Tag Archives: garden design

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!



A trip through Tuscany

3 Feb

One of my clients has asked for a Tuscan theme for their landscape design.  I thought I’d share with you some of the images I have been looking at to give me a little inspiration.  Identifying a design theme can sometimes be one of the hardest and easiest things to do.  It sets your vision and agenda for the design process and helps eliminate great but probably inappropriate design ideas.  Lets face it, while you’d love to have roses, hedges, free growing natives and a really cool tropical oasis, they probably don’t go together unless you have an enormous amount of space, and sometimes there needs to be some tough decisions made.

While I would love to take a trip top Tuscany to really get into the mood, I don’t think the finances will stretch that far.  For now I’ve just taken a trip through cyber Tuscany and am dreaming of the real thing.  Enjoy…

Image from philipsgardenblog.com

Image from contessanally.blogspot.com.au

Image from ciaotraveler.blogspot.com.au

The key design elements for a Tuscan garden are boldness and simplicity.  There is not a lot of fuss in a tuscan theme, but clean lines and bold elements, either through plants, statuary or hardscapes.  There is a strength in the design determination that isn’t found with other design themes.  The renaissance Italians knew how to design, and their inspiration permeates through so many design movements.  Picking up a modern interpretation of the Tuscan garden theme for a Sydney house is going to be fun!


Plant Lovin’ – NSW Christmas Bush

21 Dec

When Christmas means summer, sun, beaches and BBQ’s the landscape around you looks a little different to the traditional fir trees and snowflakes that symbolise a northern hemisphere festive season.  Sydney is the natural home to one of the most gorgeous christmas plants, the New South Wales Christmas Bush.  I have been noticing a lot of NSW Christmas bush plants in the gardens around our new place, it’s making it feel a lot like christmas.  While we lack an actual plant in or gardens, I think I might take myself up to the new Harris Farm Markets up the road and pick myself up a bunch of “flowers” to help decorate Drawn Outdoors HQ!

So here’s the Christmas Bush low down…

Name: Ceratopetalum gummiferum – NSW Christmas Bush.  There are Christmas bushes native to other states of Australia, so don’t forget the NSW bit!

Description: An evergreen large shrub or small tree that generally grows to about 4-5 metres high.  The best feature of this plant are the “flowers” that are spectacular around Christmas time.  The real flowers of this plant are small, white and relatively insignificant, but as the flowers are pollinated and the fruit develops, the sepals surrounding the fruit enlarge and give a reddish pink flower like appearance

A great photo showing the white flowers and the red fruit and sepals developing. Photograph from http://www.friendsoflanecovenationalpark.org.au

What you’ll love about them: They’re native to the Sydney region, so you’ll feel like you’re doing your bit for biodiversity conservation.  If you’re a Christmas lover, this plant will always add a bit of garden colour to your Christmas decorations.  In terms of garden design, the NSW Christmas bush works best in a bush garden style, but can work equally as well as a feature in a more traditional style garden.  They can work well as a screening plant or as a feature, though when they’re not in flower they aren’t anywhere near as spectacular as when they are.

The gorgeous sepals and fruit of the bush look like flowers photo from Wirreanda Nursery

Basically, these plants are bright, fun, festive and easy.  They are a feel good plant that will generally make you smile and with a few fairy lights strung amongst the branches you will have a traditional Aussie Christmas tree in your own garden!

What they love: Sun! They love it hot and a little bit dry.  They are the perfect temperate climate plant and can stand a little bit of wet, a little bit of cold, but really they like it nice and sunny and dry.  You can give them a little bit of native plant food, but they’re generally pretty happy.  They do like a bit of a hair cut after “flowering”, and you can be pretty generous with how mush you trim.

The not so great bits: There aren’t a lot of bad things about this plant.  It’s relatively low maintenance, it will just look after itself and it doesn’t drop too many leaves fruit or flowers.  It looks good all year round and it looks great in the middle of summer.

Great as a bunch of flowers for Christmas! Photograph from http://www.friendofflowers.com

I have given a few NSW Christmas Bush plants as christmas gifts over the years and it always goes down a treat.  If you’re stuck for a gift for a garden lover, give a NSW Christmas Bush a try.


Wandering the Everglades

25 Oct

The Everglades in Leura is one of the most spectacular cool climate gardens the Blue Mountains has to offer.  Managed by the National Trust, the gardens and house herald back to the time when the Blue Mountains meant a retreat from Sydney, a journey and a holiday as opposed to the day trip or quick weekend that it is now.  The gardens are picturesque and European in character and the house is an Art Deco classic.  During our weekend away in the mountains (if you missed it you can read about it here) I managed to take some time for a stroll through the gardens, and despite the slightly soggy weather, spring in The Everglades did not disappoint.

The garden inspection crew ready to go!

because of the weather, the gardens had a very European feel

Designed by the Danish horticulturalist and landscape designer Paul Sorensen in the 1930’s for Henri Van de Velde, a textiles businessman, The Everglades has been described as an extraordinary endeavour for its day.  Designed to be sensitive to it’s bushland setting whilst incorporating modernist influences, as was the trend in many European gardens of the day, the gardens incorporate both formal and more natural features.

The Cherry Terrace

Decorative art deco panels are a feature of the gardens

Timber bench, stone wall and staircase

The spectacular terraces cascading through the site are a clever way to overcome the steep terrain.  The views from the terraces into the bushland valley below are equally as impressive as the view looking back up at the structured modernist lines and sculpted gardens of the terraces.  We were ambitious thinking that we could take the more adventurous (and less controllable) munchkins through the gardens in their prams.  While there are ways of getting around that are level, The gardens are better appreciated on foot and by using the stairs between the terraces, so the prams were ditched half way through.

The structured garden architecture provides a framed view of the valley below

The Lookout, and the valley below

The art deco "cloud" themed balustrade at the lookout

Overall, the garden design is spectacular, but it is the little details and craftsmanship that really make you want to spend hours wandering through the terraces and meandering the paths and grottos.  The planting design throughout the garden is sensitive to the site and surrounding environment.  As the garden moves towards the surrounding bushland, species selection moves towards a native palette.  Exotic species are utilised in the formal garden spaces, and as the formality moves towards more relaxed forms, the species also change.

A sea of Bluebells welcomed us as we entered the gardens

The tulip beds were spectacular!

The Azaleas, in full bloom were gorgeous

The stonework is amazing

Stonework detail

There is a lovely juxtaposition between the natural and the built garden

One of my favourite spaces was the amazing kitchen garden.  The produce is utilised in the cafe housed in the art deco house.  The Daredevil loved it too!

The Daredevil checking out the vegetable garden

I loved the time we spent in The Everglades, and can’t wait to see how spectacular it looks on a blue sky sunny day.  Might have to visit in Autumn and see the deciduous trees at their best.


Spring cleaning… the outdoors edition

21 Sep

Yes, it is Spring finally.  What do you need to do to make sure your garden is gorgeous? You will want to spend hours in it, but those hours shouldn’t be spent working and sweating, they should be spent enjoying and having fun.  It’s not much fun when all you can see are the things that need to be done, so here are five tips for spring “cleaning” your garden.

Don't let your garden get the better of you this spring! Image from http://www.24x7photography.com/2011/01/06/zombie-garden-sculpture/

1. Does your design do it for you? – Does your garden design work for you? Is everything in the right place and do you have the right structure for your garden.  Do you have a design or  plan, or is it all a bit ad-hoc?  A well designed space will provide you with hours of outdoor pleasure!  Do you have too much garden space?  Do you need so much lawn? Is the paving in the right place, do you need an extra path, could you tweek the levels a bit?  So many questions, but it pays to ask them.  You can do this yourself or pay a professional like me!  Check out Drawn Outdoors at your place for details.  Once you have a design that suits you, the time and resources you have available, and the activities you need, your garden might seem to almost take care of itself!  Here’s a Drawn Outdoors original I sketched up for my Mum a few years ago!

Mum's garden designed for her birthday a few years back.

2. Clean the floor – your hard surfaces need a little TLC too.  Whether you have a great deck, paving, gravel or just a concrete path, each of these does need a different treatment to keep them looking good and safe to use.  Winter tends to create a bit of moss and algae growth, so a bit of a clean and scrub will bring your hard surfaces back to a springtime state (we’re about to give our poor pathways a bit of love).  Don’t forget that decks love a little lick of oil, stain or varnish (depending on how you’ve finished them).  Gravel needs to be raked and topped up every now and again, and if your concrete really is looking a little worse for wear you can always give it a splash of textured paving paint – just check the slip factor first before you apply.  With your hard surfaces looking clean you’re halfway there.  And if you’re not so inclined to be a bit DIY, there are plenty of handymen out there who can take care of this for you!

3. Rip it out, cut it up – You don’t need to keep all of your plants forever, and they are OK if they lose a couple of limbs now and again.  One mistake people make is not being able to let go of plants that have reached their used by date or have just gotten a little too big for their space.  Have a good look, take stock and heave a huge breath then get out your secateurs or pruning saws.  Let rip – clean it out, keep what you love, get rid of stuff that’s taking over, or you just aren’t too keen on.  It’s OK, your garden will thank you for it.  Make room for the plants that you’re keeping to grow or the new plants to thrive.

4. Spread a little love – This comes in two forms – food and clothes (what the?).  Give your garden some food.  Spread a bit of fertilizer, dish out the compost.  You know you love it when someone gives you a box of chocolates, give your garden the same love.  The other thing your garden will love is a nice new layer of mulch.  This is the equivalent of a brand new spring wardrobe.  You’ll be surprised at how much difference a layer of mulch can make to your garden.  A basic leaf mulch will do the trick, though the more decorative eucalyptus and pine bark mulches look fantastic.

