also set up a string line with a spirit level (similar to a brick layer) and measure the difference.

What is your soil like? – Sandy? Clay? loamy? The best way to tell is to dig it up and have a feel, get your hands dirty.  Can you feel the sand in it?  Is it really heavy and sticky? or does it have a lot of organic matter in it?

What is your aspect? – which way is north? This is important in terms of solar access and deciding which areas of your garden are to be used for what.  You don’t want to put a vegetable garden in an area that gets no sun.

When you’ve collected all this information, you’ll have a pretty good snap shot of what you’ve got to work with.  This is your canvas. It might not be blank, but it’s your starting point.  It might look like a huge mess of information on the page until you take the time to tidy it up and draw up a base plan, but you have what you need to get started.

Yes, it looks like a mess, but all the info is there to get started.

Now, to go and make that mess of information real pretty!

The Drama Queen's seeds have sprouted, now we need to work out where to plant them

Oh, and find a home for the Drama Queen’s seedlings – she’s so very proud of them!


%d bloggers like this: