Advice on designing and landscaping your garden.
Good landscaping is the foundation of a beautiful garden. Whatever your style, these basic guidelines will help you create a successful, harmoniously planned garden.
Before you begin, spend time gathering ideas and considering your needs and wants.
Work with what you already have, listing the good points about your garden and the things you would like to change.
Research gardens and start a folder of landscape ideas. Stroll around your neighbourhood to see what you like. Do not rush this process – like gardens themselves, good ideas take time to develop. Browse online, read garden magazines, visit open gardens and properties ‘open for inspection’. Decide which features make a garden appealing to you, and look for patterns and themes to understand which elements you would like to use in your own design.
Know your land
Understand the practical constraints of your property, such as soil type (there may be more than one on your block), orientation and climate. Check the documents file for your house – chances are you may find an old survey report. A contour survey is particularly useful for sloping blocks.
Prior to beginning work, check building codes (visit your local council’s website), boundaries and underground supplies. ‘Dial Before You Dig’ is a great service and reports from most utilities are free.
Be clear about the activities and needs your family has for the outside space.
- Do you require open spaces for sport?
- How about outdoor entertaining?
- Will young children be using the garden?
- Do you need to accommodate pets?
- How much light and shade do you need?
- Do you want to create strategic shade to cool your home in summer?
- Will the design provide year-round functionality?
- Do you have enough privacy?
- Do you want a vegie garden or to grow fruit trees?
- What about a compost area?
- Is there space for a utility area; shed, washing line, bins, etc?
- Have you considered installing a tank and/or irrigation system?
The best gardens integrate smoothly with the houses they surround. As well as blending successfully with buildings and enhancing the street frontage, a thoughtfully designed garden will provide attractive views from inside the home.
When choosing plants, consider their drought resistance, space needs and specific soil, drainage and maintenance requirements. Pay attention to which plants are flourishing in your local area.
Avoid the use of weed species – local councils are a great resource for information on local flora friends and foes. Use indigenous species where possible. As well as being ideally suited to your environment, local natives provide habitat and food for wildlife. Plan for all seasons, choosing plants that flower at different times and some you can rely on for year-round good looks.
Visit your local nurseries early in the planning process, as many offer a range of planning services for free or at low cost if you buy your plants from them – and of course they will be able to offer advice on how plants will perform in your garden.
Work out a realistic budget and a time frame for garden construction. You can reduce costs by staggering the landscaping in stages and minimising hard landscaping elements such as paving, water features and lights, and planting younger plants.
Consider consulting a professional landscape designer. This may save you money in the long term and help you avoid expensive mistakes and poor design.
Landscape design principles
Use the design guidelines below to help you create a successful, harmoniously planned garden.
Keep the design simple – successful garden designs are seldom busy or cluttered.
Consider the flow from the house to outside and between the various outdoor spaces. Access routes and pathways should be built for practical use – consider surface, width, shape and function.
Create attractive transitions within the garden from one space to the next. Treat the outdoor space as a series of rooms and use archways, gates, bridges, pergolas and pathways to form ‘doorways’ between the ‘rooms’.
Harmony and balance
Aim to strike a balance between open spaces (such as lawn, paths, ponds, paved areas, low ground covers and mulched expanses) and sheltered spaces (including varied levels and spaces bounded by hedges, walls, screens and other structures).
The size of objects within the landscape should fit harmoniously alongside one another and in relation to the broader space. For example, a colossal sculpture may complement a sweeping garden but overpower a small private area.
Rhythm or repetition
The use of similar visual elements (such as consistent shapes, lines, materials or colours) can look terrific, unifying the different parts and creating a consistent, harmonious feel to the garden. For interest, contrast a major repetitive element with another minor, different theme.
Lines attract attention and draw the eye along to a focal point. Use lines in your garden (such as pathways, edges, trees and fences) as visual devices to emphasise pleasant areas and highlight special features.
Different types of lines create various effects and can be used to influence the character of your garden. Straight lines and hard edges suggest formality and boldness, curved lines are sensual and pleasing, and irregular straight lines (like zig-zags) have an energising effect.
The sparing use of special features adds ‘wow factor’ to the scene. Limited only by the imagination, possibilities include water features, sculpture, gazebos, spectacular lighting, striking plantings, rocks and dramatic potted plants.