5. Style it up –   Add the right furniture, a bit of bling, some pots and a touch of colour and you might just transform your garden into an irresistible and inviting outdoor room.  Everyone has their own taste and style.  You can make it rustic and build your own furniture out of recycled materials or go for something in a sleek stainless steel finish.  Whatever you do make sure it can withstand the elements.  There’s no joy in hauling furniture in and out of storage each time you want to use it.  Here’s some inspiration…

Colour can be so much fun in the garden, give it a try. Image from http://rhsblog.co.uk/category/anewgarden/

Maybe you just need one key piece of furniture. Image from http://www.cankulagi.com/2011/04/08/beautiful-outdoor-furniture-design-2/

Whatever it is you need to change, add or just spring clean, make it fun and enjoy!


Textures from the Nursery

10 Sep

I managed to convince Mr Perfect to visit the Nursery – one of his least favourite things to do…  Though it was a quick visit, I loved the textures of the plants and the landscape supplies.  So did the Drama Queen, who just had to pose with the pebbles.

Koi Carp at the Nursery - now the Drama Queen wants fish!

Washed river pebbles

Apparently these ones are lucky

The Drama Queen poses with the Cowra Gold!

While it's not as pretty as some of the others I love leaf mulch for it's smell and texture.


Lilly Pilly

Back to working on those designs….


Boys and girls come out to play

30 Jul

Sun, playgrounds and laughter. No more whinging about the rain, I think it heard me last week.  We’ve finally had a week of glorious weather – beautiful blue sky sunny days and crisp cool nights.  Perfect winter weather, great for being drawn outdoors during the day and for snuggling around the heater, or open fire if you’re really lucky at night.  This is how winter is supposed to be, though adding some mountains, a bit of snow and some chairlifts in there somewhere would make it nirvana for Mr Perfect

Besides the mountain of washing we’ve had to navigate, we’ve managed to plant the Drama Queen’s snow pea and broccoli seedlings and mulch them, plus she’s planted some new seeds, and is anxiously waiting to add them to her little Vegie patch.  We’ve even managed to catch some run around crazy in the sun time.

We had a perfect sunny winters day today.  Lunch with friends at the local sailing club.  In the sun.  On the balcony.  Good food, good wine, great company.  Munchkins were generally well behaved, but there is only so long that you can keep a Daredevil tied up in a high chair before he cracks it, so then it was playground time.

The Daredevil tackling the slippery dip

I have a soft spot for playgrounds.  Besides being tremendous fun to play in and around, I spent a lot of the last 15 years of my landscape architecture career designing and building playgrounds around Sydney.  I think they are the most inspiring things to design.  If you are given the freedom to really let yourself go, the opportunities for creative expression are endless.  I love trying to put myself in a 5 year old’s shoes and trying to work out what it is they need to transport themselves to whatever imaginary world they want to visit today.

There are a few things I think make a great playground, and they are also things that you can incorporate into your garden if you want to make it kid friendly.  Besides the obvious safety issues, these are some design considerations that are easily incorporated into your home design.

Colour – kids love colour.  It doesn’t need to be over the top, just enough to spark their interest, or you could go for a whole rainbow.  Kids see colourful spaces as inviting, interesting and exciting.

The Daredevil loves these coloured abacus counter rings

Measured risk – If you can put some form of risk in front of a child, they will jump at it, some more cautiously than others.  It’s the playgrounds that offer a sense of risk taking to kids that are often the most successful and popular. Flying foxes, climbing nets, swings and slippery dips all offer some sense of risk or out of control movement.  We all know that the real risk is minimal on a well designed playground, but for a little person they think they could be conquering Everest when they hit the top of a huge climbing net.  At home it might just be a balancing opportunity or stepping stones, but if it takes skill, effort and is a little bit scary they will love it.

There was no real risk in this bridge, but the Daredevil took his time working out how to get across

Opportunity for imagination – Kids don’t need to understand exactly what it is they are supposed to do in a space or with a piece of equipment.  They will experiment until they work out something fun.  It’s also magical to see them turn a piece of equipment or a space into something completely out of this world.  I’ve seen kids sailing through pirate infested waters, blasting off into space or on safari in deepest darkest Africa all within the confines of the same playground.

The Drama Queen and Daredevil waiting for their "cake" to bake

Ability to commune with nature – What little person doesn’t love picking flowers, collecting leaves or climbing trees?  There are so many opportunities for learning and creative play within just one plant, imagine what a little mind can do with a whole garden, particularly when they’re chosen for their play value.  Native grasses can be oceans, Hibiscus flowers make fantastic princess dresses and there’s always the timeless daisy chain necklace. And the dirtier they get the more fun they have.

The Drama Queen is at the age where she loves to pick flowers for her Mum - Lucky me!

The photos I’ve used to illustrate this post were taken today, and at the time they were taken I had no idea what I was going to write about, but they perfectly illustrate how one simple space can provide a variety of play experiences, and the things that little people enjoy in their play.

At the end of the day a playground doesn’t have to have swings and a slippery dip to make it fun, and neither does your garden.  Just take a little bit of time to think like a 5 year old, and you might be surprised at the outcome.


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